Luke Richardson Ain’t Here for Tank Talk
All the way back on June 29 of last year, when it was about 50 degrees warmer than it is today, we collectively welcomed Luke Richardson into the Blackhawks family as the new head coach. At his introductory press conference, Richardson exuded optimism and confidence. It was impossible to walk away without being impressed.
But Richardson admitted that he knew he was walking into (what became) a perceived hornets nest of player movement and losing. The front office was transparent with Richardson during his interview process: This was a team that was going to very intentionally rebuild for AT LEAST this season, and that was going to be a potentially painful process.
There would be losses this year. Plenty of them. And Richardson was asked about that reality when he was first meeting with the Chicago media. He knew it was coming then, and said he didn’t care about the idea of tanking because his job was to make it hard on the front office to get the top pick in the draft.
Fast forward almost nine full months. There have been injuries — a lot of them. And the return of an illness has taken Richardson’s captain, who bought into his vision for the team, out of the lineup. Trades have taken away some of the more effective players in the room. And now, with the league’s juggernaut team coming to the United Center on a Tuesday night, Richardson’s team appears to many to have more Rockford IceHogs than Chicago Blackhawks dressing.
Richardson was asked about the idea that the organization is tanking. The idea that he’s looking up at 29 of the 32 teams in the standings. His response, as has been the case every single time he’s been asked this year, was the exact same thing. Richardson doesn’t care about the idea of taking. He’s going to continue pushing his players to perform their individual best.
Richardson also spoke about integrating guys from Rockford, and once again mentioned the culture the organization is looking to establish. Specifically talking about recently recalled forward Buddy Robinson, who will make his second appearance of the regular season for the Blackhawks at age 31 after spending the majority of the year in the AHL, Richardson said he likes having older guys in the room(s) — plural, both Chicago and Rockford — who are not only chasing the dream but still working to get there.
Kyle Davidson talked about establishing a culture in the organization in the right way when he was introduced as the general manager. Norm MacIver spoke about it when he was re-introduced as well; he shared that one of the things they were looking for in building the Seattle Kraken from scratch was having veterans establish the right temperature in the room to surround young talent so there wasn’t pressure to establish that culture as a young professional hockey player.
Richardson has continued to say the same thing.
Words are nice. Actions speak louder.
And this entire season, one hallmark of Richardson’s first year as an NHL head coach is his team working hard pretty much every night. I submit Richardson is getting the most out of his team even despite all of the trades and injuries. When asked if he even looks at the standings, he said he only looks at them to “see who we’re chasing” in a vertical manner (and not in our daily updates in the Bad for Bedard Sweepstakes).
How many times this season have you watched a full game and asked “What the hell kinda effort was that?”
What a contrast to the last few years when the team had more talented players but, many nights, left us wanting more after 60 minutes of hockey!
One other thing Richardson mentioned when asked about the draft pick placement was that, based on what he’s seen from the first draft class of this front office, he has confidence that the Blackhawks are going to have a lot more skill available in the not-too-distant future. (He’s right — every indication is the Blackhawks drafted incredibly well last summer.)
Richardson isn’t going to win the Jack Adams this season. Indeed, the guy behind the other bench at the United Center tonight might take that hardware home. But Richardson’s work to establish a new culture — a winning one, but from the bottom up — is already showing itself to be masterful.
I’ve said it almost daily since that press conference in June and I’ll repeat myself here again: the best, smartest and most impressive move that Kyle Davidson has made as the general manager of the Chicago Blackhawks has been naming Luke Richardson as his first permanent head coaching hire.