Mike Richards and the Stanley Cup pose with teammates from his men’s league in his hometown of Kenora, in northwestern Ontario. After Richards, who won two Stanley Cups while playing for the Los Angeles Kings, was suspended by the NHL last year, he joined the team — which includes his brothers, cousins and childhood friends — to keep in shape. Brother Matt is on the front row, far right, in the goalie gear. Brother Mark is in the top row, third from the right. (Photo courtesy of Mark Richards)

Mike Richards scoffed at the idea at first, but when sitting on the couch got old, he finally gave in. It became apparent that he wouldn’t start the season on an NHL roster, but he had been recruited to play in a different league. He just had to pay the $300 fee.

Before the Washington Capitals signed Richards to a one-year deal last month, he had essentially been exiled from professional hockey for nine months. He knew he needed to keep skating to stay in shape for a probably return, so he got creative.

Two nights a week, the two-time Stanley Cup champion would go to the Kenora Recreation Centre on 18 Mike Richards Way and suit up for the Kenora Kings, his brothers’ team in the local beer league. He played defense, silenced trash talk with seven-goal performances and occasionally got grumpy requests to slow down.

Less than two months after his last game with the Kenora Kings, Richards is the Capitals’ third-line center while Marcus Johansson is out with an upper-body injury.

“I think that’s where [Capitals Coach Barry Trotz] and [General Manager Brian MacLellan] first saw me this year,” Richards said jokingly. “Second in goals, but first in scoring.”

It was an odd sight for the other players in the league, the vast majority of whom have day jobs completely unrelated to hockey. For Richards, if he couldn’t be in the NHL, then the late nights playing with old friends was the best alternative to the career he admitted he took for granted.

“It was just fun being around the guys,” Richards said. “I think they enjoyed having me there. I enjoyed to be there with them, having a beer in between periods and whatnot.”

It was a welcome change of pace from a tumultuous summer. Richards was arrested in June when Canada Border Services Agency at the North Dakota-Canadian border caught him with a controlled substance crossing into Emerson, Manitoba. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police charged Richards in August.

The Los Angeles Kings terminated the remaining five years and $22 million of Richards’s contract over the summer, citing a “material breach” of that contract. After the NHL Players’ Association filed a grievance, the Kings and Richards reached a settlement in which Richards received about $10.5 million.

Richards said he never doubted that he’d play in the NHL again, but the longer his exile, the more he missed being in a rink with teammates. He watched games on television every night, but that was just a painful reminder of where he wasn’t. Then his younger brother, Mark Richards, finally convinced him to play in the Caseys Hockey League.

“I watched hockey growing up, and you watch it and wish you could be there,” Mike Richards said. “When you get there, it’s five surgeries later and concussions and what not, you don’t lose the love of it, but it wears on the body a little bit.

“Just the time away and just going to the rink with your buddies and having some jokes and going out for smokes and the usual stuff that I take for granted and that they love to come to the rink for, I think that just kind of came back to me a little bit.”

At a meeting of the teams’ captains before the season, Mark Richards casually mentioned that Mike would be playing. Cullen Rob chuckled, assuming Mark was joking, and the meeting continued. When Rob’s team played the Kenora Kings for the first time, there was Mike Richards in his Los Angeles Kings practice gear.

“They might have to be the Kenora Capitals next year,” Rob said.

The Kenora Kings are typically the league’s best team, even without Mike. With him, they were undefeated. Rob’s team was once up, 6-1, halfway through a game, and “then those guys started to get serious” and scored eight unanswered goals to win, 9-6.

“It might have been a little frustrating,” Mike Richards said with a laugh. “I mean, they got it. I played D, so I wasn’t exactly flying around out there — not that I can’t fly around out there. They enjoyed it. You’d get the odd couple guys that were like, ‘Can you please just slow it down a little?’”

Adam Wilson grew up on the same street as Richards, so when his team, the Trailer Park Boys, played against the Kings, he saw an opportunity for some friendly ribbing.

“This is where you ended up, eh?” Wilson chirped. “Back in Kenora, playing in the beer league.”

Richards reponded with seven goals. He had warned goaltender Graham Voth that he’d shoot hard and aim high. Voth said the sight of Richards winding up before a shot was “a little scary.”

“I stoned him cold most of the time. No big deal,” said Voth, against whom Richards scored seven goals on in one game.

“When Mike’s playing defense, most of us are joking, like, ‘What are you going to do one-on-one with him?’” Rob said.

The day Richards agreed to terms with the Capitals was a bittersweet one for the Caseys Hockey League. They were happy he was back in the NHL, but it also meant his arrangement with the Kenora Kings had been terminated. Without Richards, the team lost its first game of the season in a tournament over the weekend.

“I got a couple text messages saying it’s just not going to be the same,” Richards said. “My D partner was a little rattled, but they’ll get over it.”

Even though Richards wants to be refunded his $300, playing in the beer league reminded him that getting paid to do it was still supposed to be fun. He’s now found that same joy and camaraderie with the Capitals, getting to the rink more than two hours early one day because he just wanted to be around his new teammates.

“To be honest, it’s a similar atmosphere, but with superstars,” Richards said. “Minus the smoking in between periods and the beer.”