So now, it’s how can I improve this team, and what’s available? And not blow your brains out, as far as throwing around first-rounders or Brayden Schenn or something.”  – Dean Lombardi, March 2010

… Welp.  So much for THAT, I guess.  So much for staying with the plan, so much for being patient, so much for staying the course, so much for letting the nucleus of the team grow together.  I guess it was time for this team to … blow its brains out.  So, a trade was made – an overrated trade for an overrated player, made by an overrated GM.  It’s astonishing in its symmetry.  Lombardi, perhaps sensing that time is running out on him after five years of painfully modest results, decided to do something to entertain the masses instead of doing what was best for the team, both in the short-term and in the long-term.  Things certainly aren’t what they used to be.

This isn’t meant to be a knock on Mike Richards, who is quite a good player – an excellent second line center, with the capability to play on the first line in a pinch.  Richards does just about everything well.  He can score some goals, he’s a fine puck distributor, he’s physical, he’s good defensively, he’s versatile enough to be used in all situations, and he has the experience of being a team captain.  Take away some of his puck distribution and add some goal-scoring ability, and you’d have a perfect description of Dustin Brown.

Richards, last four seasons:  112 goals in 6489 minutes, 1.04 goals per 60 minutes

Brown, last four seasons:  109 goals in 6302 minutes, 1.04 goals per 60 minutes

So, Brown and Richards have scored goals at about the same rate, but that doesn’t tell the whole story, does it?  That’s because team context has to be considered as well.  Richards, over the last four seasons, has been 4th, 3rd, 2nd, and 5th on his Flyers’ teams in goals, while Brown has been  1st, 3rd, 2nd, and 1st on his Kings’ teams in that same span.  This serves to illustrate part of the problem that I have with this deal.  Here we have a player, Richards, who has clearly benefitted from a better supporting cast than Brown has, and thus appears to look better than he really is – when, in fact, the difference between he and Brown is very minor.  This is why I see Richards as an overrated player.

However, by reading around online, one might think the Kings had just acquired the new Great One; that it’s 1988 re-loaded – that Richards is the man who is worth abandoning the plan to build from within, and that he turns the Kings into instant contenders – very much like the talk was regarding the Kings’ acquisition of Wayne Gretzky 23 years ago.  There’s a small problem with this mindset, however.  I knew Gretzky.  I saw him play.  Mike Richards is no Wayne Gretzky.  Gretzky was worth the price the Kings paid way back when; he was worth it from a talent standpoint and he was worth changing the philosophy of the franchise, to a certain extent.  Richards is not worth it, from either standpoint.  Things aren’t what they used to be.

Let’s take a look at the throw-in in this trade – Wayne Simmonds.  It was common knowledge that Wayne suffered a decline from 09-10 to 10-11, but what I don’t feel was so commonly considered is that the man was just 22 years old last season.  Did the Kings (or any of their fans) actually believe that this decline was going to continue, and that we’d seen the best we were ever going to see from him?  And, beyond that – how does Simmonds stack up to Richards, even with last season’s decline?

Simmonds, even strength, last two seasons:  2069 minutes, 29 goals, 40 assists, .84 goals per 60 minutes, 1.16 assists per 60 minutes

Richards, even strength, last two seasons:  2346 minutes, 32 goals, 36 assists, .82 goals per 60 minutes, .92 assists per 60 minutes

Now, that’s tough to look at, isn’t it?  Mike Richards, an established so-called “great player”, is getting outscored at even strength over the last two regular seasons by Wayne Simmonds – a player who is, for all intents and purposes, just starting out.  Now, if one wants to argue that Richards is a better defensive player than Simmonds, I won’t disagree.  But, Simmonds is pretty good in his own right.  If one wants to argue that Richards brings more intangibles than Simmonds, I won’t argue that, either.  But Simmonds has showed every sign in his short career that he’s a gritty and tough player who’s more than willing to go to the populated areas of the ice, and does so with no fear.  Simmonds was part of the most dynamic Kings’ line in the playoffs against San Jose – his scoring chance numbers (20 for, 21 against) in those playoffs was the best ratio of any Kings’ forward – but that isn’t even the point.  The point is that we were seeing a niche being formed with three young forwards on a line, working together and improving their levels of ability.  So, if you thought that the performance of Kyle Clifford in the playoffs (which largely was a result of that line’s overall work) made Simmonds somehow “expendable”, then I’m afraid you’re missing the point entirely.

Simmonds is three and a half years younger than Richards.  Do you know how much can change in three and a half years?  Less than three and a half years ago, the Kings were selecting Drew Doughty in the draft.  Remember that?  How much has changed since then?

Speaking of how much things can change in time … let’s now take a look at Brayden Schenn – a guy who is, arguably, the best player not in the NHL; arguably, the best prospect in the game today.  In a supposedly “stacked” Kings pipeline, Schenn was the most promising of them all.  Brayden is just 20 years old right now; he’s six and a half years younger than Richards.  Both Schenn and Richards played four years in junior, from ages 16-20, so we can make a pretty decent comparison between the two:

Schenn, regular season and playoffs in the WHL:  267 games, 366 points, 1.37 PPG, +102

Richards, regular season and playoffs in the OHL:  274 games, 348 points, 1.27 PPG, +75

Now … it’s very dangerous, I think, to place labels on players.  Saying that someone will be a “future superstar” – what does that even mean, really?  It’s absurd.  But, there are those who have said that Brayden Schenn’s potential is to become a “future Mike Richards” – just as absurd, if you ask me.  Schenn could be a complete bust in his rookie season, he could put up a season comparable to Richards’ rookie season, or he could surpass Richards entirely.  But, what we DO know right now is that Schenn has done everything possible to qualify himself as a player who belongs in the NHL right now, as much as Richards earned it years ago.

Putting a label of “proven” on Richards and a label of “maybe” on Schenn to somehow rationalize that the Kings needed to make a deal like this now is ridiculously simplistic and goes against everything this franchise has stood for over the last five years.  And for what?  A guy who compares unfavorably to Simmonds in even strength scoring, a guy who compares unfavorably to Brown as a goal scorer?  Now, you might say, “well, J.T., there’s more to hockey than even strength scoring and overall goal scoring”.  True.  But, what are the Kings’ most pressing needs???  Even strength scoring and overall goal scoring.  Again, don’t get me wrong, here.  Richards is a good player.  Is he THIS good???  No, he isn’t.  Richards is good on the draw – but is he as good on the draw as Stoll, the man who will be taking fewer draws next season as a result of this trade?  No, he isn’t.  Richards is great on the PK – is that an area where the Kings were desperate for help?  No, it isn’t.

The Kings gave up way too much.  And, I haven’t even addressed the 2nd round pick that they also gave up.  They were, in my view, taken to the cleaners.

Now, I understand the excitement and the testosterone that flows around a team’s fanbase when a good player is acquired in a trade.  Just look at the reaction here, for an example – the people are definitely entertained.  I’m also not against going out and getting good players.  But, at what cost?  The Kings are apparently shedding salary by dealing off Ryan Smyth; wasn’t that going to put them in position to acquire talent without giving up two of their most promising young players, or at least to lock up all of the so-called “core players” and ensure they would be progressing in this organization for years to come?  I can’t believe that the mindset and philosophy that so many of those who constantly voiced “In Dean I Trust” over the last several years has turned 180 degrees in less than 24 hours, and I can’t believe that I’m one of the few people who is wondering what in the hell happened to building the organization the right way and believing in the talent we’ve produced.  Wasn’t I supposed to be the “anti-Dean” guy?  Wasn’t I accused over and over again of not “seeing the big picture” and not being “patient” enough with Lombardi?  Things certainly aren’t what they used to be.