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Wiebe’s World: Amidst rebuild, Richardson focused on honing Blackhawks’ identity

WINNIPEG – Luke Richardson knew this wasn’t going to be a quick fix, yet that didn’t deter him from attacking his first NHL head coaching job with vigour.

When you’ve been behind a bench as an assistant coach at the NHL level for nearly a decade and sprinkled in four seasons as the head coach in the American Hockey League, it’s safe to say that going into a rebuild isn’t going to be viewed as an optimal situation for everyone.

But after a conversation with Richardson prior to Saturday’s game with the Winnipeg Jets, it’s easy to see why the Chicago Blackhawks entrusted the longtime NHL defenceman with the task of trying to move the rebuilding process forward.

Richardson is a bright, engaging guy, someone who clearly loves what he’s doing, even as the losses are piling up for a team that is currently 31st in the NHL with a record of 16-30-5.

Working to provide a foundation for a group with a strong prospect pool is right up Richardson’s alley and he’s encouraged by the steps that are being taken, even if he needs to look closer at incremental growth right now rather than just wins and losses in this results-oriented business.

“Just be very transparent,” Richardson began. “A positive attitude from the coaching staff to the players and having that communication with players and building a good relationship with each player, knowing that there are 20 different personalities in there and you can’t get everything across the same one to one person.

“So we’re creating a culture where we’re not afraid to ask (questions) and creating dialogue between players and coaches and that becomes dialogue between the player and the player, on the bench, in practice, we see that a lot. Instead of the D yelling at the forwards and the forwards yelling at the D, we’re creating more conversations than frustration. The communication level is No. 1 for me and then, the work ethic follows.”

When you consider the way Richardson played during his nearly 1,500 NHL games (including the regular season and playoffs), it’s not a surprise that he would value work ethic and communication.

During the course of his career, Richardson forged a great relationship with the late Bryan Murray, first playing for him as a member of the Ottawa Senators and later as an assistant coach on his staff after he retired.

He also valued the time he spent on the staff of the Montreal Canadiens, which included an impressive run to the Stanley Cup final in 2021 during the playoffs.

The Canadiens knocked off the Toronto Maple Leafs in a riveting seven-game series that saw them rally from a 3-1 series deficit, swept the Jets and eliminated the Vegas Golden Knights in six games before falling to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games in the final.

Richardson had already been generating interest as an NHL head coach, but his stock got a further boost when he was forced to run the bench for six playoff games after Dom Ducharme dealt with COVID-19.

The magical run taught him a lot about the importance of leaning on players like captain Shea Weber, Corey Perry and goalie Carey Price.

“We had a bunch of great veterans, so even when I took over for six games in the playoffs, I relied on those players a lot and so did Dom, all the way through the playoffs,” said Richardson. “Meetings with them every day, just making sure that guys were on track with the message and the game plan and that’s what happened. We had a game plan that they trusted that was built for our lineup and we just went out and consistently did it. If you have internal accountability and you have a 36 or 37 year olds blocking shots and doing the right things and coming at you and looking you in the eye and saying you’ve got to do this, that’s a pretty stark feeling to have you go out and play better the next shift. So we counted on that and it worked for us.

“A lot of people probably said it’s a one and done and they were lucky to get there. We weren’t lucky to get there, we had the horses to get there. We might have surprised people from our record in the regular season, but those veterans knew how to dig in when it was time to win – from playing in World Cups and Olympics and winning Stanley Cups – they dug in and the younger players followed. The coaches, we just gave them a good game plan and good information before every game and those guys helped out and did a lot of the pushing and teaching for us on the bench.”

In working to build a foundation with the Blackhawks, Richardson has stressed the importance of devising a game plan that is catered to the roster rather than forcing a team to try and play in a structure that doesn’t fit their collective strengths.

“Just like us asking the players to play with passion, but have patience in the game plan, coaches have to have patience as well,” said Richardson. “You’ve got to make sure that you’re organized and you’ve got to have a game plan that works and it’s simple for the style of players that you have. You can’t just pick a game plan where you think, this is the way we want to play and you don’t have the guys to do it. You’ve got to have some thought in there and realize what kind of athletes you have and how you’re going to have success and give them a proper game plan that they can – and then watch it grow again.

“We’re trying to be even keeled on the bench and in practice and in our video meetings, we’re not flying off the handle and losing our patience with non-execution, we’re just reinforcing and demanding again that we need the execution. They appreciate that and they’ve taken to it this year, so we’ve seen the growth. The plan has gone really well for us this year. It’s funny saying that when we’re close to last place or whatever, but we knew that coming in as an organization and they really made that clear to me, where the organization had to step back maybe before we stepped forward.”

As losses piled up – including a stretch of just two wins in 20 games (2-17-1) between November 17 and December 23 – Richardson worked hard to provide answers rather than just be critical of some of the issues that were plaguing the team at the time.

“We want to try and figure out why we lost the game, we show them and we talk to them and we try and not over-burden them with all of the mistakes in a game. But we pick out the crucial ones that are at the wrong times, in the wrong areas, like the red zones and the blue lines, of turning pucks over,” said Richardson. “If we can get away from that and play a more consistent game, I think everybody feels like they’re a part of that game. They’re in a flow, they know where they’re going, they know what they’re doing, they’re not playing tired because they turned the puck over and we played a minute and a half in the D-zone, where everybody is frustrated.

“We’ve gotten away from that lately, which is a good thing. It’s never clear from the start to the finish of the game, the other team is good too, so they’re going to create their things. But if we can limit them and make them work for it without giving them the puck, that’s where we’ve been preaching on, making it hard for the other team to create offence. And when we get the puck, be stingy and knowing how hard you worked for it, don’t give it back. We’re creating that (mentality).”

Despite the challenges the Blackhawks are facing this season, Richardson is relishing the opportunity to run his own NHL bench and he sees brighter days on the horizon as the group works through the expected growing pains.

“For me, I knew I was ready for this,” said Richardson. “That run to the final with Montreal and having a chance to coach and run the bench for six games, two of them in the Stanley Cup final and there were three overtime games at the end of the semifinal that we won to win the series in Vegas, that just gave me more confidence to be ready for this moment. You know what, 10 years ago, I thought I was ready. But I’m humble enough to know that you’re always learning. I’m still learning.

“I learned a lot from Claude Julien in Montreal, I learned a lot from Bryan Murray playing for him and then being an assistant coach for him. Then, all of those years of playing and coaching for different head coaches. Even Marty St. Louis last year, a less experienced coach in the NHL but he’s a superstar in the NHL, so his brain and his thought process of the game, it was great to be with him for a few months. Not just techniques on the ice, but how he communicates with players as well, to get that message across. All of those things, when you pool them all together, has kind of made me what I am now. I’m still going to grow and learn.”


Blues general manager Doug Armstrong made the first of what is expected to be a series of moves leading up to the March 3 NHL trade deadline when he shipped winger Vladimir Tarasenko and defenceman Niko Mikkola to the New York Rangers for a package that included forward Sammy Blais, defence prospect Hunter Skinner, a conditional first-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft and a fourth-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft.

Tarasenko, chosen 16th overall by the Blues in the 2010 NHL Draft, is a scorer who has produced when the chips are down (41 goals, 60 points in 90 post-season games), tying for the team playoff lead in goals (11) with Jaden Schwartz during the 2019 Stanley Cup championship run.

After advancing to the Eastern Conference final last spring, Rangers GM Chris Drury got ahead of the fray and made a move that should make his team tougher to play against.

As for the Blues, after moving two pending UFAs, it will be interesting to see what happens next, as several other players are going to be attracting plenty of attention during the coming weeks.

One of those players, captain Ryan O’Reilly, had an impact in his return to the lineup on Saturday night, delivering the overtime winner in what was a wild game with the Arizona Coyotes.

O’Reilly, who missed 14 games with a broken left foot, had 17:25 of ice time and won 69 per cent of his draws as the Blues snapped a five-game losing skid.

After falling behind 2-0, the Blues built a 5-2 lead, only to have the Coyotes score three times in the third period to send the game to overtime.

The Blues remain nine points behind the Minnesota Wild in the chase for the second wild card in the Western Conference.


It was a simple sentence in a Tweet from the Coyotes official handle, but it’s one that deserves a serious stick tap for both how direct it was and how simple life can be, should more teams decide to operate that way moving forward.

Coyotes D Jakob Chychrun is a healthy scratch tonight for trade related reasons.

Rather than have fans, media members or general managers around the league left speculating about what Chychrun not being in the lineup meant for the next few hours before the game with the Blues was complete, the Coyotes got ahead of the story and the transparency was definitely appreciated. This is reminiscent of when teams simply started to include the AAV when they sent out official press releases to announce free agent signings. Let’s hope that it becomes the rule rather than the exception.

Staying with the Coyotes, centre Nick Bjugstad figures to be on the radar for a number of contenders in the coming weeks. Bjugstad is up to 13 goals on the season and his marker on Saturday with his first power-play goal of the campaign to go along with one shortie and 11 even-strength snipes. A right-handed shooting centre, Bjugstad is up to 23 points in 53 games while averaging just under 17 minutes per game and is someone who can play up and down the lineup. Yes, he’s riding a career-high 13.3 shooting percentage but he’s a guy who has hit double digits in goals six times in 11 NHL seasons.

The Los Angeles Kings did an excellent job honouring Dustin Brown on Saturday night, raising his No. 23 to the rafters and unveiling a statue of him in front of the arena in Los Angeles. Brown, who retired at the end of last season, spent his entire 18-year NHL career with the Kings, skating in 1,296 regular season games and another 92 in the playoffs. Brown was a physical force who made life miserable for opponents and was part of the first two Stanley Cup titles in franchise history (2012 and 2014). During that 2012 run, Brown was a force, collecting eight goals and 20 points in 20 playoff games.

Speaking of longevity and leadership, Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn hit the 1,000 NHL game milestone last Monday against the Anaheim Ducks. Benn became the 379th player to accomplish the feat and one of 76 players to do it with a single organization. Chosen by the Stars in the fifth round (129th overall) of the 2007 NHL Draft, Benn is a highly decorated player who won the Art Ross Trophy in 2014-15. He’s also enjoying an excellent season, as his 46 points in 54 games has already equalled his total from 2021-22.

The Vegas Golden Knights announced that goalie Logan Thompson is week-to-week after he left Thursday’s game with a suspected lower body injury. Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy told reporters he expects Thompson to return before the end of the regular season, which was viewed as a positive development. In the meantime, the Golden Knights crease belongs to Adin Hill and Laurent Brossoit, who was recalled from the Henderson Silver Knights of the AHL. Brossoit is 8-11-3 with a 2.72 goals-against average and .909 save percentage in 23 AHL games this season as he works his way back from offseason hip surgery.

Victor Hedman set up Anthony Cirelli for the game-winning goal with 44 seconds to go in the third period in a 3-1 victory over the Dallas Stars on Saturday. That helper gave the Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman another milestone moment, as it was the 500th assist of his NHL career. Hedman became the 33rd D-man in NHL history to reach the mark, moving him to 638 career points in 947 games.


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