Todd Richards - More Than Mr. Right Now
At 9am this morning, Aaron Portzline broke the news that the Blue Jackets would make Todd Richards their newest head coach, taking the "interim" off his title.
I think it's fair to say that the reactions have been decidedly mixed. Some people say that Scott Howson jumped the gun. Others argue it's a case of stability over everything else. I think the truth runs a little bit in between the two.
While Howson got calls from "8-10" coaches, we don't know who contacted him, and if they might have been a better fit. Guys like Paul Maurice and Ted Nolan might very well be interested in getting back into the NHL's coaching ranks, but it's hard to say they'd be a better fit. I have no doubt there are coaches in the AHL, Major Junior, and even the NCAA ranks who saw an opportunity, but after the lack of NHL coaching experience burned them so badly, I doubt the team was going to walk down that road again.
A candidate like Todd McClellan might become available after the Stanley Cup Final ends, but waiting for "Mr. Right" is a dicey proposition - especially when you have a candidate in house who delivered a performance worthy of consideration.
As others have pointed out, the team is going into some major upheaval. With the team looking at trading a major player, needing to plan for how to handle the upcoming draft, and looking at a major hole between the pipes by any means necessary. Oh, and did I mention the team is trying to encourage as many fans as possible to commit to their ticket renewals before the end of this month in order to guarantee All Star Game tickets?
This move isn't just about a foundation move with the current players. It's also providing the scouting staff a better idea of what systems will be in place for next season, and helps rank and target the right players to fit that style. It helps the franchise take another step towards forming an identity, and much like the signing of Vinny Prospal to an extension, it's a move that puts people who want to win in Columbus in positions of respect and authority.
Richards embraced the challenges of the team and the locker room after taking over, and delivered results - most strikingly his 14-0 record when leading after 40 minutes, compared to the problems Scott Arniel had getting this team to protect their leads.
Perhaps most importantly, it lets the team reach out to fans and say "We've listened to your voices, and we're taking action." If the team had allowed the coaching search to stretch into early June - or worse, late June - don't you think that fans would have been even more vocal? That Scott Howson was sitting on his hands instead of going with the guy he already had?
Of course, this is not to say that Todd Richards is perfect. A lot of questions came up around how Ryan Johansen was handled during the season, and the team's power play continues to be a challenge. That's an area the team may also be able to address when Richards fills out his coaching staff. With the fate of Brad Berry and Dan Hinote currently up in the air, I wouldn't be shocked if we see new faces behind the bench helping to shape the team.
Most importantly, though, Richards is going to need the right players. It's no coincidence that R.J. and Vinny were there at the press conference. It's no coincidence that he referenced leaders like Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski...and it's also no coincidence that Steve Mason wasn't.
If Todd Richards is going to succeed, he's going to need a solid goaltender. This team may or may not have Rick Nash, but even without #61 I think the latter half of this season helped to prove that the Blue Jackets can win when they don't have to score three goals just to get themselves back into the game.
Richards got solid contributions from all of the returning "core" players and was the architect of the defensive unit built around Jack Johnson that was so successful as the year wound down. There are worse things than encouraging the club to score by committee.
The future of the club is still uncertain. Many more changes are coming, and it will be difficult to truly judge what this team is going to look like next season until July at the earliest.
But we have a head coach, we have players who will play for him, and we have a new wave of interest running through the fanbase.
Things could be far worse.