Honest communication: Blackhawks coach Richardson's philosophy behind the bench

Over the course of their nearly 100 years, the Blackhawks have hired every kind of head coach imaginable.

Biggest screamer? Easy — Mike Keenan.

Most successful and direct? Have to go with Joel Quenneville.

Steadiest? Mr. oh-so-close-to-a-title Billy Reay, who led the Hawks to three Stanley Cup Final appearances.

Most unqualified? Let's call it a tie between Dirk Graham (1998-99), Lorne Molleken (1999) and Alpo Suhonen (2000-01).

Fastest flameout? Orval Tessier, the 1983 Jack Adams Award winner for coach of the year, who famously suggested his players needed a heart transplant after their postseason loss to the Oilers in '83.

Greenest? Has to be 33-year-old Jeremy Colliton, who was expected to instantly be respected by 4-5 future Hall of Famers.

So what kind of philosophy does first-year coach Luke Richardson bring to this Original Six franchise?

Well, his No. 1 priority is open and honest communication with players. The 53-year-old isn't afraid to admit a mistake or at least discuss the possibility that things should be done differently in the future.

He also wants to improve each player's skill level by giving them as much 1-on-1 time as possible.

Has he been perfect? Of course not. But he's had some great mentors along the way ...

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Richardson is combining what he learned from more than 21 years as an NHL defenseman with what he picked up as an AHL head coach and NHL assistant since 2009. He referenced Ron Low and Craig Ramsey — two of his past coaches — when discussing his philosophy.

Low, who played from 1972-85 and coached the Oilers from 1995-99 and the Rangers from 2000-02, “was such an inspiration (and) motivational guy,” according to Richardson. Ramsey, who was named Flyers' interim head coach in February 2000, was “a tactician” who got players to understand what needed to be done in all kind of situations.

“If I had to pick two guys, I'd put them together to be the perfect coach,” said Richardson, who was on the 1999-2000 Flyers squad that advanced to the Eastern Conference finals. “You have a lot of fire and inspiration back there (with Low) ... he had energy that kind of filtered toward the bench. ... (Then) you had Craig Ramsey who could explain things, really get the tactical part of the game across.

“I guess you want to call them a ‘Ron Ramsey' is what I have.”

The players appreciate Richardson's honest approach and it seems like most — if not all — of them know where they stand on a day-to-day basis. Richardson even apologized to Tyler Johnson for a late-game decision.

“I was kind of shocked,” Johnson admitted.

It happened the day after the Hawks defeated Calgary 4-3 in OT at the United Center on Jan. 8. With 27 seconds remaining in regulation, Richardson sent Jonathan Toews, Max Domi and Philipp Kurashev out for a defensive-zone draw.

Everything worked out OK for the Hawks, but Richardson later realized that Johnson should have been on the ice instead of Kurashev.

“He had a really good block earlier in the game,” Richardson said. “He sacrifices; he's been a champion in this league (and) he knows how to win. ...

“So I told Tyler, ‘I made a mistake there. You deserved to be out there.' ... Things like that, sometimes I miss, but I'll always circle back and try to get to. Having a dialogue and a relationship with all the players individually is important.

“Old-school coaches probably don't do that. They rely on their assistants and even sometimes they don't want you to have too much conversation with them. ...

“Keeping people guessing at this level is not the right thing.”

• • •

Richardson is the fifth NHL head coach for Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. They've gone from the offensive-minded Denis Savard; to Quenneville, who got a freewheeling bunch to understand how to win; to Colliton; to the laugh-a-minute Derek King; to the professional and even-keeled Richardson.

Kane said Quenneville would get players together every 20 games or so and “tell you what he wanted from you. I didn't mind that either,” Kane added. “He kind of let players do their thing, and he was the coach.”

Kane enjoys Richardson's approachable nature and loves that players' opinions are heard.

“Obviously when he's coming up to players and — not admitting mistakes — but just discussing different situations, I think it goes a long way,” Kane said. “Especially with a young team, you know? It kind of shows that he's in it with us.”

Circling back to Richardson's mentors, let's close with his thoughts on Bryan Murray, who passed away in 2017. Richardson played for Murray with Ottawa in 2007-08, then was an assistant under him when Murray was the Senators' GM.

Murray often emphasized how vitally important it is for players to make the most of every single day. It's a lesson Richardson hammers home as well.

“Your life span is not very long. It's on the clock at all times,” Richardson said. “Players, coaches, managers — everybody. ...

“You have to realize it's a special place to be. That's just what I want to make sure the players realize — that they've earned the right to be here once they make this team. But then every day you have to keep that spot.

“And if you want to be a champion, you have to be willing to sacrifice and take an extra step after that.”

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