The Crystal, Minn., native was able to play at the sport's highest level, albeit not for long. Richards was a second-round draft choice of the Montreal Canadiens in 1985, but appeared in just eight NHL games with the Hartford Whalers.
It took nearly 20 years for him to get back to the NHL. After one season as an assistant to Todd McLellan with the regular-season champion San Jose Sharks, the 42-year-old was introduced as the second coach in Minnesota Wild history on Tuesday afternoon at Xcel Energy Center.
"As a child growing up and in high school, you always imagine yourself and picture yourself being a star in the NHL," said Richards, who won 98 games over the course of two seasons as coach of the AHL's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins from 2006-08. "I wasn't able to do that, but other avenues have opened up for me."
In Minnesota, Richards will be reunited with General Manager Chuck Fletcher, who managed hockey operations for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during Richards' tenure there. Fletcher had been with the Penguins' organization since 2006 before being hired by the Wild last month. Richards -- a former captain at the University of Minnesota -- replaces Jacques Lemaire, who resigned at the end of the regular season.
"Todd has had a terrific career in hockey -- both as a player and as a coach," Fletcher said. "He starred at the University of Minnesota for four years as a top-end defenseman. The last six teams he's been a part of have posted 100-point seasons. To me, Todd's record as a player and coach speaks for itself. He's a proven winner and an ideal fit for this franchise going forward. He's a passionate coach."
Richards intends to bring a more offensive style to the Wild -- one they've been unaccustomed to since Day One, when the defense-minded Lemaire was named the first coach in franchise history. Minnesota scored 219 goals in 2008-09, the second-fewest in the Northwest Division.
"The type of hockey we want to play is up-tempo (and) fast," said Richards, who spent four years as an assistant coach for AHL Milwaukee from 2002-06 and won a Calder Cup in 2004. "You watch the teams that were in the (Stanley Cup) Final this year, and they both play a certain style. You have to have the personnel to play that type of game, and in looking at our roster, we believe we have that foundation here. You want to dictate the pace and dictate the tempo of the game. It becomes an entertaining game to watch. There will be a transition period, but I think it's easier to go from a defensive style to an offensive style. You ask every player in the League, that's the type of game they want to play."
One player who likely would like to play this style is Marian Gaborik, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Gaborik made $7.5 million in 2008-09 but appeared in only 17 games due to injury, tallying 13 goals and 10 assists. Fletcher is hopeful the sides can agree to a new deal.
"Now that Todd's been hired, I think it's probably a critical piece of information for Marian to consider," Fletcher said. "We now have a coach in place to present to him. Certainly, we'll reach out again to Marian. We're just a couple of weeks removed from free agency, so I think everything will take shape pretty quickly or won't take shape pretty quickly. But we're at the point where it'll be nice to have a coach to present as part of our package."
As far as Richards' lack of experience at the NHL level, Fletcher seems far from concerned. In the end, the Wild GM believes Richards' ability to communicate is what set him apart from other viable candidates.
"He's coached for seven years … he's certainly paid his dues," Fletcher said. "I truly believe that talent is the most important thing. Experience is an element, but how you deal with people and how you get the players to buy in and execute … I think your skill-set and your overall talent takes precedent over experience. Logically when you think of it, how do any of us get experience until we do something?"
With this being his first opportunity, Richards said he understands that it may take some time before the players earn his trust.
"In this business as a coach, I'm trying to sell the players something," Richards said. "They have to buy it. I think they will buy it. It's a fun way to play hockey."
It's also a style that Minnesota fans haven’t seen from their team since its inception. That, though, is about to change.
"I know what hockey means to the people here in Minnesota," Richards said. "This is a very proud moment for myself and my family. I look forward to the challenges ahead."
|Todd Richards' AHL Coaching Record|
|2006-07, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton||51-23-2-4||2nd/East Division|
|2007-08, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton||47-26-3-4||1st/East Division|
|2006-07, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton||5-6||Lost in second round|
|2007-08, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton||14-9||Lost in Calder Cup Final|