The Columbus Blue Jackets impressed many during the 2013-14 season, including Jarmo Kekalainen, and if they wanted to stay in Ohio, they had to. Their GM was in his first full season with the organization and could easily have fired head coach Todd Richards, who was hired by predecessor Scott Howson. But patience paid off for both the team (which finished with a franchise-best 43-32-7 mark) and Richards, who received a two-year contract extension Tuesday that lasts through the 2016-17 campaign.
"Todd has done an outstanding job for the Columbus Blue Jackets and we're pleased that he will continue to lead our team," Kekalainen said in a statement. "We believe he is one of the top young coaches in the NHL because of his knowledge of the game, work ethic and ability to communicate well and bring out the best in our players."
After working briefly as an interim coach of the team in the second half of the 2011-12 season, Richards was named head coach in May of 2012. The Blue Jackets finished ninth in the Western Conference in Richards' first full year, but still needed to perform at least as well this season to avoid changes. Richards was able to get that improved performance and because of it, the Blue Jackets finished seventh after moving over to the Eastern Conference before the Pittsburgh Penguins eliminated them in six first-round playoff games.
In 171 games as head coach, Richards has a record of 85-70-16. In a post-playoffs interview with the Columbus Dispatch, Kekalainen raved about Richards' work ethic and meticulous planning.
"Todd doesn’t let guys take days off, and the assistants are the same way," Kekalainen said. "It’s a demanding group, but it’s a fair group. That shows in how the team plays -- we've been honest, hard-working, well-prepared and hard to play against. We see it from inside the building, and people all around the NHL see it, too."
The pressure on Richards won't decrease now that he has increased job security. Certainly, a first-round playoff exit won't be welcomed as a bump in the road of progress as it was this year. But there's nothing wrong with rewarding progress, and that's what the Jackets did with Richards Tuesday.