The Los Angeles Kings terminated the contract of forward Mike Richards on Monday, citing a “material breach” of contract.
Richards, 30, was placed on waivers on Sunday - many believed with the Kings seeking flexibility to buy him out of the five years and $22 million remaining on his deal.
Instead, with his contract terminated, the Kings would potentially only be left with a $1.32 million salary cap recapture penalty in each of the next five seasons. Richards would not receive any of the money owed to him.
“The Los Angeles Kings today have exercised the team’s right to terminate the contract of Mike Richards for a material breach of the requirements of his Standard Player’s Contract,” the Kings said in a statement. “We are not prepared to provide any more detail or to discuss the underlying grounds for the contract termination at this time.”
According to the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams may terminate a contract if “a player shall at any time: fail, refuse, or neglect to obey the Club’s rules governing training and conduct of Players, if such failure, refusal or neglect should constitute a material breach of this SPC” [Standard Player’s Contract].
Since he cleared waivers and his contract was terminated, Richards is slated to become an unrestricted free agent on Wednesday.
Richards and the NHL Players’ Association could opt to grieve the termination of the contract, a process which would culminate in a hearing before an impartial arbitrator. Such a process would likely take months, by which time most teams will have already filled out their rosters.
There is also an expedited process for special circumstances - though it isn’t clear at the moment whether Richards would fall in that category or even if he or the NHLPA will file a grievance.
“We are in the process of reviewing the facts and circumstances of this matter and will discuss the situation with the player in order to determine the appropriate course of action,” NHLPA spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon said.
TSN also placed calls to Richards’ agent, Pat Morris, seeking comment.
The Kings must believe they have solid grounds to terminate Richards’ contract, given the possibility of a grievance and protracted dispute involving lawyers. Their reasoning, although not made public now, would have to show just cause.
Lombardi made it clear earlier in June that Richards would not be returning to the team, his departure coming via trade or buyout. A contract termination - an unseen third option - provides the Kings by far the most flexibility. The $1.32 million cap recapture penalty a far cry from Richards’ $5.75 million cap hit - or even the ultimate $4.12 million in dead space that would’ve saddled their cap during the 10-year buyout phase.
Los Angeles could have used their final compliance buyout on Richards’ deal last summer without any cap penalties, but general manager Dean Lombardi put his faith in the belief Richards would rebound. He finished with a career-low 16 points in 53 games and spent part of the season in the AHL.
Lombardi said last month not exercising that compliance buyout “could be the worst decision I ever made … but for the right reasons.”
Richards signed the 12-year, $69 million contract with Philadelphia Flyers in 2008. He was acquired by Los Angeles in a 2011 blockbuster trade and helped the Kings to Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014.
Richards is one of the winningest players of his generation. In addition to his name being engraved on the Stanley Cup twice, he is the only person on a planet to have also won a Memorial Cup, Calder Cup, World Junior championship and Olympic gold medal.