This morning, the Columbus Blue Jackets decided to shed the interim label on head coach Todd Richards and re-sign him for two more years. The bench boss, who previously spent two seasons with the Minnesota Wild, looks like the right choice for the job which makes his hire a step in the right direction for an organization that desperately craves a silver lining.
After taking over the job from Scott Arniel on January 9th, Richards began changing the culture both on and off the ice. Through 11 seasons, the Blue Jackets only once found themselves in the playoffs, and still are looking for that elusive playoff win. However, Richards did a good job of motivating his players even though he knew they had only pride to play for.
In 41 games, Richards led the Blue Jackets to a mediocre 18-21-2 record. But when you compare those 18 wins to their season-ending 29, it becomes more clear why those numbers are important-- in only half of the games, he accounted for 62 percent of the team's winnings. And while there is certainly room for improvement, the second-half turnaround is certainly a good start for the lowly Blue Jackets.
"We have a lot of work to do to give our fans the type of team they want but I am really excited about what lies ahead," said Richards. "We made strides last season and I'm confident that our players are ready for the challenges before us."
Not only did the team's record show their improvement, but their slumping players found their games under Richards. Forwards like Derick Brassard, R.J. Umberger, and Cam Atkinson showed why they should be considered top-6 players while Jack Johnson appeared ready to finally become a super star in this league.
Most importantly, those players are learning to become winners.
"We have high expectations and feel a sense of urgency to improve this team and establish a culture in which competitiveness and accountability breed success," said Senior Advisor, Hockey Operations Craig Patrick. "Todd has been a winner at every level of his hockey career and has developed into an outstanding coach."
Last season, Richards proved that he was not afraid to make waves and ice the best team possible. Despite the lost season, he did his best to develop top prospect Ryan Johansen in a way that not only sheltered him from a losing environment, but also rewarded him for better play.
Is benching an elite prospect like Johansen risky? Of course, but it helped change the culture of handing young players jobs, and instead, made his player work for the opportunity. Expect both Johansen, and to a lesser extent Atkinson, to work hard and compete for a roster spot in September.
The work Richards started in Columbus is not earth shattering, but it is a step in the right direction. Not only is he getting the most out of his players, he's helping to shape the identity of an entire organization. That quality in player personnel is simply invaluable, which is why he clearly earned his extension.
"Our team continuously improved under Todd and he has earned the opportunity to build upon the work he started," explained Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Scott Howson.
With such a promising young future in Columbus, and the positive response to Richards' tactics, the Blue Jackets begin their offseason with a very good start. Now Howson and Patrick can focus on both trading Rick Nash, and taking a franchise player with their 2nd overall pick in this June's NHL Draft.Photo Credit: Getty Images