Yes my friends, the Wild are finally done with the Todd Richards era. Yesterday, it was announced by Wild General Manager, Chuck Fletcher, that Richards will no longer be the head coach. Richards had one year remaining on his contract, however his failure to get the team to the playoffs in his two years as head coach denied his being able to finish out his contract. Personally, I think there’s more than just the abysmal record to blame for his getting the axe.
First off, I highly doubt he was ever really “in charge.” I for one never felt he was ready to be an NHL head coach, but that’s neither here nor there as I don’t make team personnel decisions. Last season, really was nothing more than a trial period. It was his year to get his feet wet, and to try and put his mark on the team. This season was his chance to make the Wild “his” team. It was also going to be his make or break season. With the horrible winless pre-season (the exception being the win against Ilves of the Finnish Elite League), the two losses against Carolina in Finland, and only four wins in the first month of the season, fans were clamoring for Richards’ dismissal far earlier. However, some of us thought at least Richards was looking like a coach when he instituted the dreaded “bag skate” after a stretch of losses early in the season. I for one thought it was an improvement over the “optional” or even worse no practices we saw last season. Perhaps I thought the “optional” practices were a thing of the past too soon, because once again they appeared this season at times where they never should have happened (like after the embarrassing loss against Montreal).
Richards also was guilty of letting the inmates run the asylum on occasion. There was a time this season where Richards wanted to take Antti Miettinen off of the top line with Mikko Koivu and Andrew Brunette. Captain Koivu went to Richards and told him no. Instead of Richards staking his claim on this team in that he was in charge, he listened to his captain. Let’s face it, Miettinen doesn’t belong on a top line on any team in the National Hockey League. Great teachers don’t let students take over the classroom. Great coaches don’t let the players dictate the lineup. When things improved after the All-Star Break, everyone seemed to ignore some of these little things. However the improvement only lasted so long. When things got ugly this last month, you could see the players tune Richards out on a regular basis. Watch any of the last games of the season. Any time there was a time out or break in the action, Richards would be talking and not one player was looking at him. I’ll admit I was never a fan of Richards, but that is beyond rude of the players.
Speaking of the players, they are admitting that they are partly to blame for the firing of their coach. However, when you read their comments in the press you just have to shake your head. You read things like “we just didn’t play hard enough” or “we didn’t give it our all.” Sorry, but you’re making more money than any of us could even dream of. Why didn’t you play harder? It’s your job. I work in customer service. If I refused to help a customer or didn’t do my best job for that customer on each and every call, I wouldn’t have a job. It chaps my hide to read such platitudes and excuses coming from millionaires. My husband is a public school teacher here in Wisconsin. He’s being asked to do more with less and less and to take a major hit to his compensation. If he did less and less with his students, he wouldn’t have a job either. Perhaps this off-season instead of players hanging out with their families and working on conditioning, they should come join the middle and lower class work force. I’d like to see how long they’d remain employed in this tight job market if they didn’t do their all each and every day.
Richards wasn’t the only victim of the turnout of this season. Currently, there are two additional coach firings. Assistant coach Dave Barr and video coach PJ DeLuca have also found themselves unemployed. Whether or not those are the only members of the coaching staff to find themselves unemployed is yet to be seen. Three more members of the coaching and training staff have contracts that expire this year: Darby Hendrickson, Bob Mason, and Chris Pietrzak-Wegner. Fletcher and Wild owner Craig Leipold now have to make even more decisions. Since Richards still had one year left on his contract and he was fired, it also makes you wonder if assistant coach Rick Wilson is safe, since he too has a year remaining. One gets the feeling that Fletcher may wish to start completely from scratch with coaches and trainers. This would be the perfect time to investigate the physical training of players, as there have been rumblings of concern about the training and rehabilitation of players. As I’ve mentioned before, things like concussions can’t be prevented, but sports hernias can sometimes be prevented. If the Wild want to win, they need to be able to attract high-calibre player (well once the salary cap issues are dealt with). If there are concerns about the training program in Minnesota, no agent worth their salt is going to suggest to their player to consider joining the Wild.
So now we play a new waiting game. I have a feeling that the Wild are going to focus on the 2011 Entry Draft before looking for a new coach. I can’t blame Fletcher for waiting until after the draft, because that is another demon the team needs to exorcise. We’re not known for great drafting, This is the first real draft without the shadow of Tommy Thompson, and it’s time for the front office to get serious about picking quality players. Once that is done, then they can focus on selecting a quality coach. Hopefully they can give us 110%.