Sunday Morning Powerplay Quarterback


Last night the Minnesota Wild took a 7-4 drubbing at the hands of the division rival Colorado Avalanche. After starting the game great and going into the 1st break with a 2-1 lead, they once again didn’t show up for the 2nd period. The Wild’s 2nd period woes are well documented, but what really got to me was was the actions, or more accurately, the inaction of Head Coach Todd Richards to his team suddenly being down 5-2 and later 7-3.

It is easy to sit at a computer desk and criticize the decisions of a coach whether it be their line combos, who they scratched, and how much ice-time they give a player. And, generally I believe there is a reason NHL coaches get paid the big bucks to do their jobs and I get paid nothing to question their decisions. However, I believe it is pretty clear that Todd Richards made two big coaching blunders last night that are inexcusable. Join me after the jump.

Todd Richard’s was a rookie head coach when he was hired by chuck Fletcher to install the system he wanted the Wild to play. A former Minnesota Golden Gopher, AHL Head Coach, and San Jose Assistant, Richards was widely considered the favorite for the job. However his coaching decisions have often been called into question. The Wild were an atrocious 13-24-4 on the road last season which suggests an inability to deal with not having the last change. His shootout choices have been erratic. Though the Wild did end up winning the 8 round shootout to cap their comeback against the Blackhawks last January, he didn’t even look at Martin Havlat and used Owen Nolan after Kyle Brodziak, Cal Clutterbuck (who was not yet a sharp-shooter) and Eric Belanger. And although I don’t approve of Agent Allan Walsh’s behavior, Richards did not handle the Petr Sykora situation very well. But all that is trumped by what he


didn’t do last night.

Niklas Backstrom has been, quite simply, amazing this season. He has saved the Wild’s bacon on many occasions, securing wins and keeping games within reach. That is until his last 3 games. He gave up 5 against the Rangers then followed it up by giving up 6 to the Flyers. After sitting against Nashville he gave up 7 last night to the Avs. While one could argue for not pulling Backs in the Rangers game, there was absolutely no excuse why he wasn’t pulled the last two games. In defense of Backstrom he has been hung out to dry several times by the team. And, his play kept those losses from being even more lopsided. But really, it doesn’t matter. “Poor play” is only one of the reasons you pull a goalie. You also pull a goalie to save them from embarrassment, keep their confidence from being destroyed, and most importantly, to wake your team up.

In a span of 10 minutes the Wild went from a 2-1 lead to a 5-2 deficit but according to Michael Russo of the Star Tribune. Richards didn’t even look at Jose Theodore. Further Russo points out, he didn’t call his timeout until late in the game when it had already been decided. One can’t help but wonder if he had called a timeout or if he had pulled Backstrom earlier, this game might have ended differently. Instead he left Backstrom out to be humiliated and stood and watched his team implode. But really inaction is nothing new with Richards.

In many ways, bag skate aside, Richards seems to be scared to be a Head Coach. Why does he leave Backstrom in the last two games when he should have been pulled? I think its because he knows that Backstrom is a great goalie and is hoping he can turn the game around or keep it close. I think he assumes at goal 3, 4, and 5 that Backs won’t give up another because he has so rarely done that this season. If he makes the choice to change goalies and Theodore comes in and gives up a bunch of goals the blame comes back to him for making the change. While there is something to be said for not messing with a lineup that is working, Richards seems overly scared to make any changes after a win. This has often resulted in him leaving better players on the outside. As I said, I get not wanting to mess with something that’s working, but you also want your best players on the ice. It seems like a cop out for Richards. “I used the lineup that won yesterday and they didn’t win today, don’t blame me.” I will give him props for finally breaking up the Bruno-Koivu-Mittens line, but it took way too long to do it.

Richards need to be active in helping the Wild to win, not a spectator to their losses. Not pulling Backstrom and not using his timeout was inexcusable. If he pulls Backstrom maybe Theodore gives up a bunch of goals, or maybe the team makes a comeback and wins. Backstrom has played well in games after being pulled. Maybe if he gets pulled in the Philly game he plays better against Colorado. Being a head coach in the NHL means taking risks and making tough decisions. If he can’t make the tough decisions maybe its time Chuck Fletcher did.