Bit­ing the cap bullet, Kings take their shot

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - LISA DILL­MAN ON THE KINGS

The glow of the 2014 Stan­ley Cup tri­umph and the re­as­sur­ing words and prom­ises from Mike Richards were enough to per­suade Kings Gen­eral Man­ager Dean Lom­bardi against us­ing a com­pli­ance buy­out with the vet­eran cen­ter last sum­mer.

But loy­alty proved costly in more ways than one.

On Sun­day, the Kings placed Richards on un­con­di­tional waivers, mov­ing to­ward buy­ing out his hefty re­main­ing con­tract. The salary cap hit will be on the Kings’ books through the 2024- 25 sea­son.

Richards has five years and $ 22 mil­lion left on his con­tract — the one he signed when he was with the Philadelphia Fly­ers. The pro­vi­sion for the buy­out is two- thirds of the con­tract, mean­ing the Kings will owe

him $ 14.6 mil­lion, spread out over 10 years.

Es­pe­cially prob­lem­atic for the Kings is the buy­out cap hit in the third and fourth years — $ 4.216 mil­lion each year, ac­cord­ing to the web­site capfriendly. com.

The drop- off in Richards’ per­for­mance be­fore he hit his 30th birth­day in Fe­bru­ary this year was dra­matic con­sid­er­ing his cham­pi­onship pedi­gree: Two Stan­ley Cups with the Kings, a Cup Fi­nal with the Fly­ers and an Olympic gold medal with Team Canada at Van­cou­ver in 2010.

Richards cleared waivers right af­ter the All- Star break when the Kings sent the strug­gling for­ward to their mi­nor league af­fil­i­ate in Manch­ester, N. H. He re­turned late in March but had min­i­mal im­pact as the Kings failed to make the play­offs, and since the end of the sea­son the or­ga­ni­za­tion has been ex­plor­ing trade pos­si­bil­i­ties and, of late, other op­tions to get out from un­der the big con­tract.

Lom­bardi’s fail­ure to use the gift of a com­pli­ance buy­out last sum­mer was a rare blun­der by a usu­ally savvy ex­ec­u­tive. Lom­bardi went to visit Richards in his home­town of Kenora, Canada, and said to The Times then that the player “looked him in the eye” and promised to make the nec­es­sary train­ing com­mit­ment in the off- sea­son.

“Es­sen­tially, I have to trust him,” Lom­bardi said last sum­mer. “Once that dead­line goes, we’re locked in.”

The New York Rangers used a com­pli­ance buy­out on Brad Richards last sum­mer, shortly af­ter their loss to the Kings in the 2014 Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal. The cen­ter ( no re­la­tion to Mike Richards) then signed a one- year deal with the Chicago Black­hawks, who won the Cup this month.

Two other play­ers on Sun­day were put on waivers, also headed for likely buyouts — Mon­treal for­ward P. A. Par­enteau and Ducks de­fense­man Mark Fistric. Fistric, 29, has two years re­main­ing on his con­tract and the buy­out will cost the Ducks $ 1.8 mil­lion, spread over four years.

The Cana­dian net­work Sport­snet re­ported that the Mike Richards buy­out was the sixth largest in the NHL since 2005.

The move con­tin­ues a sum­mer of tran­si­tion for the Kings as three play­ers on last year’s sea­son- open­ing ros­ter are ex­pected to be else­where: Richards, cen­ter Jar­ret Stoll and in- de­mand, soon- to- be un­re­stricted free agent Justin Wil­liams.

De­fense­man An­drej Sek­era, a trade dead­line ac­qui­si­tion, is un­likely to re­turn bar­ring a dra­matic change of events. Martin Jones, the team’s No. 2 goalie, was sent to the Bos­ton Bru­ins in the Mi­lan Lu­cic trade Fri­day.

The re­cent moves by the Kings and Ducks, who ac­quired Carl Hagelin from the Rangers on Satur­day, are turn­ing the Western Con­fer­ence, and in par­tic­u­lar the Pa­cific Di­vi­sion, into even more of an arms race.

“I thought Dean [ Lom­bardi] did a good job get­ting Lu­cic,” said Ducks Gen­eral Man­ager Bob Mur­ray. “I thought that was a good move. I thought Cal­gary got bet­ter.

“The West was get­ting bet­ter here in the last cou­ple of days.”

Cal­gary’s im­pres­sive de­fense corps got even bet­ter when the Flames ac­quired Dougie Hamil­ton from the Bru­ins on Fri­day in ex­change for a first- round draft pick ( 15th over­all) and two sec­ond- round picks. Van­cou­ver tried to get Lu­cic but lost out to the Kings.

“The di­vi­sion got bet­ter for sure,” Canucks GM Jim Ben­ning told the Van­cou­ver Sun.

And Mur­ray isn’t nec­es­sar­ily done yet. He will have dis­cus­sions early this week with his vet­eran de­fense­man Fran­cois Beau­chemin, who will be­come an un­re­stricted free agent on Wed­nes­day.

“There are some things out there. I don’t know where we’re go­ing to go with that. I don’t think we’re fin­ished,” Mur­ray said Satur­day. “But I’m not go­ing to rush right into free agency. I’m wait­ing to see what hap­pens a few days into it.” Hall of Fame

De­fense­man Chris Pronger, part of the Ducks’ Stan­ley Cup cham­pi­onship team in 2007, is ex­pected to elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame on Mon­day. The other lock for the Hall is de­fense­man Nick­las Lid­strom, a Detroit Red Wings icon who won seven Nor­ris tro­phies.

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