(Note - sorry for the delay, folks. Who schedules a full day of meetings on a Friday?)
The definitive image of Luke Richardson's time in Toronto isn't actually an image of Luke himself. Instead it's Tony Granato of the Rangers - more specifically his inert form - spinning in long, lazy circles all the way from the Toronto blue line until he makes contact with the end boards - the victim of a bone-crushing Richardson hit.
Luke was the Leafs' number one draft choice in 1987. The Leafs had been looking to beef up the blue line and Richardson offered the kind of toughness they wanted. (Head scout Floyd Smith had his eye on a smallish centre from BC named Joe Sakic, but was overruled.)
Luke made the Leafs that first season as a teenager. It might not have been the best of environments in which to develop a young blueliner - most of those teams weren't that strong defensively to begin with and there were numerous coaching changes in his first few seasons.
It became clear that he wasn't really there to light it up offensively. He didn't get his tenth point until quite late in his rookie season. But man - could he hit.
Luke's particular specialty was the kind of hit that took Granato down. A winger would seem to have a step on him and have an opening along the boards. Luke, however, could go sideways at about 1000 miles per hour and just as the forward was about to step through that hole, it was gone and replaced by this oak tree wearing number 2. The results were often spectacular and rarely favourable to the forwards.
In this clip of the best ten hits of the years prior to 1989, Luke is in there twice. The Granato hit is #2.
There were a couple of other interesting moments in Luke's Leaf existence. As a rookie, he gave Dino Ciccarelli a shove heading towards the boards. Dino turned and slashed him about the head and face. Dino wound up with a ten-game suspension and a night in jail, to boot.
The other one slightly predates his Leaf time. Luke was part of the 1987 World Junior team that was banished for having a bench-clearing brawl against the Russians in the gold-medal game. There wasn't a final in those days - rather the team at the top of the standings would win it. Canada needed 5 goals in a victory over the Russians, who were out of the medals. With the score 4-2, a brawl broke out. The Russians came over the boards and Canada followed. Nobody was able to break it up. Eventually, the lights were turned out at the arena, which didn't help. Many here felt the Russians provoked the brawl to ensure Canada wouldn't get the gold.
I can't find a reference, but memory says the first person off the bench for Team Canada was Luke Richardson.
Luke spent four years in Toronto, finishing in 1990-91. His play was OK, but the entire team was stagnant and going nowhere. When Cliff Fletcher joined the Leafs, his first significant move was to swing a deal with Edmonton in which Richardson and Vincent Damphousse were part of a package that brought Grant Fuhr and Glenn Anderson in return.
Luke spent the next 11 years in Edmonton and Philly, learning to be a little less rambunctous, but a lot more steady. After a few seasons as captain in Columbus, he made one more brief Leaf appearance before playing out the string in Tampa and Ottawa.
A lot of people point to that '87 draft as one of innumerable Leaf draft mistakes, given Smith's desire to get Joe Sakic, a first-ballot Hall of Famer. It's hard to argue that, but if all Leaf draft mistakes managed to play 20 seasons and over 1400 games, I think that's something we could all live with.
|1984-85||Ottawa Golden Knights||Minor-ON||35||5||26||31||72|
|1987-88||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||78||4||6||10||90||-25||2||0||0||0||0|
|1988-89||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||55||2||7||9||106||-15|
|1989-90||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||67||4||14||18||122||-1||5||0||0||0||22|
|1990-91||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||78||1||9||10||238||-28|
|2002-03||Columbus Blue Jackets||NHL||82||0||13||13||73||-16|
|2003-04||Columbus Blue Jackets||NHL||64||1||5||6||48||-11|
|2005-06||Columbus Blue Jackets||NHL||44||1||6||7||30||-18|
|2005-06||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||21||0||3||3||41||-1|
|2006-07||Tampa Bay Lightning||NHL||27||0||3||3||16||+3|
- Traded to Edmonton by Toronto with Vincent Damphousse, Peter Ing and Scott Thornton for Grant Fuhr, Glenn Anderson and Craig Berube, September 19, 1991.
- Signed as a free agent by Philadelphia, July 23, 1997.
- Signed as a free agent by Columbus, July 4, 2002.
- Traded to Toronto by Columbus for Toronto's 5th round choice (Nick Sucharski) in 2006 Entry Draft, March 8, 2006.
- Signed as a free agent by Tampa Bay, July 11, 2006.
- Spent majority of 2006-07 season serving as a healthy reserve.
- Signed as a free agent by Ottawa, August 8, 2007.
- Officially announced his retirement, November 29, 2008.
The HHOF take on Luke:
While growing up in Ottawa, Luke Richardson was as much a baseball player as he was a hockey player. By age 15, he was an all-star catcher when hard choices had to be made. Hockey won out, particularly the rearguard portion of the game. Since watching the sport on television, Richardson had already formed a strong point of mental reference to his idols, Larry Robinson and Denis Potvin.
Richardson played out his abbreviated junior career with the OHL's Peterborough Petes where he caught notice because of his exceptional mobility for a man of his size. The Maple Leafs made him their first-round choice in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft. But in spite of concerns that he needed more seasoning, Richardson insisted that he would not return to play junior for his final year. Instead, he jumped straight onto the Leafs' roster with mixed reviews. He had his high spots, featuring his mobility and some solid open-ice hits. But he also committed the usual plethora of errors made by young defencemen learning the big-league ropes.
He plodded along for fours seasons in Blue and White until the Leafs sent him to Edmonton along with a troop of others, including Vincent Damphousse to acquire Glenn Anderson and Grant Fuhr. Richardson made himself at home on the Oilers' blueline for the six seasons that followed. Along the way, in 1994, he joined Team Canada in Italy for the World Championships where the club took their first gold medal since 1961 and returned in 1996 to capture a silver medal in Vienna, Austria.
In 1997, Richardson became an unrestricted free agent and received a lucrative offer to join the Philadelphia Flyers. Richardson went to play five seasons with the Flyers before signing as a free agent with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the summer of 2002. Upon his arrival in Columbus, Richardson continued to be rock steady on the blue line and in 2003-04 played his 1,200th NHL game.
Following a lock out year in 2004-05 and the Blue Jackets struggling in 2005-06, Richardson was dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team that originally drafted him back in 1987 just prior to the NHL trading deadline.
Richardson's stint with the Leafs lasted only 21 games as the team failed to qualify for the NHL playoffs that season. The following summer, he would sign as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Lightning. As a member of the Lightning, Richardson spent most of his time as a healthy reserve, but managed to compete in 27 games with the club. The free agent veteran returned to his home in the summer of 2007, signing a contract with the Ottawa Senators.
On the international stage, Richardson represented his homeland at the 1987 World Junior Championships and the 1996 World Championships.