Mike Richards participated in his first practice since joining the Washington Capitals in New York last week, doing his best to get through the session despite not being in peak cardiovascular shape.
His first practice at the Capitals’ home rink on Tuesday wasn’t any easier.
“It was much harder, yeah, but it’s good,” Richards said afterward. “The team, obviously, is doing well, but you can just tell by watching the game and then even now in practice, the tempo that they with play with and just how fast they play, really, the main focus is getting up to speed with them.”
Last Wednesday, Richards signed a one-year, $1 million contract — essentially a deal that will carry him through the remainder of the season — marking his return to the NHL after being bought out by the Los Angeles Kings in October.
An investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that concluded in August determined that Richards, 30, attempted to cross the border from North Dakota into Manitoba with a controlled substance.
The Kings terminated Richards’ contract in June, shortly after the incident, and reached a settlement with him in October. In late November, while the Capitals were on the road playing the Toronto Maple Leafs, coach Barry Trotz and general manager Brian MacLellan met with Richards, probing his interest in joining the team.
At that point, Richards said, he began to keep a closer eye on the Capitals, watching their games in an attempt to try to understand their scheme. With Jay Beagle recovering from surgery on one of his hands earlier this month, MacLellan and Trotz contacted Richards.
When Richards is able to make his Capitals debut remains unclear. Trotz said he’d like to have him on the ice by the time the all-star break begins — which, for Washington, would be on Jan. 28, the day after a home game against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Seven games remain until then, including Thursday’s visit from the Vancouver Canucks. Trotz said that game isn’t an option for Richards, who likely will start on the fourth line to limit his minutes.
“Whenever we feel like he’s close enough and he’s ready,” Trotz said, when asked about a debut. “If you ask him, he’ll say, ‘I’m ready tomorrow,’ but, I think from a coaching standpoint, you want to make sure that he gets used to all the terminology to how we do things, the meetings, the skates, all those things. [We’re] just trying to get him in a situation where he feels really comfortable, and then we’ll put him in the game when he’s really comfortable.”
Richards played his first six seasons with the Flyers, surpassing 20 goals, 30 assists and 60 points in each of the last four. He was traded to the Kings following the 2010-11 season and his productivity decreased each year, bottoming out when he was sent to the minor leagues with a 12-year, $69 million contract he signed in 2008.
The Capitals don’t need Richards to be the dominant offensive player he was with the Flyers, but his acquisition on a potential low-risk, high-reward deal could help a team that, at 32-7-3, is off to its best start in franchise history.
“I know that he wants to do right by this team,” said right wing Justin Williams, who played with Richards with the Kings the last four seasons. “He just wants to find a little niche here and fit in and make an impact.”
Richards skated at least four times and had at least five workouts with the Capitals, Trotz said, which should have him in fine position after a week on the team.
“It’s a work in progress and it’s going to take some time, but from the skate in New York to now, I feel so much better,” Richards said. “I think it should come rather quickly, hopefully, once we get back to playing matches again.”