I’ve said it dozens of times, but I’ll say it again: the smartest move general manager Kyle Davidson has made since assuming the job full-time was hiring Luke Richardson as the head coach of the Blackhawks.
Richardson’s demeanor has been perfect for the current roster, and his approach to the two future Hall of Famers has been ideal, as well.
We keep hearing about and discussing the future of the Chicago Blackhawks, because the organization is in a rebuild. And the two names at the top of everyone’s mind — Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews — are each on the clock to make a decision about his future.
Yesterday, Jeff Marek reported the two are likely to wait until mid-February to make their decisions. And, based on what each said in recent interviews with NBC Sports Chicago, those decisions will happen individually; they have been teammates for almost two decades, but have different life and career situations to consider.
There is one point of consideration that I don’t think is getting nearly enough attention in this decision making process, however. Especially for Toews, the longest-tenured captain in the history of the Chicago Blackhawks franchise.
How will Toews’ relationship with Richardson, and the culture he’s creating in Chicago, influence the captain’s decision to stay or go?
One question a lot of media outside Chicago pointed to when speculating about the futures of Kane and Toews before the season was how much they would buy into not only the rebuild philosophy of the front office, but also the style of a rookie head coach.
Well, I can confidently tell you that not only has Richardson won over his two senior veterans, but he’s also used them in a way that puts both in a position to succeed — and help their teammates succeed as well.
Richardson talked to Ben Pope at the Chicago Sun-Times about Toews’ game recently.
“He’s so strong on the puck and strong on his stick that if he has a little jump in his step out there, he’s a dominant player. That’s what we’re trying to do. Even [after sitting out practice Wednesday], he doesn’t need to be on the ice every day. [After] a quick skate this morning just to loosen up, he’ll be ready to go again. Managing time on the ice is beneficial for a guy that has a lot of mileage on him.”
Here’s what Toews told NBC Sports Chicago about his relationship with Richardson when they sat down recently:
“I think he’s been great. I respect him so much as a person, and to come in as a rookie head coach, obviously he’s got so much experience in the game but you kind of forget it’s this early in his career as a head coach because of just how calm and assured he is.
Sometimes where I feel reactive or getting emotional or reacting over something little that happens on the ice or on the bench and you look over at him and you’re wondering if he saw what happened or if he’s just calm and collected over it and he just has a way of making everyone settle down and breathe and play the game. Obviously it hasn’t been easy with the amount of games that we’ve won so far but I think he’s pretty confident and patient with our progress and it’s been a lot of fun to play for him.”
That emotional intelligence is as evident in practice as it is during games. We’ve seen pictures and clips on social media of Toews leading discussions about the power play and making tweaks. Richardson has empowered his captain to take ownership of elements of game play on the ice, and Toews clearly appreciates the way he’s being treated.
It makes the move from Jeremy Colliton to Richardson so much more apparent. The culture in the room is better because Richardson, who played in the NHL for two decades himself, understands the room and openly, truly values the leadership he gets from Toews.
The good news is players want to play for Richardson. Heck, Max Domi openly said a big reason he wanted to play in Chicago was to skate for Richardson; he enjoyed their time together in Montreal so much he as still bought-in. And that bodes well for the Blackhawks as they start having significant cap space in the coming years.
It does make the decision on the future of Toews have one more element that we should consider with more weight, however. Toews loves playing for Richardson, too. And appreciates the respect he’s shown. Toews staying might help everyone involved bridge the gap to the next generation of Blackhawks success. But that’s ultimately going to come down to the conversation he has with Davidson in the coming weeks.