On the ice, the Tampa Bay Lightning had very minimal change in terms of the roster. Forward Jonathan Marchessault and defenseman Matt Carle are gone. In their place are presumably Cory Conacher and Slater Koekkoek. But the main core of the roster hasn’t changed since the beginning of the 2014-15 season. This will be the third year in a row with essentially the same roster.
But the one big change that came was the hiring of Todd Richards as an assistant coach. Head coach Jon Cooper had previously oversaw the Lightning’s power play. Unfortunately, that wasn’t good enough. The past three seasons the Lightning have finished 15th (18.1%), 14th (18.4%), and 28th (15.8%). There is simply too much offensive power up and down this line up to be that mediocre.
With Todd Richards, the Lightning have brought in a new voice to work on the power play. One thing in particular that stood out to me during the first two games at home, while taking this with a grain of salt that it is pre-season and not many Lightning players were on the ice, was a more aggressive approach to retrieving loose pucks. And today, Joe Smith tweeted that Todd Richards is running the power play drills at practice.
So then the question has to be… exactly how well as Todd Richards’ teams done before? Richards has been behind the bench for five full seasons, plus a half season where he took over mid-way through the year and then last season where he was fired after 7 games. That gives us an ample opportunity to see how his teams performed on the power play.
- 2009-10 – Minnesota Wild – 9th in the NHL, 19.1%
- 2010-11 – Minnesota Wild – 14th in the NHL, 17.8%
- 2011-12 – Columbus Blue Jackets – 26th in the NHL, 15.1%
- 2012-13 – Columbus Blue Jackets – 26th in the NHL, 14.2%
- 2013-14 – Columbus Blue Jackets – 10th in the NHL, 19.3%
- 2014-15 – Columbus Blue Jackets – 5th in the NHL, 21.7%
Alright, so there’s a lot of good in there with four finishes in the top half of the league, three in the top 10, and one in the top 5. And then there’s a couple bad years mixed in. In Minnesota, Richards had some good talent with the likes of Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette, Marek Zidlicky, Martin Havlat, Matt Cullen, and Brent Burns among others manning the power play. That led to them being a pretty good unit.
The first two years in Columbus you have to take with a bit of salt. First in 2011-12, Richards took over mid-way through the year as interim coach before being hired full time after the season. The 2012-13 season was also a lockout shortened season with only 48 games played which could lead to some luck variance with the smaller sample size of games.
But the really telling part of that performance is exactly what players he had to work with. In 2011-12, the top four point scorers for Columbus were Rick Nash, Vinny Prospal, Derick Brassard and R.J Umberger. He also didn’t have Jeff Carter who was traded mid-way through the season to the Los Angeles Kings.
The 2012-13 roster was even uglier with their leading scorer being Vinny Prospal in his last year in the NHL and the leading goal scorer was Mark Letestu with 13 goals in 46 games. Vinny Prospal and James Wisniewski led the power play goal scoring with four a piece. There was some young talent starting to filter in to Columbus with guys like Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Cam Atkinson, and Artem Anisimov contributing. However, they were still young and limited in ice time. Each of them has flourished into pretty good NHLers.
2013-14 saw that younger talent taking a step up for the Blue Jackets. James Wisniewski had one of his best years in the NHL. Ryan Johansen emerged as a 60 point scorer after having only 33 points in 107 games prior to that season. Artem Anisimov and Cam Atkinson both put in 20 goal seasons. And a lot of that pick up in talent level continued into 2014-15 when Columbus became the 5th best in the league.
While Todd Richards did have a couple of bad years on the power play mixed into his coaching resume, it’s fairly easy to see what went wrong with it. It wasn’t necessarily the system he was running, but the talent of the players he had. That 2014-15 squad had two 70 point players, and four 20 goal scorers on it. While last year’s Lightning squad didn’t perform as well offensively, partly due to power play trouble and partly due to injuries, if you look back at the 2014-15 Lightning, they also had two 70 point players and four 20 goal scorers. It would not be hard to see this group getting back to that level of play. And with Todd Richards’ system clicking, maybe they can even top that mark.