Entering this offseason, the Columbus Blue Jackets were yet again on the search for a new head coach.
The head coach entering the 2011-2012 season, Scott Arniel, was fired in January after the team got off to a horrid 11-25-5 start.
Todd Richards, hired as the assistant coach last offseason, took over behind the bench as the team's "interim" head coach and would finish out the season.
After Richards took over, the Jackets' play improved and the team finished the season 18-21-2, including an 11-8-0 record in the month of March and winning five of their last six games.
Richards was able to do this amid several distractions in the locker room that included captain Rick Nash requesting a trade, Jeff Carter's attitude on the ice, and several injuries to the team's key players.
Under Richards, Columbus looked like an entirely different team to end the season, which had a lot to do with the play of youngsters Cam Atkinson and John Moore, as well as the leadership brought in by defenseman Jack Johnson, who was acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings for Carter.
According to the Columbus Dispatch, Jackets' general manager Scott Howson talked with "eight to 10 qualified external candidates" since the season ended, but decided on Richards two weeks ago.
Howson stated that the team needed a coach who would challenge the players to raise the bar, as the Jackets find themselves in one of the toughest divisions in the Western Conference.
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“We have to become more competitive,” Howson said. “We need higher expectations and standards internally, and I believe he (Richards) can do that. We saw some of that in the final 41 games.I have every confidence that he can get us moving in the right direction.”
Richards becomes the Jackets' sixth full-time coach in only 11 seasons since becoming a franchise, and will look to be the first Jackets' coach to start and finish a season in three years.
“We’re all looking for a more stable environment. I think Todd has had a very good short-term effect on this club and I think he has the right personality, the right balance to have a very good long-term impact, too. He has experience. He’s a better coach now than when he first came into the league.”
With the coaching situation taken care of, the Jackets will now shift their focus to the draft and free agency. They will also be forced to deal with the biggest question surrounding the team, which is what will they do with Rick Nash.