Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning hires Todd Richards as assistant coach

TAMPA — Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman made it clear the recent coaching staff shakeup had nothing to do with anything his former teammate, Steve Thomas, did wrong since joining the organization in 2010 as player development coordinator.

"He had a tremendous impact on everyone here," Yzerman said. "We wish him well."

But the Lightning felt like it was time for a change, which is why Thomas' contract wasn't renewed, and former Columbus coach Todd Richards, 49, was hired Tuesday, joining Jon Cooper's staff. Yzerman lauded Richards' vast experience, more than 400 career games of head coaching experience with the Wild and Blue Jackets.

And Yzerman acknowledged Richards, who led the league's fifth-best power play in 2014-15 in Columbus, will have input on the Lightning's struggling unit, which ranked 28th last season. Cooper has primarily run the power play, and that's likely to continue, with Richards adding another voice.

Yzerman indicated the rest of the coaching staff will return.

"I think (Richards) can help us in every department," Yzerman said. "He's not hired specifically to be a power play specialist, because he's experienced in all facets, he's done it all. But he definitely will help be involved in the power play."

Richards went 127-112-21 in five seasons in Columbus, its first coach to rack up three straight winning seasons, but was fired after an 0-7 start this season, replaced by former Lightning coach John Tortorella.

While that gave Richards a chance to watch his sons Zac, an Ohio State junior, and Justin, 18, play hockey, he got the itch to return to the NHL. And after meeting with a couple NHL teams, including Detroit, following his stint with Team USA in the World Championships, Richards found the Lightning a perfect fit.

"All you have to do is sit back and watch what they've done the last two years, in particular the Stanley Cup final and conference finals," Richards said in a phone interview. "A lot of the players that you have, seem to be set up pretty nice. They've done a great job. Hopefully I can come in and add a little something."

Richards said he shares similar philosophies with Cooper, loving the fast and aggressive style they play. The admiration was mutual, Yzerman saying Richards was on "his radar" since he was let go by Columbus.

"I thought his teams in Columbus played very hard, played smart, they were good on special teams," Yzerman said. "I think being a head coach in all aspects of the game can help us in every department."

Richards' addition makes an experienced Lightning staff more seasoned, adding to associate coach Rick Bowness. Bowness, who led the team's defense and fifth-ranked penalty kill unit, said he has a couple years left on his deal is "not even close" to retiring. He liked the Richards' hire, though he'll miss Thomas, a 421-goal scorer and popular assistant since the 2013-14 season.

"(Richards) is a very good coach," Bowness said. "As much as we all hate to see Steve leave, he's a wonderful guy, wonderful coach, Todd's background helps us as well. He's a good addition."

And Richards, who has watched plenty of hockey on television since getting fired last fall, is ready to be back on the bench.

"I got the whole year off, it's a long six-seven months," Richards said. "It was nice to be a dad in the winter, be a husband. I was able to celebrate Christmas and watch my sons play. But you miss the competition, and this is what we do. From a player to a coach, I've done it for 28 years now. "

And year No. 29 will be with the Lightning.

notes: G Ben Bishop continues to work out at Amalie Arena, saying the left ankle/shin injury he sustained in the Cup final is getting better and won't affect his offseason work. ... Yzerman confirmed no players will need offseason procedures that will impact their camp availability. Yzerman had no update on Steven Stamkos negotiations, the captain set to be an unrestricted free agent July 1. "Our goal is to keep Stammer in Tampa and make it work," he said. "That's our plan."

Contact Joe Smith at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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