by Clark Groome

Just as the Eagles look like they’re beginning to get their act together, the baseball playoffs are generating some fine performances and a bit of controversy; and as the Flyers’ regular season is getting off to a puzzling start, the headlines again include news that indicates that the sports pages are not all about fun and games.

Former Flyers captain Mike Richards is apparently suffering from what is curiously referred to as “off-ice issues,” which seems to mean he is having trouble with drugs.

After being traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 2011, Richards’ fine performance on the ice began to diminish, although he did play a significant role in the Kings’ 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup victories.

Last season Richards was unproductive and was demoted to the Kings’ AFL farm team, the only demotion in his career. Clearly something was wrong, Nobody was saying what.

This past June, Richards was stopped at the United States-Canada border in Emerson, Manitoba. He was later charged with possessing a controlled substance, reportedly Oxycodone.

At this point, Kings general manager Dean Lombardi called off all trade talks he had initiated for Richards, placed him on waivers and terminated his contract.

Richards and the NHL Players Association filed a grievance that was settled this past weekend. Richards is now an unrestricted free agent and the Kings will have to pay a $1.32 million “cap recapture” penalty for the next five seasons. While the exact details of the Kings/NHLPA settlement have not been released, some of what Richards was owed will still be charged to the Kings’ salary cap through 2031.

The Kings’ Lombardi made a devastating and basically very sad statement to the Los Angeles Times that, among other things, said “I tried everything with Mike – meeting with him constantly, sending him to concussion specialists, traveling in the off-season to visit him at his summer home – and everything failed.”

One of the most promising and exciting young players in the NHL, the captain of the last Flyers team to go to the Stanley Cup finals was in deep trouble.

Former Flyers president Peter Luukko, now the Florida Panthers’ executive chairman, told reporters when the Flyers were in Florida last week that he was unaware of Richards’ problems.

So was Ron Hextall, with the Kings when Richards was traded and now the Flyers general manager. Hextall said, “I know this: I know Mike Richards is a good kid. I know Mike Richards was a very good hockey player and I know he cared. All the other stuff that happened I really don’t know enough to comment on it.”

Remembering back to when Richards was a Flyer, there were rumors that he and teammates Jeff Carter and Scott Hartnell were pretty serious partiers. They were cautioned about their off-ice behavior but allegedly didn’t slow down.

Somewhere along the way, it can be presumed, Richards got injured, took painkillers and likely became addicted to them. Perhaps he suffered concussions.

Richards’ case is but another in a series of situations that have led several retired hockey players to drug addiction and suicide. Similarly, many professional football players have suffered head injuries that have led to early-onset dementia, premature death and suicide.

Lombardi said in his statement to the LA Times that he feels Richards “played” him. I’m not sure why he’s surprised. Injured athletes often downplay or cover-up their injuries, or at least the extent of them. Addicts almost invariably lie.

Here’s a partial answer: If all sports at all levels would emphasize the need for honesty from their players about their health and if there were assurances made that a player out-of-action because of injury would get his job back, then maybe those who are injured won’t resort to taking drugs that ultimately do them more harm than the injury they’re being used for.

Is that realistic? I fear not. Slowly the NFL and the NHL are trying to minimize the head injuries that plague their games. That will help. But as long as the competition for the few prime spots on the ice, the field, the court or the pitch remains so fevered and cutthroat, there will be more stories in the sports pages like those involving Mike Richards.

Maybe, just maybe, Richards’ situation was caught early enough and made public enough so that he will get the help he needs. One can only hope.

  • LaKingsFanatic

    A little help to you, AHL not AFL farm team.

    Richards suffered concussions in November of 2011 from a hit from Sean Bergenheim of the Florida Panthers, a hit that was considered incidental contact with no penalty, he missed 8 games before being cleared to play. In the 2013 playoff run against the Blackhawks during game 1 he suffered another concussion from a serious hit from the Blackhawks Dave Bolland. What is interesting is that Richards was entered as healthy into the Kings lineup by game 5, also note that during this season they played back to back games in Chicago that year, so that gives you some understanding of how short a time he had given himself to get better. Not much time to recover from a devastating blow that lead to a concussion, but he was still cleared to play. The staff stated that he was fine, missing a total of 7 days between the hit and when he took the ice again. If you know anything about a hit to the chin and what your jaw does when taking a hit like he did from a player the size of Bolland, you then understand that he was severely injured.

    Mike Richards is not to be remembered in LA for being an addict, quite transversely he should be remembered for winning us our first cup with Jeff Carter as the duo was unstoppable and for doing what hockey players do best, play with the heart and determination to win, Mike Richards sacrificed his body and his soul to the game of hockey. He is all heart, willing to do what he thought was necessary to ensure his ice time, to be a part of the team and the NHL. The Lombardi drama is saving face in some ways and in other ways it seems to be that he is actually disappointed and heart broken, from the time Richards came to LA Lombardi loved and believed in him, he was like a son to Lombardi and to the organization. I am sorry things happened this way, but the NHL is a business, hockey players are unfortunately viewed as commodities. Rock stars in their own right that if not properly managed will end up on the wrong side of wealthy. I will end with best wishes and a speedy recovery, use that money to get better, to get on the ice or to get better and improve the NHL or to help other players in similar circumstances, to be honest I would love to see him behind the bench coaching any team in the NHL, he is a born leader with some of the best hockey IQ in the game. I know this will not be the end of Mike Richards.