Holy cow! Luke Richardson
is still playing hockey? Wasn't he, like, Eddie Shore
's partner? Or, was it Borje Salming
Go ahead, fire away, tease him all you want. His teammates do. Richardson is loving it because he wasn't sure a year ago that anyone wanted him to play anymore. Now, he's a vital part of the Ottawa Senators
Among current NHL players, only Vancouver Canucks
forward Trevor Linden
has played more games than Richardson without winning a Stanley Cup. No current player has played more than Richardson's 21 seasons without winning the Cup. To win a Stanley Cup in his hometown would be the crowning point to a fine career.
Richardson's dedication makes him the logical and popular nominee from the Senators for this season's Bill Masterton
Richardson was "involuntarily retired" last season while playing for the Tampa Bay Lighting. Coach John Tortorella took him out of the lineup and used him as a press-box bird dog and extra practice coach. Richardson learned a lot in the role, but yearned to play one more season, at least. He thought he still had the ability, and this season has proven him correct. He's averaging 12 minutes a game and brings experience, an ability to teach and an even disposition.
"I did some coaching last year with the Tampa Bay Lightning
, but I was there to play," Richardson said. "We had a healthy lineup and I was the seventh defenseman, so I didn't get to play a lot. John Tortorella was great and he gave me a good opportunity. He respected the way I played and the way I prepared to play. I just wasn't fitting into his lineup.
"Halfway through the year, I was getting frustrated and John came to me with an idea. He said he wanted a different perspective from what he was seeing from the bench. He gave me assignments while I was sitting upstairs in the press box. I would go down to the dressing room between periods and after games and give him my reports. We talked a lot about other players and I was asked to help push players into constructive off-ice activities and to conduct extra skating drills.
"The best part was preparing for the playoffs," Richardson said. "I put together a booklet for John about opponents' tendencies. He valued my opinion because I was still playing. He said you lose that perspective when you are upstairs or on the bench. We went over videos together before the playoffs. It was a unique experience.
"After the playoffs, I told him watching the games fired me up, but I felt helpless. I was lucky to get this opportunity in Ottawa. He wished me well and it has worked out."
A teen-aged Richardson played with the Ottawa Knights of the Ontario Minor Hockey Association, then went to play juniors with the Ontario Hockey League's Peterborough Petes. After the Toronto Maple Leafs
made Richardson the seventh-overall pick of the 1987 Entry Draft, he skipped his final two years of juniors and moved onto the Toronto blue line, playing 78 games his rookie season.
In those days, Richardson was one of the stars, along with Craig Muni
and Jamie Macoun, of those Don Cherry Rock'Em, Sock'Em Hockey
He'd meet puck-carrying opponents at his blue line and launch them with the thrust and sureness of a Saturn rocket. After four seasons in Toronto, he was traded to Edmonton, played six seasons for the Oilers, five with the Philadelphia Flyers
, three with the Columbus Blue Jackets
, part of a season with Toronto again and last season in Tampa Bay. Over time, he changed from a latter-day Leo Boivin
-type body cruncher into a steady, stay-at-home defenseman.
"The game has changed considerably during my career," Richardson said. "A lot of defensive team concepts have changed because of coaches like Jacques Lemaire
, who has been successful with trapping-style teams. When I started, back in the late 1980s, we had all these high-flying teams trying to keep up with the Edmonton Oilers
. Stepping up into the play and being forceful is good but there's more patience in the way we play defense now.
"We have to be more patient and more technical. There are still a lot of physical defensemen, but with the new rules, it's taken some of that out of the game. You have to be agile to get to the puck and move it quick. You have to be better with your stick, whether you are shooting or using it defensively. The strength and fitness level of opponents is better now. Everyone has had to adjust.
"I've always been a fairly good skater with lateral mobility and I've been able to make changes near the end of my career. I'm not as quick as I was but experience helps. Being responsible and smart is now important than being quick and big and strong."
Richardson is generally quiet but friendly and very family oriented. He was worried about his children growing up without a strong sense of home so he moved them back to Ottawa before joining Tampa Bay a year ago. At that time, he never envisioned getting a chance to play in his hometown.
"I grew up here in Ottawa, so that's another plus, to be back home and have my family living in our own home," Richardson said. "This is probably our last move with me as a player. There's no better situation than to play on a top-notch team that has a chance to win the Stanley Cup."
As a hometown boy, Richardson knows how much the fans want the Stanley Cup to return for the first time since 1927.
"The fans are intense and they've been waiting for a championship, but every year the Senators seemed to have run into a really hot team, or encountered some kind of disappointment in the playoffs," Richardson said. "They leaped that last hurdle last season and went to the Stanley Cup Final and showed a lot of character. The leaders, like Daniel Alfredsson
, really stepped up and played through to the end. They just ran into a team that was bigger and more physical than any team in the East. At that time of year, you never know who will be banged up. It would be great to make that final step this year."
Richardson, like all NHL players, makes good money. He wants his children to grow up comfortable but not privileged. To that end, the family had its Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, then helped distribute food on Christmas morning to the homeless at the Shepherds of Good Hope in Ottawa.
"We did something very similar a year ago in Tampa," Richardson said. "My family was living in Ottawa. We had moved them home because we figured they had reached an age where we wanted to make a home base for them. We figured Florida would be a one- or two-year thing. My wife and children came to Tampa for Christmas and we talked about wanting to do something for other people, so we found a church that had a meal for homeless people. More homeless congregate in the South during the winter because it's warmer.
"It was a great experience although maybe a little scary for the kids because some homeless have mental-health issues. We continued it this year because we got a good feeling from it. The kids were right on board, so we'll try to continue it. Another family we know joined with us.
"I think some part of the idea for doing this comes from hockey because you have to be able to adapt and work with other people. It comes natural to pitch in and help to make things work. We're taking lessons from the hockey world and it makes a difference to some people. That's what we try to do as a family."
Oh, and to answer the question at the top of this story, he played with Salming when he broke in with the Maple Leafs in 1987.