Saturday, November 30, 2013

DallasStars.Com - The Stephane Robidas Situation

It has been a long time since I had heard the Cinderella song from my high school days.  And yet, it popped in my head as I left the arena Friday night in a fantastic hockey game that was marred, to say the least, by the gruesome injury suffered by Stephane Robidas in the 2nd period that will surely end his season on the day after Thanksgiving.
Don't know what you got till it's gone 
Don't know what it is I did so wrong 
Now I know what I got 
It's just this song 
And it ain't easy to get back 
Takes so long
I am positive that Cinderella wasn't thinking about an under-appreciated French-Canadian defensemen when they penned those lyrics to a song that featured a ridiculous music video where a grand piano is on the ocean's shore while a man wearing too many rings for 2 hands screams into the sky his sad, sad song.  But, there is no question that I was able to link the two together.

You see, Robidas getting hurt hits those of us, who have had a relationship with this team every game of every season for the long term, right in the heart.  There is no avoiding that he is an unlikely fan favorite who would certainly not match up with any idea from Central Casting of what a fan favorite would be.  He is not the guy who scores amazing goals or makes amazing plays.  He doesn't seem to possess Mike Modano looks, instead covered with scars of hockey battles that have taken a toll.

But, he is a fan favorite for the very reason that you would want someone to ultimately be a fan favorite.  Because he has given every ounce of his strength, energy, resolve, and effort to the organization that he was employed to perform for.  He is the embodiment of the foot soldier in professional sports, in that he has battled for every inch he has ever been given.  The rare bird who seemed like he entered the sport as a fringe player, scratched and clawed to elude that status for the first half of his career, and then spent the last several years being admired league wide as a text-book example of what playing this sport for a living is all about.

Since the lockout that took away the 2004-2005 season, Stephane Robidas has played 13,336 minutes of ice-time for the Dallas Stars - easily the most of any player.  That is 21:43 of every game, every year since then for what amounts to almost a decade.  That is apparently 16,238 shifts, or 26.3 per game for every game over every season since, which for Robi is 614.  All of those numbers lead the team, except for the games, which his buddy and fellow soldier, Trevor Daley actually has played 4 more games, but fewer minutes and shifts.  Nobody else comes close.  Those are the two links to the past around here, and both of them have done what they could to fix what has gone off the track for the Stars defense corps for years and years.

And yet, they both were never going to be Sergei Zubov or Derian Hatcher, and so in both cases, every summer when guys like me whine about this team so badly needing an elite #1 defensemen, we generally allow our complaints to take out the collateral damage of those of lesser ability.  #3 and #6 both have been the targets of misplaced complaints, while proudly and bravely standing guard carving out their own careers shift after shift, and bruise after bruise.

And that is the most remarkable characteristic of Robidas and the enduring image that I will always remember when his career is over, that he could take the biggest beating of any professional athlete I have ever seen.  He seriously has sustained so many injuries in so many horrible instances that looked like they would have knocked a normal player out for a few weeks, that we just assumed that he is not normal in his body construction.  He seemed to be a bit cyborg-like in that he could not be kept down - think the cop in Terminator 2, but much kinder.  He would just bounce back up and take his next shift, because he always does that.

So, players who just go about their business and who never need a production around them when they get a bruise end up flying under the radar, because they are the constant.  There are variables in sports and there are constants that you can depend upon and just assume are going to be there the same day after day and year after year.  I guess you can be unreasonably mad at him for not being Bobby Orr, but you can't be mad at him for giving you 100% of Stephane Robidas.  That was a given.

When he stayed down on Friday night, right next to the end boards that he slid into after his leg seemed to break from a rather normal skating stride, you knew it was serious.  He doesn't stay down.  He pops back up as he always has, because he is Robidas.  That is what Robi does.  He has been our constant and the one you never worry about.

There was no other way to describe it.  It just was profoundly sad.  He will bounce back, because if anyone understand the grind necessary to do what these guys do for a living, it is Steph, but I hate to see him have to go through it.  I wish he would shake it off and take his next shift like every other time he looked to be in bad shape.

This will take months, and a team that has done a nice job of maintaining health will now have to figure out how to cover this major absence.  He no longer plays as much each game as Alex Goligoski or Brenden Dillon, but along with Trevor Daley, he takes a ton of ice time, and this is where a rather ordinary blue-line will be tested again to replace an important piece by asking Sergei Gonchar to step up and be counted upon back in the Top 4.

Just last night (before the injury) Stars General Manager Jim Nill said in a radio interview with me that Jamie Oleksiak is not ready yet and that the Stars need to play the long game and wait for him to push himself into the NHL, not rush him through valuable steps.  On the other hand, he will be in Dallas by sundown, so perhaps things change when bones break.  That leaves Aaron Rome and Kevin Connauton to push up and grab the spot next to Jordie Benn as the 5-6 pair that plays valuable spots, but not as highly leveraged.  Clearly, even with a healthy Robidas, Nill needs to figure out ways to inject elite talent into the blue-line as he had to the forward group with Tyler Seguin and Valeri Nichushkin over his first 6 months in office.

But, the time has to be right.  Cap space is a resource that should not be wasted on just anyone because you have money burning a hole in your pocket (we have some examples on the roster presently that we might like to have kept the receipts for a full refund), but in the right scenario, I am sure Nill wants to speed things along so that he can fix and develop at a reasonable rate while getting results.

These are realities that will reveal themselves in the weeks and months to come.

Also, on that list will be finding out how badly we have taken Stephane Robidas for granted.  As Cinderella so eloquently penned the lyrics, clearly you only appreciate Robi when you don't have him to take for granted anymore.

Don't know what you got till it's gone

He isn't gone, just missing in action for now.  But, his contract does expire this season and leg injuries like that are likely to require more time than his deal will presently allow.  I would love to be wrong, but months are needed, and the season goes by fast.

So does a career.

Hopefully the team can respond well and use his absence to inspire in the short term.  And hopefully, that is all that he is missing.  And while he is gone, it might be a good opportunity for those who have wanted to move him to realize what he has meant around here for so long.

So, Robi, thanks for getting me reacquainted with Cinderella.

Now, get better quickly.

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