The Los Angeles Kings terminated Mike Richards’ contract Monday, claiming the underachieving forward committed a “material breach” of its terms.

The move is a surprising tactic in the Kings’ prolonged attempt to get out from under the last five seasons of the 12-year, $69 million deal signed by Richards with Philadelphia in 2008.

The Kings acquired Richards in 2011, and he played a key supporting role on their two Stanley Cup champion teams. But Richards’ scoring production has declined sharply during his tenure in Los Angeles.

The Kings refused to detail their grounds for terminating the deal, which carries an annual salary cap hit of $5.75 million through 2020. The NHL’s collective bargaining agreement with the players contains nebulous language allowing termination if a player should “fail, refuse, or neglect to obey the club’s rules governing training and conduct.”

In a brief statement, the Kings said Richards committed “a material breach of the requirements of his Standard Player’s Contract. We are not prepared to provide any more detail.”

Los Angeles General Manager Dean Lombardi has criticized Richards’ fitness at times while the forward struggled for much of his four seasons with the Kings, culminating in a trip to the minors last season after no team claimed him off waivers.

Richards was expected to be bought out by the Kings, lessening his cap hit by spreading it out through 2025.

Instead, the Kings are trying to declare themselves free of all obligations to Richards by breach of contract. They still would be subject to a salary cap penalty for dropping him, but it would be much less onerous.

Niemi gets three years

Former Stanley Cup- winning goaltender Antti Niemi signed a three-year contract with the Dallas Stars.

The deal Monday came two days after Dallas acquired Niemi’s contract rights from San Jose for a seventh-round pick during the draft and two days before the goaltender would have become an unrestricted free agent.

Niemi joins fellow goalis and Finnish countryman Kari Lehtonen. Now the pair will share a locker room in Dallas, faced with the persistent question of who will be the No. 1 goalie for the Stars, if they even have one.

General Manager Jim Nill doesn’t see a problem.

“I’ve talked to both guys,” Nill said after the deal was announced. “They’re both excited. The endgame is that we want to win. They’re excited that this gives us a better chance to win, and that’s what we’re all here for.”


• The New Jersey Devils have given a qualifying offer to former Gophers defenseman Seth Helgeson, along with Stefan Matteau and defensemen Eric Gelinas and Adam Larsson. The Devils adding that defenseman Corbin McPherson and goaltender Maxime Clermont did not receive qualifying offers. Helgeson spent time in Albany and New Jersey last season, collecting two assists in 22 NHL games.

• Once heralded as a key part of the Buffalo Sabres future, Cody Hodgson’s career in Western New York will soon be over. The Sabres have placed Hodgson on unconditional waivers with the intention of buying out his contract, a source said. He has four years and $19 million remaining on his contract.

• The Sharks agreed to a five-year, $16.35 million contract with pending restricted free-agent defenseman Brenden Dillon.