When the Los Angeles Kings traded for Mike Richards in June 2011, it was a given that they had landed a cornerstone center for years to come. Richards was regarded as one of the finest 200-foot young forwards in the NHL.

The team did not envision Richards devolving into a fourth-line grinder who finished last season playing between Kyle Clifford and Trevor Lewis. The former captain of the Philadelphia Flyers had his lowest offensive output since his rookie season in 2006-07 with 11 goals and 30 assists. Yet general manager Dean Lombardi refused to use a buyout on Richards, who has six seasons remaining on the 12-year, $69 million contract he signed with Philadelphia in 2007.

Instead, Lombardi said it's crucial for Richards to rebound.

"If you look at it and say, 'If Michael gets back to just being an average Mike Richards,' that would improve this team more than anything," Lombardi said. "He gives us the best potential to be a better team than we were last year. It's sitting right there. The team is most important. [But] I just can't imagine him accepting second fiddle to some of his peers. That's why I stuck with him in the end. I believe deep down that this guy has got too much."

Richards actually got off to a great start last season with six goals and 13 assists in the first 25 games. He filled the void left by slow-starting captain Dustin Brown, and it was reasonable to think that it was Richards' team more than Brown's in the first few weeks.