TAMPA — Lightning assistant coach Todd Richards has a pretty good idea what emotions he will experience tonight facing the Blue Jackets, who fired him a year ago after five seasons behind the bench.
Richards, 50, has been in that position before, having coached in Columbus against his former Wild team in 2011-12. And Richards will see the Blue Jackets again Tuesday in Columbus.
"The more times you go through it, it gets easier," Richards said. "You understand it's part of the game. The best way I can explain it to people is this: You're in a relationship and they break up with you and you run into them on the street. At times it's a little awkward. But each time you see them, it gets a little easier.
"I'm looking forward to the game. No bad feelings."
Columbus' loss has been the Lightning's gain. Richards has helped spark a tremendous turnaround in the Tampa Bay power play that entered Thursday third in the 30-team league (24.4 percent) after being 28th last season (15.8 percent). Columbus was No. 1 (28.6).
"(Richards) has been phenomenal," defenseman Victor Hedman said. "He's simplified things. We know our game plan going out there. And our power play has been clicking pretty good. Obviously we want to put a good effort for him (tonight)."
Richards was fired by Columbus after an 0-7 start last season and replaced by former Lightning coach John Tortorella. But Richards is also the winningest coach in Columbus history, going 127-112-21, including leading the franchise to its only two playoff wins, both against Pittsburgh in 2014.
"That's what I'll always remember," Richards said. "The building was unbelievable."
Richards believes you always learn more from failure than success, and he thinks his experience in Columbus has made him a better coach. Without going into specifics, Richards said he picked up more "about the process."
"Just handling situations, trying to find the right way to do things," Richards said. "And get outside the box a little bit."
The firing was a blessing in a way, he said, because it allowed him to spend more time at home with his family. Richards said he got to watch his younger son, Justin, 18, play hockey and visit his other son, Zac, 20, at Ohio State. His family, including his wife, Marryann, still live in their home in the Columbus suburb of Upper Arlington, which is what makes next week's visit to Columbus special.
"When you're in one place for five years, you tend to put down some roots," Richards said. "A lot of good people, lot of friends (are) back there."
Richards met with a few NHL teams in his year off, including Detroit, before choosing to join Jon Cooper's staff in Tampa Bay. It seems like Richards would be open to another shot as head coach down the road.
"I'm focused on my job now," he said. "I think everyone aspires to be a head coach. I'm at a place right now in my role, my responsibilities, there's a great staff. I'm learning from 'Coop.' If I were to leave tomorrow, I'd take away a lot, and I've only been here for two months."