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July 01, 2015

Kings attempt to void Mike Richards’ contract stinks to high heavens

In many ways, being a high-profile athlete in Philadelphia is like staying at the Hotel California – you can check out, but you can never leave, which is why there is still great interest in former Flyers captain Mike Richards.

The latest dramatic low in Richards' up and down career occurred over the past week when it was learned that the Los Angeles Kings had terminated his contract. The Kings, who had already parted ways with him in terms of a roster spot, were still on the hook for several years of salary cap hell and over $14 million is salary.

The Kings are in the process of trying to void the remainder of the contract on the basis of a border incident involving the drug Oxycodone, TMZ reported on Tuesday. Although there have been no formal charges, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are investigating the incident while the Kings are invoking a clause in the standard players’ contract concerning “material breach.”

Richards was shot as a player and it now appears that the Kings are trying to weasel their way out of a very bad deal. The whole matter looks and smells like a team trying to get out of a bad contract and salary cap problems.

Basically, the Kings want to use a morals clause to void a bad contract. They had a chance to buy out Richards two years ago when most people could see the player’ skills were deteriorating, but the team’s management decided they owed some loyalty.


Richards was shot as a player and it now appears that the Kings are trying to weasel their way out of a very bad deal. The whole matter looks and smells like a team with salary cap problems trying to get out of a bad contract.

You have to wonder if a productive player was dealing with the same situation as Richards, would the results be the same. It is very hard to believe that the Kings would have taken the same route.

This is likely to turn into a major case study for all sports, and the National Hockey League Players Association has to be strident in defense of Richards, and the sanctity of the contract. Unless there is a whole lot more uncovered by the RCMP, the Kings look like the bad guys in this mess, and the NHL should be advising the team to let go of this matter.

Remember, like all leagues, there are players in the NHL who have had offenses and remain under contract, and it’s a league that rightfully allowed Rick Tocchet to come back and coach after a gambling investigation.

If it turns out that this is an isolated case and there are no further developments, it will be difficult for the Kings to even get support from fans. And mind you, fans are usually the first to scream about cutting a player when they are accused of doing bad things. 

However, when fans see so many players with other transgressions remaining on rosters around the league, it is impossible to see the Richards case as anything but a team trying to circumvent the salary cap and avoid paying a contract. Even with the ridiculous level of salaries paid to professional athletes, there remains a concept that a contract has to be honored.

There is a very real possibility here that the Kings feel duped by Richards in terms of his physical conditioning and his ability to play at an elite level. It is understandable that the Kings believed Richards should have gone above and beyond effort because they showed him such loyalty by not buying him out when they were still in the amnesty period.

Well, the Kings had their opportunity at that time, and they chose to bring Richards back and honor the contract. As most of the hockey world expected, Richards was a bust and wound up in the minor leagues while the Kings failed to make the playoffs.

This is not only a problem for the NHLPA but for the NHL as well. Commissioner Gary Bettman has to be on guard for teams trying to snake their way around the salary cap while also attempting to maintain what has been a much-improved relationship with the NHLPA.

If the Kings are allowed to dismiss their commitment to Richards it would lead to teams using whatever measures they find feasible to get out of such deals, and allow them to do away with players who have simply lost the ability to compete at the level the team expected.

It might be nice for the Flyers to be able to cut ties with Vinny Lecavalier by just saying he is out of shape, or that he used some social media platform that was not in the best interest of the team — but it would be wrong.

This case against Richards stinks to the high heavens.