Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 2/24/12
There was little love lost last night between Jeff Carter and fans of the Columbus Blue Jackets as he was shipped off to L.A. in a trade deal with the Kings that brought the 18-35-7 home team offensive defenseman Jack Johnson and a first round draft pick in either 2012 or 2013, depending on the Kings post-season.General Manager Scott Howson said in last nights press conference they could never really get it to work with Carter, particularly on a line with captain Rick Nash, as both players wanted to score. I think Jeff struggled with this right from the outset, Howson said Thursday night. We decided it might be the right thing to try to make a move with him.It wasnt the first move the club has made in a race to reshape the team before Mondays trade deadline. Center Antoine Vermette was shipped off to Phoenix Wednesday. And while Howson wouldnt address whether Nash was the next to go or not, he made it clear these changes are just the beginning.Its been yet another rough week in a series of rough weeks for the Blue Jackets. And it shows no sign of stopping anytime soon.I think theres a lot of good friends in this room so whats going on right now its tough to see a guy like Vermette go. He was a good addition to our room. But thats the nature of the business, said Blue Jacket R.J. Umberger Thursday morning before Carter was traded. What I hope, at times like this, in a tough season, is that everybody still here gets stronger from it and our chemistry becomes better because we went through something like this together.But who will be left when its all said and done come September, including interim head coach Todd Richards, is anybodys guess. Richards, too, is auditioning for a role next season. This is, I think, its an interview of some sort. Absolutely, he said of his interim role. Where it goes, I have no idea. The challenging times as his players also audition for their futures have created a bittersweet ending to the season, as the Blue Jackets, who play tonight at home versus the Colorado Avalanche, seemingly improved in the days leading up to the trade deadline, including a 6-3 drubbing of the San Jose Sharks Tuesday night. You see these guys when theyre getting healthy, guys are playing at their best or at their peak performance level and youre seeing how good guys could be and can be, he said, adding it was frustrating to watch. Theres all different types of motivation. I have my thoughts on, obviously, certain individuals, but there are different motivations that, I think, inspire each player.But while the trade deadline is certainly a motivating factor for players playing well right now, the work that Richards has done behind the scenes cant be ignored. The teams ability to compete has increased a notch. And that can be attributed to Richards coaching style, according to the players.You know it was a tough job for him to come into the situation were in and keep the energy positive and keep us focused and everything, said Umberger. And I think hes done a very good job of it.Keeping morale up was a top priority when he first took over, said Richards.Whenever youre in a situation like this, this is really my first time going through it, but Ive been in other situations as a player where it wasnt a lot of fun coming to the rink for whatever reason. What I wanted to do was just try to lift the spirits a little bit and have guys make it a place that they wanted to come to, wanted to spend time at, make it fun to come sit next to your teammate, make it fun as best you can, he said. I think if youre able to do that, you dont really have to force guys or beg guys to work because they want to be there, they want to work, they want to do the extra things youre asking them to do as a coach because they believe thats helping their game.But, warned Richards, this isnt ha-ha kind of funthis is fun because youve worked hard.You want them to work and you want them to enjoy doing their work, which to me is the fun part, but you cant have the fun before the work, said Richards.Thats been evident in the teams practices as of late. The three-on-three practices battles were played out on just half of the ice at Nationwide Arena Thursday morning. The Blue Jackets looked fast. Competitive. They were vocal when a teammate missed a play, calling them out loudly. They banged their sticks on the glass and ice when someone scored. When the blue jerseys lost to the white jerseys, they skated laps as their consequence. Umberger, a white jersey, taunted the losers with a smile from center ice as they skated by. Other white jerseys took his cue and taunted the blue team as they circled around.This game is meant to be fun. Youre never going to get the best out of yourself or your team unless youre having fun, in any situation. There were long stretches this year where it wasnt fun for us. Losing isnt fun, said Umberger. (Richards) has brought that atmosphere into practice where were having fun but everything is meant to be extremely competitive.The tighter practices have paid off, particularly for players like Brassard, who said hes seen his share of sleepless nights this season over a string of healthy scratches for reasons he didnt understand.When everything happened, I didnt understand whyI had terrible sleepI was just wondering, Why am I not in the top six? I was just, Why? Why? Why? in my head, he said. Everything went downhill. I didnt know what to do at that point, but I think I learned from it.Its been a (lousy) first part of the season, said Brassard. I just tried to have fun and show everyone Im a great player to my teammates and to myself and at the end of the season I could really help my team.Under Richards, hes been given the chance to show what he can do. The most notable thing Richards has done, said Brassard, is hold every guy accountable. Hes making every player accountable. Guy plays seven minutes or 20hes treating everybody the same way, said Brassard. He doesnt yell at you; he teach and thats one of the good things.Richards said he holds guys accountable with ice time and equal treatment.If somebody makes a mistake and then somebody else makes the same mistake, youre holding both guys accountable, he said. Youre not just picking on one guy and letting the other guy get away with it. To me, thats the accountability part.But it goes beyond that to the skills part. While Richards maintains that, systematically, he didnt change much from what Arniel had been doing, there were some small tweaks.I think theres some different philosophies in how you want to forecheck. I think we have made changes and put more emphasis maybe in penalty kill situations and D-zone coverage areas that I felt we had to get better at as quick as we can. So those really became points of emphasis, he said.He also said the coaching staff tweaked how they went about their business, particularly leading up to going out on the ice, as well as in preparation for a game.Its just sitting down and talking more and just spending time together talking about previous games and our day coming up, what we want to accomplish. What we want to do, said Richards.Brassard said Richards is also very good about making changes in the heat of a game to adjust to the other team. Guys have been pretty good as far as buying into the system and the identity were trying to build here, said assistant coach Dan Hinote. Everybodys done a good job following that line.Where Richards as made the most impact on the team is in practice, said Hinote, saying the coach has concentrated on increasing the compete level in drills. Driving a better practice has been a priority for Richards, who said he learned form one of the best.I learned early on from (former Blue Jackets interim head coach) Claude Noel, having spent time with Claude, how a coach can drive practice. He got the most out of his players through his practices and him driving a practice, said Richards. So Ive seen it first-hand. I know that a coach can get into a practice and he can demand things and get things out of players.Its setting the bar and making players reach and exceed it, said Richards.Its whatever you expect as a coach. And then you have to demand that. But players have to understand that, too. That takes a little bit of time as far as what the expectations are every day, he said. As a coach its no different than how I expect my kids to act when we go out to dinner; they know how they need to act, they know that its please and thank you, because thats how it is. And its no different in practicing. If you want certain things out of practice, then that should be your standard. You have to get to players to expect that standard every day. Setting an expectation and sticking to it has been one of Richards strengths, said Umberger. He tries to make sure everythings concise and clear. You know, like our schedule, what practice is going to be, our game plan. Hes very direct so theres no second guessing around here, said Umberger. Were all on the same page under him.But that page is turning. Thats not necessarily a bad thing as it could usher in some much-needed new blood. Particularly, said Umberger, a loud voice.I think something we can add is a guy with kind of a crazy personality, maybe. A guy thats pretty loud and competitivewe do have a bit of a quiet team at times, before games especially, said Umberger. You could use a guy like (former Blue Jacket Jason) Chimera, who was loud, talked a lot, and at moments was pretty goofy and sometimes that helps a team out.But its more than that, said both Hinote and Richards. Its really about the character.I think were trying to evolve an identity around self-sacrifice and overall team unity. In order for that to happen you have to have a selfless type leader thats willing to do the hard work for the betterment of the team. Theres a lot of skilled guys out there that maybe dont want to do that. I dont know that would help us in trying to form an identity, said Hinote on the future of the team as the trade deadline looms. The identity we want is obviously you want to block shots, you want to fight for your teammates, you want to do the hard work in the corners, you want to do the battle work so you can win a game 1-0 and be content with that. So thats what were trying to build here. If you can find a player who embodies those values then that would be perfect.But, cautioned Richards, You cant just have 20 character guys. You have to have the skill, the speed, all these other dimensions, he said. As the Blue Jackets wait to see where theyll land, Richards is doing his best to keep the calm.Its the same routine for me. I dont think anythings different whether youre playing the Detroit Red Wings or youre playing the San Jose Sharks or youre playing the Florida Panthers. It really doesnt matter. Its a game; its a team that youre preparing for. Any team can beat you on any given night, so you have to be prepared to play a good game and thats how Ive always approached it, he said. I know its trade deadline so there are some different circumstances going around, but I havent changed the routine and I dont want to change it.
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