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Richards/Kekalainen press conference transcript

by Alex Busch / Columbus Blue Jackets

GM Jarmo Kekalainen: “Today we have the pleasure to announce the extension for (Todd) Richards. It’s his extension, so I’m not going to talk very long, I’ll let him have his press conference and talk about the opportunity here and the contract and the length and all of that. As I said yesterday in the announcement, this is something that we thought was well deserved and earned. I give a lot of credit to the coaching staff, and obviously our head coach, for the way our team prepares for every game, the way our team plays, the identity we’ve established around the league, the discipline, heart, passion, and desire that our guys show on the ice — it comes for the preparation that our coaches put our team through every day, the way we practice, the way we prepare for games. Like I said, the contract extension is well earned. Somebody mentioned today when they talked about Todd as a young coach, I think he’s getting a lot of experience this year, not only with our team but also with the Olympic team. That was something that I see as great experience, whether it be for a young coach or a little bit older coach, having coached some of the best players in the world with Team USA, and having played against the best players in the world in the Olympics.”

Head coach Todd Richards: “From my standpoint just a thank you to Jarmo, John Davidson, Mike Priest, Bill Zito, everyone in management, the McConnell family for trusting and the confidence in me, and not just me, but the staff being here and hopefully leading this team for the next three years.”

To Richards: When did you get the sense that maybe this was going to be a long-term relationship?

“I will say this about Jarmo and JD coming in, they really made myself feel confortable with support. I knew that I was probably under a microscope a little bit in terms of (management) watching the job that we did as a staff and the way that our team played. But I never had the feeling that they weren’t there to support. That was really from day one. I think I was out in LA when Jarmo was announced into the position and he was still back in Finland, and he reached out to me in LA and we talked for about 10 minutes on the phone. Again, it made you feel comfortable. It’s not an easy situation, but they made it easy. As far as the long-term, it probably felt like that for the first time at the end of the season. As soon as Jarmo came in (after the season ended), he just made the announcement to myself and the rest of the staff that they were looking for an extension for everyone.”

To Richards: Are you excited to develop the players over the course of the next several years?

“I’m really excited about that. There’s something to be said about when you look at a young team and there’s negatives with being a young team. I look at it as positives with a young team, (you can) mature and grow. They’re sponges, they want to soak it up, they want to get better and improve. It’s not to say older players don’t want to get better and improve, but a lot of times their games are really established. The enthusiasm that young guys have, the excitement and energy that they play with, there’s a lot of things to be excited about, especially when you see our young players taking steps this year in their careers. We have a lot of those guys. David Savard this year, Ryan Johansen, Ryan Murray, Boone Jenner, we can go down the list. I think there were some guys that were hammered with injuries, and they’ll use the summer to get healthy, come back, get stronger, and ready to go next year.”

To Richards: How is this security for you different than it has been in the past?

“I’m not sure if there’s a lot different. Knowing that three years gives you a little more security, but in this position being a coach in the NHL and really a coach in any sport, there’s a financial security but it doesn’t necessarily give you the security of your job. Anything could change, and it could happen quick. I know that because I’ve been through it one other time. Again, it’s being a part of the organization, with Jarmo and John (Davidson) making the decision and showing confidence in myself, but not just myself, it’s the whole staff. It’s the coaches, the trainers, the medical staff — it’s everyone. Believe me, it’s not just me. I’ve gotten great support and great help from a lot of different people this year.”

To Richards: How much have you grown since day one as the Blue Jackets’ head coach?

“For me, you’re growing every day. I think we have our habits and routines, but I think the one thing I try to pride myself on is I like to ask questions. I always believe that there’s a better way out there, and you’re always trying to find that way — to get your team to play, to practice, to prepare. The (lockout) shortened the season, it tested you. The Olympic year this year tested you in a lot of different ways. I think you use every experience to learn and grow.”

To Jarmo: What’s Todd’s role that enables young players to grow?

“We have to put those players into the right situations so that they can succeed. If you’re trying to push a young player early into a role that he’s not ready for, it’s our responsibility. We can’t put them into those situations, and I think these guys were mature enough this year. Ryan Johansen took his time, had his ups and downs before he got there, where as Boone Jenner showed great maturity right off the bat, with Ryan Murray. They came right into training camp and earned their spot on the team. It’s not something that was given to them because of being second overall or a second-round draft pick. They came in, they earned their spot on the team, and they earned their ice time all the way to the end. That’s why they both grew all year. I think it’s a credit to the coaching staff in recognizing in how mature those guys are, but also a credit to the players in doing it the old-fashioned way.”

To Richards: Where did you see the most growth in your team this year?

“I think when you go back and look at the season we had and try to pinpoint areas where you had success, it was written throughout the year about the depth of our team, and everyone contributing. At the start of the year we were trying to figure out where goals would come from, and were wondering if that was going to be a problem … there were a lot of different areas where we had growth, and we grew as a team, whether it is with our structure of our team, we were sloppy to start. We used practice and repetition to get better there. It’s tough to pinpoint one thing because as a whole the game of hockey moves so fast, dealing with a lot of issues … I think we had growth in a lot of areas to help us have success.”

To Jarmo: Did you know anything about Todd’s coaching style coming in to Columbus?

“Before I arrived here I wanted to find out from my network what kind of coach Todd was. Ray Shero, who was working in Pittsburgh and had worked with Todd before, spoke very highly of him. I had met him briefly in Helsinki, he doesn’t remember, though. They had the NHL season opener between Minnesota and Carolina in our building that I worked at, so I met Todd briefly there.”

To Jarmo: Was there a defining moment where Todd kind of became ‘your coach’?

“I try to evaluate coaches and the jobs that they do by just interacting with them everyday. Often we start our day by having a coffee and talking about the game the night before, talking about the season and the lineup, who’s playing well and who’s not. We do that after games, we do that after practices. So, right from the start when I came here I’ve tried to do that with Todd, I’ve tried to do that with the rest of the coaching staff, the trainers, the medical staff. Just by interacting with them everyday, finding out what they’re doing, what they’re habits are and what kind of people they are. It’s been going on a pretty long time. I don’t view any of the players or coaches as ‘my coaches’ or ‘my players,’ they’re valuable members of the Blue Jackets. Todd’s done a great job, we had a great finish to the season last year where we fell short. Then this year, despite a little bit of a slow start, we were able to make the playoffs and give the Penguins a good run for their money and force it to six games. We want to get more, but it’s a good step in the right direction, but like he said we have a young team and Todd knows these players really well. The coaching staff in place, they’re the right people to grow with our young group and get them to the next level.”

To both: Will there be more long-term involvement with coaches and front office now?

Richards: “Jarmo and JD have been very good when they first got here to include me, include us as coaches, in long-term decisions … they made us feel a part of it, they included us. I think that the only way that you’re going to have success, there has to be a good line of communication … you have to have that communication. If it’s just one area working on their own — if I’m just coaching and doing nothing else, and they’re just managing and doing nothing else, I think in today’s game it’s tough to have success. Credit to Jarmo and John, I knew that we were getting evaluated, but they made you feel like you were a part of it. They were talking about the next year, they were talking about the summer, and they were talking about what has to happen before training camp next year. They made you feel like you’re a part of it.”

Jarmo: “From being on the scouting side when I was running the amateur scouting and being director of player personnel in Ottawa, I thought that scouts and coaches talked different languages. You talk about the potential of players, the up-sides and all of that, but coaches want to see it now. I’ve changed our reporting system a little bit so that we’re able to speak the same language, so that the scouts understand the now and the coaches understand the tomorrow, the future, and the potential. That’s been a goal of mine where we kind of integrate those two areas. The coach’s job is to win hockey games, especially when you’re in the NHL, when you’re in the best league in the world, your job is to win hockey games. We have to get better as a group, obviously, and to get better as a group; we have to get better as individuals. There are a lot of different levels on how to win hockey games today. If you just think about today in an 82-game season, and moving from one season to another, it’s just not going to work. That’s why we try to include the coaches in the decisions, and I’m also a firm believer that coaches can’t be part of decisions that they haven’t scouted for. Lets say we’re looking at a trade and you don’t know the players except when they played against us on tape, you’re not going to get included in the decision, that’s just how it is … as far as our decisions that we have on our team, there’s nobody that knows our guys and how they play as well as the coaches, because they’re in the locker room, they live with them everyday. We try to do that, to put the finger on the pulse of the team every day, trying to get to know the players and coaches. We watch from up above, it’s a different angle that is sometimes needed too. The coaches are the ones that really know the players and what they do every day, and that’s why I think that in the decisions that we make with our team moving forward, we have to include the coaches.”

To Richards: Are there other goals you’re looking to accomplish short and long term?

“Be a better team. I think the foundation and what we want to accomplish as a group — consistency, working hard — I think those things are in place. But we can do it better, we can still play the game harder, we can do that. I don’t have any personal goals, for me it’s always about the team, it’s always about winning the Stanley Cup. There’s other responsibilities that come with the job that I firmly believe in, outside of hockey. As a coach, and as our players, we represent this organization and we have other responsibilities to the community. I think our players and our organization have done a great job of getting out into the community. We got great support this year from our fans, and I think some of that is the hockey, but I think some of it is the extra work and the time that we all put in in this community.”

To Jarmo: How essential is it that the immediate coaching situation is settled and you’re familiar with his coaching style?

I think that it’s always something that you want with your team, that you know you have the right coach in place, you have a long-term relationship established with that coach. I think it’s a situation that everybody’s looking for. When you go and build a team, the selection of head coach is going to be first on your order of priorities for sure, if you start from scratch. I think we’re fortunate right now that we’re in that situation, that we have a coach that we want, and we think is the best one for our team, in place and under a long-term contract.”

Jarmo: Can you paint the scene of the end of the season meeting with the coaches?

“It was just sort of a vote of confidence saying that, “hey you guys have done a good job and we’re going to try to do the right thing and get everyone extended.” Obviously it’s always a negotiation and you’ve got to get through the right steps to get his signature on the contract, and we were able to accomplish that. That’s basically how it happened, I talked individually to every coach and told them they’ve done a good job, we appreciate it, and we’d like to get them under a long-term contract.”

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