It is fitting
that Todd Richards's name be mentioned in the titles of this history; he is the
winningest Coach in Blue Jackets history in terms of Blue Jackets games won, and
represents an era in Blue Jackets hockey history. My perception from my seat in the upper bowl
is that Richards was responsible for stabilizing a situation where a hockey
club was on the rocks, getting things turned around and taking the club to the
highest heights it has ever seen. With
the inexorable spiral of a Greek tragedy the whole thing fell apart swallowed by
a wave of injuries and expectations.
As of this
writing, the Blue Jackets are the proud possessors of the most awful start
since World War II, and are yet to win in the 2015-16 NHL season. Editor's note: They finally won! Todd Richards has been relieved of his
coaching duties, to be replaced by John Tortorella. How did this come about?
I last left this space in a state of
exultation over the playoff performance of the 2013-14 CBJ, and how far we have
come. The offseason after the playoffs
started strangely, with RJ Umberger asking to be traded. Given the decline in his play, it seemed at
the time that the CBJ might buy him out, but Jarmo Kekalainen pulled off an
interesting trade when Philadelphia decided to move Scott Hartnell in spite of
his no move clause. So far this trade
has tilted in the CBJ’s favor. Sonny
Milano was drafted, to further build the pipeline, along with Ryan Collins,
Elvis Merzlikens, Blake Sibenaler, Julian Pelletier, Tyler Bird, and Olivier
LeBlanc. Blake Comeau and Derek
MacKenzie were allowed to walk, and the shock waves of the loss of the latter
still reverberate through the organization.
Brian Gibbons was signed as a free agent, and Jack Skille was picked up
off waivers after signing with the Islanders.
progresses, Cannonfest moves to Strongwater, and then some ugly news starts
circulating about the condition of Nathan Horton’s back. On top of that, Ryan Murray’s surgically
repaired knee is not at all responding to therapy, soon the CBJ groin shredding
factory would open for business. The
hits just kept coming in terms of injury news, and during the course of the
season both Boone Jenner and Sergei Bobrovsky would suffer a broken hand by
being struck by a puck in practice. By
the end of the 2014-15 season the Blue Jackets had lost a stunning total of 508
man games to injury, which is basically having 6 players out of a 23 man roster
injured for every single game.
However the overriding
issue as training camp approached was the fact that Ryan Johansen had not
signed a contract for the 2014-2015 season.
This issue loomed over training camp like a cloud until October 6, when
Johansen agreed to a 3 year contract. The
puck finally dropped on the 2014-15 season, and while the Jackets started out
okay, the tide of injuries just kept riding.
By the end of October we had a first line, and a fourth line, and
everything in between was a mess.
and the CBJ had a record of 4 wins – 6 losses – 0 overtime losses and a decimated
squad with a backup goaltender preparing to face the November schedule. It was in these dire times that one of Todd Richards’s
best attributes shone through, the ability to maintain an even keel in spite of
all the adversity. At several times
during the season this attribute was tested, as an inconsistent and beat up
hockey club ripped off several impressive winning and losing
streaks. Richards’s ability to maintain
an even keel, through winning and losing, allowed the players to gather
themselves when the chips were down, and slowly turn things around. These streaks reached a crescendo at the end
of the season, when a finally healthy hockey club ripped off a torrid 16-2-1
stretch to end the season with a confidence formed of team self discovery cushioned
by Richards’s calm demeanor.
As it so
often happens, a strength can be a weakness as well, and faced with an
inexplicable 0-7-0 start to the 2015-16 season, Richards was unable to generate
the push on the players in response to the emergency because it was contrary
to his nature. In retrospect we will
probably trivialize the nature of the emergency as a mere 8 games (~10%) in an
82 game season, but it appears that heroic efforts are in order for the rest of
the way to sniff the playoffs. In that
regard, to the fans, it appears to be another season down the tubes 8 games
into it (the new coach lost one of the games).
I’m not saying how this will end, but anyone who wanted to make the case
that we were already out of the playoffs would have a pretty good
argument. So at this point in time, this
particular 7 game losing streak (ultimately 8) assumed franchise rattling
proportions. Since Todd’s nature is to
maintain an even keel in these times, it became apparent that another direction
was needed, as rather than responding to the long leash, the team became more
repeating that during that 7 game losing streak, Richards had two (2) practices
to try to right the ship, while losing to a Toronto team that had 7 days off
before they played the CBJ, and a Minnesota team that had a game every 4 days
to start this season. However, you can’t
have a good Greek tragedy without some weird circumstance intervening to amp up
the pressure, and the NHL schedule makers did their part.
leaves the CBJ as the winningest CBJ coach in franchise history. He finishes with a CBJ record of 127-112-21
after serving has head coach from January 9, 2012 until October 20, 2015. He has recorded the only two playoff wins by
a Blue Jackets head coach, but was dogged by slow starts in every one of the
years he coached. Blue Jackets hockey is
not easy to play, and it is difficult to instantly ramp up from training camp,
where you don’t want to play that way for fear of injury, to regular season
form. Indeed, his teams seemed to need
their back against the wall before they could really play the way they needed
to experience success.
was the coach this franchise needed when he was hired. He stabilized play, and got the team to be
more defensively accountable. He laid
the foundation for future teams, and it is hoped that success will flow from
this foundation. It will be interesting
to see where he lands after this, as I don’t believe he is done coaching by any
stretch of the imagination.
above, October and the regular season started slowly, and went downhill from
there with the injury news. After
starting October 4-2-0, the injury machine got rolling, and the CBJ lost the
next 9 games after Bobrovsky went down with a broken hand and McElhinney came
back too quickly after a concussion. By
the end of October, their record had sunk to 4-6-0 with more losing on the
agenda. Veterans Day rolled around in
November, with a November record to that point of 0-4-1. With 2 wins to mark the middle of the month,
the CBJ proceeded to lose the next 6 games, to finish November 2-9-2 for an
overall record of 6-15-2.
rolled around, and the pendulum slowly swung back the other way. December started with a win, a shootout win,
another win, 2 overtime wins, and 2 shootout wins before an overtime loss ended
their winning streak, but kept the point streak alive. The Jackets ended December with a 10-2-1
record and an overall record of .500 at 16-16-3 at the end of the year.
mostly back and forth, win a few, lose a few, but with a 4 game losing streak
tucked into the middle of it, all against Eastern Conference teams, and ended
up January with a 5-8 record, losing ground on a .500 pace. This left them 21-24-3 at the end of
January. February saw them continuing
the trend of win a game or two, lose a game or two, until they ended up the
month in the midst of a 5 game losing skid.
February’s record was 5-7-1, with an overall record of 26-31-4, losing
ground on a .500 pace.
around, and the team began to get healthy, and began to play at a torrid
pace. Finishing off the 5 game skid in
early March, the team went 11-2-0 the rest of the way in March, for an overall
record for March of 12-3-0, climbing above .500 by the end of the month with a
37-35-4 record for the season to date.
In April, the
team continued to play strong hockey, and finished 5-0-1 for the month of
April. The team’s overall record for the
2014-15 season was 42-35-5, good for 89 points, a very respectable showing by
this franchise’s standards, but short of the point total necessary to make the
March 6, the CBJ ended the season on a 16-2-1 run, which is good hockey
anywhere. Unfortunately, this was
counterbalanced by the 2-13-2 run from October 24 to November 29, which effectively put
the playoffs out of reach.
lead all scorers for the year, with an amazing 31 goals-42 Assists-73 Points,
with Ryan Johansen following close behind with 26-45-71, but Scott Hartnell
finishing second in goals with 28. The
team had four 20 goal scorers, Foligno, Hartnell, Johansen and Atkinson.
joined the ranks of CBJ 30 goal scorers, joining Ryan Johansen, Rick Nash, and
Geoff Sanderson. He also joined the
ranks of 70 point scorers, with Ryan Johansen, Rick Nash, and Ray Whitney.
turned in back to back 20 goal seasons, and Jack Johnson had a 40 point season,
good for 3rd all time among CBJ defensemen. Scott Hartnell was a huge success in his
first year in the Union Blue, going 28-32-60, and more importantly showing real
chemistry with Alexander Wennberg and Marko Dano down the stretch.
Bobrovsky, once healthy, became the first CBJ goal tender to record back to
back 30 win seasons. He went 30 wins –
17 losses – 3 SOL and recorded a 2.69 goals against average (GAA) and a save
percentage of .918.
amazing non-accomplishment of the year was the total of 508 games lost to
injury during the year, a franchise record.
personnel moves were the trading of Nathan Horton and his uninsured contract to
the Toronto Maple Leafs for David Clarkson, and the trading of fan favorite
James Wisniewski to Anaheim for Rene Bourque and William ‘Wild Bill’ Karlsson,
a player who plays a game very similar to Alexander Wennberg.
middling position in a deep draft, the CBJ drafted Zach Werenski, a promising
young defenseman, and continued to add defensive depth through the draft. But the block buster trade of the offseason
was the acquisition of Brandon Saad from the Chicago Blackhawks for Artem
Anisimov and Marko Dano. Saad, only 22
years old already has two Stanley Cup rings, though the price was high, as Dano
had shown much promise. There were other
parts to the trade, but I have gone on long enough. Editors note: Yes, there was an
All-Star Game. I will produce and
addendum regarding that event.
As a final ending to this period, during the off season Nick Foligno was named Captain to the CBJ for the 2015-16 season end beyond.
So ends Todd
Richard’s role in this history, and the John Tortorella era has begun. It should be interesting to see where this