Sharks' assistant Robinson anxious to start new chapter

Sharks' assistant Robinson anxious to start new chapter
January 8, 2013, 2:30 pm
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Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Robinson brings nine Stanley Cup championships, three as a coach, to the Sharks' staff. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

SAN JOSE – It was Jan. 8, 1973 when legendary NHL defenseman Larry Robinson began a Hall of Fame career with the Montreal Canadians.

Forty years and nine Stanley Cup rings later, the Sharks’ associate coach, who joined the team last summer from New Jersey, is anxious to start the 2013 season as part of a revamped staff under Todd McLellan.

“It’s been a long time coming, and I’m sitting here looking forward to a new beginning,” Robinson said on Tuesday at Sharks Ice. “Basically, we’ve been just sitting here staring at each other, waiting for it to start.”

Robinson has been labeled as the Sharks’ biggest offseason acquisition, something not often said about an assistant coach. His track record speaks for itself, as Robinson won six championships as a player, three as a coach and nearly captured a tenth overall as an assistant with New Jersey last June. The Devils lost to the Los Angeles Kings in six games in the Stanley Cup Final.

Coincidentally, Robinson’s first championship as a coach came during the last time the NHL had a shortened season in 1995, when he was on head coach Jacques Lemaire’s staff for the first of three Devils cups in a nine-year span. (On a personal note, I remember it well. I was still in high school when I was attended the pivotal Devils-Flyers Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, when Claude Lemieux beat Ron Hextall late with a slap shot from just inside the blue line. Hextall should have easily stopped it).

What does Robinson remember from that 1995 season?

“Not a lot, other than I know we played a lot of games in a short period of time,” he said. “We’re going to be playing at least three games a week, and sometimes four games a week. It’s going to be attrition as much as anything else. The more guys that you can have healthy and keep healthy, the better your chances are.”

One big difference is that players nowadays generally take much better care of themselves than they did before reporting for duty nearly 20 years ago.

“[It’s] not even close," Robinson said. "Right now, for most players, it’s 12 months a year. They don’t really take much time off.”

It’s debatable if a shortened season will help or hurt teams like the rival Kings, who played until the middle of June.

“The ones that are going to hurt the most are probably LA and New Jersey because they just finished recently too, and when you’re playing that many games in such a short period of time, they may run out of gas," Robinson said. "Even with the nine months [off].”

* * *

It seems like ages ago when the Sharks announced that they were bringing in Robinson, Jim Johnson, keeping Todd MeLellan and Jay Woodcroft, while letting Matt Shaw go. The single biggest deficiency the Sharks had in their disappointing 2011-12 campaign was the penalty kill, which was 29th in the league in the regular season and downright awful in the first round playoff loss to St. Louis.

Robinson, who was the Kings’ head coach from 1995-99, said it would be a team effort among the coaches to make that unit effective.

“Even having looked at it, we’re not reinventing the wheel. A lot of the stuff that they’re doing is the right stuff, there are just minor little tweaks to it,” he said. “That’s all. It’s not going to be a major thing where there’s a whole lot of changes to be made. I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal. The guys that are doing it are smart hockey players to start with. Some of it is going to be just, more is less.”

Robinson has enjoyed the dynamic between himself and the other Sharks coaches so far. They’re still technically not allowed to talk to the players as the CBA hasn't been officially ratified yet.

“They’re awesome. That’s been a smooth transition, I think, for all of us,” he said. “The bottom line is we all think the same way and we all have the same ideas. I think the best thing about it is when you walk into the room there are no egos. You can pretty well say what you want and have any ideas, and nobody feels threatened.

“To me, that’s the fun part of it, because we’re going to be spending a lot of time together. It’s a great feeling knowing everybody’s got each other’s back.”

* * *

I couldn’t help but ask Robinson just where he keeps his nine Stanley Cup rings, the first of which came in 1972-73 and most recent in 2003.

“They’re so damn big I don’t even wear them,” he said. “I keep them in the safe deposit box, but I’ve given a bunch to my family and my son. We’re saving some for the grandkids now. Hopefully we can get a 10th so I can have one.”

He also reflected on that first NHL game 40 years ago, when he was recalled from Halifax due to an injury to Jacques Laperriere.

On his first shift, the 6-foot-4-inch Robinson, massive for his day, drilled the Minnesota North Stars’ Bobby Nevin in the corner.

“Poor Bobby Nevin. He wouldn’t hurt a fly,” Robinson said.