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John Stevens: 'Richards is like a son'

Los Angeles Kings assistant coach John Stevens is glad to have Mike Richards back in the fold after mentoring him early in his career in Philadelphia.

John Stevens: 'Richards is like a son'

John Stevens coached Mike Richards with the Phantoms and then with the Flyers. (Bradley C Bower/AP)
John Stevens coached Mike Richards with the Phantoms and then with the Flyers. (Bradley C Bower/AP)

In a Los Angeles front office filled with former Flyers staff members, Kings assistant coach John Stevens would not take any credit for playing a role in last week’s blockbuster deal that sent Mike Richards to the west coast.

But that doesn’t mean Stevens, who was dismissed at the Flyers’ head coach on Dec. 4, 2009 after parts of four seasons at the helm, wasn’t a big fan of the deal.

In fact, Stevens is exactly the guy that could help take Richards’ game to the next level after what felt like two stagnant seasons.

“Management was totally responsible for this decision,” Stevens said in an interview with Scott Laughlin on NHL Home Ice on XM Radio this week. “I don’t think too many other people other than the involved parties really knew [Richards] was available.”

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Stevens said general manager Dean Lombardi, who worked with the Flyers from 2003 to 2006 as a Western Conference scout, assistant GM Ron Hextall and head coach Terry Murray were all “extremely comfortable” with Richards.

Murray was an assistant coach with the Flyers from 2004 to 2008 during Richards’ infancy as a pro.

Their familiarity may ultimately be what swayed Lombardi to make the deal after he reportedly waffled for a little bit on trading three promising players for Richards.

“I almost feel like Mike is a son,” Stevens said, “Because we’ve seen Mike come into the organization as a young man. He won a championship for us right out of junior hockey with the Phantoms in 04-05, and we’ve seen what he did at the World Junior tournament for Team Canada and also how he performed at the Olympics.

“It’s not as if there is anything unknown about this young man. His play speaks for itself. We’re as excited about the person, Mike Richards, as we are the player. It was more just the fact that he was available and what it would take to get him to Los Angeles.”

Stevens, too, said he was stunned that the Flyers were willing to part ways with both Richards and Jeff Carter, let alone on the same day. Stevens jokingly said he thought that Richards and Carter should be treated like twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

“I don’t think anybody expected both guys to be moved,” Stevens said. “I’m sure it took a lot of thinking and going over and figuring the cap out. At the end of the day, they had to make some cap space.

“I almost look at them as if they’re the Sedins and they should be together forever. It will be odd for me to see them on different teams.”

Aside from an off-ice lifestyle change, which Richards said in a recent interview that he has been having fun looking at real estate in Los Angeles, Stevens said Richards could benefit from the change of scenery - especially in not having to deal with the media and the pressure of a defined leadership role.

Richards, by the way, will switch to No. 10 with the Kings, as his familiar No. 18 is Dave Taylor’s retired number in Los Angeles.

“It’s going to be entirely different for him,” Stevens said. “Philadelphia is a very passionate sports town and the media are very demanding. And rightfully so. They’re a very diehard, enthusiastic group of fans there and the media there are an extension of that.

“Certainly coming to Los Angeles, there are lot of other interests there, whether it be college sports or the entertainment industry or certainly the Lakers. The fan base in LA is terrific. But I do think you somewhat hide under the radar in any comparison to Philadelphia in terms of dealing with the media. In LA, we get the media coverage, but in Philadelphia the Flyers are front and center all of the time.

“I think this will be very comfortable for Mike just because he wants to just go play hockey, he wants to lead by example and he just wants to do his talking on the ice.”

As for the pieces coming back to Philadelphia, Stevens hinted that Lombardi needed to swallow hard, saying the Flyers got a good return on the trade.

Stevens said Wayne Simmonds is a “terrific person, good player. He’s an up-and-coming, hard-nosed kid that has some skill. He can play anywhere in your Top 9 for sure.” And with Brayden Schenn, Stevens said “we all had big hopes for him.”

The Flyers have already begun negotiating with Simmonds, who is a restricted free agent, and is expected to command around $1.9 million this summer.

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ILYA 24/7: NHL chief operating officer John Collins confirmed to Canada’s Globe and Mail that the Flyers and Rangers will be participating in the Emmy Award winning HBO documentary “24/7” leading up to the Jan. 2 Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park.

The documentary, installed in four parts previewing Pittsburgh and Washington last winter, was a huge hit because of the behind-the-scenes access.

What can we expect this year? How about plenty of Ilya Bryzgalov and Rangers coach John Tortorella. You can get a glimpse of Bryzgalov's bubbly personality below.

"Why you heff to be mad?"

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Frequent Flyers is your home for news and analysis of all things orange and black. Reach Frank at seravaf@phillynews.com.

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