Once upon a time, the New York Islanders were the hardest hitting team in the NHL. Teams were simply scared to play them. First, they hit you with their dynamic fourth line of Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin. Then the snarl of Travis Hamonic, Anders Lee and even Thomas Hickey came into play. Simply put, the Isles were a team who weren’t scared to throw the body. With the absence of Martin and injuries to Clutterbuck and Hamonic, the Isles identity changed drastically in 2016-17. One of Islanders new assistant coach Luke Richardson’s first jobs is going to find a way to get it back.
Richardson Has to Preach Team-Wide Physicality
Richardson is the perfect man for the job. He spent two decades in the NHL instilling fear into the opposition. While he did a lot of it with his fists, he wasn’t scared to throw the body either. In order for the Islanders offensive talents to have more room on the ice, they have to replace the hits they lost last season when Martin went to Toronto via free agency. It’s not going to be easy, but it can be done.
The best way this gets done is a team-wide approach to finishing checks. Guys like Andrew Ladd, Jason Chimera and even the rough and rumble Anders Lee, must play tougher. In the words of Paul Newman in “Slapshot,” they’ve got to let the opposition “know they’re there.” While the chances of getting another player with the ferocity of Martin, inside or outside of the organization are slim, if every player on the team steps up physically, the Islanders will be a much tougher team to play against. That’s definitely something Richardson can help with.
Luckily for the Islanders, they still have one of the most dangerous hitters in the NHL already. A former NHL leader in hits, Clutterbuck must return to 15-goal and 300-hit form. If he does that, things on the ice drastically change.
Richardson’s Defensive IQ Will Pay Dividends
While getting the team to step up physically will be one of Richardson’s main jobs, playing tough doesn’t just mean hitting. The Islanders goaltending core was hung out to dry throughout the season. Hamonic, Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk were often unable to clear pucks out of the crease and were manhandled in front.
Ironically, Scott Mayfield, Adam Pelech and Calvin de Haan, three of the team’s younger defensemen were far better in this regard. If nothing else, Richardson will ensure Boychuk gets his nastiness back, while Dennis Seidenberg continues to get big time minutes in crunch time. As well, the Islanders will make the opposition earn every inch of ice they skate on. It’s not going to be sexy, but it’ll get the job done.
Expectations for Richardson
If his experience with the Ottawa Senators is any indication, Richardson is a mentor. A guy that players like to skate for. Luckily for him and the Islanders, they’ve got plenty of players, particularly on defense, that needs to round out their games. From taking the body more and clearing the crease to overall consistency, Richardson’s tough guy, but smart in his own zone approach can work wonders for the Islanders.