Stu Cowan: Canadians get out of the box again by hiring Stéphane Robidas

While the hiring of Martin St. Louis as head coach was a surprise, it was exciting when general manager Kent Hughes announced the team’s new assistant coach.

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It came as a surprise when Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes decided to hire Martin St. Louis as head coach last February to replace Dominique Ducharme.

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The only coaching experience St. Louis had was at the youth level in Connecticut with his three children and made the jump directly from a bantamweight team to the back of the Canadiens bench.

St. Louis had a career as a Hall of Fame player, so he had instant credibility and respect when he first walked into the Canadiens’ locker room and delivered an emotional pep talk. The Canadiens responded to St. Louis and had a 14-19-4 record under him after going 8-30-7 with Ducharme behind the bench.

While St. Louis’ hiring came as a surprise, it shook its head Thursday morning when Hughes announced he had hired Stéphane Robidas as an assistant coach to replace Luke Richardson, who left to become Chicago’s head coach. Blackhawks.

Robidas was a defensive journeyman in the NHL for 15 seasons with five teams after being selected by the Canadiens in the seventh round (164th overall) of the 1995 NHL draft. His only coaching experience came last season when he led the Cantonniers de Magog to the Triple-A Quebec Midget Championship. Before coaching at Magog, Robidas spent four years working in player development with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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Given that St. Louis has limited experience as an NHL coach, and it’s the same for his other two assistants, Trevor Letowski and Alex Burrows, it would have made sense for Hughes to hire someone who is used to working behind an NHL bench. NHL. But Hughes and Jeff Gorton, the executive vice president of hockey operations, have shown since taking over that they’re not afraid to think outside the box and look to modern coaches instead of recycling some old ones.

This is the last example and it will be interesting to see if it works.

“Yes, I don’t have experience behind the bench, but I have another kind of experience,” Robidas said during a video conference call. “Coaching is not just structure, systems, those things. I think that being a coach is also the side of the relationship, the communication with the players. I think that the experience I have as a player, my trajectory, is something that will help me in my duties with the Canadiens”.

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Robidas added that his main priority will be working with the young defenders.

“There is a good core of veterans who can mentor the youngsters well,” Robidas said. “My role will be to work with them and continue to develop them.”

While St. Louis, Robidas, Burrows and Letowski don’t have much NHL coaching experience behind the bench, they all took the long road to becoming league players. St. Louis and Burrows were never drafted, while Letowski was a seventh-round pick like Robidas. Combined, they have 3,600 games of NHL gaming experience.

Robidas said what impressed Hughes and St. Louis the most was his journey to the NHL and his experience developing players with the Maple Leafs. Robidas added that he is not a close friend of Hughes or St. Louis. Robidas had met Hughes only once before, about five years ago, when his son, Justin, the second overall pick out of the Val d’Or Foreurs in the 2019 QMJHL draft, met with Quartexx Management, the company for which the general manager used to work as an agent. . Robidas played against St. Louis in the AHL and NHL and had only seen him a few times, adding that his sons had met years ago at the Brick Tournament in Edmonton.

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“It’s not like we have a close relationship or anything like that,” Robidas said of his relationship with St. Louis. “It’s more like we know each other. The world of hockey is a small world and being French-Canadian, he is French-Canadian, we know each other like that.”

The signing of Robidas highlights the extent to which the Canadiens’ new management team is putting an emphasis on player development.

“Speaking with Marty, our goal is to develop and help this team reach its full potential,” said Robidas. “Marty said something like, ‘We’re not looking at results, we’re not focusing on results. We’re looking at intentions and how we’re going to play and how we’re going to approach that?’ With development you have to be very patient and for me that’s something I learned in player development and even as a player. If I look back on my career, patience is the key. You have to be patient. You have to trust the process and if you focus too much on the results, sometimes it is not good. So you have to do it the right way. Be patient.

“For me, my mandate, I know exactly,” Robidas added. “I talked to Marty, Jeff, Kent, and from there, we’re going to grow as a coaching staff and we’re going to grow as a team as well.”

Expect some growing pains along the way both on the ice and behind the bench.

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