At the conclusion of the Blackhawks’ development camp on Friday, Luke Richardson spoke with the media. And he’s already making changes to how things work on the ice in Chicago.
Richardson told the media that the Blackhawks will be moving back to a zone defense moving forward, abandoning the man-to-man system that Jeremy Colliton ran when he took over as the head coach. Derek King stayed with the man structure that he inherited as the interim coach last season; he didn’t want to make the change in-season.
But Richardson, who was a defenseman in the NHL for two decades and coached defensemen on his way to becoming the head coach of the Blackhawks, knows a zone system suits the game better.
“Zone defense is going to be way more structured than man-on-man where you’re flying all over the place,” Richardson said on Friday. “I just don’t think you can do that in the league unless you’ve got elite, elite skaters and thinkers out there. And I think with a rebuild with the younger group, a real good structured, hard defensive zone where you stay in your zones, you’re passing off players, but the whole thing is when it’s your time to kill a play and get the puck back, we’ve got to be really strong at that. So individual one-on-one battles, it’s going to be something we work on from Day 1.”
Richardson went on to speak about the defense driving offense, noting the Blackhawks’ intent to play a faster game moving forward.
“I think the offense is going to come from if we can play fast defense,” Richardson said. “Sometimes, as soon as we lose the puck in the offensive zone, you’re on defense, so if we can have our forwards have that mindset it’s going to help our D’s have a better gap and stay out of the D-zone and transition better in the neutral zone to have more offense and lead to more offense.
“We want to give some room for creativity to creative players like Patrick [Kane], obviously one of the best in the league for years, but there’s got to be areas and times in the games for that. There’s got to be times and areas in the game where we’ve got to take the risk out of it. So we’re going to make sure we put those areas in place and kind of not set rules but areas that there’s got to be some guarantees that we’re moving the puck forward.”
And isn’t that refreshing?!?
We knew there were going to be changes to the Blackhawks’ style of play as general manager Kyle Davidson began the work of overhauling the roster and building a faster team.
Richardson, like Davidson, is still a relative unknown to us. He’s developing his style as a head coach as a rookie in the role, but his experience as a player and assistant coach informs how he’ll run his team. And as Richardson has built his coaching staff, he he surrounded himself with experienced assistants.
Derek King enjoyed a lengthy NHL career; he appeared in 830 regular season games. And Kevin Dean comes from Boston, where the Bruins had strong systems in place. Both know what it takes to motivate players — and move the puck.
Coaches being open about their systems and approach is as much a departure from the Colliton Era as we hope the functional play on the ice will be. And so far, Richardson is saying things we want to hear.