|Todd Richards at his first practice as Head Coach in 2012|
On a personal level, I think I like this move. There were things I saw out of the players down the stretch were unlike things I have seen from prior CBJ teams when playing out the string. This was a team that did not even know how to pass to itself early in the year, and they finished with solid, strong, fundamentally sound hockey. Which is a good segue to our 5 thoughts:
1.) It's like Deja vu all over again (Y. Berra) -
The choice of hiring an interim coach after a mid season coaching change has been a matter for Blue Jackets senior management 3 times, involving Gerard Gallant, Claude Noel, and Todd Richards. Gallant and Richards moved on as head coach after the process, and Noel lost out to Arniel (and Boucher). I think the way things turned out with Gerard had a big influence on the decision not to hire Noel. Gerard was hired as interim after Doug MacLean stepped out from behind the bench, and the CBJ finished the season reasonably well. MacLean gave him the full time job in the off season, and intertwined around the lockout, Gallant lead the team to the best record to date in franchise history. After a poor start, which actually looks pretty good against this year's steaming hot mess, Gallant was let go. I think CBJ senior management felt that it would be repeating history to hire Noel.
Richards comes into the job with a much stronger resume.
He has already been an NHL head coach, and did very well in his half season interview in 2011-12. Those things make this a much stronger hire than the Gallant or Noel situations. Which is not to besmirch the coaching ability of either of those gentlemen, they are both reasonably successful coaches at their respective levels.
2.) There is nothing like being the incumbent - Its hard to say you can't do a job if you are already doing it. Having the job is a great way to campaign for it, your bosses just have to decide if they can live with you. Richards said in the interview that he just behaved as if he was coach, a good way to make your boss more comfortable.
3.) There is value in stablity - Howson and many comments have reflected on the one thing that this hire does is provide stability. This space was on the record by late October, when considering Arniel's fate, that stability is an attribute worth having. While stability is good, winning is better. But stability can lead to winning. There were times when is seemed obvious that the players were not quite sure what Arniel wanted them to do, and Arniel seemed incapable of effectively communicating what he wanted from the players. Part of that may well have been the transition between a defense first, shut down system that Hitch implemented in the playoff year, and the up-tempo puck possession system Arniel wanted to push. Arniel was telling the same hockey players to do things that Hitch abhorred, and when Hitch abhorred, you listened. Old habits die hard, and much of Arniel's system must have seemed unnatural to Umberger, Nash, and many of the other veterans.
4.) Letting the leaders lead - Todd Richards seemed to be able to let the team leaders lead the team. Strangely enough, this has a lot to do with how good of a bench coach you are, and I think Todd Richards is a decent, to very good bench coach. He seems to have a good sense of the ebb and flow of a game, and generally does pretty well in managing his personnel. Arniel's rather peculiar personnel choices often prevented the Captain, Rich Nash from being on the ice in critical situations. Its tough to be a leader if the coach won't play you. The end of the season had the same players pretty much on fire, even to the extent of achieving normal season averages (e.g. 30 goals for Nash, 20 goals for Umberger) that seemed light years away at the trade deadline. Toss Jack Johnson into that mix, and the leaders were seeing a lot of ice time down the stretch, in critical situations. That builds team cohesion.
5.) The Nash Factor - It still remains that Rick Nash has a no trade clause. He is the one who decides if he goes or stays. Having Richards as coach may be a positive influence on Nash's choice. However, it is clear that senior management is ready to cut ties with Nash. He was the only player essentially not mentioned in the discussion during the press conference, and only really brought up under duress by some 'piling on', 'know it all', crazed, ,fedora packing member of the media swarm. This parting in the upcoming summer looks like it will be very painful, but at least newsworthy.
Summary: It seems like a good move, without having to make massive changes in direction. Now we get to see how it works out.