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Brown: On Luke Richardson and the Seemingly Short Tenure of NHL Coaches

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It never ceased to amaze me that regardless of everyone knowing the Chicago Blackhawks were historically bad for the organization, knuckleheads on social media would inevitably call for the head of Luke Richardson.

As if it were his fault. Richardson has collected double digits worth of losses in just two seasons at the helm–an indictment of a thin roster and at times, incredibly bad luck due injury depleted lineup. Frankly, there wasn’t much else Richardson could do other than suit up again and go out there to take a shift or two.

I’d argue that unless the Blackhawks stay in the 23-26 win range in what should be a much improved roster next season, Richardson needs another two years to really see whether he’s the right guy or not for the organization.

But across the league, coaches apparently are hired to be fired–quickly.

Luke Richardson Is One of the NHL’s Longest Tenured Coaches–After Year Two

It’s fascinating to look at the laundry list of coaches who have been fired in the past season–11–and now Sheldon Keefe is the latest name after the Toronto Maple Leafs fell to the Boston Bruins in the first round. That Keefe lost his job isn’t as shocking since Toronto had a win or bust mentality. But a number larger than the 11 coaches sacked this season is 18–the number of teams who have let a coach go since the end of 2022-23.

So should Richardson, who just finished his second full season in Chicago, be considered on the hot seat? Hardly. The Blackhawks are due to rise a bit after another rough season. But like Davidson, the bench boss should have at least another full season before conclusions can realistically be drawn.

For his part, Davidson told the media at locker clean out that benchmarks and expectations will be set to make those conclusions.

“I think that’s an offseason discussion and process that we’ll have to run,” Davidson said.  “We also have to see what kind of team we enter camp with as well. I think that goes without saying. Just better execution will be an expectation, better execution in our systems, the accountability within the group when something goes awry, are definitely things we’ll keep an eye out for.”

So how does that look big picture?

“It’s probably more just being around and assessing day-to-day,” Davidson said. “But in terms of benchmarks and specific things, we’ve got to get to the offseason, evaluate that and then set that up in the offseason.”

Firings Speak To a Bigger Issue

Benchmarks being set are one thing. But what about patience when things do go awry? How does that specifically work? There are examples across all of the major sports where in the midst of bitter disappointment or rough patches, coaches are retained when public outcry is high. Not throwing fresh meat to the masses and showing patience can have positive results. There are of course other times where coaches are canned and a fresh voice does wonders.

Look at Craig Berube back in 2019. Kris Knoblauch is a more recent example, pulling the Edmonton Oilers out of its tailspin earlier in the season. But some coaches barely have time to settle in before the plug is pulled. Detroit Red Wings fans were calling for Derek Lalonde’s head as they squandered an eight-point lead in the standings. Preseason predictions didn’t even have the Red Wings as a playoff team.

So what’s the right move? Patience is important, especially when human emotions are involved. Too many changes disrupts the chance at a regular flow. But it sure seems that three years or bust is the new norm–something that really doesn’t seem all that fair.

Richardson will certainly need to nudge the Blackhawks forward next year, especially with a roster that will see improvement. Playoff expectations seem at least a couple years off–plenty of time to make an informed decision.

But the league trend of firing fast only to hire even faster seems flawed. Barring a complete meltdown, taking a measured and patient approach would benefit the Blackhawks–and other rebuilding teams–more in the long run.

Unless it all goes to hell, let Luke Richardson keep doing the job he started without looking over his shoulder.

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