Thursday, June 23, 2011
With Mike Richards in lineup, Kings turn attention to Ryan Smyth
By Pierre LeBrun
If there is one common theme in the chats we've had with Kings GM Dean Lombardi over the past season, it's his deep urge to pick up another top-flight, bona fide center. He had one in Anze Kopitar but felt his team would not contend for the Stanley Cup until he got another one.
He had a Richards name on his mind for the past year as he thought about filling that hole, first name Brad. He was intending to make a big-time splash July 1 for the unrestricted free-agent center.
Then came a piece of startling news about four weeks ago. The Flyers were quietly making Mike Richards available. Lombardi, who worked for the Flyers before going to L.A., dropped everything and put his efforts toward getting Richards, first name Mike.
"Mike Richards pretty much stands for everything we believe in," Lombardi told ESPN.com on Thursday night. "So I knew I had to be aggressive. You don't get many cracks at guys like this."
Now, Lombardi feels a lot better about throwing out a one-two punch of Kopitar-Richards at center when you consider what the Kings need to match up with in the Western Conference: Detroit with Henrik Zetterberg-Pavel Datsyuk, Vancouver with Henrik Sedin-Ryan Kesler, Chicago with Jonathan Toews-Patrick Sharp, San Jose with Joe Thornton-Logan Couture.
"This sets us up so much better," Lombardi said.
Giving up top prospect Brayden Schenn as part of the package was a tough pill to swallow. Lombardi said no all season to any team that tried to trade for Schenn, including rejecting Edmonton's bid for Schenn in March in exchange for Ales Hemsky.
"There was no player of Mike Richards' caliber available to us at the trade deadline," Lombardi said.
With his top priority resolved, Lombardi still has some house cleaning. Namely, Ryan Smyth.
The Kings' GM confirmed Thursday night on a separate media call that Smyth, via agent Don Meehan, asked for a trade almost two months ago. When TSN's Bob McKenzie broke the story earlier this week, Lombardi intensified efforts to get a deal done.
"I'm not in a great position here," Lombardi said on the media call. "I hope to have this wrapped up in a day or two."
Lombardi said he was dealing with two teams and wouldn't mention which ones, but sources confirmed Alberta rivals Calgary and Edmonton are bidding on Smyth.
Another NHL source said the Oilers at first tried to dump Sheldon Souray on the Kings a few weeks ago. Lombardi said no thanks, and talks stalled between Edmonton and Los Angeles. The news Thursday that the Flames entered the picture seemed to reignite the Oilers, who likely could not stomach seeing the former Oilers star play in Flames colors. Both the Oilers and Flames held further trade talks with the Kings on Thursday, sources confirmed.
As of Thursday night, one source said the Flames and Oilers were neck and neck for Smyth's services. Calgary was trying to move salary, namely Robyn Regehr, to make complete a deal for Smyth.
Leafs went after Mike RichardsThe Toronto Maple Leafs' desperate search for a No. 1 center is well-documented, and you can take it to the bank that once Mike Richards was put on the block by the Flyers, Toronto phoned.
A source told ESPN.com that the Flyers wanted Nikolai Kulemin and Nazem Kadri as part of any package for Richards. Another source said the Flyers also wanted a first-round pick from the Leafs.
Whatever the case, talks fizzled and the Flyers focused on the deal with L.A.
There are some who believe the Flyers didn't want Richards traded within the conference, anyway.
The Flyers also asked Toronto whether it had interest in Jeff Carter, but the Leafs passed in the end.
More Richards falloutHow did Mike Richards find out he was traded?
"My agent called me and said that there was about a 90 percent chance today that I'd be traded," Richards said on a media call. "Then I still wasn't sure and caught it on the Internet that I was. Five minutes later, I got a call that confirmed it."
We asked Richards how he would have responded a few years ago when he signed his long-term deal if told he'd be dealt a few seasons into that monster deal.
"I probably wouldn't have signed the deal, actually, if I knew I'd be traded," Richards said. "I was fortunate enough to go to L.A. where I've heard nothing but good things not only about the organization but the city and how nice it is and how great the organization treats you. [But] when I signed that extension, I wanted to stay in Philadelphia for the rest of my career. That's what I envisioned until about 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. this afternoon when I got the call."