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NHL - US Sports: Is Richardson the right fit for the Blackhawks?

The Chicago Blackhawks announced the hiring of 53-year-old Luke Richardson as their new Head Coach on 27th June.

Richardson brings to Chicago almost a decade of NHL coaching experience, plus 21 seasons as an NHL defenceman, but is he the right fit for the job?

Overdue opportunity for Richardson

Richardson has consistently been spoken of highly whilst serving as assistant for the Montreal Canadiens for the past four seasons (2018-22) and his appointment as an NHL Head Coach has felt a long time coming.

With Dominique Ducharme in Covid-protocol, bright hockey mind Richardson took charge of the Canadiens in the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs prior to Game 3 of the semi-finals against the Vegas Golden Knights. 

Under his leadership, Montreal beat the much-fancied Golden Knights and advanced to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1993 where they were defeated by the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

Journey to the Canadiens 

Prior to his time with the Canadiens, Richardson served as an assistant coach for the New York Islanders (2017/18) and Ottawa Senators (2009-2012). 

Before landing in the NHL, he was the Head Coach of the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League (AHL) from 2012-16. 

Whilst there, Richardson led the club to a 153-120-31 record, qualifying for the playoffs in his first two seasons.

Internationally, Richardson has also enjoyed success in a coaching role, winning the Spengler Cup as Team Canada's head coach in 2016/17. 

Re-build on for Blackhawks 

Richardson was defiant in his first press conference as coach of the Blackhawks saying, "I like a challenge and I'm ready for it."

After finishing 27th of 32 teams last season, the Blackhawks (28-42-7) are without doubt a team in re-build mode – making Richardson, a patient persona with experience of developing players a seemingly smart hire. 

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Richardson to hire support

Whilst the fit between Richardson's skill-set and the Blackhawks' current position appears to be a good one, his inexperience of being the number-one is a clear question mark. 

Richardson will aim to alleviate that concern by hiring a strong support network which he hopes will include Derek King, who he replaced in the Blackhawks' hot seat. 

55-year-old King has been in the Chicago system for several seasons, acting as assistant and head coach for the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL before he took over from Jeremy Colliton in an interim coaching capacity on 7th November. 

King went 27-33-10 after replacing Colliton who was fired after a 1-9-2 start to the season. 

Veterans expected to play key role 

Captain Jonathan Toews, 34, and Patrick Kane, 33, each have one year left on their contracts, but Richardson expects the pair to remain with the organisation and be role models in his revolution. 

Saying he will seek the trust of the pair, Toews and Kane have spent their entire NHL careers with the Blackhawks and each played a crucial role in the organisation's trio of championships. 

24-year-old winger Alex DeBrincat is less likely to be a part of the project, however. 

DeBrincat scored a team-high 41 goals last season, but also with one year remaining on his contract, reports suggest that several teams are preparing offers for the star who would leave a huge hole in Richardson's early line-up.

Blackhawks have cap space

The Blackhawks have more than $20.1 million in salary cap space, and while they need to sign restricted free agent forwards Kirby Dach and Dylan Strome to improved deals, there is enough room for General Manager Kyle Davidson and Richardson to bring in players to try and improve the roster immediately.

A key area of concern for the pair will be in net and the blue-line depth which is currently very sparse. 

Chicago had a 3.52 goals-against-average last season, the seventh highest in the NHL which is an area long-time defenceman Richardson will want to address as first priority. 

Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was traded away to the Minnesota Wild ahead of the playoffs last season leaving Finn Kevin Lankinen as the only established option in net whilst below Seth Jones on the blue-line, Chicago's defensive depth leaves a lot to be desired. 

Expectations are high 

The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup three times between 2010 and 2015, but since have been on a steady decline and have failed to qualify for the playoffs four times in the past five seasons. 

Expectations remain high though and Richardson is going to have a tough challenge juggling the re-build in the face of a restless fan base who have struggled to accept the franchises fall from ultimate greatness.

Describing himself as an optimist, Richardson has made it clear that he expects results to improve immediately but called for patience as his team go through the steps needed.  

Citing the work-rate and buy-in of Stanley Cup Champions Colorado Avalanche as the blue-print for how he wants his Blackhawks team to play, Richardson has said all the right things so far.

But the coming months will prove if the hype is valid, as his actions will be crucial in defining not only his future, but that of an organisation desperate to re-discover itself.

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