Fresh off an illustrious junior career with the Ontario Hockey League's Kitchener Rangers, he headed to Philadelphia to help the Flyers' American Hockey League affiliate in Round 2 of the Calder Cup playoffs with the NHL shut down for the 2004-05 season.
The 24th overall pick in the 2003 NHL draft, Richards helped the Phantoms to a four-game sweep of Chicago in the final, scoring seven goals and 15 points in 14 playoff games.
It was yet another accomplishment for a 20-year-old, two-way centre, who seemed destined for stardom after having already won an OHL championship, Memorial Cup title and world junior gold medal at such a young age.
Ten years later, the 2010 Olympic gold medallist and 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup champion's NHL future is in question. A 2014-15 season for Richards filled with disappointment, from being unproductive on the ice, to being put on waivers and subsequently sent to the AHL, to being the subject of trade rumours and having the final five years of his contract terminated by the Los Angeles Kings, has turned into a nightmare.
The 30-year-old native of Kenora, Ont., is now under investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for an apparent off-ice incident that occurred on the border of Emerson, Man., and Pembina, N.D.
Below, we look back on the career of Richards, the quiet leader, competitor, perennial winner, defensive stalwart and offensive contributor whose production sharply declined over a five-year period that led to him becoming a fourth-liner, unhappy and unwanted.
Richards struggled to start the season with five goals, 15 points and a minus-7 rating in 47 games. At the end of January, the Kings demoted him to their AHL affiliate in Manchester, N.H., where Richards proceeded to collect 14 points in 16 games before Los Angeles summoned him. He had an assist and was minus-3 in six games to end the regular season. Richards' 16-point season represented his least productive in 10 NHL seasons and a 25-point drop from the previous campaign.
After a disappointing 44-point campaign in 2011-12, Richards rebounded nicely in the lockout-shortened 48-game season, recording 12 goals and 32 points.
In May 2011, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren defended Richards, whose leadership was being questioned. On June 23, three years into Richards' 12-year, $68.4 million deal, Holmgren traded him to L.A. for forwards Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a second-round draft pick in 2012. Richards had 44 points in 74 regular-season games in the 2011-12 season and added 15 points in 20 post-season outings.
Richards earned the final roster spot on Mike Babcock's Olympic team for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games and worked his way into regular minutes on Team Canada's shutdown line with Rick Nash and Jonathan Toews as the Canadians downed the United States 3-2 in overtime to win gold. Richards played in all 82 regular-season games, notching a career-high 31 goals, and added 23 points in as many post-season starts to help the Flyers reach the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 1997 after defeating Montreal in five games in the Eastern Conference final.
In Game 5 against the Canadiens, Richards had an unbelievable shift on the penalty-kill. How good? Watch here …
Before a pre-season game, a 23-year-old Richards received his team captain's jersey from Flyers chairman Ed Snider and then shook hands with 11 of the club's former captains on hand for farewell-to-the-Spectrum festivities. The beloved Spectrum, site of the Flyers' first Cup title in 1974, was entering its final year of existence. On this night, Philly veteran forward Mike Knuble said Richards, whom he called the "face of the franchise," was a "real deserving guy" of the captaincy.
Richards went on to score 30 goals and set career highs in points (80), plus-minus (plus-22) and shorthanded goals (seven). In May 2009, he had surgery on both shoulders within two weeks to repair torn labrums. The following month, Richards was a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the NHL's top defensive forward.
Richards racked up 14 goals and 30 points in his first 24 games through November. In December, he signed a 12-year, $68.4-million contract, the biggest in Flyers' history and went on to lead the team in points (75), shorthanded goals (five), game-winning goals (six) and faceoff percentage (50.5). Richards added 14 points in 17 playoff contests as Philadelphia went from 30th-place the previous season to the Eastern Conference final, losing to Pittsburgh in five games.
On a late November day, Richards pumped both fists and smiled after beating Columbus goalie Pascal Leclaire from the faceoff circle to snap a 2-2 tie and give the 21-year-old his first goal in 47 games, dating back to March 11, 2006. The drought spanned the final 18 games of the 2005-06 regular season, six playoff contests and the first 22 games of the 2006-07 campaign. Richards finished the season with 10 goals and 32 points in 59 games. Sports hernia surgery and a separated left shoulder cost him 23 games. Richards was also second on the Flyers in takeaways with 47 and hits with 78.
Richards, 20, made his NHL debut on Oct. 5, 2005, scoring a goal in a loss to the New York Rangers. He tallied 11 goals and 34 points in 79 games as a rookie, adding once assist in six post-season contests.
Richards was a member of Canada's national junior team that halted an eight-year gold medal drought with a 6-1 drubbing of Russia.
At 17, Richards was an assistant captain with the OHL's Kitchener Rangers, leading the team in scoring with 87 points on 37 goals and 50 assists. Kitchener captured the J. Ross Robertson Cup as league champions after beating Ottawa in five games. A few weeks later, Kitchener defeated the Hull Olympiques 6-3 to capture its first Memorial Cup in 21 years, with Richards recording five points in four games. In June, Philadelphia selected Richards in the first round, 24th overall, in the NHL draft.