April 5, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards stands behind his bench during the third period of the game against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. The Blue Jackets defeated the Avalanche, 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE
One of the biggest moves of this off-season may be a move that's not actually being made. After 41 games as the club's interim head coach, The Dispatch's Aaron Portzline is reporting that Todd Richards will have his "interim" tag lifted later today, and that he has signed a two-year contract. He will become the club's sixth "full-time" coach. This is Richards' second NHL head coaching gig, as he coached the Minnesota Wild from 2009-2011.
Richards certainly deserves credit for stabilizing the flaming shipwreck quite a bit after the departure of Scott Arniel after 41 games. Richards also should get some credit for keeping the team pushing through the end of the season, as they won 11 of their final 19 games and dealt some teams a blow in their pushes to the playoffs. As Porty also notes, Richards should get credit for something else, as well:
One of the biggest struggles under Arniel was holding onto leads in the third period, but the Jackets went 14-0 under Richards when they led after 40 minutes.
Richards still has some work to do, as the club's special teams were pretty abysmal, and it's not like an 18-21-2 record over 41 games is setting the world on fire. However, considering the club won just 11 times in their first 41, it was a big step in the right direction.
If I might editorialize a bit, I like the move on its face. However, I don't think it can be made in a vacuum. I would advocate that Richards needs to have the freedom to--and probably should--clean house on his bench and bring in his own assistants, perhaps with some more experience. I like Dan Hinote, and Ian Clark is obviously a keeper. However, Brad Berry leaves something to be desired, and it would be nice to see some more experience behind the bench in his assistants.
In addition, Richards' success will of course hinge on the success of the club's next two off-seasons. If the Jackets aren't able to shore up their goal-tending, it's not going to matter who the coach is.
All in all, though, I think the move is a good one; the club responded to Richards' leadership, and whatever he managed to do with the team's leadership group to prompt the finish they had to the season seems to have helped to create a good foundation to push into next season.