Canadiens’ Hiring of Robidas Shows Focus on Player Development

The Montreal Canadiens made it official, they have found their replacement behind the bench for Luke Richardson. On July 28, Montreal announced the hiring of Stephane Robidas as an assistant coach.

Robidas returns home to the team that drafted him in the seventh round of the 1995 Draft. After two years on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ long-term injured reserve (LTIR) list, he announced his official retirement as a player in 2017. His arrival to the Canadiens is another example of the new management team thinking outside of the box, adding someone they see as a fit and not because they have the best resume.

Canadiens Lack Experience Behind Bench

Robidas’ arrival behind an NHL bench for the first time as part of a coaching staff doesn’t add any experience to a staff that does have a distinct lack of just that. Head coach Martin St. Louis has that half-season under his belt. Alex Burrows was promoted after only half a season of coaching from the American Hockey League (AHL) Laval Rocket and has been with the Canadiens for just over one year. Trevor Letowski spent one season as an assistant with the Canadiens after being hired on from the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) Windsor Spitfires.

Martin St. Louis Montreal Canadiens
Martin St. Louis, Montreal Canadiens head coach (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With the Canadiens coming off of their worst statistical season in franchise history, and amid a rebuild, NHL coaching experience is not what led general manager (GM) Kent Hughes in building his coaching staff. The outside-the-box philosophy at play is one that prioritizes communication and development.

“Stephane perfectly matches the profile we were looking for in a candidate. In addition to being an exceptional individual, he is a very good communicator, and I believe that players will relate to him because of that.”

Martin St. Louis

His communication skills will be put to the test this season. However, having had a recent background as a player, and one that played a puck-moving style, he can command the respect of the current players in a similar way as St. Louis has done.

Related: Canadiens Send Bakers Dozen to World Juniors Camps

That being said, a major part of player development will be to play in a highly competitive atmosphere. If the Habs want to take a step forward and become more competitive, one way to do so would be to improve upon the NHL’s 27th-ranked penalty kill performed at an anemic 75.6 percent. Robidas’ ability to formulate a penalty-kill plan and assemble multiple units will have a direct impact on the Canadiens becoming more competitive.

Robidas Brings Canadiens Credible Development Skills

It isn’t as though Robidas has no experience. Last season he served as head coach of the Quebec U18 Triple-A championship team. Before that he had served as the Director of Player Development with the Maple Leafs for four seasons.

This hiring does make sense, as his role with the Canadiens will be to help develop the young defencemen coming up to the NHL. Players such as Jordan Harris, Kaiden Guhle and Justin Barron will be the beneficiaries of his experience. Having been a defenceman of slight build in the NHL for many years, he had to work on multiple methods to defend and play the puck-moving style he was drafted to provide.

“My role will primarily be to develop the Canadiens’ young defensemen. I know there are good veterans on the roster, too. The vision is really to help the young guys. The game has evolved a lot in recent years, and I fit into that change when it comes to puck possession, practice style, and small-area games. I believe in those things, too. It’s a perfect match.”

Stephane Robidas

In none of the interviews or press releases was the stated goal about winning games. At every turn, the comments all mentioned development. With a team not expected to win many games, maybe even finish in the bottom 10 teams in the NHL, it takes the pressure off both the players and coaches and allows them to focus on their goal of development.

Robidas has experience working with young players in minor hockey, but more importantly, his experience as the head of development for an NHL team is why he is a fit with the Canadiens’ youth movement. He is positioned to work daily with those young defenders. His prior work with some quality, emerging, puck-moving defencemen such as Sean Durzi and Rasmus Sandin demonstrates he understands how the modern defenceman must play in today’s NHL and can help players reach their goals.

Robidas’ background in player development along with his recent experience as an NHL player will be his main assets to fall back upon. As mentioned, this hiring fits a pattern with the new management staff who are going to rely on him to be able to communicate and coach the skills that a retired player had to learn over a long career. A player who had to learn to adapt and overcome any deficiencies to finish a career with over 900 NHL games played. Hughes is hoping that someone with that background could become an effective coach and developmental asset for the Canadiens in the long run.

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