Todd Richards’ Minnesota coaching career was a case of wrong place, wrong time. While he made his fair share of mistakes during his two-year tenure as the Wild’s head coach, to blame him for most of the team’s woes is ridiculous. Richards just simply wasn’t the right fit for a team in this type of transition stage. Two, maybe three years down the road, when young talent begins to slide into roster spots? Absolutely he’s the right man for the job.
Unfortunately, fresh coaches just don’t last long for rebuilding teams. Players are locked in by contracts and hard to trade, GMs have the security of a long-term plan, so when it’s time for heads to roll, the easiest and seemingly most meaningful facet to change is the coaching staff.
When he was first hired by Chuck Fletcher, Richards was highly anticipated; a native Minnesotan, University of Minnesota Golden Gophers standout and a successful coach in the Pittsburgh and San Jose franchises, many looked forward to his plans to change the defensive-minded Wild into an offensive, fast-paced club. Visions of the Capitals, Penguins and Blackhawks danced in the heads of every Minnesota Wild fan.
What everyone overlooked was that the Wild didn’t have the offensive centerpieces it takes to bring that kind of team to the state. The stars that Richards had to work with were two-way center Mikko Koivu and secondary scorer Martin Havlat. Not exactly depth like Crosby, Malkin and Staal is it?
From the second he was recruited by Fletcher to present, he’s been compared to Peter Laviolette critically. Many Wild fans are up in arms on how Chuck Fletcher passed on Laviolette to select Richards. It’s absurd to even compare the two. As much as it hurts this writer to say it, Philadelphia has a mountain of talent in comparison to the Wild. Richards had very little to work with, which one could argue handcuffed his ability to really turn the team into a contender.
However, when a coach has little to work with, mistakes are costly. When your team is starved for offense there are things you just don’t do; you can’t wait until Game 81 to put Pierre-Marc Bouchard next to Mikko Koivu. You don’t wait until his agent calls you out to give Marty Havlat a bigger role. You can’t afford not to experiment with Cal Clutterbuck, an 18-goal scorer and instant adrenaline shot.
Most importantly, regardless of your captain’s insistence, if the top line isn’t clicking, you break it up. Finding offense on a team without any is a hard task, but if you’re not willing to play around, you definitely won’t find it.
In defense of Todd Richards, his head coaching job was dictated by the previous actions of two people: longtime Wild GM Doug Risebrough and Jacques Lemaire, the only other head coach in the team’s history. Obviously, Risebrough gave Richards most of the team he had to work with, while Lemaire left a coaching legacy that was almost impossible to live up to.
For years Wild fans were spoiled and they didn’t even know it. Jacques Lemaire might as well have been waving a wand behind the bench. If you want a dramatic example of Lemaire’s ability to create a winning team, look at this year’s New Jersey Devils. The man is a miracle worker, squeezing wins out of the most mediocre teams.
When both Lemaire and Marian Gaborik departed after the '08-'09 season, the shroud that hid an offensively challenged team was removed and, unfortunately for Todd Richards, there was no more pretending.
Hopefully Chuck Fletcher can learn from this history and put a more experienced coach behind the bench for the coming season and by the time we’ve all figured out if it was the right choice or not, the Wild will have some talent that can take some pressure off the man behind the bench.