Welcome to the September edition of Blackhawks Bytes, a series featuring quotes and comments from players, coaches, management, journalists and fans alike concerning everything Chicago Blackhawks. The purpose of this ongoing column is to capture a slice of the existing outlook, attitudes and culture surrounding the team. Please join me as we have some fun with the everyday, albeit fascinating aspect of human nature; the power of words.
It’s that time of year again, when the hockey world is coming to life. NHL training camps are in session throughout the United States and Canada. For the Blackhawks, camp officially started on Wednesday, Sept. 21, and they host the St. Louis Blues for their first preseason game on Tuesday, Sept. 27.
As the players hit the ice for drills and scrimmages, we’re also treated to after-practice interviews that give us further insight into the offseason and the upcoming 2022-23 campaign. This leaves no shortage of quips and quotes surrounding our favorite team.
Richardson & Davidson at Odds?
Let’s start with a quote from head coach Luke Richardson that came from the first day of training camp. He and general manager Kyle Davidson took the podium while the players did their fitness testing. Richardson pulled no punches with this statement.
Richardson: “I told Kyle right off the hop that we’re going to make his job the toughest job possible and try to win as much as possible.”— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) September 21, 2022
Davidson jumped in: “Having said that, I want to win.”
First off, what is this “right off the hop” stuff? Is this a Canadian thing?! All I know is it’s refreshing to hear a new head coach challenge the general manager like that. We know the plan from upper management is to tank this season. That’s why they got rid of most of the best players on the team from last season. A rebuild involves being bad for a period of time, all while gathering the necessary assets to become good again.
So, winning isn’t necessarily in the plans. But Richardson is a new head coach with something to prove. It’s his job to develop a culture of growth and development and accountability. He might not have the most talented team to work with, but he has a reputation for getting the best out of what he does have (from ‘Why Luke Richardson is the right coach for the Blackhawks’ rebuild’, The AthleticCHI – 6/27/22).
Shucks, it appears the Blackhawks knew they had something special in Richardson, which is why they went out and got the coach they wanted when he was available. He’s also signed to a relatively long-term four-year contract. It’s apparent the Blackhawks see him as someone who will be around beyond the rebuild, when the team is ready to contend again.
But…be careful what you wish for. What the organization wants from Richardson down the road is also what they’re going to get “right off the hop”. Rebuild aside, everyone wants to win. Will the Blackhawks end up winning too much?
Ah, it’s a conundrum we could be talking about all season long.
As I mentioned above, Richardson’s reputation precedes him. We’ve learned this 21-year NHL former player likes to lead by example, to the extent he’s known to participate in workout skates with the players. Well, we’ve seen this firsthand in the opening week of training camp.
Defenseman Seth Jones mentioned the coach’s practice day regimen.
He’s up on the bike at like 6:30, 7am every day, just sweating when you’re coming in and warming up. He’s definitely going to lead by example.
He gets it. He played for a long time. He knows how to have a good relationship with the players. He leads by example. You see him out there doing the drills with us. He doesn’t raise his voice. He’s as open as it gets.
Now, it’s a long season, and there will likely be times we’ll be disappointed with the newest bench boss, or question some of the decisions he makes. It’s inevitable. But I tell you, he certainly seems to be off to a good start!
Blackhawks Defensive Adjustments
Let’s touch on the coach’s thoughts about the defensive scheme, which was a huge bone of contention during the Jeremy Colliton era. Richardson has some ideas about how he’d like to see the defense play.
Luke Richardson says the Blackhawks’ defensive system will be similar to a Box+1.— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) September 22, 2022
“We’re looking to kill plays quick… It’s fast defense, it’s hard defense, and that just gives us more energy to play offense instead of chipping the puck out.”
This sounds pretty straightforward, where the D-man can simply react and go with their instinct instead of having to think too much. In this clip, veteran defenseman Connor Murphy expands on how this type of play could help the defensive group moving forward.
“It’s a little less man-to-man. … We’ve had tendencies in the past in man-to-man of chasing our guy around the zone a little too much.”— Phillip Thompson (@_phil_thompson) September 24, 2022
—Connor Murphy on one of the benefits of the Blackhawks switching to a box+1 defensive scheme pic.twitter.com/44K83GuayF
“We’ve had tendencies in the past with man-to-man of chasing our guy around the zone a little bit too much.” Isn’t that the truth! It’s not rocket science that the Blackhawks need an adjustment to their system. It sounds like Murphy’s on board.
One final thought on the Blackhawks adjustments on defense.
Richardson says he wants Blackhawks defensemen, when they retrieve the puck in the D-zone, to first look to pass the puck up the ice rather than D-to-D.— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) September 23, 2022
“Sometimes it’s not even going into the zone with possession, but we’re going north and we can play it in for another guy.”
Again, this is all about quick transition into the offensive zone. It sounds so great in theory. But can the defensive group and their offensive counterparts make this work? We will have plenty of time to see if there’s improvement as the season progresses.
Toews Enjoying His Time
All eyes will be on captain Jonathan Toews to see how he responds this season. We all know he’s expressed frustration with the offseason trades, and the reality of a rebuild. But he also knows that if he chooses to remain a Blackhawk, he must have the correct mindset moving forward. So far, he’s saying all the right things.
I know it’s kind of a boring story to write about right now but I’m just focusing on one day at a time and doing my job, not only as a player or as a captain, but just really enjoying being here, being a Blackhawk.
I believe Toews does have the right attitude. He’s had some time to process the situation, and he will step up to his role of being a mentor. He will continue to set a good example for the younger players. He also wants to prove he still has something in the tank to offer on the ice.
But the last sentence is a little tough to swallow. “…but just really enjoying being here, being a Blackhawk.” Toews knows just as well as the rest of us that he’s probably not in the Blackhawks’ long-term plans. So this is his last hoorah on the only NHL team he’s ever known. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. We should ALL enjoy Toews being a Blackhawk for as long as he still is one.
Entwistle Speaks to the Loss of Teammate DeBrincat
But enough with this sadness! Let’s end on a fun note. MacKenzie Entwistle is a young forward that made some strides in his first full season with the Blackhawks, accumulating five goals 12 points in 55 games last year.
The 23-year-old will obviously be looking to take another step in his development this season. He’s also very close friends with Alex DeBrincat, whom we know will suit up for the Ottawa Senators this season. Entwistle was candid about it being tough to see his buddy leave. But instead of focusing on the negative, he decided to put a comical spin on things.
DeBrincat and Entwistle (two tight friends) jokingly “fought” in practice all the time last season.— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) September 24, 2022
So will Entwistle drop the gloves for real on 2/17 at OTT?
“I’ll take that trade any day. [Getting] him off the ice is probably a lot better than me.”
Ah, smart kid that Entwistle! A fight between the 6-foot-3 Entwistle and the 5-foot-7 DeBrincat would certainly be a sight to behold. But I’m guessing they’re more likely to be sharing a fancy steak dinner together than dropping the gloves.
That’ll do it for this edition of Blackhawks Bytes. But stay tuned to The Hockey Writers, because the fun is just beginning. Training camp is in full swing, preseason games are imminent and the first regular season contest commences on Oct. 12. We’ll have plenty to talk about in the coming days and weeks. Because hockey is finally here!
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Gail Kauchak has covered the Chicago Blackhawks as a content writer since 2014. She previously wrote for Fansided’s Blackhawk Up, and has been part of The Hockey Writer’s team since 2017. It’s not always easy to balance life’s responsibility’s with one’s passion, but Gail’s doing her best to make it happen. Quote to live by, “Follow your dreams, and good things will happen.” Wait, maybe it’s “Good things happen when you shoot the puck!” You get the idea.
Follow Gail for her unique commentary about this storied franchise. And be sure to catch her and the rest of the Blackhawks’ crew on their weekly Blackhawks Banter show, as well as follow her on Twitter.