The last impression that Mike Richards had in the AHL was him lifting the Calder Cup as a member of the Philadelphia Phantoms in 2005. That playoff run was the only experience that Richards has had in the AHL after coming out of the OHL and Richards put up 7 goals and 15 points in the playoff run for the Phantoms. Now, almost a decade later, Richards will be taking his first regular season steps into the AHL as he begins his path into getting his game back and maybe going back into NHL– whether it be with Los Angeles or elsewhere.
Yet, starting tonight– the big question is where Richards can fit in and how he’ll be able to crack a line-up in the AHL that is tops in the Eastern Conference and only three points out of top spot in the entire league. Odds are that because of the fire power in the middle of the ice, Richards could be resigned to the third line behind Jordan Weal and Nic Dowd; which is a huge shot to the ego of Richards who is a two-time Stanley Cup winner, but also a guy who’s game is wearing his body down and taxes it to the point where he’s worried about keeping an AHL spot at 30 years old.
Manchester host Portland on Friday and don’t have another game until Wednesday, which should make adjustment period for Richards very slow and leave an unknown into what they want to do with him. One of the solid perks is that Richards won’t be that alone when it comes to NHL regulars who were cast off to the AHL, as Jeff Schultz is down in Manchester right now and continues to adjust to the back and forth in trying to gain a NHL spot back.
It may not be much, but with Schultz down there; Richards could actually learn his role and learn his spot when it comes what to do while making hay in the AHL. Schultz was a regular in the Washington Capitals line-up, but fell out of favor quickly with the team and the fan base with his consistency on defense going by the wayside. Now, Schultz toils on an already deep defense in the LA Kings organization, but has been good enough to get called upon by the Kings at a couple points during the season. Schultz does have a Cup ring for last year, but spent most of the 2013-14 season in Manchester almost relearning the game and the role he needs to play to get back into the NHL. Schultz even did this at a younger age than Richards, so readjusting could have been a little bit rough for Schultz; but he seems to have found his spot and knew that he had to do those things he may not wanted to do in order to get back into a NHL line-up; even if only spot call-up duty.
Should he feel the need, Richards should reach out to Schultz when it comes to what to do, how to act, and just what state of mind he has to be in. Richards is a guy who has been so highly-touted, this low point in his career could be more damaging than any serious injury he could experience. It’s all about ego and it’s all about what Richards wants to do and how he wanted to be perceived by the rest of the hockey world in his stint down there. There have been many guys before him and many guys that are going through the same things as Richards that shows the true character of a player, which is something that raised his folklore to all-times high when he was in the Philadelphia Flyers organization.
Whether or not Richards can get his game back or whether or not he learns from this– Richards’ tale is something that will probably be seen more and more in the NHL and there were be a bigger and bigger sample size to pull from in these kinds of scenarios. If he can grind through the depth chart in Manchester, it could do Richards a world of good for not only his hockey value, but his leadership value and folk lore going deeper into his hockey career.