Following an 8-5 loss by the Chicago Blackhawks to the Seattle Kraken on Saturday night, head coach Luke Richardson sounded the most disappointed he has been all season in his club. The ‘stern Dad’ persona of Richardson was on full display as he called out his team after their 30th loss this season saying, “Nobody was prepared to play tonight. Physically or mentally.”
He was right.
People like to blame coaching for teams that have poor starts to games, calling on them to be the ones to “prepare better!” for the games. But when push comes to shove at this level of professional sports, in the N-H-L, if you’re not ready to go when the puck drops, that is on you.
Following the loss in front of a surprising sellout crowd at the United Center, Luke Richardson laid down a challenge to his team.
“We have to learn that you have to be prepared in the morning of a game, or even the day before. Whatever your routine is, you’re a professional. This is your job every day. You come to work and you’re on the ice for an hour. The rest of your life is still whatever you need to get ready for that next day and that next game. If you can’t do it, whatever you’re doing, you better change it.”
When we talk about Richardson setting a new culture in the Blackhawks locker room, this is what we are talking about.
Wins and losses this season do not matter. Most of the players on the roster likely will not be around when this club is completive again. But that number is not zero. The roster turnover that will be seen over the next two, three, four seasons will see some players carry over from year-to-year and the tone set in the locker room will rub off on those players. It will then rub off on the next group to come through, and then again to the next group until the room is full of players who make-up the next roster that competes for a Stanley Cup in this town. The culture, tone, and expectation of the club needs to be set well before then. It needs to be set now.
Luke Richardson figures to be a part of that. At least that is what the Blackhawks front office envisions for him and his role in the rebuilding process. He was hired to oversee the rebuilding process and be the head coach to take the Blackhawks to the next level. So his message now, in 2022-23, needs to resonate so that when we are talking about the 2025, 2026, 2027 Blackhawks, we aren’t talking about a need for another new culture in the locker room.
Richardson is not letting his team get fat and happy. Last-place teams don’t have that luxury. Sure, the Blackhawks won three games in-a-row recently and they had been playing some of the best hockey in that three-game stretch we had seen in a while this season, but there was no excuse for them to not be ready to go on Saturday night, in front of 20,000+ fans, and not be able to keep their foot down on the pedal that had been pushing them through the last three wins.
As corny as it may be, the Blackhawks’ slogan this season of “Ready to Work” has, for the most part, fit this roster. On almost every night, this Blackhawks team is out-matched on paper. Most nights, that’s the difference in the game: talent. What is rarely ever questionable is the team’s willingness to compete no matter how big the talent-gap is between the two teams on the ice. Against Seattle on Saturday night, it wasn’t the discrepancy of talent that overmatched the Blackhawks, it was their own willingness to not matchup with the Kraken.
“Really, structure had nothing to do with it,” Luke Richardson said. “It was not being willing to skate and compete and losing puck battles all over the ice.”
Usually, Richardson waits until the eight-minute mark of the intermission to head into the locker room and address his team between periods. On Saturday night, following a 6-1 first period against Seattle where the Blackhawks had given up six goals on seven shots at one point, Richardson was in front of his team right away. “They outworked us and I just said, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ I thought we did react better and we played better in the second and third, but the game’s over.”
People want Luke Richardson to tear into the Blackhawks every game, every intermission, but that mentality and coaching style wears thin very quickly. When you are in control of a roster that has been this blatantly constructed to lose games, you cannot lose your mind over every mistake or every bad game. John Tortorella with this Blackhawks team would have had an aneurysm by now. Richardson has shown through just his first half of an NHL season as a full-time head coach, that he knows how to press the right buttons for players. Having over 1,400 NHL games under your belt as a player will do that. His comments following the 8-5 loss on Saturday will not fall upon deaf ears and he knows it. At least, he expects them not to.
“I haven’t been surprised all year with these guys. They’re resilient, they come back, whether it be within a game or after a bad game. They’re resilient and they push and they seem to enjoy being together as a team and playing hard together. I assume this is unacceptable for them as well and they’ll be ready to work Monday.”
The Blackhawks are back in action on Tuesday night against the surging Buffalo Sabres. They better be ready.