With additional responsibility - and the extra ice time that accompanies it - Robidas continued his impressive transformation from a fringe player just three years ago to a crucial component of the Stars’ defense. The 32-year-old Sherbrooke, Quebec native even participated in the NHL All-Star Game in Montreal in January, indicating that the rest of the hockey world also recognized the strides he’s taken.
Despite missing the final seven games of the regular season with what had been classified as a ‘lower body injury’ - but we now know was a strained MCL in his knee - Robidas established a new career-high with 23 assists and matched the personal-best 26 points he totaled last year, to go along with three goals.
But the gritty, hard-hitting Robidas provides much more than offensive punch from the blueline. He posted an impressive +10 plus/minus rating, good for second on the team and by far the best among club defensemen, and demonstrated his importance by leading the squad in ice time, averaging 24:32 per contest. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Robidas also led the club in hits, registering 221, which ranked him 12th in the NHL, finished second on the squad with 109 blocked shots and third in penalty minutes with 76.
“There were big steps, big shoes to fill and typical of Robi, he doesn’t do anything halfway,” said Stars associate coach Rick Wilson, who handles the defensemen among other duties. “He goes 110 percent - there’s no such thing as 110 percent, it’s only 100 percent, the math does not add up - but he gives it that all the time.”
Even after the big year he had, Robidas, the consummate team-first professional, could only focus on the distressing fact that the club failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in seven years, which was especially frustrating considering the expectations he - and the rest of the guys - had after advancing to the Western Conference Finals last spring.
“It’s disappointing, you don’t make the playoffs, it’s not up to par for us as an organization,” said Robidas, who was outstanding in the 2008 post-season, recording three goals and 11 points in 18 games, including the primary assist on Brenden Morrow
’s series-clinching goal in the fourth overtime of the Western Conference Semifinal’s Game 6 against San Jose. “At the beginning of the year, we were not going for a playoff spot, we wanted to win the Stanley Cup. And everybody said the Dallas Stars are going to be right up there with San Jose and Detroit and it didn’t happen, so it’s not good.”
Robidas, who was teamed primarily with Trevor Daley
on the top defense pairing most of the campaign, indicated when the regular season ended that he still needed a couple of weeks to rehab his knee problem. But he added that he probably would not have missed much time, if any, had the Stars reached the post-season.
“It would have probably been different if I would have had to, I would probably have pushed it,” Robidas noted back on April 13. “But we knew a week ago that we were out, it didn’t make any sense for us to push it and try to come back too quick and that’s why we decided to shut it down. No surgery, it’s going to come back perfect.”
With Zubov out of the lineup, Robidas, at 32, was the second-oldest (to Darryl Sydor, who turned 37 on May 13) on the team’s young blue line. Fittingly, Robidas also added leadership to his repertoire this season, wearing an ‘A’ on his jersey as alternate captain.
As well as he performed in virtually all facets of the game, Robidas’ performance did slip slightly after the All-Star break, particularly offensively. In the 20 games immediately following the All-Star Game, Robidas recorded just three assists, more than likely a result of trying to do too much.
“Sometimes I think he tried so hard that it would work against him,” Wilson said. “Instead of just having a little bit of a patient, relaxed flow to it, he - the 100 percent thing - he worked so hard, he didn’t even accomplish necessarily what he could have or should have. But it was because of his intent to give it all and fill the whole void, a difficult job to do.”
One of those areas that Robidas may have been trying too hard was on the power play. The fact that he was counted on to produce and had just one PP goal, after scoring seven times with the man-advantage last season and three times in 18 playoff games, also contributed to the Stars’ struggles in that area. With a conversion rate of just 15.4 percent, Dallas ended up 27th in the 30-team NHL in power play efficiency.
“Robi’s had some spurts where he’s really good, but then he’s had some spurts where it doesn’t go as well,” coach Dave Tippett said of his work on the power play unit. “When you don’t have Zubov or your people that have a proven record of getting it done… Robi’s a great example of that. Robi jumped up in the playoffs last year, just out of nowhere and all of a sudden, had power play goals and it was going. And we haven’t seen that same thing this year. Last year, when he was shooting, things were going in. (In a recent game), he had two point-blank off-side one-timers, missed the net on one of them and shot into the goalie on the other. Those are plays that you’re hoping get made but he doesn’t have a proven record of getting them done all the time. It’s not from a lack of trying.”
While management has vowed to bring in a new so-called number one defenseman next year if Zubov, an unrestricted free agent in July, does not return, it doesn’t diminish the yeoman’s work that Robidas has done, and the respect he’s earned, filling that role this season. For a guy that had trouble finding a place to play in 2005-06 and then was in and out of the lineup through the first half of that season, Robidas has progressed a very long way.
“You can call him number one or whatever,” co-General Manager Brett Hull said, “but we can definitely use a guy that the ability to run a power play and can eat up substantial minutes and add him to our core that we think is pretty solid. If you think about if Sergei Zubov was in that group, how nice that group would look, so that’s where we’re looking now.”
“We’re used to Robi’s attitude, we expect it, we know it, his teammates know it and he always give it to you,” Wilson said. “(This year he took) big steps, it didn’t happen necessarily smoothly, but it was there. It’s just another move for him up the ladder. Where it all washes out in its entirety, whatever happens, he’s still an excellent player, a great team guy, a competitor that wants to and knows how to win - whether he’s in the top two, the next two or the last two, it won’t change him. And he’s been in all those spots. He’s just a consistent competitor that we like having on this team, in whatever role he has.”
Looking ahead to next season, which will be his 10th in the NHL and seventh in Dallas, Robidas pointed out that the bitter taste of missing the playoffs will provide significant motivation for the Stars to open next year more determined to make it back.
“It’s hard. You see other teams, they’re getting ready to go into the playoffs and for us, we’re coming in to pick up your gear and you’re going home,” Robidas said on the day after the regular season ended, when players cleared out their lockers. “It’s the first time in a while it’s happened here and for me, too, and it’s not a good feeling. That’s definitely something that we don’t want to do next year. We’re going to have a long summer, a lot of work to do, get ready for training camp. I think for us, we need to start camp on a real good note and start the season right and just look ahead.
“For me, first it’s the rehab, take a rest, working out (in the summer) and get ready for a big season next year.”