Todd Richards

Minnesota fires coach Todd Richards; Would a roster overhaul help the next coach?

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You can add Minnesota to the list of teams that will be looking for a new coach. The Wild relieved Todd Richards of his duties today after going 77-71-16 in his two years at the helm of the team. Yes, he finished those two years above .500 but in the NHL being slightly above average doesn’t always mean you’re going to make the playoffs and in both seasons the Wild missed the postseason. That doesn’t cut it in the NHL and Richards pays for it with his job.

Is it his fault that he couldn’t get a team weighed down by bad contracts and mostly average talent into the postseason though? We’re not buying it. When you look at what the Wild have on their roster and then compare it to what it costs to ice a team like that, it’s staggering to think that you can expect any coach to make a playoff team out of that quagmire.

Things aren’t going to be much easier for GM Chuck Fletcher next season either as the Wild are committed to over $52 million next season already. Even with the salary cap reportedly headed up to $62.2 million next year, with all the issues and holes the Wild have on their roster, that extra $10 million or so in space doesn’t leave them much room for improvement. The Wild aren’t a team that needs to patch a couple of holes, they need a complete overhaul of the roster. The problem there, what do you do with some of the bad money?

Cam Barker has been a bust since being acquired from Chicago last season and at over $3 million with a year left on his deal, maybe he can be moved for a draft pick. The Wild might look back on dealing Nick Leddy, who’s now starting for Chicago on defense, as a mistake. Winger Eric Nystrom is making $1.4 million and has two years left on his deal. Guillaume Latendresse has been good but often injured for the Wild and he’s making $2.5 million next season before hitting restricted free agency.

Then there’s some of the deals Fletcher’s signed on his own. Martin Havlat has been producing solidly when in the lineup. Whether you want to say that’s worth $5 million over the next four seasons makes for a potentially fiery debate. Same goes for Matt Cullen at $3.5 million,  Marek Zidlicky at $4 million, and a former Wild GM Doug Risebrough-signed Pierre-Marc Bouchard at $4.08 million all for the next two years. Those deals in a vacuum perhaps work out great, but when all paired up together it makes for quite the financial mess to work around.

As for the next guy to come in and try to fix up the Wild and get them back to the postseason, Fletcher will have an interesting decision to make. Jacques Lemaire went out of Minnesota because the Wild wanted to liven things up a bit but now a couple of familiar names are popping up on the radar in Ken Hitchcock and Michel Therrien. Therrien in particular is interesting because he’s been working as a scout for the Wild this year. If Fletcher wants to keep in house, Therrien could be their guy. If they go for Hitchcock, the Wild’s dedication to wanting to liven things up will go by the wayside as Hitchcock is a defensive-minded taskmaster behind the bench.

Important times are ahead for the Wild and they have to be especially smart about the direction they go in as the fan base is losing their patience. It’s time to start winning in the State of Hockey.

Here’s hoping 3-on-3 doesn’t degenerate into a boring ‘game of keep-away’

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Are coaches going to ruin 3-on-3 overtime?

It’s been the one, big worry since the NHL decided to change from 4-on-4 to 3-on-3 as a way to reduce the number of shootouts.

Via TSN’s Bob McKenzie, here’s a quote from an anonymous coach (talking about 3-on-3 strategy) that won’t exactly quell that worry:

“Really, it’s a game of keep-away, that’s what it is and the longer you can keep it away from the other team, the more likely they’ll break down. So I say let’s slow it down and hold onto that puck for as long as we can.”

Now take that a step further and imagine there’s a team that’s really good at shootouts. If you were coaching that team, might you tell your players to rag the puck for as long as possible to try and get to the skills competition?

Granted, five minutes is a long time to rag the puck. Not sure any team could play “keep-away” that long. Plus, there will always be teams that aren’t very good at the shootout; theoretically, those teams should be more willing to take their chances in 3-on-3.

But just remember that more time and space doesn’t always lead to more goals. Look at international hockey, which is played on a bigger ice surface. Canada won gold in Sochi by beating Latvia, 2-1, the United States, 1-0, and Sweden, 3-0. It was hardly firewagon hockey.

While nobody’s quite ready to suggest that 3-on-3 will actually lead to more shootouts, it will be interesting to see how things evolve, and if there are any unintended consequences.

“I don’t know if anyone’s figured it out completely yet,” Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said Saturday after losing in 3-on-3 overtime to Vancouver.

“The big thing is, you want to control the puck as much as you can. It’s 3-on-3, so there’s lots of room and space out there. You don’t need to give it away. I think it’s smart to just wait, take your time, and wait for a good opportunity.”

Oilers go captain-less, name four alternates instead

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Edmonton’s made a fairly significant shift in its leadership group.

The big news is the Oilers won’t have a captain this season, as Andrew Ference will relinquish the “C” he’s worn for the last two years.

Ference will, however, remain part of the group and wear an “A” as part of a four-man alternate captain collective, one that also includes Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.

The news of Ference being removed as captain doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The veteran d-man is a well-respected leader, but isn’t expected to be in the lineup every night this season.

The decision to go without a captain, though, is something of a surprise, especially given what new head coach Todd McLellan endured during his final season in San Jose.

The Sharks’ captaincy issue — stripping Joe Thornton, then going with four rotating alternates — was an ongoing problem, something that players, coaches and GM Doug Wilson had to repeatedly address until it blew up in spectacular fashion.

That said, the circumstances in Edmonton are quite different.

It’s believed the club’s intentionally keeping the captaincy vacant, on the assumption that Connor McDavid will evolve into a superstar and, subsequently, the club’s unquestioned leader.

Finally, McLellan noted that with Eberle currently sidelined, a fifth Oiler would be added to the leadership group — veteran forward Matt Hendricks, who will serve as a temporary alternate.