It’s been almost six years since Mike Richards wore orange and black and only one player – Flyers captain Claude Giroux -- remains from that 2010-11 team.
But don’t let Richards’ comments over the past few days fool you. He’s excited to play tonight against the team that traded him to the Los Angeles Kings, where he won two Stanley Cups alongside another former Flyer, Justin Williams.
“It means a little more to him than me, the way things happened on the way out,” Williams said of Richards’ abrupt departure in the summer of 2011.
“He was more the face of the franchise than I was. He’s excited, for sure, and I’m excited for him.”
Truth be told, Williams says Richards is excited to face any NHL team these days following his three-month exile after being charged with possession of a controlled substance back and having his contract with the Kings terminated.
“When you’re sitting there in Kenora in the middle of winter and not doing anything, yeah, he’s excited to be out of there and returning to what he loves doing.”
From a legal standpoint, Richards’ courtroom hearing, originally scheduled for Thursday, has been adjourned until Feb. 25, reportedly because the defense is awaiting results from further investigation.
Richards, 30, is still looking for his first point with the Capitals. In three games he’s averaged 12:23 of ice time, primarily on the fourth line and on the penalty kill, and has three shots. He’s also won 60 percent of his faceoffs.
“He’s exceeded my expectations, actually,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “I’ll use a term my goalie coach (Mitch Korn) uses. You don’t know it until you own it. What you find are a lot of the intangibles with Mike. He’s fiercely competitive. He’s got a confidence, an air about him, that when a game is on the line he’s very engaged and that’s good to have.”
Since leaving Philadelphia Richards has maintained relationships with many of his former Flyers teammates, including Giroux, who told Philadelphia reporters that Richards reached out to him shortly after Giroux was named captain of the Flyers, a position Richards held before he was traded for forwards Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a second-round draft pick.
“I was kind of having a tough time and he reached out to me,” Giroux told reporters on Tuesday. “Since then we text once in a while. It’s good for him to be back in the league. I’ve learned so much from him.”
Richards said his phone call to Giroux was simply “friends helping friends.” He says he has closer ties with some of the Flyers’ trainers and management team than he does their current players.
“It always has a special place in your heart, just being the first team,” Richards said. “To say it doesn’t mean anything is exaggerating it, but it takes away a little bit when you’ve only played with one guy.”
As for what kind of playing level he expects to reach, Richards isn’t ruling anything out. He set career highs in points (80 in 2008-09) and goals (31 in 2009-10) during his time in Philadelphia, but never managed more than 44 points in Los Angeles and managed just five goals and 11 assists in 53 games with the Kings last season, which included a stint in the AHL.
“Do I expect to get 80 points again? I don’t see why not,” Richards said. “I don’t see why I can’t play the way I did before.
“You just go with it. With a team like this you just try to do well with whatever position you get put into. Do I expect to be playing with Ovi in a couple weeks? That’s probably unrealistic. You just try to do your best with whatever position you’re put in.”
For now, Richards says he’s just happy to be playing hockey again. The fact it’s on a team with the best record in the NHL is a bonus.
“It’s just a lot of fun to be honest, whether it’s working out before practice or on the ice trying to get better, before games, during games, it’s just a good atmosphere to be around. It’s nice to be back.”