Montreal Canadiens fans might not be enthused about the product they expect to see on the ice in 2018-19, but they should be excited about the revolution happening at the executive level of the organization.
Luke Richardson, who has a wealth of experience as both an NHL player and coach, was hired on Monday to look after the team’s defence — and he’s one of several new people who will be at the heart of fixing what’s been the biggest problem the Canadiens have had in the six years Marc Bergevin has been general manager.
It’s all about development — and the timing is crucial. This team is in transition, lacking the type of talent it takes to compete for a championship. And with so many young, inexperienced players taking on key roles, just making the playoffs is going to be a daunting task.
But it’s also going to be a critical learning experience for everyone involved, and having such quality people as Richardson be a part of that process is going to go a long way towards ensuring they come out on the right end of it.
We’re talking about a guy who’s been involved in NHL hockey for 25 years. Richardson played over 1,400 games as a defenceman, offering his steady — and at times punishing — style to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Ottawa Senators over his career. He then jumped behind Ottawa’s bench as an assistant coach before taking over its AHL affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y., and carrying it to a 153-120-31 record over his tenure.
Now Richardson comes to the Canadiens after working alongside Doug Weight as an assistant coach with the New York Islanders, and they couldn’t be happier to have him.
“We’re very pleased with the hiring of Luke Richardson as an assistant coach,” said Bergevin via press release on Monday.
“I’m delighted,” added head coach Claude Julien.
Looking over the organization’s recent hires should be where hope is anchored for Canadiens fans, too.
Dominique Ducharme was the first to come on board, hired as an assistant coach by Julien just a few weeks after the dust settled on a 28th-place finish in the standings for the Canadiens. A local guy who had risen steadily up the coaching ranks and collected significant hardware along the way — including a Memorial Cup with the Halifax Mooseheads in 2013 and world junior gold in 2018.
Joel Bouchard, who was a member of the management team that put together that world junior win for Canada, was plucked out of Boisbriand, Que., in the third week of May so he could take over head coaching duties for Montreal’s AHL affiliate — the Laval Rocket. He had been serving as the QMJHL’s Armada’s owner, general manager and coach after the brief stint in broadcasting that followed his 13 years as an NHL defenceman. And he had built up a reputation as one of the finest and fiercest coaches in junior hockey over that time.
That has to be at least part of the reason that Alex Burrows announced late last week that he was retiring from his 14-year NHL career to join Bouchard’s bench in Laval.
Having the former Ottawa Senator — who enjoyed his best seasons as a goal-scoring pest for the Vancouver Canucks — on board is going to offer the organization’s NHL hopefuls a fresh perspective on what it takes to make it. Burrows was an undrafted player who played three full seasons in the ECHL and two full ones in the AHL before making it to the NHL and never looking back. If anyone knows how to do it, it’s him. The fact that he was in the action up until April only helps.
With longtime NHL veteran Martin Lapointe overseeing things as assistant general manger to Bergevin, with former Canadiens Francis Bouillon and Rob Ramage running development and working closely with prospects on and off the ice, and with Richardson, Ducharme, Bouchard and Burrows now in the system, the outlook has changed considerably.
It had to. Montreal’s AHL team, led by Sylvain Lefebvre, was an unmitigated disaster. It failed to make the playoffs in five of the six years he was coach and flunked out in a first-round sweep the one year it did participate. And too few players came up to Montreal and had the type of impact the Canadiens would’ve hoped for.
Even worse, too many failed to develop to expectation and were sent packing as a result. Too many former first-rounders out the door instead of helping the Canadiens remain as an annual threat. Too many mistakes to count.
But the changes over the last few weeks offer a fresh start on the most important front — as the team brings 11 freshly drafted players into the fold, as other promising prospects move from junior up to the AHL ranks and as youngsters like Jonathan Drouin, Max Domi, Victor Mete and Noah Juulsen are expected to take immediate strides with the Canadiens. They should have the fans thinking that the reset process might not be as long and painful as it could be.