Wild fire coach Todd Richards after 2 seasons

Published 2:53 pm Monday, April 11, 2011

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Wild fired coach Todd Richards on Monday after the team missed the playoffs in each of his two seasons.

General manager Chuck Fletcher announced the decision a day after the Wild finished in 12th place in the Western Conference at 39-35-8, 11 points out of the final playoff spot. An eight-game losing streak in March sealed their postseason fate.

“He’s naturally disappointed, as was I, and it wasn’t easy,” said Fletcher, whose voice quivered and eyes watered a few times during his news conference at Xcel Energy Center to discuss the firing. “Our relationship goes back a few years, and we’ve been through a lot of good times and good seasons, and this did not end the way either one of us wanted.”

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Minnesota has missed the postseason three straight times, the longest streak in the franchise’s 10-year history. The Wild have made the playoffs three times, in 2003, 2007 and 2008.

Fletcher took the job two years ago, and his first major decision was to hire Richards, a first-time NHL head coach, as the replacement for Jacques Lemaire, who resigned.

Richards, a native of the Twin Cities area who played for the University of Minnesota, was picked to bring some energy and an up-tempo system. The Wild had become a team lacking star power and scoring punch under Lemaire, despite his ability to make the most out of what he had.

Instead, Richards wasn’t able to get the Wild over that big hump in the middle of the competitive Western Conference, and they weren’t able to overcome injuries to key players or make up for a lack of depth of prospects in the farm system.

“I really do believe in sports that not every coach is the right fit for every team,” Fletcher said. “Teams have different personalities. There’s different talent levels, and not every coach fits with every team. Just like every player doesn’t fit with every team. It comes down to a feel and what you feel you need to do going forward, and I felt that to get the most out of this group of players — certainly the players that are coming back — we needed a new voice and a new direction. It’s as simple as that.”

Richards said after Sunday’s win over Dallas that he had no regrets.

“Without question you look back, and there’s always hindsight,” Richards said. “Would you do some things differently? Absolutely there are some things I’d do differently, but for the most part there’s not too many things I would change.”

The 44-year-old Richards went 77-71-16 in his two seasons. He spent one season as an assistant coach for San Jose after two years as head coach in the AHL for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

“I look back over the season, and we did a lot of good things,” Richards said. “I think we accomplished some things. It probably doesn’t feel that way, but that’s how I feel. To me there was growth: growth in players, the chemistry, the culture and things we want to build upon here. But still it leaves you with that disappointment of the finish.”

The Wild reached as high as fifth place after the All-Star break, but captain Mikko Koivu missed 11 games with a broken finger and they started a slump that they never snapped out of.

Minnesota went 2-10-1 from March 10 through April 7 before winning the last two games.

“The tough part was 10 games ago when we knew how good we are and things kind of got away from us,” forward Cal Clutterbuck said. “Optimism is the only thing you can take into the summer.”

The mood was somber Monday in the locker room as players packed up for the season.

“I think the players, all of us here in the dressing room, are responsible for it, so it’s not a good day,” said forward Martin Havlat, one of the stars whom Richards didn’t consistently mesh with and motivate.

With several unrestricted free agents on the roster, significant moves are expected by Fletcher this summer.

“It’s not fun to see your coach get fired. We all wish we would’ve been in the playoffs,” said forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard. “Then I don’t think we’d be talking about the situation today.”