Is Hawks’ Richardson the right man for the job?

The thought hit me sometime after Christmas.

The Hawks were in the midst of a 2-10-1 stretch where they lost some truly ugly games.

A 7-1 thrashing by a Seattle squad that had just dropped eight straight. A 5-2 loss to the underwhelming Canadiens. A 7-5 loss to St. Louis where the Blues erased a 5-2 deficit with 5 goals in the final 12:07. An 8-1 butt whooping by Dallas on New Year's Eve.

Watching all this carnage made me think: Is Luke Richardson a good head coach? Is he getting the most out of everyone? Are young players improving enough? Can he outwit the opposition? Does he strike the right balance in the room, on the bench, during practice and in film sessions?

Most important, will he eventually be able to guide a loaded team to deep playoff runs?

While the jury is out on many of these queries, veterans Tyler Johnson and Nick Foligno believe Richardson has set the right tone during two extremely challenging campaigns.

“He's a good coach and he has a great demeanor in the sense of knowing when to push and when to pull back,” Foligno said. “Some coaches will just keep their thumbs down and it just kind of smothers in a year that's already been difficult.”

Richardson's record after 147 games is 43-92-12. That .333 points percentage ranks seventh-worst among coaches with at least 100 games since 1960.

The worst? That mark belongs to George Kingston, who went 28-129-7 (. 192) from 1991-93 with the expansion San Jose Sharks.

Of course, Richardson has faced giant obstacles thus far: Underwhelming rosters, the trade of franchise icon Patrick Kane, the uncertainty of what would happen with Jonathan Toews, the Corey Perry nightmare, and a spate of injuries this season that has decimated the roster.

Some of what's happened under his watch has been impressive. Alex Vlassic has had a tremendous rookie season and most believe he'll be a shutdown defender for years to come. Connor Bedard (19 goals, 26 assists) is also excelling and is the odds-on favorite to win the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year. (Of course, he'd likely be posting these numbers under any coach).

On the flip side, Lukas Reichel was a disaster and is now playing in Rockford. Kevin Korchinski has flashed at times, but he's making far too many mistakes and one wonders if his confidence hasn't suffered a serious blow. I would have made the unorthodox move of assigning him to juniors 4-6 weeks ago so he could have dominated at that level before returning next season.

Wyatt Kaiser never got going and was assigned to Rockford. Isaak Phillips did next to nothing. Taylor Raddysh has been a major disappointment.

No reason to panic about all of this, but there are enough warning signs to make one wonder what the future holds.

As for Richardson's end-of-game strategy, it can be perplexing at times. As a former defenseman, he seems to wait too long to pull the goalie when needing a goal or two to tie the game.

And he flat-out refuses to create a 6-on-4 when the Hawks are trailing late and are rewarded a power play. This happened as recently as Friday at Washington when the Capitals, who were ahead 4-1, took a penalty with 2:36 remaining.

“Nowadays, they just shoot pucks down the ice,” Richardson said. “They don’t care about icings anymore. So you have to be very careful about pulling too early.”

In a lost season, perhaps it's silly to critique such minutiae. But it's something to keep an eye on in future years.

Speaking of the future, Foligno believes Richardson has what it takes to lead the Hawks if and when the make the playoffs.

“He's been in Stanley Cup Finals as a coach (with Montreal), so he knows the pressure points,” Foligno said. “(So) as this team gets better, he can help push and steer. We obviously need that. …

“Right now we're just trying to build the process and (understand) what it is to compete and win in this league every night. … It'll be nice to start looking at, 'How are we going to get four out of five here?' “You don't want to jump too far ahead, but I get excited for that.”

By the numbers (worst points percentage among coaches with at least 100 games since 1960)
Coach, teamsTeamsGames Pct.
1. George Kingston, San JoseSan Jose164. 192
2. Lou AngottiSt. Louis, Pitt.112. 250
3. Bill MacMillanColorado Rockies180. 303
4. Marshall JohnstonCalifornia Golden Seals, Colorado Rockies126. 306
5. Curt FraserAtlanta279. 312
6. Hal LaycoeLA Kings, Vancouver180. 319
7. Luke RichardsonHAWKS147.333
8. Fred GloverOakland Seals, LA Kings423. 340
9. Pat KellyColorado Rockies101. 342
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