During the 2013-14 season, eight of the 30 teams in the NHL made a change at the head coaching position. The Columbus Blue Jackets are thankful not to be one of them. Tuesday, the organization announced a two-year extension for head coach Todd Richards — one that General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen called well-deserved and earned.
"We’re fortunate right now that we’re in that situation," said Kekalainen at Wednesday’s press conference. "We have a coach that we want, and we think (he) is the best one for our team, in place and under a long-term contract."
The commitment from the Jackets toward the coaching staff cemented a relationship that has been developing in the organization since President of Operations John Davidson and Kekalainen joined the organization in 2013 when Richards was already head coach.
In professional sports, such a change in the front office often dictates changes in the coaching staff–and Richards knew he was being evaluated–but Kekalainen took a different approach to building the Jackets behind the bench.
"Often we start our day by having a coffee and talking about the game the night before, talking about the season and the lineup, who’s playing well and who’s not. We do that after games, we do that after practices," Kekalainen said. "Right from the start when I came here I’ve tried to do that with Todd."
Richards acknowledged that Kekalainen’s approach allowed him and his staff to feel supported and ultimately be involved in long-term decisions for the team–something he appreciates. The coaching and scouting teams are working more closely together under Kekalainen’s direction.
"We’ve changed our reporting system a little bit so that we’re able to speak the same language, so that the scouts understand the now and the coaches understand the tomorrow, the future, and the potential," Kekalainen said. "That’s been a goal of mine where we kind of integrate those two areas."
Other relationships that have contributed to the team’s success include those Richards has built with Blue Jackets players. The roster is one of the youngest in the league and last season Richards’ squad earned a franchise best 43-32-7 record.
"Todd knows these players really well," Kekalainen said. "The coaching staff in place, they’re the right people to grow with our young group and get them to the next level."
Ultimately, productive relationships and on-ice success have led to the extension Richards received this week. But Richards doesn’t see this extension as an endgame. He acknowledges the required growth that lies ahead to achieve the ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup.
"The one thing I try to pride myself on is I like to ask questions. I always believe that there’s a better way out there," said Richards. "And you’re always trying to find that way — to get your team to play, to practice, to prepare."
Ultimately, Kekalainen believes that securing Richards and his staff for the long term has the organization on the right track.
"I give a lot of credit to the coaching staff, and obviously our head coach, for the way our team prepares for every game, the way our team plays," Kekalainen said. "The identity we’ve established around the league, the discipline, heart, passion, and desire that our guys show on the ice — it comes from the preparation that our coaches put our team through every day."
Full and partial season tickets for the Blue Jackets’ 2014-15 season are currently available for purchase. For more information you can call (800) NHL-COLS or visit BlueJackets.com.