A record number of points and wins, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, earned Todd Richards the trust of the Blue Jackets organization.
With the signing of a two-year extension yesterday, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen gave his head coach the green light to further build the franchise into a formidable Stanley Cup contender. The young squad grew right before Richards’ eyes, but the 47-year old admits that he also continues to grow as a coach and a leader.
“For me, you’re growing every day,” Richards said. “I like to ask questions because I always believe that there’s a better way out there…I think we can use every experience to learn and grow.”
An organization and team doesn’t grow on its own, but rather, it requires extensive planning and the right mix of players and coaches. Kekalainen emphasized the importance of the coach’s job to put his players in the right situation to succeed, and this year, that part of Richards' job enabled several of the organization's young players to take significant steps forward.
He applauded the system under which young stars like Ryan Johansen, Boone Jenner and David Savard were grown, but noted that their vital roles on the team were determined by their work ethic, and not the size of their contracts or where/when they were drafted.
“They came in, they earned their spot on the team and they earned their ice time,” Kekalainen said. “It’s a credit to the coaching staff for recognizing how mature those guys are, but I credit the players for doing it the old-fashioned way.”
Reflecting on last season, the areas of growth were numerous for the young club, according to Richards. From team structure to the power play unit, Richards found it difficult to cite one area as the most improved or one area that saw the most growth throughout the team.
“It’s tough to pinpoint one thing because, as a whole, the game of hockey moves so fast. You’re dealing with a lot of issues,” Richards said. “We had growth in a lot of areas that allowed us to have success.”
The franchise will grow as far as its players take it, placing an emphasis on scouting, drafting and developing prospects. Kekalainen noted that at previous stops during his managerial career, the coaching and scouting staffs sometimes “spoke different languages,” hindering the communication process between the professional and amateur sides.
Kekalainen has formed a system in which the two staffs are on the same wavelength. He wants coaches to not only evaluate what skills prospects can bring to the club now, but what they can develop into in the future and vice-versa for the scouting staff.
He said it's his goal (and part of his philosophy) to have everyone on his staff aware and cognizant of both the short and long-term goals for the organization.
“The coach’s job is to win hockey games,” Kekalainen said. “To win hockey games, we have to get better as a group. To get better as a group, we have to get better as individuals.”
The GM noted that including the coaching staff in player decisions is crucial because with hours upon hours of time spent together, nobody knows the players better than the coaches. With three more years left on his deal, Richards will get to know his players even more. However, the goal of improving as a group remains the same.
“For me, it’s all about the team," Richards said. "It’s all about winning the Stanley Cup.”