Blue Jackets notebook: Coaches in line for contract extensions

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Guiding the Blue Jackets through their two-year transition into playoff contenders has earned coach Todd Richards and his staff long-term contract extensions.

“I told the coaches that we, as an organization, would like to make a long-term commitment to the whole group of them, because they’ve earned it,” general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “It will bring stability to the organization.”

Kekalainen and president of hockey operations John Davidson met with Richards and assistant coaches Craig Hartsburg, Dan Hinote and Ian Clark yesterday morning, hours after the Blue Jackets were eliminated from a first-round Stanley Cup playoff series with a 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6.

Kekalainen and Davidson are impressed with what Richards and his staff have accomplished in the past two seasons, leading a team that had the worst record in the NHL in 2011-12 to the brink of the playoffs last season and to a franchise-record 93 points and the club’s first two playoff wins this season.

“We’ll talk to (Richards) and go through the process and try to get him under a long-term deal, and then get his assistants on board with contracts that are of the same length,” Kekalainen said.

Richards was signed to a one-year extension last June, extending his current contract through next season. Kekalainen would like to lock him up for longer.

“He sets the bar high,” Kekalainen said. “We get better every day. A big part of that is (Richards), with his insights and his planning, the day-to-day requirement for work ethic that he has established for players.

“We see it from inside the building, and people all around the NHL see it, too.”

The Blue Jackets are 85-70-16 since Richards replaced Scott Arniel halfway through the 2011-12 season, including 43-32-7 this season.

Dismal series

Defenseman James Wisniewski relished this regular season, he said, but his performance in the playoffs against the Penguins was one to forget.

Wisniewski had seven goals and 44 assists in 75 regular-season games, matching his career high for points in a season and setting a franchise record for points and assists by a defenseman.

“I don’t know what happened in the playoffs,” Wisniewski said. “I couldn’t get a bounce. Everything just went wrong. It’s been hard to sleep.”

Wisniewski took five minor penalties and struggled on the puck. Before yesterday’s games, 330 skaters had played in a first-round game. None had a worse plus-minus rating than Wisniewski (minus-7).

“It wasn’t a lack of effort, of the will or the want,” said Wisniewski, who suffered a rib injury in Game 3 and a head injury in Game 6. “It’s one of those things where it’s hard for you guys to see, but sometimes the puck is bouncing … just little stuff and it looks like, ‘What is that guy doing?’

“It just compounded and compounded, and then you’re squeezing your stick a little too tight and you start thinking, ‘Is it going to happen again?’ ”

smitchell@dispatch.com

@smitchcd

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