MINNEAPOLIS - Todd Richards is the latest piece of the Minnesota Wild's off-season makeover.
Richards was hired Monday as the team's head coach, according to a person with knowledge of the decision who spoke on condition of anonymity because an official announcement had not been made.
The Wild will hold a news conference Tuesday to introduce the second coach in the team's nine-year history, and Richards will bring a clearly different approach than his predecessor.
Jacques Lemaire resigned in April, ending an era of defence-driven, patient play that helped Minnesota beat better teams but didn't yield any more than one advancement past the first round of the post-season.
Richards is more than 20 years younger than Lemaire, and he comes with only one year on an NHL bench - last season as an assistant with the San Jose Sharks. But new Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher, who worked with Richards in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, said last month he didn't see experience as the most important factor in assessing coaching candidates.
Richards spent two years as head coach of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the American Hockey League, helping lead the Penguins' top farm club to the Calder Cup finals in his last season under Fletcher's management. Richards was an assistant coach in the AHL for four seasons before that with the Milwaukee Admirals.
He will fit with the style Fletcher wants the Wild to play: fast-paced and physical, with a premium on puck possession. He'll also be a boon for the fan base, hailing from the Minneapolis suburb of Crystal. Richards is the son of a former youth coach who played four seasons in the late 1980s at the University of Minnesota.
Richards was drafted out of high school by the Montreal Canadiens and played briefly for the Hartford Whalers, spending several years in the minors and in Switzerland before turning to coaching.
Former Gophers coach Doug Woog said Monday he didn't necessarily see a future coach when Richards played for him. Richards had a sharp shot from the blue-line and could "really bomb the puck," he said. But Woog also remembered Richards for his work ethic, strong family ties and team-first attitude.
"Maybe that wasn't his dream as a high schooler or a grade-school kid growing up, to be coach of a National Hockey League team, but sometimes you're in positions where it just flows for you," Woog said.
Woog was also hopeful Fletcher and Richards will bring more American-born players to the Wild, particularly from the hockey-rich home state. Fans and local leaders in the sport grew frustrated with the dearth of such demographics on the roster while Doug Risebrough was general manager and Lemaire was coach.
Third-line centre Dan Fritsche was the only American on the roster when last season ended.
"Either they were showing their ability to control who was going to play, or they were showing they were afraid of the downfall," Woog said. "If they had played badly, it would've looked bad for the organization. But what if they had played well? It didn't seem like they had the confidence in any of them. It seemed like they were afraid of the downside."
It was quite a busy day at the team's headquarters in St. Paul.
Fletcher announced in a news release the dismissal of assistant general manager Tom Lynn, an original member of the Wild's front office who became the team's primary contract negotiator and ran the top farm club. Lynn interviewed for the job that went to Fletcher, hired last month to replace Risebrough.
Lynn told reporters last month he was being kept, but said later he must have misunderstood: Fletcher told him and fellow assistant GM Tom Thompson he was looking forward to working with them. Fletcher maintained he would take time to evaluate his front office staff before deciding their futures.