The sad case of former Flyer Mike Richards

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Mike Richards and Jeff Carter of the Los Angeles Kings. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

IT'S BEEN a crazy month in Flyerland.

Kimmo Timonen finally won his Stanley Cup, albeit with another team.

Chris Pronger, who hasn't laced 'em up since the Phillies were good and still has a couple of years left on his gaudy contract, was traded, at least technically.

And then, a few days later, he was named to the Hall of Fame.

Up until now, the only current players who received such an honor had names like McCartney, Dylan, Jagger and, of course, Springsteen.

But the craziest chapter of the month in Flyerland involves, sadly, the Flyers captain who preceded Pronger.

Once tabbed to lead the Orange and Black into a new era of Stanley Cup championships, Mike Richards had the last five years of his 12-year, $69 million contract voided by the Los Angeles Kings on Monday after they reportedly were informed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that he is the subject of an ongoing investigation for what was described only as "an incident."

As of yesterday, no charges had been brought. Subsequent reports have stated the incident occurred along the Canadian border. TMZ Sports, citing sources, reported that Richards was stopped at the border on June 17 and questioned about the prescription drug Oxycodone.

What you can say with some certainty is that Kings general manager Dean Lombardi was caught by surprise by the incident, which reportedly came to light as the NHL draft was getting underway last Friday. Lombardi had been in trade discussions with Edmonton and Calgary about Richards, but according to the GMs of both clubs, quickly ended those conversations when he was informed of the investigation.

So it's serious stuff. Serious enough that Lombardi must feel it will hold up to the league's scrutiny - Richards' troubles are a gift from the salary-cap gods - and any appeal from the National Hockey League Players' Association as well. And an incredible fall from grace for a former Olympian who had garnered such respect from fans, teammates and opponents during his first few years in the league.

What has happened to Richards? Speculation abounds, and all of it traces to how he has conducted his life once he leaves the ice. Just last summer, after the Kings had won their second Cup and confronted some of the hard salary-cap decisions the Blackhawks now face, Lombardi mulled using the team's exemption to buy out Richards and receive cap relief. In a well-reported story, the Kings GM flew to Richards' hometown of Kenora, Ontario, where the player assured him he would dedicate himself to the game and become the player he once was.

Speaking on a Toronto radio station before the story broke Monday, Kings vice president of hockey operations and director of player personnel Michael Futa said, "It was probably the most difficult incorrect decision he's made, and it cost us."

The Kings missed the playoffs amid a tumultuous season. Richards spent much of that season playing in the AHL.

"Sure, he's been well-decorated for his incredible past,'' Futa said of Richards later in the interview. "You know what? He's the one who has to look in the mirror with regard to his decisions."

So, again, what happened? How did we miss so badly on this guy, particularly when it comes to character?

I thought from the start that Richards was given the captaincy by then-coach John Stevens way too soon, and wrote that back then. I thought it impeded his ability to develop into that leader, thought all those comparisons between him and Bobby Clarke were ludicrous and added another burden. In hindsight, the big contracts he and Jeff Carter received at such a young age probably got in their way, too.

I also thought he should have built up his body more so he wasn't always getting worn down, and given all the photos and innuendos that were habitually appearing on social media even when he was here, wondered if he was taking care of himself as the well-paid professional athlete that he was.

But I never saw this coming. The Mike Richards that played here played his heart out every night, gave it his all even when that all was compromised by injuries and, perhaps, his young man's lifestyle. And now the natural thing to wonder is whether that lifestyle eroded even that heart, creating a player and, perhaps, person few who cheered him back in those days would recognize.

A day before Richards' incident at the Canadian border, Kings teammate Jarrett Stoll reached a plea agreement after being arrested in Las Vegas for possession of ecstasy and cocaine. No link between the two incidents has been made. But the timeline, the immediate halt of trade talks between the Kings and both Edmonton and Calgary, the quick reversal of the Kings from a position where they were willing to waive the player and eat the five years remaining on his deal, to this - well, whatever comes out in the near future, you can pretty much eliminate parking ticket or even drunk-driving from the list of possible "incidents."

In fact, the only ones that make sense are serious and sad, likely signaling the end of last chances for a player we never thought would need even one.

What Mike Richards does from here is anyone's guess.

But he's probably run out of people rooting for him.


Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

Columns: ph.ly/Donnellon