It’s the questions that binds the sports community together: your favorite team is…?
For the last half-decade or so, I haven’t really had an answer to that question. When you start writing about the NHL in general for a living, you (usually) have to back away from personal preferences to maintain perspective. I broke into this as a Detroit Red Wings writer, but I’ve since covered the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks and Chicago Blackhawks for various sites.
Any lingering love I had for the Winged Wheel was forced out by necessity. Good luck covering the ‘Hawks, Pens or Blues fairly if you still harbor fan-level love for the Red Wings.
While I don’t actively cheer for any specific team, I do have a soft spot for underdogs. That’s not specific just to the NHL; I am like that in general. I support teams that are ‘up against it.’ Your Arizona Coyotes and Florida Panthers. A part of me even feels bad for the Edmonton Oilers, because they just don’t get it.
This tendency to cheer for the underdog lead me to pull for Mike Ribeiro as he joined the Nashville Predators, and it’s why I’m going to be in Mike Richards’ corner now that he is back in the NHL.
Kings announce they've recalled Mike Richards from AHL Manchester
— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) March 22, 2015
There’s a part of me that understands that this might be a last-ditch effort by the L.A. Kings to sneak into the playoffs. According to the fantastic SportsClubStats.com, they have a 48.7% chance to make the postseason right now. I’ve already written about why I believe this team can buck the odds and make the dance. Adding Richards back into the is a master stroke by the Kings.
My least favorite part of the enhanced stats movement is the general attempt to pry the human element out of the game. To ignore the locker room, the bench, the press and what’s going on in the lives of players in the name of possession statistics and predictive models. While these tools are important, useful and enlightening, they can’t and don’t tell the whole story.
After spending 16 games with the Manchester Monarchs in the AHL, Richards is heading back to Los Angeles and he seems pretty excited about it. There’s value in that, even if it doesn’t directly show up on the scoresheet.
Just got off phone w/Mike Richards. He got the call from Kings' Rob Blake yesterday. MR : "It's like being back with your family again,'
— lisa dillman (@reallisa) March 22, 2015
There are worse ways to make a living than riding buses in the minors, but this is a 30-year-old veteran that has more than 700 games plated in the NHL. That’s a tough adjustment, but one that Richards handled with class and poise.
Anyone that underestimates the impact he’ll have in the Kings locker room hasn’t been a part of a strong team before. Not even a hockey team. Any team. (I can see the sarcastic snipers on Twitter with their little fire emojis that indicate a “hot take” now, and that’s OK. Bring it on.)
With the Kings four points outside of a playoff spot with 11 games left, they needed something to boost the spirits around the room and on the road. It’s no mistake that the Richards recall happened the day before a five-game road swing that will decide this squad’s postseason fate.
As Eric Roberts wrote over at TheHockeyWriters.com:
This road trip is not only big for the NHL but for the league because each game on this trip has playoff implications for both the Kings and the rest of the league.
This isn’t an easy slate of games either. The contest against the New Jersey Devils tomorrow is the only gimme. After that, it’s off to face four teams that are in postseason spots: the New York Rangers, Islanders, Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks. If the Kings ever needed a familiar and calming influence, that time is now.
Everyone in that room knows what Richards has had to deal with over the last year or so. He was dropped down LA’s lineup during the last postseason, and he dealt with buyout rumors all summer long. General Manager Dean Lombardi made the (honestly questionable) choice not to buyout the forward when he had the chance, banking on a bounce-back season and leaning on loyalty more than numbers.
That rebound never happened, and Richards again found himself sinking down through the Kings’ lines during the winter months. LA hasn’t exactly set the league on fire without him though, so what harm could possibly come in bringing him back to the NHL at this stage of the season?
It’s safe to assume he’s going to be skating as hard as he can and that his teammates are going to have a little extra adrenaline going during this road trip. That could really be all the difference needed. Look at what Andrew Hammond has done for the Ottawa Senators. That’s what a little human interest can do for an organization.
We won’t know if this sneakily brilliant move was effective until the end of the month, but you’ve got to give the Kings’ brass credit for trying this one last thing to inject some life into the club.
As a lover of all things underdog and comeback, I for one hope it works.