New York Islanders assistant coach Luke Richardson gave his defensemen a vote of confidence during an interview last week.
Although the Isles’ blueline was less-than-ideal in 2016-17, newly minted assistant coach Luke Richardson isn’t losing hope just yet.
In an interview with NHL.com’s Cory Wright, Richardson spoke about his expectations for the upcoming season. Hidden in these conversations was this tidbit: “A couple years ago I thought Garth [Snow] and Doug [Weight] made a huge move in the summer when they traded for Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk.
“I love both of those D, different styles, but they complement each other. But I thought coming in with Stanley Cup experience — both of them — they’re game-changers. And I think to have a good nucleus of young defensemen — which the Islanders have a whole bunch of them — underneath these guys it’s a huge help to the whole organization, but especially the coaching staff.”
Richardson isn’t the first to sing the group praises, but the timing is unusual. As many have been quick to point out, guys like Travis Hamonic and Thomas Hickey suffered through career-worst seasons, while others, like top prospect Ryan Pulock, spent the entire period exiled in Bridgeport.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: this group was disappointing (point in case: the team surrendered the eighth most goals-per-game, at 2.90). So it’s telling that when asked what he’s most looking forward to, Richardson answered that it’s the defensemen.
Which should convince cynics that this unit can be, in fact, for real. When not banged up and underperforming, the Isles have three considerable minute eaters, plus a handful of ready performers and up-and-coming prospects.
There’s another scenario here, one that could complicate things just a little bit. With the expansion draft looming, it’s possible that Snow could make a deal — and still lose a d-man — before the season begins.
That would certainly complicate things. This group has largely remained intact over the past couple of years, and depth has always been a defining characteristic. It would be monumental if this changes.
Richardson, 48, is best known for incurring 238 penalty minutes during the 1990-91 season. He boasts of an impressive résume, which includes stints as the Binghamton Senators’ head coach and Ottawa Senators’ assistant coach.
On Thursday, the Isles confirmed his hiring. According to Newsday’s Arthur Staple and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the team is mulling the addition of Scott Gomez and Kelly Buchberger. We reported Saturday that the front office has come to terms with Gomez, the notorious Isles killer who spent a good chunk of his career with the rival Devils and Rangers. However, this hasn’t been confirmed.
No matter whom the Isles hire or what happens in the offseason, the young nucleas on the blueline should keep people like Richardson optimistic. Isles fans should be cautiously optimistic, too.