At his end-of-season media availability, Kyle Davidson discussed the need for a philosophical change regarding defense at the NHL level and throughout the organization as a whole. Davidson doubled down on that when he hired Luke Richardson, a former NHL defenseman and a defensive-minded coach.
Richardson echoed Davidson’s sentiment during his introductory press conference and talked about playing a new brand of defense for the Blackhawks. One with speed, one centered around a zone scheme, and one that places an emphasis on turning defense into offense on the other end.
“Playing defense, and I was a defensive defenseman, and being good defensively doesn’t mean you’re in your zone all night blocking shots and keeping the score down,” Richardson said. “I think what it is, is playing defense fast. If you can learn to play defense fast, whether you’re a big strong guy or a small speedy guy, you have the puck more and more energy left in your body to play offense. That’s what I think we need to do.”
Davidson and company continued to walk the walk when they drafted two defensemen in the first round of the NHL Draft last week and once again this week when they announced the hiring of Kevin Dean, an assistant coach who will handle the defensemen in Chicago.
If nothing else, you’re starting to see that Kyle Davidson has a plan and a vision, and he’s not wasting any time laying the groundwork for it.
Dean is a strong hire. He spent the last decade coaching in Boston and seven seasons in the NHL as a defenseman. After Dean wasn’t renewed in Boston, he contacted Luke Richardson on the advice of some respected friends in the game who saw the two as a match made in heaven.
“I was not renewed in Boston, so I was making calls, and I texted Luke [Richardson] early in the process, and Luke was very forthright and got back to me right away and told me to be patient and see where it goes. When Chicago got a little more comfortable down the line and started calling people, Luke called me back, and it went from there.”
We got our first chance to speak to Dean after camp today, and you couldn’t help but notice how similar his thoughts on the plan for Chicago’s new-look defensive philosophy will play out to that of Davidson and Richardson.
“Luke and I seem to be pretty aligned,” Dean said. “A zone coverage more in the D-zone, not man-on-man. That’s going to be up to Luke to firm that up, but our early conversations were pretty aligned. We’re going to want to play kind of an area. Close hard when it’s your turn to close; when it’s your turn to separate, get some support from the low forward and get going the other way. But not man-on-man, where you’re following a guy around the whole time, but try to play in the area, and when it’s your turn to close, you go hard and try to get that puck and get playing in the other direction.”
Zone scheme, close hard (and fast) when it’s your turn and get back the other way. That’s the theme we’ve heard from the top down regarding the Blackhawks’ new defensive philosophy, and it’s refreshing.
I remember Kyle Davidson referencing the speed of the Maple Leafs in the playoffs during his season-ending presser. He admitted that the Blackhawks weren’t even in the same league as Toronto and other teams in the playoffs. Richardson did the same at his introductory press conference, referencing the Stanley Cup Final between the Avs and Lightning.
So, what does Kevin Dean plan on bringing to the table, particularly from his experience in a winning organization over the last decade? Patience. Uniformity. Relationships.
Dean spoke about getting to the Blackhawks’ young defensive core now, and teaching them the habits they need to have to be good NHL players down the line, stressing the importance of ingraining these principles now, before it’s too late, which tracks with Davidson’s desire for the NHL and AHL blue line groups to have identical developmental plans, something he discussed at the end of the season.
“Coming to a team that’s going to be a little younger, I think my strength is one the defensive side of the puck, and I just want to come here and bring a good attitude and good energy and teach these young defensemen. And some of them aren’t that young, but they can all learn and get some really good defensive structure in their game in terms of stick position, body position, and angles and try to develop good young defensemen.
“I believe if you get good habits ingrained when they’re all 21, 22, or 23, and if you can get those habits ingrained when they’re that age, it’s a lot easier to make a hockey player than trying to teach a guy whose 28 and has bad habits.”
Dean also spoke about his style of interacting with players, one that places a large emphasis on personal relationships, respect, and having fun while still working hard.
“I’m a pretty patient guy,” Dean said. “I understand and respect that hockey is a very hard game. I think it’s supposed to be fun. I think if players are having fun, they’re going to come to the rink with a better attitude, bring energy, and want to get better. They’re not going to want to just do their hour and a half here and go home.
“So, I try to bring a good attitude and just make it fun, so they come to the rink expecting to have fun, expecting to work hard. Then hopefully, without beating them over the head, you can impart some wisdom on them and teach them something every day, so they’re excited to come back and have fun doing it and then just compete their asses off when the puck drops because I think what makes or breaks a hockey team at the end of the day is how hard you compete.”
Dean, who finished his NHL career with the Blackhawks called the opportunity to be back in the organization an honor and called the United Center one of the best venues in the world to play in.
“I think it’s a great place to play. Great city,” Dean said. “We weren’t great when I played here (1999-01), but it was great playing here because the United Center is one of the best venues to play in the world. The nights we had good crowds, and the game was tight; it was awesome—such a great sports town. I grew up not far from here (Madison, Wisconsin), so I have a special place in my heart for Chicago and the Blackhawks. It’s an honor to be a part of the organization.”
Luke Richardson said that the Blackhawks would make the United Center a scary place for opponents. A fast and physical defense that can put points on you in the blink of an eye will go a long way toward opponents losing sleep in the future. Davidson’s plan is in good hands, with Richardson and Dean overseeing that philosophy.
Tab wrote about the buzz surrounding the Blackhawks’ hiring of Dean when he was announced earlier this week.