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Northeast: Sens' Richardson edging toward coaching

by John McGourty /
Ottawa Senators defenseman Luke Richardson finds himself betwixt and between, and that's exactly where he wants to be.

Richardson, 39, is the fourth-oldest player in the NHL this season, behind Gary Roberts (42), Mark Recchi (40), and Teppo Numminen (40). He's in his 22nd NHL season and he's playing in the city where he grew up. Richardson has played in only two of the Senators' first 18 games but he's found a way -- three ways actually -- to be useful.

The Senators lost three good puck-moving defensemen in the past year. They traded Joe Corvo and Andrej Meszaros and watched Wade Redden depart via free agency. They acquired defensemen Jason Smith, Filip Kuba and Alexandre Picard and are waiting on the development of Brian Lee and Brendan Bell.

Richardson is there in case of emergency: In case of panic, break glass, and out pops a calm, defensive defenseman. He's also there to work with Picard, a third-round pick in 2003 who is now with his third NHL team. Picard has good offensive skills, but needs to improve his defensive work. Richardson started out as a hard-checking, risk-taking defender and became a solid defensive presence in mid-career. He learned, and so can Picard.

Third, Richardson helps coach Craig Hartsburg and assistants Greg Carvel, Curtis Hunt and Eli Wilson at practice. He also assists Wilson in watching opposing teams from the press box and calling in his observations to Carvel between periods.

"We are using Luke for depth, if we get into a situation where we can use him for some games," Hartsburg said. "Luke is a good individual and he's helped us work with some of the younger players. He's a good, solid player and good team player. It's good to have him around, especially when we are struggling.

"We use him at times during games to sit upstairs and get on the headsets. I think, eventually, he wants to get into that. When it's time, he'll do a good job of that. He's a guy with lots of experience as a player. He's seen a lot and knows what the game is all about, on and off the ice. He'll be a good coach."

Richardson laughed when he was reminded that he was traded 15 years ago from the Toronto Maple Leafs, with Vincent Damphousse, to the Edmonton Oilers for Glenn Anderson and Grant Fuhr. He's still playing and those other guys are "washed up," he was told. Richardson said he thought it was great that Anderson was recently inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

He reflected on what has been an amazing hockey journey, starting with his selection as the seventh pick of the 1987 Entry Draft. He's been with Toronto, Edmonton, Philadelphia, Columbus, Toronto again, Tampa Bay and Ottawa. He was captain in Columbus and an alternate captain in Philadelphia and Edmonton.

"I've been given great opportunities to play, and to change my game" Richardson said. "The rule changes have been good for me. When someone sees you in a certain role, you get slotted into that role and you don't have a chance to work on things and have challenges and opportunities. I've had a chance to have pretty good stays in each city I've been in.

"Tampa Bay was just one year but everywhere else was a pretty good stay. It gives me a chance to let people know what kind of player and personality I am. Once that is established, you can establish relationships to work on things. When you are in and out of places, or there's coaching changes, you don't get a chance to show that you can fit your game to a certain kind of game plan. I've been lucky enough, over the years, that I've been able to adapt and work on things.

"People have seen that and it's become a trait that goes with me and they know I have the personality that goes along with my physical play on the ice and my mental play on and off the ice."

Richardson is in his second year in Ottawa. He received no guarantees, but at the end of training camp, there was a sweater with his name on it.

Going back to Ottawa helped him settle his family, after years on the road.

"In my third and final year in Columbus, I got traded to Toronto for the last two months," Richardson said. "That was decision time because we knew we weren't going back to Columbus, but we didn't know where I'd go. I signed with Tampa and the family was at the age where my daughters didn't want to change schools for a year. They really got settled in Columbus. It was a great town. We just made the decision to go home to Ottawa. That wasn't their first choice, either, so it was a really tough year on the family. I went to Tampa on my own and the family went to Ottawa to get established and have a home base.

"I went into camp (this season) on a tryout basis so you can always get new experiences, even if you have been in the NHL for 22 years. I think the experience helps to keep me calm and not try to do too much. I think that experience helped in a new situation that was unique to me. I think I won them over with good work ethic and being a great team guy and a calm personality in the dressing room. There've been a lot of changes here and I have a lot of experience, over the years, with changes.

"I think the coaches saw the benefit in that and I think there were some younger guys who weren't quite ready and that worked in my favor."

Goaltender Alex Auld has benefited from the work that Richardson has done with the defense but he sees another good reason for wanting Richardson as a teammate.

"It's great having him around, whether it's talking about the game and his experiences on the ice, or just knowing where to go eat," Auld said. "Guys who have been around the League know the best places in all these NHL cities. Seriously, he's a great fit, a great team guy. He's in a tough spot, not playing, but he's always positive and always works hard. He's a great example."

Quite a show -- Last Wednesday's Bruins-Blackhawks game was one of the best in the NHL this season for all-round entertainment. That was the night the Blackhawks retired the No. 3 of Pierre Pilote and Keith Magnuson.

Pilote, who won three Norris Trophies in the 1960s and was the best player in the Blackhawks' 1961 Stanley Cup championship, gave a heartwarming speech that was heavy on love for his family and the fans in Chicago. Magnuson, who died in 2003, was represented by his son, Kevin, who played on the University of Michigan's 1998 NCAA championship team. Kevin did a fine job in his pre-game remarks and again during the second intermission with broadcaster Pat Foley.

Pilote, 77, did an amazing transformation in his first-intermission with Foley, slipping from the grateful elder-statesman role into a first-rate analysis of the modern game and players. He then pronounced the late Roger Neilson as the person most responsible for changes in the game between his era and now.

"Captain Video" prepared his team for every opponent by studying videotape, something all teams in all sports do now.

Then the Bruins and Blackhawks played a high-tempo, hard-checking game with great goaltending from Nikolai Khabibulin and Tim Thomas. Boston cracked Chicago's defense midway through the second period, and Chicago scored early in the third. An apparent late Boston goal was waved off because Blake Wheeler was in the crease and draped over Khabibulin.

The game went to a shootout, and Boston coach Claude Julien pulled a surprise. P.J. Axelsson, often mentioned as a candidate for the Frank J. Selke Trophy that is awarded to the NHL's best defensive forward, beat Khabibulin in the shootout.
Now, in addition to his excellent five-on-five defensive work, penalty killing and shootout sharpshooter roles, add point man on the power play. Defenseman Andrew Ference normally plays the point on the second power-play unit, with Dennis Wideman on the other side. Ference is out for a few weeks and Julien put Axelsson opposite Wideman Monday night in Toronto.

"What we like about him is his vision and his smarts," Julien told the Boston Globe. "He can make plays. Right now, that's one of the solutions we've come up with to replace Andrew on the power play.

"Those kinds of players never get enough credit," Julien said. "We often talk about guys who score all the goals and everything else. But P.J. is one of those guys, when you look at his time on the ice every night, it's valuable time he gives us out there, PK or put him on the PP."

Bad Saturday for Northeast -- All five Northeast teams were in action Saturday and all five lost. Worse, Boston and Buffalo blew third-period leads. The Bruins were up, 2-0, with about five minutes to play and surrendered two goals, losing in the shootout. At least they got a point.

Buffalo was leading 2-1 with less than nine minutes to play and gave up four goals in the final 9:53.

Ottawa lost, 3-2, at Long Island and Toronto fell, 4-2, in Vancouver on Hockey Night In Canada. The Canadiens lost their fourth game in five in a 2-1 loss to the Flyers at the Bell Centre. The Canadiens righted the ship Sunday with a shootout win over the Blues.

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