This really seems more melancholy that the absolute exuberance fans expressed when Doug Riseborough was dismissed after failing to build the Wild into a perennial contender. Riseborough got to ride the success from the two playoff appearances for far too long, which can now only be honestly looked at as flukes, especially considering the poor personnel decisions he made in the aftermath (seriously imagine if the Wild kept Brunette instead of letting him play his prime in Colorado?, among other shortcomings).
(Editor's note: one of these days I'll be able to resist taking shots at Dougie, I know he's been gone two years now)
I certainly think there were many other causes of the Wild's failures this year aside from coaching, perhaps I'm somewhat biased because I had the misfortune of attending two of the games where the team just simply quit (Nov 25 v. Philadelphia, Dec 31 v. Nashville). But there were just too many games like these examples that got lopsided, and too many happened in a row before correction.
I like what Richards wanted to do as far as trying to introduce a faster end-to-end game, I just don't think he had enough NHL experience to make the players buy in right away (Remember this team won just 2 of the first 9 games). He was an assistant one year with San Jose in the NHL, before that he was an assistant in the AHL (though for some very good Milwaukee Admirals and Wilkes-Barre Scranton teams).
Richards' resume was light coming in, and I think that really translated in terms of the team's discipline. Under Lemaire, you saw the guys give their best regardless of who's in or out, and those that didn't got called out by the coach. That fear just never presented itself in Richards' player-friendly style. Bag skates were rare to the point beat writers (love you Russo) would seem astonished when they came up.
The other thing that was telling to me was Richards point out a lack of leadership on the team during Koivu's injury. Obviously, it was just a quote, but it leaves the impression that it didn't dawn on him that as nice as it is to have players that lead, that responsibility must always be a part of the coach's job as well.
I think the players and GM Fletcher deserve their share of the blame, and I will be surprised if any free agents are brought back (with the possible exception of Theodore if for some reason he doesn't get the opportunity to be a #1 guy somewhere else). Fletcher came into this job knowing it would be a few years until he could turn it into his vision given the team's cap situation. When you know you're not going to be able to hire the talent you want, you would think you would get a coach in there that has a history of making teams overachieve. Especially because Fletcher had that guy in his office. Not hiring Peter Laviolette is really proving to be a blunder.
Star Tribune Wild Beat writer Michael Russo tweeted a quote from Pierre-Marc Bouchard in which Bouchard express that this wouldn't be the situation the Wild had made the playoffs. I agree, in fact I think even if the Wild got close enough, and played more close games down the stretch perhaps they could attribute their shortcomings to injury alone. However, the length of the streaks and the nature of the losses really make it difficult for me (and probably Fletcher) to blame injuries alone.
While I'm okay if Fletcher gets a pass this summer, I think it's clear his leash is much shorter than it was last April, and if he doesn't hire a coach that can discipline the team better, I think he should probably be out the door as well this time next year.
As for Richards I hope he gets a few more years of experience as an NHL assistant, and perhaps he can compare what went wrong here with what goes right elsewhere. Perhaps he could get another chance down the road. I just think it was too much too quick and when he needed to react he just didn't until it was too late
In short, are the Wild's failures all Richards' fault? Absolutely Not. Is the team better off going in a different direction? Undeniably, yes. The second question is all that's relevant to Fletcher's decision.