NEWARK, N.J. — It seemed to happen so fast because it did. It was June 23 and Jeff Carter had already been traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets when the Philadelphia Flyers dealt Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings. It was the NHL’s version of cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria.
“We were pretty mad. I’m not going to lie,” Richards said. “It’s something that I’ve never had before. I’ve never been traded; Jeff’s never been traded. For us to be traded at the same time, I think was a lot of venting to each other.”
Feb. 23 was the complete opposite. Richards met with general manager Dean Lombardi and assistant Ron Hextall about the Kings acquiring Carter, and they completed the trade by sending defenseman Jack Johnson. Richards talked about the excitement of the reunion and a team-wide “confidence boost,” but it might’ve been hard for anyone to envision that deal jump-starting a run that led Los Angeles to the Stanley Cup Final.
Except maybe assistant John Stevens, who coached Richards and Carter with the Flyers and knew what could come together.
“It’s not surprising that acquiring Jeff made us better. It gave us two lines that were a real potent offensive threat with size and speed,” Stevens said. “You can check off a lot of things on your list when you add Jeff Carter to your team.”
From a pure hockey level, Carter’s presence gave the Kings another weapon on the wing. The 27-year-old scored six goals in 16 regular-season games with Los Angeles and has four in the playoffs.
While Stevens downplayed Richards and Carter’s friendship, it undeniably played a role in this improbable run.
Richards and Carter are playing together on a line much more than earlier in their careers. As teammates with Canada at the world junior championship, the Philadelphia Phantoms of the American Hockey League and the Flyers, they were both centers.
Now they’re the center of attention as the Kings get ready to open up the Cup Final at Prudential Center on Wednesday night against the New Jersey Devils.
Richards and Carter didn’t think they’d be together again so soon.
“We didn’t have that expectation, especially with our contracts,” said Richards, who’s signed through 2020, while Carter’s deal runs through 2022. “We couldn’t re-sign with each other for a long time.”
Richards said he hasn’t had a chance to reflect much on this run and the tumult of the past year. That comes in the summer, when Richards and Carter could be celebrating this turn of events alongside the Cup.
“It’s frustrating at first, but I couldn’t be happier now,” Richards said. “We get that second opportunity. Now we definitely have to take advantage of it.”