Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen made no bones about it after his team’s season ended: he wanted to secure coach Todd Richards with a new long-term contract as soon as possible.
Continuity and stability at the key leadership positions are the foundation of any successful organization, and that’s something both Kekalainen and president of hockey operations John Davidson sought to establish when they took over in 2012-13.
They saw Richards and his coaching staff – with an experienced associate coach in Craig Hartsburg and young assistant in Dan Hinote - guide a young and somewhat-unheralded team to within a tiebreaker of a playoff spot a year ago, and this season, piloted a team that set the franchise record for wins (43) and points (93).
Richards, only 47 years old and considered a rising star in the coaching profession, has helped raise the bar both in the dressing room and throughout the organization – and in the process, the Blue Jackets’ profile has also been raised.
“I think the way our team plays and how our identity has been established around the league is a credit to Todd and his coaching staff,” Kekalainen told BlueJackets.com. “We’re regularly or widely viewed as a hard-working and hard-nosed, disciplined team and that often is a big reflection of how the coaching staff does their work. They’ve done a great job. I’ve said it many times: that’s why I came out right after the season and said I wanted to establish a long-term relationship with Todd.
“We’re happy to have him on board for the long term and now, we can get back to work and start setting long-term plans with him as our coach until 2017, at least.”
Richards took over a Blue Jackets team that was in 30th place and going nowhere fast in 2011-12 after Scott Arniel was fired, and after a solid end to the season, his interim tag was removed with a two-year contract signed a few weeks later. In his first season as Jackets head coach, the team went 24-17-7 (.573 win percentage is the best in franchise history) and improved even further this past season with a 43-32-7 record and a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Also important, Kekalainen noted, was the valuable experience Richards gained as an assistant coach for Team USA at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. He worked closely alongside Dan Bylsma and assistants Tony Granato and Peter Laviolette, the latter of whom was recently hired as head coach of the Nashville Predators.
“You can’t forget the experience he had there,” Kekalainen said. “He was trusted by a very good coach who’s won the Stanley Cup and they worked well together. When I talk about building a team, the coach is – after the players, of course – the second most important part of building a winning team. I believe that we have a very good head coach in place.”