The Los Angeles Kings recalled Mike Richards from their AHL affiliate on Sunday, two months after the $69 million center’s high-profile demotion.
The defending Stanley Cup champions added the veteran to their low-scoring lineup before opening a five-game East Coast road trip with their playoff hopes in the balance.
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After three losses in their past four games, the Kings (34-23-14) sit two points behind Calgary for third place in the Pacific Division when they visit the New Jersey Devils on Monday night.
Richards was waived and subsequently sent to the minors in January when the Kings finally lost patience with several seasons of declining offensive production. The former Philadelphia Flyers captain won two titles with the Kings in an important two-way role, but he has just five goals and 10 assists in 47 games with Los Angeles this season.
After Richards cleared waivers, he accepted the minor-league assignment and had 14 points in 16 games for Manchester. He is in the middle of a 12-year contract through 2020 that carries an annual cap hit of $5.75 million.
When general manager Dean Lombardi reluctantly sent Richards to the AHL, he said the Kings could recall the veteran for the playoff push if his replacements didn’t excel – and they haven’t.
Center Nick Shore hasn’t scored a goal in his first 25 NHL games, while fellow rookie forward Andy Andreoff has one goal in 17 games. Injured veteran center Jarret Stoll has managed only six goals in 67 games – none since Feb. 14.
”You’ve got to produce,” coach Darryl Sutter said Saturday after the Kings struggled in a 4-1 home loss to Vancouver. ”At the end of the day, the guys have played 20-some games, and we’re into the stretch part and they have one or no goals. We’re having trouble scoring. The guys have got to produce. That’s just being honest.”
Los Angeles has scored only five goals in its past four games while falling out of playoff position with 11 games left. They play just three more regular-season games at Staples Center, where they have performed significantly better than on the road.
The Kings have a game in hand on the Flames for third place and a guaranteed postseason spot, but are four points behind Winnipeg for the second wild-card slot in the West.
The 2006-07 Carolina Hurricanes were the previous Stanley Cup championship team to miss the playoffs in the following season.