When the Caps added Mike Richards to the team, they bolstered their bottom-six group that had needed a bit of attention even before Jay Beagle went down with a hand injury - but they also brought in a player with his fair share of baggage. It's an interesting signing for the team, one that carries all kinds of questions that may not have answers until the spring.
All of the surface elements of this deal are positive for the Caps. For starters, Richards comes in on a one-year prorated $1 million salary (for a cap hit of just over $500,000), a significant discount from the $5.75 million AAV he carried before having his contract with the Kings dissolved. So it's not a huge commitment in either money or term.
The timing is pretty beneficial, as well, as it allows them to address a general lack of depth in the bottom-six (made worse by the recent injury to Beagle) without being pressured by much of a sense of urgency. The team has built up enough of a cushion in the standings, and has enough guys able to chip in on a temporary basis, that they can still afford to give Richards time to get back into NHL shape; if for some reason it doesn't work out, or if he needs a bit more time, there are almost two months left before the trade deadline to make another move.
That's the good side. As for the not-exactly-bad-but-potentially-risky side, it covers two realms: the on-ice and the off-ice.
On the ice, the concern here is that Richards is no longer equipped to play at NHL speed, regardless of how much he's been working out since being released by LA. He comes to DC as something of an unknown entity, with his last NHL action coming in early April of 2015 - the culmination of a season where his production had dipped significantly from where it had been over the course of his career, and even over the course of his tenure with the Kings, dropping to just .30 points per game.
Of course, some of that may have been impacted by other factors... which brings us to the off-ice stuff, likely the biggest cloud (if there is a cloud) hanging over this signing. Richards ran into trouble over the summer when he was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance. The question of whether that arrest, and the issues underlying it, contributed to his on-ice performance is best left to experts on any number of matters and those with more knowledge of this specific situation - but there are certainly those within the Kings organization who made the connection between his decline and his off-ice struggles. Add in the fact that Kings GM Dean Lombardi repeatedly questioned Richards' fitness level during his time in LA, and the overall picture isn't great.
So how concerned should the Caps - and Caps fans - be? Is this a risk worth taking?
Lacking any sort of ability to predict the future, this signing does seem like a risk a team like the Caps should take at this point in the season. No one's expecting Richards to come into DC and perform like the guy who used to engage in heated battles with Alex Ovechkin during his early career - and more importantly, no one thinks that's what this Caps team needs. He doesn't have to be a point-per-game guy or eat up significant minutes on the power play.
All they need from Richards is an ability to play some semblance of a puck possession game (which he should be familiar with, having played for one of the best in LA), to kill some penalties, and to give them some more options on the third and fourth lines. If he's able to get up to speed, it's not crazy to think he'll be able to achieve all of that - and as a highly-motivated player who is looking to restart his career, it's possible (albeit somewhat unlikely) that he could surpass expectations. And if he can't, as noted above, there's time and money available to address it at a later date.
Click here for Mike Vogel's exclusive interview with Richards
As for the other, non-hockey issues, those should be of less concern than whether or not he can still play. The sense here is that the team has done their due diligence. They've been tracking Richards since his initial departure from the Kings and have worked closely with Richards' former LA teammate, Justin Williams, to get the full picture of his situation. And Richards has had to complete the NHL's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program, the first step on getting back on track.
The Caps understand what they're taking on just as he probably understands that this may be his last chance to continue his NHL career - and perhaps this family atmosphere that's cultivated by Barry Trotz and carried out by the players is exactly what someone like Richards needs. At the very least, it seems to be a strong-enough locker room that it can absorb, protect, and withstand anything that might come their way in the next few months - something that would have been all but unfeasible just a few years ago.
There's a risk involved with any player brought in to a team; even more so with a player like this and a team of this caliber. But Richards fills a need for the Caps, at a low cost for the team. There's simply more to gain than to lose, on both sides of this deal... and that makes a risk like this worth it.