On Jan. 9, 2012, the Blue Jackets were the worst team in the league with only 27 points through 41 games.
They trailed Nashville by 21 points for fourth place in the rugged central division.
Fresh off of a 7-4 loss to Anaheim, the league’s second-worst team, head coach Scott Arniel was relieved of his duties and Todd Richards was named interim head coach. Little did many know at the time, but that move would transform a perennially losing franchise.
Richards guided the fledgling Blue Jackets 18-21-2 finish and a grand total of 65 points, the lowest total in the league. During the following off-season, the Blue Jackets traded Rick Nash to the New York Rangers in exchange for Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a 2013 first-round draft pick which would end up being Kerby Rychel.
During the same off-season, Richards signed a two-year deal extension to remove the interim tag and John Davidson joined on as the club’s President of Hockey Operations. The stage was set for a franchise overhaul.
In Richards’s first full season at the helm, though it was shortened due to the lockout, the team he used to lead kept Columbus out of the playoffs. Minnesota and Columbus both finished with 55 points, but the Wild finished with two more wins and secured the eighth and final playoff spot in the west.
One year prior to just missing out on the playoffs, it was almost laughable to put Columbus in the playoff conversation. Now, with one year left on his contract, Richards needed to prove his worth and take his club to the next level. Davidson and new general manager Jarmo Kekӓlӓinen were brought to Columbus to build a winner and Richards’s second season would go a long way in determining whether or not Richards would be part of the formula.
The following season, he did exactly that. The Blue Jackets roared to a 16-9-4 record in the final three and a half months to secure the seven-seed and a playoff series with Pittsburgh. The Blue Jackets were bounced in six, but Richards was rewarded with a two-year extension after the series.
The Blue Jackets fell flat during the first two months of the 2014-15 season, but Columbus finds itself in the midst of a hot streak as it continues to claw its way back into contention. It’s safe to say the jury is not out on this season.
Richards’s tenure has been that of slow but steady improvement while developing young players and dealing with an onslaught of injuries. Despite the obstacles, Richards runs a no nonsense, no excuses camp.
After Columbus was eliminated last season, the theme of locker clean-out interviews spelled disappointment. Richards and his players expected to win the series. There was no feeling of “shucks, we’re just glad to be here;” everybody bought into the idea of a deeper playoff run. A round one loss wasn’t good enough and from that point on, playoffs were an expectation.
Playoffs or not, his tenure has been a positive one by the numbers. Richards’s Jackets have accumulated a 103-88-19 record. In 74 games, he will become the longest-tenured coach in club history and is only 22 wins away from being the winningest coach in Columbus history, both marks currently held by Ken Hitchcock.
With those numbers, Hitchcock currently holds the title as the best coach in Blue Jackets history. However, with cornerstones like Nick Foligno, Ryan Johansen, Sergei Bobrovsky and Brandon Dubinsky secured for the next several years, Richards will assume his spot atop the Columbus coach hierarchy.