Should Capitals Trade Laich for Richards?

Posted February 3, 2015

The Los Angeles Kings are in town to play the Capitals and their trip to Washington also included a visit to the White House. As the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Kings met Barack Obama for the second time. However there was someone important missing this time around, Mike Richards.

As you probably know, Richards was placed on waivers last week and was sent down to the minor leagues after no team claimed him. He declined the opportunity to attend the White House ceremony, and it looks like his days in Los Angeles could be over. His seemingly diminishing skills and large contract have made it tough for the Kings to find him a new home via trade. The 29-year old Richards is signed through 2019-20 at $5.75 million average per season and many felt he should have been a compliance buyout during the off-season.

Brooks Laich, spring of 2012 (Photo Credit: M. Richter)

Brooks Laich, spring of 2012 (Photo Credit: M. Richter)

The Capitals have their own player that many people felt should have been bought out over the off-season, Brooks Laich. Once considered a future captain, Brooks has run into injury issues over the past few seasons but is finally healthy again and has settled into a successful third line role. He is under contract until 2016-17 with a $4.5 million average per season. He’s also dreamy to look at.

Laich has 5 goals and 7 assists in 35 games this season and has averaged 15:47 of ice time per game. Richards has 5 goals and 10 assists in 47 games this year and has averaged 13:42 of ice time per game. Without getting into fancy stats, you could say that Laich has been marginally more useful this season. Keep in mind they play on different teams, for different coaches, on different lines, with different linemates. We’re not scientists, statisticians, or scouts, so it’s tough to know for sure which player is really better at this point in their career.

What we do know for sure is their NHL career numbers:
Mike Richards – 704 GP – 179 G – 302 A – 481 PTS – +21 – 577 PIM
Brooks Laich – 652 GP – 130 G – 179 A – 309 PTS – +1 – 265 PIM

Richards, the former Flyers captain, has shown a downward trend in performance, but so has Laich. Neither player is currently living up to their contract, however overall Richards has been a much more valuable player over his career. He was once considered an elite two-way center and has competed at the highest levels of the sport, in the Olympics and the Stanley Cup Finals. Nobody would argue that Laich has been as good as Richards to this point in their careers. Well almost nobody. George McPhee once compared the two players, in an obvious attempt to inflate Laich’s ego and defend his own decision to use Laich as his 2nd line center :

We don’t see any real difference in terms of ability to play between a Brooks and, if you look around the league, a Mike Fisher in Nashville, Mike Richards in L.A. or David Backes in St. Louis. Same type of players.

Maybe that is why McPhee is no longer in Washington, but that is neither here nor there. It seems both teams would like a chance to get out from under a poor decision, and both players could use a fresh start. Laich has indicated in interviews recently that he is dedicating more effort to his relationship with Julianne Hough (at the expense of hockey apparently), who happens to live in Los Angeles. Washington has been trying to fill the second line center position for years. Why not attempt to plug that hole with a guy who has won two Stanley Cups?

There would need to be some creative cap management to make the deal happen, and Washington would be taking on a lengthy contract and substantial risk. Under the CBA, the Kings could take on up to 50% of Richards’ salary in a trade situation. We’re thinking realistically the two teams would split the difference between the two players somewhere in the middle. So for argument’s sake, we’ll say the Kings would pay $750,000 of Richards’ number, and the Capitals would assume the $5 million number and be right at the cap after subtracting Laich’s $4.5 million hit. If Richards didn’t regain his form at all, then it would clearly be a horrible move with the lengthy term. He’ll turn 30 years old in a week though and we find it hard to believe that Mike Richards’ NHL career is over.

What do you think? Could the Capitals trade Laich (or someone else) for Mike Richards? Would the Kings be willing to make that deal? Should the Capitals trade for Mike Richards? Is it the type of bold move that will help this team get over the hump and win a cup? Or is it the type of move that would handcuff the franchise for years to come? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.