Luke Richardson says all the right things during introductory press conference

The Blackhawks new coach hit all the right notes in his first media appearance.

After a tumultuous 2021-22 Chicago Blackhawks season both on and off the ice, it appears the organization’s ship may be more steady in the immediate future following Wednesday’s introductory press conference for new head coach Luke Richardson.

The on-ice future remains murky at the moment, but Richardson’s presence and his words inspired a level of confidence from the head coaching position that has been sorely lacking with the Blackhawks for several years.

Start with Richardson’s basic hockey philosophy on how to play defense in the modern NHL:

I’m not exactly sure what the lineup is going to be yet next year, so it’s hard to say exactly what philosophy and gameplan we’re going to actually do but I think that, 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. I think it’s playing defense fast. And 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 you have more energy left in your body to play offense. And that’s what I think we can do.

Speed is the name of the game now and even if the Blackhawks defense can’t skate circles around most teams, there are ways to play the game at a higher tempo to account for that, and Richardson seems to understand that.

Richardson also provided a little glimpse into his player development perspective when he talked about Montreal Canadiens defenseman Chris Wideman, with whom Richardson worked as Wideman progressed from the ECHL to the NHL:

He used to try and battle a guy like Patrick Maroon in front of the net physically. He’d waste all of his energy trying to cross-check him or push him out of the way. I tried to say, I tried to get him examples to watch like maybe a Tobias Enstrom or a smaller-sized defenseman that’s skilled and moves the puck to see how they play in the D zone, against bigger players. I think it’s positional — you have to be there before they get there and make it hard for them to get set up and you can’t move them. Play through their hands: you’re not going to put them in the fourth row, you’re just not going to win that battle and be smarter and use your skills on the offensive side because that’s where you’re a good player and a dominant player. Individually, it’s finding what works. Does everybody like big size and lots of speed and skill? Yes. But I think what you have to do is take all the skill sets that are in a player individually and make that work the best for the system we’re going to play.

Richardson appears to be the type of coach who believes that playing good, physical hockey is more than just blasting opponents with open-ice hits. It was also refreshing to hear a coach get so detailed about this portion of the game — a rarity among the typically tight-lipped NHL coaching community.

While talking about his hockey philosophy, Richardson referenced the Colorado Avalanche, of course, because every team in the league wants to be like the Avalanche right now. But the principles he cited as vital to Colorado’s success could be translated to pretty much any hockey team, including one in the early stages of a rebuild:

When you’ve had a lot of coaches over the years, you take a little bit from everybody, sometimes the things that you think are right and the things that you don’t think are right. My philosophy is that the game is a fast game now, and I think a good example came from watching the finals this year. There was a lot of speed and skill, but you watched how hard they play ... even Nate MacKinnon is finishing checks. That’s the culture we want to build here. We have Stanley Cup champions and future Hall-of-Famers on our team, and I think building a relationship with them to really lead the way and show the younger players those steps is going to be crucial.

But Richardson also appears to understand the situation surrounding the team right now:

I’ve been through rebuilds and teams that are competitive, like two years ago in the Stanley Cup Finals with the ultimate challenges to get there. With my coaching and playing experiences, I’m totally comfortable with developing players, having patience with players. But I think I’ve said right from the start that I’m an optimist, and I feel like I want to go win every game. And I’m going to approach every game like that. But, realistically, we have to take steps.

Actions speak louder than words and all of those other clichés can go here, but, on the surface, it does feel like the Blackhawks have a head coach in place with a wealth of hockey experience as a player and as a coach who has specific ideas on what it takes to win in today’s NHL that appear in line with what championship teams are doing.

The question now becomes how successful Richardson will be at implementing those views on the players who hop on to this rebuild ride.

A few other quick items from general manager Kyle Davidson at the press conference:

Here’s how Davidson replied when he was asked about any “untouchable” players:

There are some players that are untouchable based on their contractual status. That’s something those players have earned. We will hold true to that. But we are in position where we are listening. I think it would be unwise to do anything but. We’re not going to force anything. We’re not going to do something just to do something. It’s incumbent on us to listen to what’s out there, what the interest is. If that can help us moving forward, that’s what we’ll do.

And here was Davidson’ reply when asked about making a trade to move into the first round of next week’s 2022 NHL Draft:

I haven’t been shy about professing my willingness to acquire some future assets. That’s something we’ll look to do. But I’m not looking to force anything. We’ll just take what comes our way and evaluate it on a case-by-case basis. But we have some ideas and some thoughts as we head to Montreal next week, but until we have more concrete discussions with teams, we’ll see where that goes.