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Richards takes on new challenge with Jackets

by Dave Lozo
It wasn't all that long ago Todd Richards was a coach on the rise with a bright future. Less than a year after he was dismissed as coach of the Minnesota Wild, he'll get another shot as interim coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

GM Scott Howson relieved Scott Arniel of his duties not long after the Jackets lost 7-4 to the Ducks in Anaheim on Sunday night. The reins of the NHL's worst team -- the Jackets have 27 points and 8 regulation/OT wins in 41 games -- were handed to Richards, who will make his debut Tuesday night in Chicago.

"There's one emotion that's real prevalent right now, and that's just disappointment when somebody has to go and it's somebody that brought you in as a coach you're trying to support," said Richards, who was tabbed an assistant by Arniel in June. "I've been the head guy getting fired and I've been underneath the head guy getting fired. You feel more responsible as an assistant because you're there to support the head coach and help him out. You feel afterward there's more you could've done and you should've done."

At his first head-coaching job with the AHL's Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins, he went 98-49-13 in two seasons and reached the Calder Cup Final in 2008. That earned Richards an assistant-coaching job alongside Todd McLellan in San Jose for the 2008-09 season, which he parlayed into the head-coaching gig with the Minnesota Wild the following season.


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Howson and Richards worked together when Richards was at Wilkes Barre/Scranton. Howson was the GM of the Oilers' minor-league team when they lacked a single AHL affiliate. The Oilers had agreements to send their players to several AHL teams, one of which was Richards' Penguins.

"Todd's got some experience as a head coach," Howson said. "I've worked with Todd when he was in Wilkes/Barre and I was in Edmonton because we sent him players. He'll bring a fresh approach and new voice and we'll just try to move it in the right direction."

The 45-year-old Richards seemed to be a perfect fit to succeed Jacques Lemaire behind the Wild bench. Richards was born in Robbindale, Minn., and played his college hockey at the University of Minnesota from 1985-89. Wild GM Chuck Fletcher got to know Richards during their time in the Penguins' organization, where Fletcher was an assistant GM and Richards coached the minor-league affiliate.

Richards failed to find success in his two seasons with the Wild, however. He never had a losing record, going 77-71-16 in his two seasons, but he failed to make a playoff appearance and was dismissed following the end of last season.

Minnesota's power-play unit converted nearly 19 percent of its man-advantage opportunities during Richards' two seasons. During his one season as an assistant with the Sharks, he was responsible for a power-play unit that ranked third in the League at 24.2 percent.

The Blue Jackets' power play this season ranks 23rd in the NHL at 14.6 percent; last season, it ranked 29th at 14 percent.

It's just one of the many issues facing Richards as the second half of the season gets under way.

"I've got a list of to-dos," Richards said. "I have to sit down with the staff and map things out there. Eventually I have to meet with the players and talk to them. I don't think it's big changes; it's little tweaks, little things here or there."

When asked how things went so badly for the Jackets this season, Richards chose to avoid going in-depth with his answer. The Jackets got off to a slow start in part to James Wisniewski's eight-game suspension to begin the season and assorted injuries to key players, including a broken foot suffered by forward Jeff Carter.

"There's ideas, there's thoughts," Richards said. "Unfortunately, that's thoughts that I have and can't relay on to you. It's a situation we talked about and went over. I don't think you could've thought about or created a scenario that got to this point. I don't think you could sit and dream it up, just the things that went on and how we lost games and how it snowballed and manifested into bigger things. It's things we created."

Richards said this is the first time he's ever taken over a coaching job during the season.

"It's all new territory," Richards said. "It'll be different, it'll be a challenge."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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