Mike Richards (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images)
Mike Richards is set to play his first game for the Manchester Monarchs Friday night. Things could be worse for him. He's going to a team that's in first place in the Eastern Conference in the American League and, as a minor leaguer, will receive an added financial bonus.
If things go swimmingly well for Mike Richards, he won’t even have to take one trip on the old iron lung. The Manchester Monarchs of the American League don’t have a road game until a week from Friday and even then, it’s only a 100-mile ride to Providence.
And there’s a chance everything will be cleared up for Richards by that time and he’ll be back in the NHL. Since the Los Angeles Kings put Richards on waivers earlier this week, he has been the subject of considerable trade speculation. The only problem is that Richards’ trade value is currently at an all-time low. In order for the Kings to deal him now, not only would they have to eat salary, they might even have to give their trading partner an asset to do the deal.
So there’s a good chance Richards will be in the minors for a while until he finds his game and gets some of his confidence back. With only 34 shopping days remaining until the NHL trade deadline, it behooves Richards to play some inspired hockey over the next month to prove he belongs back in the best league in the world.
But what if he doesn’t? What if Richards becomes the next Wade Redden, an NHL refugee with a big-ticket contract that nobody seems to want to pick up? He clearly won’t retire anytime soon, given the fact that he’s in the midst of a $7 million season and stands to make $16 million over the next three seasons if he’s not bought out. And if this contract stays intact, it could be a great one in 2018-19 and ’19-20 for budget teams looking to get up to the salary cap, since his cap hit is $5.75 million and his salary for those two seasons will be only $3 million.
If things don’t work out for Richards from an NHL standpoint, it will be a disappointment to both him and the Kings. But it will be outstanding for his financial portfolio. Here’s why:
First of all, the NHL and NHL Players’ Association quietly announced yesterday that it is increasing its escrow payments from the players to 16 percent for the third quarter of the season, up from 14 percent in the first two quarters. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed to thn.com that is exclusively because of the decline of the Canadian dollar, which continues to be devalued and is trading at just 80 cents in U.S. funds today.
But here’s the thing for Richards. Players in the minors are not subject to escrow payments, which means Richards will not have 16 percent of his salary taken away as long as he’s playing for the Monarchs, who are currently sitting in first place in the Eastern Conference.
And if the Kings decide to buy Richards out after this season, he’ll receive two-thirds of what is left owing to him, which amounts to $14.7 million to be paid out over the next 10 years. But since the contract was front-loaded and is subject to cap recapture penalties, the cap hit will not simply be $1.47 million each of the next 10 seasons. In fact, it will be $1.36 million next season, $1.86 million in 2016-17, $2.86 million in ’17-18 and a whopping $4.36 million in 2018-19 and ’19-20 before leveling off at $1.61 million each season after that until 2024-25.
And if rumors that the Kings intend to move their AHL affiliate from Manchester to Ontario, Calif., next season are to be believed, Richards could find himself playing again just 37 miles from his former NHL team.
That would be great for his personal life, but not his portfolio. While he’d still be free of paying any escrow, he’d continue to pay income tax of 13.3 percent, the California tax rate for those making more than $1 million. If he were to stay in New Hampshire and establish a residence there, he wouldn’t pay any state income tax.
ALL-STAR RATINGS DISASTER: Scoring was absurdly up for the All-Star Game, but ratings in both Canada and the United States went in the other direction. And for anyone looking for some integrity and competition, that is great news.
Because nothing, absolutely nothing, will force the NHL to address the lack of competitiveness in the All-Star Game more than having fewer eyeballs on the screens. This year’s game attracted 1.479 million viewers in Canada on CBC, which is almost 1 million down from the last time the game was played in 2012. NBCSN reported a viewership of 1.194 million, down from 1.317 million in 2012.
According to one former player I spoke with following the game, one way to spice things up would be to put something, anything on the line. He suggested the league cut a deal with Rolex to give Rolex watches to the members of the winning teams. The players probably wouldn’t even keep them, he said. They’d be more likely to pass them on to their fathers. But, the former player said, nothing stokes the competitive juices like having something on the line for the winners.
“Don’t believe me?” he said. “You should see how intense things are for a 40 dollar poker game on the plane.”
I get that nobody wants to get hurt playing in the game and the lack of hitting is understandable. But there’s nothing that says players can’t move their feet, try to recover loose pucks and at least lift a guy’s stick to play defense. After all, this is supposed to be a spectacle, a showcase of all the skill in the game. But when it’s played like the game Sunday was, there’s nothing entertaining about it.
Obviously, all those who tuned out felt the same way. This is also on the players, who are supposed to be in an equal partnership with the league. The NHL might not be able to do anything to make the game more competitive, but the players, the ones who show up at least, have to display a little more pride in their craft.