We saw it hundreds of times before. Stephane Robidas takes a hit, falls down and gets right back up. Every time.
When Robidas crashed into the end boards behind the Dallas net on November 29, he was expected to stand right back up and skate away just as he did many times before. Only this time, he didn’t.
The longest tenured player on the Stars’ roster this season has long been an underrated defenseman, but for his team, he is much more than just another name in the lineup. Unfortunately for the Stars, they will have to try to make do without Robidas for a while as he is out 4-6 months with a broken right leg.
What Robidas Brings
Robidas was never the flashiest player or one who would put up amazing statistics, but a close look at his play, work ethic, attitude and numbers shows what he meant to his team. In his 15 seasons in the NHL, Robidas played in 871 games, tallied 246 points and averaged 20:31 of ice time.
He had only missed 33 games over the past eight seasons with the Stars until Saturday night. He was skating alongside Chicago’s Jonathan Toews toward the goal line when he blocked a pass with his right foot, fell to the ice awkwardly and got turned around as he hit the wall. He grimaced in pain, threw his gloves off and covered his face with one hand as he held his leg with the other.
Stars fans and teammates are used to seeing Robidas throw and take big hits as he plays a bigger game than his body indicates. He takes crunching hits in the corner to clear the puck or make an outlet pass, and every time he falls to the ice, he gets right back up. Not this time.
“It was heartbreaking. He is the one guy who never stays down,” said Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen, who has played with Robidas for five seasons.
Hated to see Robidas injury last night, one of the toughest guys I ever played with. Character guy who leads by example.
— Stu Barnes (@barnes_stu) November 30, 2013
At 36, Robidas made up part of the top defensive pairing for the Stars with 23-year-old Brenden Dillon. He mentored Dillon to a stellar rookie campaign last season, and the duo grew to be the
shutdown pair for the Stars. He was named assistant captain in the summer to support newly appointed leader Jamie Benn.
Robidas averaged nearly 20 minutes of ice time per game this season and tallied four goals, one assist and 12 penalty minutes. He leads the team in hits with 62 and is second on the team in plus/minus at seven, one behind Dillon.
Now, coach Lindy Ruff and the Stars must find a way to move on as there are still 57 games left in the season, but how do they replace such a crucial member of their already shaky defense?
Veteran Aaron Rome is still injured, so youngsters Kevin Connauton and Jamie Oleksiak will battle for the opportunity to jump into the lineup. Connauton has been a healthy scratch most of the season so far. He played one game in the NHL on October 24 and did well despite some early jitters, but he struggled in six games in the AHL for the Texas Stars. Connauton is faster, more agile and more offensive-minded, but the hulking 6-foot-7 Oleksiak provides a more defensive, physical presence and has played much more this season.
Oleksiak played 16 games last season for Dallas and 22 games so far this season in the AHL. He showed moments of both brilliance and inexperience last season with the big club. He ended up with two assists, a -5 and 14 penalty minutes. His strong training camp this year carried over to good play in the AHL as he leads all Texas Stars defenders in goals and shots and is second in plus/minus.
Ruff went with Oleksiak Sunday night against the Edmonton Oilers in Dallas’ first game without Robidas. He paired Oleksiak with Dillon and kept the other two defensive pairings together as they had been most of the season. Oleksiak looked alright for most of his 18:38 on the ice. He was caught out of position a few times, though, and his turnover led to Andrew Ference’s game-tying goal with 5:07 left in regulation.
The Stars have a lot of mix-and-match options to look at on defense. They can decide who gets into the lineup based on who they play and how they want to play them that night. What was already going to be a long season got longer, but if ever there was an opportunity for a young player to prove his worth, this is it. No one can replace what Robidas brings to the Stars, but someone is going to have to step up and try.