Kings to keep Mike Richards

It was the exit meeting Dean Lombardi had been preparing months for.

The GM of the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings was hoping to hear from Mike Richards what he needed to hear.

And he did.

"His self-analysis was dead on," Lombardi told ESPN.com on Tuesday.

Because of it, the NHL's final compliance buyout window of this collective bargaining agreement (buyouts that don't count against the salary cap) will come and go with Richards staying put.

It's no small decision. Richards has six years left on a deal that counts $5.75 million per season on the Kings' cap.

Richards' play had deteriorated so badly during the regular season that he had fallen to fourth-line status. The rap was that Richards wasn't in great physical shape when the season started. It's hard in this league to play catchup all year from that perspective.

"Everyone knows what this guy brings. He's very hard to find," said Lombardi. "I just think he's at a stage in his career where he has to change the way he prepares in the offseason. You can't prepare the same way at 29 you did at 22. That's what it comes down to."

Richards maintained that fourth-line role in the playoffs, although what transpired this spring is what the Kings have come to expect from Richards, some clutch performances in helping L.A. win another Cup.

That playoff performance helped sway the Kings front office to keep him, but hearing from Richards in the exit meeting was important too.

So it comes down to this: Lombardi has put his trust in a player he dearly loves. But it's big-time trust given the compliance buyout window closes June 30 for the rest of this CBA.

Lombardi has faith in a player who has had big moments for a team that's won two Cups in three years.

"We don't win the first Cup without him," Lombardi said. "In terms of what he brought to the table in terms of winning, what he did in that Vancouver series in 2012 set the tone for 'this is how you win a playoff series,' which means we're not where we are this year without having won the first Cup.

"You're loathe to ever give up on that kind of player. It's very difficult to find that special ingredient. Even through his negatives this year, who rises to the occasion in the end? Time and again he shows up at critical moments."

Being that clutch player is a big reason Richards will stick around.

"No question," said the Kings GM. "That's what you'd rather have. If you have a choice, you'll always take the playoff big-game player over the regular-season guy. But you still need to get both, particularly when you have a financial commitment under the cap; you can't just write it off. So you have to maintain a certain level of performance in order to hold that salary slot. But he's 29; he's clearly capable of it. He plays his best hockey when everything is on the line, not just big games but big moments."

There's a bigger picture element to all this too. These are the Kings. From Lombardi on down to the players, there's a kind of chemistry and family spirit in that organization that's almost unparalleled in the league. Richards is more to this franchise than just a player. Trading for him was the turning point, in many ways, for a rebuilding team years ago, a moment when the Kings turned the corner after acquiring a player who knew how to win.

There's a glue factor here. So despite the salary-cap implications and the risk involved in being locked in now for the rest of his contract, there's a deep-rooted loyalty factor that Lombardi couldn't ignore.

"There's no question that the loyalty to him and what he's done is significant," Lombardi said. "If you're going to build something that has some emotional attachment, then you have to have loyalty mean something. Sure, you have to do it within reason. Going through this process, sure I know how much he gets paid, but he deserves our loyalty if he's willing to give us that commitment."