Columbus Blue Jackets: 5 Changes Todd Richards Must Make in First Full Season
This season, the Columbus Blue Jackets will have their sixth full-time head coach in franchise history. Former assistant and interim head coach Todd Richards was promoted over the offseason.
Richards took over for former coach Scott Arniel on January 9, 2012 and finished the rest of the season with the Jackets, going 18-21-2 in the final 41 games.
The former Minnesota Wild head coach showed some signs of life at the end of the season, including a four-game winning streak to begin the month of March and winning five of their last six games to end the regular season.
Now Richards will have the challenge of beginning the post-Rick-Nash era in Columbus as the team is looking to move forward with their youth movement in the rebuilding process.
There is a lot of work to be done in Richards' first year and here are some key changes that should be at the top of his list.
Fill the Rick Nash Void
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As mentioned in the first slide, Richards is the first coach to begin the post-Rick-Nash era. The former Jackets' captain was traded to the New York Rangers in the offseason.
Now, Richards will be forced to do something that former coaches Ken Hitchcock, Claude Noel, and Scott Arniel never had to worry about: choose who will be the team's top left winger.
The most likely candidate to replace Nash will be former Ottawa Senator Nick Foligno, who was swapped with defenseman Marc Methot back in the offseason.
Foligno does not bring the same kind of scoring power that Nash does, but his 15 goals and 47 points last season are optimistic signs.
The other post-Nash move Richards will have to make is who will serve as the team's sixth captain in franchise history.
There are several players on the Jackets' roster who deserve to wear the "C," but one player who stood out at the end of last season was defenseman Jack Johnson, pictured above.
Johnson's voice, as well as his leadership experience, were key in the Jackets' late season success, and he may stand a better chance than any other Jackets player.
Other possibilities include defenseman James Wisniewski, forward R.J. Umberger, and Vinny Prospal.
Move Derick Brassard out of the No. 1 Center Position
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The left wing position is not the only spot on Columbus' first line that needs some help. There is still a question mark at center.
At the beginning of the 2010-2011 season, youngster Derick Brassard was given the opportunity to serve as the team's No. 1 center and also as Rick Nash's set-up man.
Brassard showed signs of promise in his first season with the Jackets in 2009-2010 and the team was hoping he would quickly become one of the league's top centers.
However, Brassard's numbers were not what the Jackets were looking for and in the 2010 offseason, the team went after a true No. 1 center. They acquired Jeff Carter from the Philadelphia Flyers.
Jackets fans know how the Carter debacle worked out. He was traded to the Los Angeles Kings, which put Brassard back in the No. 1 spot to end the season.
Again, the 24-year-old continued to struggle and has shown that he is not fit to be the team's top center.
Brassard can still produce on the second or third line, as well as at the winger position.
One clear replacement for Brassard's place is Brandon Dubinsky, the young center acquired from the Rangers for Nash.
Dubinsky never got the opportunity to center the first line in New York, but now he comes into Columbus—a team who has struggled to find a top center—and he may be the best fit.
Move Ryan Johansen to Center
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If Derick Brassard were to be moved to a winger position, 20-year-old Ryan Johansen should be moved over to replace him.
Johansen was drafted fourth-overall by the Jackets in 2010 as the team's future top-line center. However, then-coach Scott Arniel wanted to get him adjusted to the NHL first before moving him to center.
So Johansen began the season as a winger on the third and fourth line, where he played in 67 games, scoring nine goals and 12 assists.
Johansen showed that there is still some room for improvement, but it is time to see what the Jackets have in their future top center.
The Jackets have been looking for a No. 1 center for quite some time now and the team has got to be growing impatient with their many failed attempts.
Now that Johansen has gotten his feet wet in the NHL, it's time to start giving him some time at center to see whether or not he has the potential to fill the role the Jackets have desperately needed.
If they moved Brassard to the wing position, Johansen could fill in centering the third or fourth line.
Figure out Defensive Surplus
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Where the Jackets have the most depth for this upcoming season is on their blue line.
Big acquisitions James Wisniewski and Jack Johnson make up what could be one of the top defensive pairings in the NHL.
Veteran Fedor Tyutin has been a staple on the blue line since being acquired back in 2008. Last offseason, the 29-year-old was recently re-signed to a six-year contract extension, which is a clear sign that he will continue to be a staple, most likely on the second line.
Another defenseman, who received an extension this offseason is pleasant surprise Nikita Nikitin, who was acquired early on last season in a trade with the St. Louis Blues to try and spark the team.
Although the team did not receive a spark from the trade, Nikitin had a career year with 25 assists, showing that he could be a key contributor for the Jackets moving forward.
The Jackets also signed free agent Adrian Aucoin in the offseason to mentor the team's younger players. He will see considerable time on the third line. However, what that youngster has is yet to be determined.
The last spot will be fought over by John Moore, David Savard, recently-acquired Tim Erixon, and first-round draft pick Ryan Murray.
Moore has shown signs of improvement in his two seasons in the NHL, while Savard has been back and forth between Columbus and Springfield since being drafted in 2009.
Erixon, a top prospect acquired in the Rick Nash trade, will most likely begin the season in Springfield. Ryan Murray was considered the most NHL-ready defenseman in this year's draft class.
In my opinion, it comes down to Moore and Murray, which is a tough decision for any coach let alone Richards. The big question is whether or not he is willing to take the risk on starting Murray in game one?
Move Steve Mason to Springfield
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Goaltender Steve Mason has proven over three consecutive seasons since winning the Calder Trophy in 2009 that he is not fit to be the franchise's No. 1 goaltender.
Mason has struggled throughout those three seasons. His worst season was last year; he only won 16 of his 46 starts and had a career-worst 3.39 goals against average.
The Jackets realized they needed an upgrade in net this offseason and there were plenty of possible options, including Vancouver's Cory Schneider, Boston's Tuukka Rask, and Los Angeles' Jonathan Bernier.
However, Columbus seemed to surprise a lot of people when they went with a cheaper option, acquiring Russian netminder Sergei Bobrovsky from the Philadelphia Flyers.
Many believed that the Jackets were not done yet, and would possibly go after one of the above-mentioned names with "Bob" serving as the backup.
But Columbus has not made any other goaltending moves and it looks like they will enter next season with the goaltending duo of Bobrovsky and Mason.
Mason has had plenty of chances to shine, but he has not done so. Todd Richards needs to replace him as the team's backup. He needs to be sent to the team's AHL affiliate Springfield Falcons to develop his game.
Mason is only 24 years old and still could turn his career around, but sitting on the bench for two-thirds of the season will not do him any good. In Springfield, he would most likely get the bulk of the starts.
Youngster Allen York had an impressive stint in the NHL towards the end of the season and could serve as a better backup than Mason.