Luke Richardson has a difficult job as coach of a built-to-be-awful Blackhawks team.
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Luke Richardson passed all his early tests as Blackhawks coach in impressive fashion.
He brought to Chicago some fresh ideas for effective new systems to implement, giving players clearer roles and instructions for different situations. He built a diverse yet functional staff, established reliable lines of communication, improved the Hawks’ video sessions and experienced some surprising early success.
Different parts of Richardson’s coaching abilities, however, are now being tested.
The Hawks keep losing, and that interminable losing is understandably affecting morale. Their 7-16-4 record (entering Thursday) isn’t his fault in the slightest — considering this roster was designed during the offseason to be this awful — but it nonetheless is his problem to deal with.
On the day he was hired, some unenviable, difficult tasks clearly laid ahead of him. He’d need to strike a delicate balance between optimism and realism. He’d need to accept his roster’s many weaknesses while not letting that discourage him from fixing things whenever possible. And he’d need to maintain a healthy team culture fostering hard work, development and unity in the face of regular failure.
Those future challenges are now present challenges. And as he discussed during an introspective interview Wednesday, he’s learning on the fly how to tackle them.
“[I’m finding out] maybe you’ve got to push them a little harder some days, maybe you’ve got to pull back [some days],” he said. “But it’s all Monday-morning quarterbacking. You don’t know until it’s over. So that’s when you learn and you try to add that to your thought process going forward.
“It’s a long season, and I’m going to learn a lot this year. Right now, it’s [about] just managing a lineup, and trying to keep it consistent and my message consistent so those guys…feel comfortable and they know what’s expected of them on the ice.”
One Richardson strategy to juggle those unenviable tasks entails focusing on performance more than scoreboard results.
If the Hawks lose but play relatively well — as has happened numerous times over the past month — that’s worth some praise and positivity. And if the Hawks lose and play poorly — as was the case Tuesday against the Capitals — then, well, at least Wednesday isn’t Tuesday.
“Yesterday morning was rainy here, but I said, ‘The sun kind of came up today,’” he joked Thursday. “It didn’t really, but it did. It’s a new day and we have to get ready to play a game.”
On the other hand, he is also getting bolder about making lineup changes. Mid-game Tuesday, for example, he split up the first defensive pairing of Seth Jones and Jack Johnson (which had been a constant for weeks) after an ill-advised double-pinch led to a Capitals two-on-none rush.
And he’s not letting that reframed approach toward evaluating games evolve into complacency or lower expectations. His demands of his players remain the same, no matter how bleak the standings get: bring your ‘A’-game, every game.
“That’s expected of them [and] everybody in this league,” he said. “If you can’t do that over and over again — it’s not a threat, it’s just a matter of fact — someone else is going to take your job. And that’s the same as coaching. Coaching is the shortest lifelong job in hockey. You’ve got to have results; otherwise, patience runs out and you have to make chances somewhere.
“You just have to go to the rink every day, give it your best and make sure that you trust that the other person is giving their best. [There can be] no second-guessing from me to the players, or from the players to us. That’s the only way you can [operate] in a team sport. It’s not tennis or golf, unfortunately.”