This is segment two of a three-part interview with Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards.
With the Columbus Blue Jackets making the move to the Eastern Conference as part of the newly formed Metropolitan Division, Todd Richards looks ahead to the new season and the expectations that it will bring.
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“It’s no different than the previous season,” he said, “it’s to win the Stanley Cup. That’s my expectations going in. If we don’t achieve that, then we didn’t reach our goals. But, the one thing that we have to be careful of is thinking that it’s just going to happen.”
“Because, it’s not just going to happen. It’s not that all of a sudden we are going to show up at the rink and we’re going to pick up right where we left off last season. It’s not going to happen that way. So, we had better be prepared to do more. We need to work to get ourselves into shape. So that when we start the season, we’re ready to start on time.”
The Blue Jackets added Marian Gaborik at the trade deadline last season in a trade that sent forwards Derick Brassard and Derek Dorsett, as well as defenseman John Moore to the New York Rangers. To consummate the trade, Gaborik waived his No Trade Clause. He has one year remaining on his contract. And on the first day of Free Agency this summer, they signed playoff-hardened forward Nathan Horton to a seven year deal worth $37.1 million.
Although Horton has undergone shoulder surgery and is expected to out until at least December, and Gaborik is in a contract year, they are both welcome additions to the Blue Jackets toolbox that Todd Richards wields.
“It gives you options as a coach,” Richards said. “The one area that we were struggling with last year was scoring goals. It was pretty immediate when we acquired Marian (Gaborik), as far as him drawing attention to himself, which opens up other players. Now, not only is he a great goal scorer, I think because of his presence, it opens up more space on the ice for other guys.”
“And, I think Nathan (Horton) will do that same thing,” he said, “once he gets into our lineup. From a coaching standpoint, it gives you welcome options as a coach. You’ve got a left-handed and a right-handed shot, guys that have proven that they can score in this league.”
“But, what we also need, is other guys to step up. We need our young players to take another step. We had some guys that came in (last season) and did a great job for us. We need more out of Cam Atkinson, Matty Calvert and Ryan Johansen. I think we also have had some guys that have been here for a while that have had some off years, as far as scoring and production.”
He goes on, “we need those guys to contribute and step up. I think if we do that, and we will do that, we’re going to have more potency to our offense.”
He is excited about the move to the Eastern Conference and the challenges that it brings. “What it does for us as a team, the players and the guys that are traveling with the team, it really helps out on travel. That’s probably the big thing. I think where it does affect us is our organization and our brand as the Columbus Blue Jackets, so the fans can get attached to the team.”
“I don’t know what percentage of our games were played out on the West coast in a 10:00 or 10:30 time slot. That makes it hard for fans to get attached to the team. So, by playing the majority of our games in the same time zone, maybe just even an hour ahead, that’s going to help us out from an organizational standpoint and it helps out the fans.”
One aspect of the move to the East that he’s looking forward to is the Columbus fans making more road trips to see their team. “I see them (fans) traveling better,” he said. “You saw the excitement as we finished the season last year. That’s what we have to do, as a team and as an organization. We need to get our fans excited. Get them attached to the team.”
“I know what it was like as a young kid growing up in Minnesota, when the Minnesota North Stars were making runs to the Stanley Cup. You got attached to the team. And, now you’re interested in the team. That’s what we have to do. Winning does that. I think, even more important than winning, was how we were winning games. It was how we were playing the game.”
Two players that might have a decent chance at making the big club out of training camp are center Boone Jenner (CBJ 2nd rd. pick, 2011 Entry Draft) and defenseman Ryan Murray (CBJ 1st rd. pick, 2012 Entry Draft). Both players continue to impress the organization as they develop their skills, and head coach Todd Richards likes what he sees from these two players.
“I expect them to be in shape and be ready to go,” he said. “And then, the chips are going to fall where they fall. You’ve got to be careful about how you treat your young players. There are a few players that can make the jump from Juniors or college right to the NHL. But, there’s a lot to be said about having these players find their NHL game and their maturity while they are in the minors (league).”
“There’s something to be said about being the best at the level that you’re at. And, some of that is to go through the American League (AHL). I’m not saying that they’re going to start there, we just don’t know. It’s going to be all up them, how they come in and how they perform.”
It has taken a few years, but the Blue Jackets have depth at many positions now. The fact remains that a club is built through the draft and their prospects. Columbus has been restocking their cupboard, and this is good for the future of the club. With so few spots available going into training camp, competition will be fierce.
“It’s a great problem to have,” said Richards. “You would rather have players battling and competing for positions, than to just have them given to them. During an 82 game season, or even last year’s 48 game season with just how compact the schedule was, you’ve got injuries all of the time. And, you’re going to need the depth of your organization. We’re going to need players to come up from Springfield (AHL) and give us games as they did last season.”
Coming up next week in the final installment of this three-part series, Todd Richards talks about being named as an assistant coach for Team USA for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and he reminisces about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team that won the Gold Medal in Lake Placid.