The Blue Jackets were in a dark place when Todd Richards took over as interim head coach on Jan. 9, 2012.
They had sunken to 30th place in the league standings by a wide margin, Scott Arniel had just been let go as head coach, and they were a young team waywardly playing out the string yet again. But while the outlook appeared bleak on the surface, Richards assumed control of the Blue Jackets with the idea that there was something positive on the other side.
When they reached the other side (or if he would even be part of it) remained to be seen, but as a coach, all he could do was take things one day at a time. Richards guided the Blue Jackets to a respectable .500 record in the second half of that ill-fated 2011-12 season, one that culminated with the club losing the draft lottery to the Edmonton Oilers and taking the No. 2 overall pick in the draft.
Before the Blue Jackets even got to the draft – a big moment in the franchise’s re-tooling effort – they had to make a decision on Richards. Former GM Scott Howson said at the time that he felt Richards was the right guy, and while he knew there would be criticism for not hiring from outside the organization, he was impressed by what Richards had done in his stint as interim coach and made the move to hire him as the team’s full-time bench boss.
After missing the playoffs by a mere tiebreaker in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign (Richards’ first as head coach), the Blue Jackets kept building, kept believing in the program and broke through this past season with a franchise-best 43 wins and 93 points.
“One thing about us is that we find a way,” John Davidson, club president of hockey operations, told BlueJackets.com. “I saw something very strong in Todd, aside from his very strong family values, last season in the first half of the shortened season last year. We were losing a lot of one-goal games early on, and he found a way to take that one-goal loss to a one-goal win. And I know Bobrovsky was very good in goal, but we still had to have commitment from all our players – and they all bought in.
“The mantra and the message from myself and management was that we aren’t going to be outworked. I want to establish a franchise that’s going to have a very good reputation for how we play the game, and we’ve established that. That’s the culture that I want. I want everyone to know their seat on the bus. I want everybody to understand how the Columbus Blue Jackets play the game, and we’ve been doing that. That much I could deliver on, and because of our players and coaching staff, it’s being delivered.”
Consistency and continuity have been key items for Davidson and GM Jarmo Kekalainen, who have stated their intent to keep Richards and the coaching staff under contract for the long term.
When Richards was hired in 2012, he added Craig Hartsburg – a veteran coach with experience at all levels – as his associate coach and retained Dan Hinote from Arniel’s staff. Both men remain part of the Jackets’ coaching staff and for the time being, it appears they will remain intact as a three-man team.