Monday, May 23, 2011

Todd Richards - WHAT?

Scott Arniel is rumored to be recruiting ex-Minnesota
coach Todd Richards to the CBJ staff
Word comes out of The Cannon's daily "Shrapnel" that Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Scott Arniel is recruiting fired Minnesota Wild head coach Todd Richards as a replacement behind the bench for recently-quit offensive (in the hockey logistics sense of the word, though last season's CBJ stats would support the perjorative use) coach Bob Boughner.

Let's look at Richards with eyes wide open and see what he would bring to the table.

Richards is another ex-jock, like Arniel, bouncing around between the Hartford Whalers and its Springfield Indians affiliate between the 1990-91 and 1992-93 season.  He then finished out his playing career in the IHL from 1993-94 through 2000-2001 with a final swing through the Swiss-B league in 2001-2002.

Upon giving up the playing route, Richards jumped into coaching.  He served as an assistant to former CBJ assistant and interim head coach Claude Noel at Nashville's AHL affiliate in Milwaukee for three seasons, then moved on to take the head coaching reins at Pittsburgh's AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for a couple of seasons.

Richards' AHL resume is solid, assisting Noel on his one Calder Cup championship run and taking the WBS Pens to the finals in one of his two years.  What I can't tell is whether that AHL success is a function of Richards' coaching prowess or the strength of the Predators and Penguins' respective farm systems.  Surely, Richards isn't an idiot, because precious few idiots actually win championships as coaches.  But there's a wide gap between "not an idiot" and "a really good coach."

After leaving the AHL for one season as assistant to Todd McLellan with the San Jose Sharks, Richards was lured by former Pittsburgh assistant GM Chuck Fletcher to be the head coach for the retooling Minnesota Wild.

Richards' fit with Minnesota's roster was bad at best.
Would his fit as an offensive coach in Columbus be any better?
The Wild, as you probably know, were looking to ditch coach Jacques Lemaire's neutral zone trap and embrace the higher octane, offensive-happy, "puck possession" scheme of the Crosby-Malkin Pittsburgh Penguins.  CBJ fans should know the story as it almost perfectly mirrors the Blue Jackets' drift away from Ken Hitchcock and "Hitch Hockey" toward the faster-paced approach of Arniel.  The similarity goes even deeper - Minnesota, like Columbus, had a roster that was largely ill-suited to play the style of hockey that the new head coach wanted.

Richards had two seasons (meaning Fletcher had an offseason in-between to plug holes and fill gaps) to make Pens Hockey work in the Twin Cities.  How did they do - and how did they compare to the Blue Jackets?
  • 2009-10
    • Minnesota: 38-36-8, 84 points, missed the playoffs
    • Columbus (Hitchcock/Noel): 32-35-15, 79 points, missed the playoffs
  • 2010-11
    • Minnesota: 39-35-8, 86 points, missed the playoffs
    • Columbus (Arniel): 34-35-13, 81 points, missed the playoffs
Along the way, Richards helmed the team when the franchise's 409-game sellout streak came to an end.  Richards couldn't move the needle on the ice, and the butts no longer were stapled to the seats, so he was fired.  In my opinion, rightfully so.

It's not so much that he couldn't improve the team beyond his first season's effort, it's that he ran out of tools in his toolbelt.  Recall that Richards bag-skated the Wild after a mid-October 3-2 loss to the Blue Jackets.

That's right, a bag skate only four games into the season.  That, my friends, is the sign of a desperate coach who is looking to shock his team out of complacency and into competitiveness.  Did it work?  Look at the records above.

To his credit, Richards tried everything else he could think of.  Take a look at these quotes from March 25:
"You don't hear me behind closed doors, so it's a little bit different there," Richards said. "But I also think when you're at Game 65 or 60, there's certain things that a coach can do, but the players have all the power.

"They're sick of listening to me talk, and I've yelled at them enough. They know what's expected. It comes down to playing for each other and holding each other accountable."
"They're sick of listening to me talk, and I've yelled at them enough." Because it wasn't working.

Then, only two days later (and with roughly three weeks left in the season), Richards took an introspective tone:
Richards deflected talk of his job security, noting with some muted sarcasm that he always can tell how things are going by the questions he's asked by the media. He admitted how tempted he was to run a more taxing practice. "The guys, if you talk to them, to a man they're all embarrassed with the way the game went," he said. "They're disappointed with the way the end of the season is winding down, and they're hard on themselves. And, to be honest with you, I've been hard on 'em this year in certain instances. I didn't feel it was the time where I had to knock 'em down any lower."

But know this: Richards was able to find sleep after a bad game Saturday. No matter what happens going forward, he will have peace of mind. He'll find sleep again.

"I have two kids, so you always want to be a role model to your kids," Richards said. "And I'm not perfect by any means. ... I made mistakes along the way. That's how you learn. But when I put my head on the pillow every night, knowing you can sleep and rest and relax? I have that. Obviously I want our team to do better. But, as far as the daily things I've done, I'm comfortable. I'm fine with that."
Is it possible for a guy to say, "I give up" any more clearly than that without saying the exact words?  So perhaps getting fired was the best thing that could happen to the guy.  Clearly, he left the Twin Cities a defeated man.

But what was the problem in Minnesota?  Was it the personnel?  Was it the coaching?  Was it a mismatch between the two (because you can have decent talent and a decent coach, and sometimes it just doesn't click)?  I won't pretend to have the answer to those questions.  I can only look at Richards' stats and try to determine whether that makes him a good fit as an Arniel assistant in Columbus.

So let's presume that Richards would be slotted into the Boughner role of coaching forwards and the power play.  I suppose it's possible that Arniel could shake up the coaching assignments, but it would be hard to do so when Brad Berry is entrenched as the defensive/penalty kill coach.  Goalkeepers aside, the only other change would be bringing Dan Hinote down from the press box and hiring someone for that role.  I just don't see Richards accepting that role unless it was the only offer he had.  From anyone.  Anywhere.  That being said, it looks like Richards would play "the new Boughner" role.

With some help from En4cer45, I've been working through the offensive stats for both the CBJ and the entire league.  One of these days, my larger work on this front will make up an "Out of Time" season recap article or two.  Right now, though, I'll extract 2010-2011 numbers for the CBJ and Wild:
  • Columbus
    • Goals scored: 215 (25th in NHL)
    • Shots attempted: 2,394 (21st)
    • Shooting percentage: 9% (21st)
    • Power play: 14.0% (29th)
  • Minnesota
    • Goals scored: 206 (26th in NHL)
    • Shots attempted: 2,148 (30th)
    • Shooting percentage: 9.6% (8th)
    • Power play: 18.2% (13th)
What does that tell me? The Wild were worse off on the offensive front than the CBJ.  I think I can hear echoes of "SHOOT THE $#%@#$%!!!! PUCK!" all the way down here from St. Paul.  The only redeeming factor on the shooting front is that the Wild could pop it in at a better rate than the CBJ...but let's not overstate the shooting percentage factor.  Apply Minnesota's 9.6% to the CBJ's 2,394 shots, and you get just over 220 goals - or 22nd in the league.  Still nowhere near good enough.

I can't say that Richards is a BAD NHL coach, but his team's statistics
show me nothing that indicate that he's a GOOD NHL coach.  
Richards did have a better power play.  Not an elite-level power play (the real drop between great and good appears to be between 5 and 6, where there's a roughly 2 point spread), but a better one than Boughner's "romper room on ice."  But was it the roster, the scheme, or both?  I just don't know enough to know that he was the difference-maker.

So there you have it.  A reasonably successful AHL coach, a middling-to-bad NHL coach, a coach of an even worse NHL offense than Columbus', a mis-cast coach considering the NHL roster he inherited and a man who ran out of ideas and, in the process, apparently lost the locker room before getting fired.

Is that what Columbus needs right now?  More appropriately, is that what Scott Arniel needs right now? I say no.  Give me an ex-NHL championship coach (EDIT: I'll just take one who has won in the league), one who knows the game, understands how to reach players (especially on a roster overloaded with pointless one-way contracts) and can simultaneously serve as an on-the-job mentor for Arniel while revving up the long-anticipated CBJ offensive barrage.

Who is that man? I don't know. But by the looks of it, Todd Richards doesn't appear to be it.

I'm all for redemption of the type that Boughner appears to be angling toward in Detroit (good luck with that), but I don't see it happening for Richards here in Columbus.

Not with his bona fides, not with this roster.

Please, coach Arniel, look somewhere else.


  1. perhaps Richards could help bring in a Brent Burns or similar player that he has had a past with...maybe its a recruitment move ontop of just a staffing move...

  2. Credit where credit is due - the original reports about Richards came from Porty. I just collected them, and noted that it's interesting that Richards is NOT showing up on the "potential replacement head coach" radar so far this summer.

  3. Thanks for the clarification, BZArcher. I thought I had heard the rumor elsewhere...your piece prompted me to action, however.

  4. I'm not sure how well a coach can be judged as an assistant, based on his success as the head guy. The roles are quite different and may not require many of the same abilities. In particular, the way an assistant meshes with the head coach, the area he's asked to cocentrate on, and how he relates to his players might all be more important than his PR attitude, overall game management, willigness to mingle with ownership and/or fans, etc. I'm not saying Richards is the perfect replacement for Bougner, just that his stint with the Wild need not disqualify him, either.

  5. Wild fan here. Richards was not that great of a head coach IMO. He seemed to have a good knowledge of systems and could run them well in WBS and SJ with the talent to match, but the Wild were slower, older, and less skilled. They were terrible defensively until asst coach Rick Wilson came in this past year. Richards also was poor at managing ice time and matchups on ice, as he didn't believe in line matching. Most of the time his system was chipping the puck in deep and chasing it with varied degrees of success until late this season, where it was chip the puck in deep and watch the team give up both possession and mentally. He could be a good coach IMO, but I think he's probably 5-10 years away and needs way more experience.

  6. Point taken, Pete.

    JL, your comments do not inspire me one bit. But I greatly appreciate your thoughts as they fill out the picture on this end.

    (Please, coach Arniel, look elsewhere!)


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