In Robidas the Habs favour development over seniority

Segue Issue 22-11

August 2, 2022

On July 28th the Montreal Canadiens announced they had hired Stephane Robidas as Assistant Coach to Martin St. Louis.

Robidas is a retired NHL player with 15 NHL seasons under his belt, including his first three in Montreal. After his playing career, Robidas worked in the front office of the Toronto Maple Leafs for five years as their assistant director, and then director, of player development. Most recently, Robidas spent a year coaching in the Quebec U18 AAA Development Hockey League with the Magog Cantonniers, and just a month ago was named assistant coach of the Sherbrooke Phoenix.

Following his hire, Robidas joined Melnick in the Afternoon on TSN690. You can listen to the entire hit, and I will segue off some of their discussion with my own takeaways.

Martin St. Louis is not that concerned about his inexperience, and neither are the other guys.

When Luke Richardson was hired by the Chicago Blackhawks, the immediate reaction from fans and pundits was that it would be a tremendous loss. I have no doubt that Richardson’s presence was highly valued, and he certainly came up strong in the 2021 playoffs.

I may be one of a few oddballs who were hoping for a reboot this summer where the defence and penalty kill are concerned. In my view, Richardson’s promotion represented an opportunity for the Habs. Most, however, were not looking at the poor defence and PK metrics and were more concerned about the lack of experience behind the Habs bench with Richardson’s exit.

How many articles and tweets were written about the unseated veteran coaches that would be a good support for Marty?

Early in his interview with Mitch Melnick, Robidas confirmed that Marty called him a couple of weeks ago to see if he would be interested in the role. Marty. Not Jeff Gorton or Kent Hughes. Marty called. After that call, there was a call with Hughes, followed by a call with Hughes and Gorton. Then there was a follow up call with St. Louis before he finally called again to offer the job.

Later in the interview, Robidas said Marty had some criteria that he was looking for in an assistant coach, and ultimately concluded that Robidas was the right person to meet those criteria.

St. Louis was entrusted with the task of hiring his assistant, in consultation with Hughes and Gorton. That doesn’t sound like a crew that’s worried about their rookie coach, and whether he will nail all of the X’s and O’s of bench management immediately. It sounds like a crew that knows their coach will bring more important characteristics while he gains experience with the other stuff.

Sometimes it’s important who you know.

Melnick asked Robidas about his relationship with St. Louis. Robidas said Marty was someone he played against, and their kids played against each other, but that he was “not a friend that I would call.” Then Melnick suggested that someone must have recommended Robidas, and the ever-important connection came out of that response. “I worked with Adam Nicholas…”

Nicholas is the recently hired director of hockey development. He was previously the skills development consultant with the Leafs, and that’s where he and Robidas overlapped. It’s a reasonable deduction that the guy in charge of development for the Habs provided some insight into what Robidas would bring.

The theme here is development.

Melnick asked about where the organization is going, and the clear theme was development. Robidas commented on the number of young players on the roster, and said his goal was to help develop those young players. He said it will be his role to oversee the defence group and help them reach their potential. Robidas also commented that even with the older guys, you can always improve.

Does that sound like anyone we know?

Some remain concerned about the lack of seniority behind the bench, presumably because of the impact on results. Robidas confirmed the priority is not results as much as development. He said that they would be trusting the process and doing the right thing to develop players, and that “if we do, we’ll get where we want to be.”

Mitch asked Robidas about being a new assistant coach in the NHL while working under an inexperienced head coach. Robidas answered in the way I would expect St. Louis, Hughes and Gorton to respond. “I’m not worried about it.”  He said Marty’s vision is pretty clear, and that his job is clear and simple – his job is to develop young players and to help the D core reach their potential.

As a seventh-round pick, Robidas knows something about what it takes to reach potential.

In fact, the entire coaching staff can speak with authority on this one. St. Louis was undrafted and went on to play 1134 NHL games before being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Assistant Coach Alexandre Burrows was also undrafted and played 913 NHL games. Assistant Coach Trevor Letowski was a seventh-round pick and played 616 games. And now Robidas, also a seventh rounder, racked up 937 games played in the NHL.

This coaching staff is a case study in reaching potential.

Melnick asked Robidas about guys that impacted his development along the way. By the end of the discussion he had listed a lot of coaches, but the first name he provided was Claude Ruel. Robidas said Ruel was the reason he was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens and helped him develop into the player he became.

Robidas wants to be that guy. The guy who sees the potential in players and helps them reach it to the fullest.

We can get a sense of Marty’s criteria from the Robidas interview.

Robidas didn’t specifically tell Melnick what Marty’s criteria were – just that he had criteria and Robidas was the best fit. That said, the interview ended with a question and answer that were revelatory.

Melnick asked about the young blue line and the importance of positive reinforcement and communication. In Robidas’ answer were several points worth noting.

Communication is key.

It’s about building relationships with players.

Players are individuals first, and you need to take care of the person.

It’s about earning the players’ respect and confidence.

You earn respect and confidence through communication.

Certainly, many fans and pundits had NHL coaching experience as one of their criteria, and perhaps in a perfect world one would have been available that met all the other necessities where player development is concerned. Or perhaps the new leadership group in Montreal was never as concerned about seniority as some. Perhaps they know where they are as a team, and the pathway to change is development.

Perhaps it’s time we stopped expecting the same old from this management group.

Published by Lori Bennett

Hockey is my hobby. I love a respectful hockey chat or debate, but it stops being fun if we're jerks.

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