The coach took the fall, but Wild players heading off for the summer were willing to share the blame for Todd Richards' dismissal Monday.

"We all had a hand in it. It's good people who paid the price today," said Andrew Brunette, also referring to assistant coach Dave Barr and video coach PJ DeLuca, who also lost their jobs. "I don't know how fair that is all the time."

Player after player blamed the stumbling stretch run.

"We really kind of fell into a funk where we were feeling frustrated," Cal Clutterbuck said. "And guys weren't playing as well as we could have, collectively. Myself included. It was a tough stretch run, especially for a group that really had high hopes for the season."

Captain Mikko Koivu said every player had to think about what he could do better next season.

"The head coach is usually the guy who gets the blame, and not the 20-some guys on the ice. That's the thing you feel bad about," Koivu said.

Brunette said failing to make the playoffs and then losing the coach came like a killer one-two punch.

"Caps off a disappointing end of the season," he said.

Perhaps the most reflective was Clutterbuck. He talked about highs and lows. He mentioned the team-record 20 road victories, but wondered why that intensity didn't translate to home games.

"We lost our prestige, you could say, at home," Clutterbuck said.

Defenseman Brent Burns put it best: "This is not a good day for everybody. We were right there six weeks ago. It goes quick. Now you lose your coach. It's tough to be a part of."

Staff in flux

Richards felt guilty for Barr and DeLuca also being fired.

"You feel like you're responsible for those guys, too," Richards said. "[Barr] worked extremely hard, and was a very loyal and supportive assistant coach, and so was PJ."

Assistant coach Darby Hendrickson, goalie coach Bob Mason and strength coach Chris Pietrzak-Wegner also have expiring contracts. Assistant coach Rick Wilson has one year left.

All are in limbo, with General Manager Chuck Fletcher saying the next coach won't have "full control" hiring his staff. "Clearly there has to be a comfort level, but I'll be involved," he said.

So that's why it hurts

Eric Nystrom skated to the bench holding his tingling chin.

"I knew something was wrong," Nystrom said. "So I told the trainer, 'My jaw's hurting,' and he said, 'Yeah, you've got a dent in your face!' "

That was Dec. 11 in the second period, when Nystrom was nailed by a right hook from Kings forward Wayne Simmonds. Nystrom played the rest of the season with pain ... and a dent in his face.

"It's really noticeable when I shave," he said.

He will undergo surgery next week for a broken cheekbone.

Ailing shoulder

Goalie Niklas Backstrom missed the final game because of a sore right shoulder first injured in October, then reinjured against Chicago on Feb. 28.

"Now it's bothering me off the ice, too. It's an issue," he said, adding that treatment and rest will be tried first, then rehab.

"Hopefully we don't have to do a surgery," Backstrom said.


• Burns, named the Best Defenseman of the 2008 World Championships, will play for Canada for the third time in the upcoming World Championships. Longtime NHL coach Ken Hitchcock, a huge fan of Burns expected to have interest in the Wild vacancy, will coach Canada. Canada also is considering Clutterbuck.

• Koivu and Antti Miettinen are expected to play for Finland, while it's uncertain if Martin Havlat will play for the Czech Republic. He missed the final four games because of a head injury and a sore groin.

• The Wild is close to signing University of North Dakota defenseman Chay Genoway, 24, a first-team All-WCHA selection, to a one-year deal.

• Jared Spurgeon is the third NHL defenseman to play 50 or more games in a season and have two penalty minutes (Tomas Kaberle, 2001-02; Bill Quackenbush, 1948-49).