Longtime NHL player and head coach Larry Robinson was named associate coach of the San Jose Sharks on July 9, 2012. Below is a Q&A with the newly appointed coach, along with comments from Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manger Doug Wilson and Sharks head coach Todd McLellan.
Wilson: We’re very proud to announce that Larry Robinson is going to be joining our organization as an associate coach. His resume speaks for itself, so I don’t need to go into that. But I will say that there is nobody in this business that I respect more as a player or a coach than Larry, this is a very exciting day for our organization.
McLellan: I am extremely excited to have Larry joining our staff and our organization. His experience is obviously something that we covet. As a young coaching staff here in San Jose, I think that he will bring many things to the table with experience both as a player and coach, and in being involved in winning environments and winning atmospheres. It’s something that we’re looking forward to tapping into. The credibility that Larry has the minute he walks into the locker room, with the very young players and also with the veteran players that have played for 10 or 15 years in the league, is something that’s very important when we look at this role. We will continue to define our staff and build roles as we move forward, and obviously with Larry his involvement will be geared towards the defensemen. It only made sense that he continues to work there. He’ll have some responsibilities with the penalty killing, and maybe just as important as that he’ll have the ability, as far as team building goes he’s played on some championship teams with some very strong characters in the locker room, and he’s been able to integrate new people into the line-up as well as maintaining a respect for those players that have been there in the past, and we think he’ll be able to help us in those areas as well.
Robinson: This is a tremendous opportunity for me. I want to thank the Sharks organization, especially Todd and Doug for having the faith in me to come here and work with this organization. Having said that, I’d also like to thank the New Jersey organization for all that they’ve done for me throughout my career, but I just felt that this was the right move for me. It allows me to not only come here and work with some great people, but also to work in an organization that I think is going in the right direction… giving me another chance to win another cup. Also, it was important for me and my family to move a little bit closer to the grandkids, and to allow my wife the freedom to do what she loves to do and be around the kids. It allows also for me to do what I love to do which is be around the rink, and work with great people. I’m very, very excited to work with a great coach in Todd. He’s very similar to a gentleman who I had the pleasure of working with last year in Peter Deboer. So having said that, I’m excited to get going here. I met a few of the players this morning and I think we’ve got a great group of guys, and I’m looking forward to getting to work and having a great season.
On his impression of the Sharks from outside the organization:
Robinson: Well I think [the Sharks] record speaks for itself. They’ve been to the playoffs four years straight, but they just ran into a hot team last year in St. Louis and a hot goaltender. But the nucleus of the team, Marleau , Thornton, Boyle, and Burns, the list goes on and on, with that I think they’ve got great players, great depth. I’m excited just because I’m looking at their defense and they’ve got a great number of good, young kids here that will be fun to work with. I like the team, I like the team a lot. They scared the crap out of us when they came into New Jersey last year, and we thought they were probably one of the best teams in the league. And they probably were one of the best teams in the league. I’d just like to be able to help them make that extra step, because we’re all here for the same reason and that’s to win a cup.
On his decision not to return to New Jersey and the process of choosing to come to San Jose:
Robinson: It’s not so much that I decided not to go back to New Jersey, but we wanted to try to, as a family, move a little bit closer to our family. I found it difficult because for me I go to the rink and I’m there most of the day, but my wife never had any contact with family it was always over the phone. So, I just found that her days were very long and I wanted to move to a place where not only I would be comfortable, but she would be too. So that had part to do with it, and I think the biggest thing was to come here and see if we both felt comfortable with the area. We both fell in love with the area and I’m a first-impression guy and talking to somebody over the phone isn’t the same as meeting them in person. I’ve known Dougie for a few years, we won’t mention how many. But I didn’t know Todd all that well other than just in passing and talking to him, but as they say first impressions are important and my first impression was tremendous, so it sold me.
On the future coaching dynamic with the Sharks:
Robinson: We haven’t had a lot of time, but I’ve felt comfortable from day one. I think we can do a lot of good things here. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a coach and what he’s done here in San Jose. I really, really look forward to working with him and the rest of the guys.
McLellan: A lot of our conversations have been a lot about principle rather than systems, things that we believe in hockey-wise. We both have had contact with similar coaches in the Montreal and Jersey systems, and from my end of it I felt very comfortable in talking to Larry about those principles. We did talk, in some detail, as far as systems and individuals, but it was more principles and things that we believe in. We have a lot of common beliefs, and I can see us having some good debates as well. And I think that will be healthy both for myself and for Larry, and in turn for our hockey club.
On outside perceptions about the atmosphere in San Jose:
Robinson: No, I mean they’re going to be whatever people choose to make them, and until you are inside and living with people on a day-to-day basis it is too difficult to make any assumptions at all. Perceptions are part of hockey and people are always going to think “this” about hockey and “that” about the organization. I‘m a person that until I‘m here, and until how I see how we do things on a day-to-day basis I don’t make any assumptions. All I know is it’s a great organization and they’ve got great people working here. I’m extremely proud to be a part of it. Like I said, I met a bunch of the players this morning, and I can see the enthusiasm on their face. They are here working out and to me that says a lot. I don’t listen to perceptions; I make my own mind up.
On trends and adapting systems in the NHL:
Robinson: I don’t watch the Sharks on a day-to-day basis, but from what I’ve seen there’s not a lot to change. From what I’ve seen, there as competitive of a team as there is in the NHL right now. Good hockey players adjust to any system, so I think that’s they key to having success. You’ve got to be able to adjust, you’ve got to be able to play hard, you’ve got to compete on a night-to-night basis, and you’ve got to have everybody on the same page. So for me, that’s not a big change. We’re willing to do whatever it takes. Bottom line is you’ve got to win.
McLellan: When you watch and you look at the teams who make it to the Final Four, you do see trends, you do see teams play a certain way and have a certain style. As an organization you want to adopt some of those things that are working at this time and we will look at that. But you also want to be careful if you’re chasing trends, your personnel may not match that or your ideals and identity might not match that, so if you’re changing trends you tend to be a year behind in chasing a championship. More importantly for us, we have to re-define what our identity is as an organization and as a team, look at the tools that are available via players and the coaching staff now, and try and get the best that we can out of our group and make that the trend. You can only do that by winning games and that will be our goal this year.
On his coaching style:
Robinson: Well, I think my strength is my people skills. I don’t think there’s a lot to change here. I think you’ve got a lot of very strong people on defense in Boyle and Burns and Murray just to name a couple, but everybody I think, as a hockey player, needs somebody that they can talk to about different things. And even if you are the best player in the world, at some point you have to be told that you are doing something wrong. So it’s my job to not only make them good hockey players, but make them better hockey players. If that means taking them out for lunch, if that means kicking them in the butt, whatever it takes or whatever Todd decides that I should do then that’s what we’re going to do.
On his role with the Penalty Kill:
Robinson: Well, we haven’t sat down and talked about specialty teams or anything else, we have just been talking about hockey in general. But, I do have a few ideas and a few things that hopefully will help us move up the ranks because, as you know the league is a specialty league. You can win and lose games with your power play and your penalty killing. There are definitely things that we can work on. I think positioning is a big thing in penalty killing, it’s fine to be aggressive but you’ve got to be smart-aggressive. The biggest thing is, and I speak from our experience in other teams, is we tend to sometimes lean on our best players as our penalty-killers all the time and these guys get tired after a while. It’s good to have more than just 2, 3, or 4 guys killing penalties. The more guys you can rely on to kill penalties it saves those guys more as far as other situations as far as 5-on-5 and power play.
On his early impressions of the Sharks blueline:
Robinson: Yeah, I just met Brad this morning and was impressed with how big he is. What I like the best, I like the mobility that we have, I like our size… We have a good mixture of physicality and offensive skills and I’m just excited. I think there is a great nucleus here with a lot of depth, and we’ve also got some good young kids that people haven’t seen yet that also have a tremendous amount of mobility and I’m just really excited.