The Columbus Blue Jackets took a key step forward this season, winning the first Stanley Cup Playoff games in their history and seeing the development of several prospects.
It turned out to be more than enough to convince general manager Jarmo Kekalainen he had the right coach in place, leading to the signing of Todd Richards to a two-year contract extension on Tuesday. Richards now is under contract through the 2016-17 season.
"This was something that we felt was well-deserved, earned," Kekalainen said during a press conference Wednesday. "I give a lot of credit to our coaching staff, and obviously the head coach, for the way our team prepares for every game, the way our team plays, the identity that we've established around the League. The discipline, the heart and passion and desire our guys show on the ice, it comes from the preparation our coaches put our team through every day."
The Columbus Dispatch reported that negotiations for contract extensions for the rest of the coaching staff will take place this week to match the length of Richards' contract.
Richards was named interim coach of the Blue Jackets on Jan. 9, 2012 and given the job permanently May 14, 2012. John Davidson joined the franchise as president of hockey operations and Kekalainen as general manager, and Richards said their relationship was a comfortable one from the beginning.
"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," Richards said. "But I never had the feeling that they weren't there to support. That was really from Day One. … It's not an easy situation, but they made it easy. As far as the long-term, I probably felt [secure] for the first time as soon as the season ended and Jarmo came in and made the announcement to me and the rest of the staff that they were looking for an extension for everyone."
Richards, 47, has an 85-70-16 record in 171 games with Columbus, including a franchise-best mark of 43-32-7 in 2013-14. The Blue Jackets made the playoffs for the second time and extended the Metropolitan Division-winning Pittsburgh Penguins to six games before losing in the Eastern Conference First Round.
Along the way Richards said he was impressed by how the prospects grew and matured in their games.
"There are a lot of things to be excited about, especially when you see our young players and how they've taken steps this year in their careers," he said. "David Savard, Ryan Johansen, Ryan Murray, Boone Jenner, we can go down the list. I think there were some guys that were hampered with injuries and they'll use the summer to get healthy, come back, get stronger and ready to go next year."
Kekalainen praised Richards and his staff for putting their developing players in positions to succeed, saying Jenner and Murray earned their roles and weren't awarded them based solely on being high draft picks (Jenner No. 37 in 2011; Murray No. 2 in 2012).
"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," Kekalainen said. "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."
Richards was asked if his personal goals had changed with the added job security.
"Be a better team," he said. "I think the foundation and what we wanted to establish as a group and how we play the game -- consistency, play hard, work ethic -- I think those things are in place but we can still do it better. We can still play the game harder. We need to do that, but I don't have any personal goals. For me it's always about the team and about winning the Stanley Cup."
Richards also spoke to the tremendous fan support the Blue Jackets enjoyed throughout the season and particularly during the playoffs, pointing to the community outreach his players have been a part of during his tenure.
"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," he said.