First, let us acknowledge there are many layers -- and several factors -- that will determine how this developing situation between Mike Richards and the Los Angeles Kings will unfold.
It is not immediately clear what caused the Kings to terminate the two-time Stanley Cup champion’s contract. Although multiple sources told ESPN.com it involves a recent off-ice incident, the team is simply citing a "material breach" of Richards' contract.
The biggest issue right now is whether the NHL Players’ Association will file a grievance to challenge this termination, but the NHLPA is still in fact-finding mode before making a determination on this option.
Here is what we know:
If Richards was involved in an off-ice incident that warranted contract termination, the optics are terrible for the Kings. Remember, the team has already seen two of its players embroiled in ugly off-ice situations: Defenseman Slava Voynov is currently awaiting trial on a felony charge of domestic abuse against his wife, stemming from an incident in October, and soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Jarret Stoll recently plead down to a pair of misdemeanors after initially facing a felony drug possession charge after an arrest with cocaine and MDMA in Las Vegas.
All that aside, this development could be fortuitous for the Kings, should the termination stand.
Prior to the termination of Richards’ contract, the Kings were more or less resigned to buying out the remaining five years on his deal, which comes with an annual cap charge of $5.75 million. That would have been a tough pill for the Kings’ brass to swallow, especially considering GM Dean Lombardi had the opportunity to use a compliance buyout the past summer and elected not to do so.
A cap-strapped Kings team would’ve had to factor in a reduced annual hit for the next 10 seasons, had they gone that route.
With the termination of the contract, Richards’ annual cap hit comes off the books. Granted, the team is still on the hook for any cap recapture penalties incurred, but still, this option provides the club with much-needed financial flexibility.
The Kings were thrilled to get key youngster Tyler Toffoli under contract with a two-year deal last week, but they were preparing to write off the possibility of re-signing pending UFAs Justin Williams and Andrej Sekera.
Williams is still probably a lost cause, especially with acquisition of power forward Milan Lucic on Friday, but Sekera could remain a possibility, provided the Kings have cap room.
Again, it will take some time to see how these situations play out -- a potential grievance from the NHLPA, Voynov’s court case and current suspension, etc. -- so it’s a bit fluid for now, but the Kings might be able to take advantage of a loophole and get out from underneath an onerous contract that threatened to haunt them for years to come.