Larry Robinson: the Assistant Coach You Wish You Had

Pop quiz, name five assistant coaches in today’s NHL. Not an easy task, but I’ll give you one assistant you should definitely keep your eyes and ears open for: Larry Robinson. The Sharks assistant coach came in from New Jersey in the summer of 2012. Since then, the San Jose Sharks have felt the impact of his winning pedigree.

Larry Robinson’s Impressive Résumé

As a player, Larry Robinson enjoyed one of the most dominant franchises in all of sports. He won six Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens during seventeen seasons north of the border. He won the Conn Smythe once and the Norris Trophy twice. He shares the record of consecutive playoff seasons with Nicklas Lidstrom with 20. And “Big Bird,” as he was known in Montreal, also earned 144 points in 227 playoff games. Reminder: he was a defenseman. Lastly, he boasts a career plus/minus well above +700; thanks in large part to his 1976-77 season with an immaculate +120.

larry robinson
The winning way with Larry Robinson (Timothy T. Ludwig-US PRESSWIRE)

Behind the bench and wearing a suit, Larry Robinson has been just as successful. Almost immediately after his retirement, the New Jersey Devils brought Robinson on as an assistant coach. Defensive changes followed quickly after him. In the entire history of the New Jersey Devils, they had never allowed less than 250 goals in a season. In that ’93 season, Scott Stevens and Marty Brodeur only allowed 220. Robinson’s Devils became known for their suffocating defense. And many will claim that Brodeur’s many records were a product of the team (especially the defense that Robinson built) in front of him. The Devils won a Stanley Cup in 1995 but then lost Robinson.

From 1995-96 to 1998-1999, the Los Angeles Kings lowered their season’s goals against from 302 to 222. How mysterious. Not really, because Big Bird had taken his first head coaching job as the Kings’ boss. His offense never really showed up and the Kings failed to succeed.

Larry Robinson
Martin Brodeur (Flickr/LindseyAAkiyama)

He returned to the Devils for the 1999-2000 season where he took over as an interim head coach. With an offense to power his defensive gameplan, Larry Robinson won his first Stanley Cup as a head coach. His overall legacy remains the philosophy of the Devils of today. Forwards play defense and the neutral zone is a constant battle for space. Nowadays, Robinson plies his trade in San Jose, where he faces a new challenge.

Robinson Boosts Sharks PK and Defense

In July of 2012, Larry Robinson was signed to help Todd McLellan solve his team’s playoff woes. The Sharks had just been bounced in the first round of the postseason by the St Louis Blues. Another playoff exit, another disappointment.

Larry Robinson
(Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports)

Now right here is the moment where you, the reader, might be thinking: “well, not much has changed for San Jose! Their defense collapsed in the postseason… again!” I hear you, enraged internet reader. But don’t forget that the Sharks lost their leader on defense in the middle of that series, Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Losing Scott Stevens in the playoffs would have had the same effect.

Penalty Kill Bulks Up

Ignoring the injury-killing postseason last year, Robinson’s effect has taken hold in San Jose. The Sharks biggest improvement? The penalty kill has done a complete U-turn. From 29th in the league in 2011-12, the year before Robinson, to 6th twice in a row. San Jose’s PK% rose 8 points in the matter of one offseason. From an abysmal 76.9% to 85%, Robinson’s defensive masterclass immediately took hold.

What makes Larry Robinson’s system so effective is his emphasis on two way players. During his first season with San Jose, the Sharks Corsi For percentage on 4v5 scenarios crept up slightly from 8.8 to 9.3. But flash forward out of the lockout shortened season and that percentage vaulted to a 13.2! Not only were teams converting less on the power play, but the Sharks began controlling more of the puck. This is corroborated by the increase in shots for percentage as well. From 2011-2014 the Sharks shorthanded shooting rose from 10.3 to 12.8 to 17.7!

Robinson Phasing Out?

At the beginning of this season, Larry Robinson was also named Head of Player Development. This title means an emphasis more on Worcester and the upcoming names than the bright lights of the NHL. With the Sharks main concern being their lack of defensive depth, Todd McLellan has to hope that the defensive guru he has will make an impact on the younger players. Blueliners Taylor Fedun, Taylor Doherty, Dylan DeMelo, and Matt Tennyson will work close with him. But even forwards like Chris Tierney, Barclay Goodrow, and Freddie Hamilton will have to learn to be two way players with Big Bird watching closely.

Whatever role he has, Robinson will make a major difference to his team. The Sharks should aim to keep on in some sort of capacity as long as they can. There is no denying his genius in the game. Curing the San Jose Sharks’ constant underachieving attitude would easily be his greatest accomplishment as a coach.