All Luke Richardson wanted was one more chance.
One more opportunity to show he could be an effective force on a National Hockey League blue line.
Last fall, the Ottawa Senators opened the door for Richardson to extend his NHL career to a 20th season. And here he is today, on target to play Game No. 1,400 in the world’s best hockey league – a milestone that should come Monday night at Scotiabank Place against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team that made him its first-round pick way back in 1987.
In fact, he’s suited up for all but two games for the Senators this season, something head coach John Paddock wasn’t exactly counting on when the Ottawa native signed on to play for his hometown team.
“Probably not, but only because we didn’t know him,” Paddock said when asked if he expected the kind of mileage that Richardson has produced for the Senators this season. “But he’s a real smart player and a smart guy, and he plays within his limitations.
“That’s a real key for anybody to have that length of career, and a real key to be successful in whatever their role is. You’ve got to know your expectations and know your level (of play) and not go beyond it, and that’s what he does really well.”
The veteran blueliner has also brought the kind of veteran leadership that helped make him the Senators’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy, awarded annually to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of “perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”
Richardson said it’s about adding the “little parts” whenever he can, whether it be lending a veteran voice to one of the Senators’ younger players or even chipping in a goal here and there.
“I’ve tried to keep my game simple,” said Richardson, who reached the 200-point career plateau with a goal and assist in a road game against the New Jersey Devils last week. “It works well, with a defensive guy with a lot of experience, to use those (assets) to his benefit. Play simple, stay calm and move the puck to the talented guys – which this team has – and just let them do their thing.
“Just (provide) reassurance for them and kind of be a backup plan. Try to be vocal on the ice and help guys cover up for each other.”
In Paddock’s mind, Richardson has been the ultimate team guy.
“Luke is the consummate professional who has put in his time to have a lengthy, effective career,” said Paddock. “He brings a lot to the team in a lot of different areas.”
Last season, Richardson suited up for only 27 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning, for whom he was essentially an assistant coach. But he knew he still had more to give on the ice and couldn’t be happier that he’s getting the chance to show it right at home in Ottawa.
“Last year, I really wanted to play and try to prove that I could (still) play in this league,” said Richardson. “The opportunity to get a job in this league is tough. But Ottawa gave me that opportunity and I’m trying to make the most of it.
“If I get another one next year, that’s just a bonus.”
For now, though, he’s savouring every moment of his current ride.
“Every day has been a blessing for me after so many years,” he said. “To be in my hometown and play on a talented team in Ottawa… every day has been great.
“I don’t look any farther ahead than the next day and I look forward to a long playoff run.”