A year ago at this time, the word was “faster.”
“We want to play faster,” Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said heading into the 2014-15 campaign. “And we need to play faster.”
It pertained to quicker thinking on the ice, quicker puck decisions and a variety of other factors that enabled the Blue Jackets to dictate the pace of the game and force their opponents to react. After this past season, Richards said he felt the team played faster, but thought they could take it to another level.
This year, he wants his players to think a little differently – he wants them to think about pressure. But not the external brand of pressure.
“We're going to use that word a lot," Richards told BlueJackets.com. "I think if you’re playing hard and pressuring the puck, then you’re playing faster already. When you have the depth that we have here, you should play with more pressure and play a faster game because you’re able to get good rest in between shifts, and that allows you to maintain a high level of play and a high level of speed in your team game.
“We’ve got great depth right now. This will be my fifth year in the organization, and I don’t remember ever having this type of depth. It’s a credit to the team and everyone upstairs, as far as drafting, restocking the cupboards with some young talent.”
The Blue Jackets added an element of speed with the acquisition of Brandon Saad from the Chicago Blackhawks, who figures to slot right in on the top line next to star center Ryan Johansen. Though Richards isn’t quite ready to tip his hand to potential line combinations, there’s no doubt Saad will see time with several different line mates (including Johansen) when training camp and preseason games begin in less than a month’s time.
What Saad brings on the ice is already apparent, Richards said, but there’s also a lot he can add in the dressing room despite being a young guy at 22 years of age.
“I just want him to come in here and be Brandon Saad, first and foremost,” Richards said. “There are things he can add to this team on the ice in game situations and practice, but there’s also a lot he can bring to our room. A winning attitude, confidence, knowing that you’ve won and know what it takes. There will be some leadership there.
“We know what type of player he is; he’s an honest, hard-working player with a lot of speed and he can finish plays. He was on a great team and he’s going to come in here and make this team better, there’s no doubt in my mind.”
Saad is slated to arrive in Columbus in early September in preparation for camp (he’s currently working out with local NHL players in his native Pittsburgh), but there are several Blue Jackets already skating daily in the OhioHealth Ice Haus – which only adds to the budding excitement and anticipation surrounding a team that many around the NHL believe is on the verge of breaking through.
But those expectations and predictions don’t mean a whole lot to the head coach. While it’s nice that people think highly of you, the job still remains unfinished and Richards feels the Blue Jackets have a lot to prove.
“When you get down here to the arena, you see the players around here, and then read the stuff in the news and the media coverage, it gets you excited,” Richards said. “When there’s activity around the rink, noise coming from the locker room, all those things…it gets your juices going and there’s real anticipation for the season to get started.
“It doesn’t change our expectations internally. What we want to accomplish hasn’t changed and it’s the same goal every year – we want to compete for the Stanley Cup. When you feel you’re a better team, then the expectations and external pressures come into play. For everyone in here, new faces and returning players, the expectation is to win, plain and simple.”