Over the next month, Defending Big D will be counting down the most important "impact" players for the upcoming season for the Dallas Stars. Starting from the player we believe will have the smallest influence on this season to the player with the most, we'll countdown from #23 all the way to the top as we get ready for what we hope will be a very promising season.
Stephane Robidas, to put it in terms most Texans will understand as we finally start emerging from this blistering summer, is like your home's air conditioning unit. It's on all the time, it's been working hard for years, you don't really give it much thought because it's always there, and if it ever broke down you'd absolutely freak out and find yourself in a world of hurt.
Modest offensive totals and a slow start to his career have traditionally hidden Robidas' name from the spotlight but ask anyone who really knows the league and they'll tell you he's one of the most underrated (if not THE most underrated) players in the game and has been for a long time. (See here, here, here, etc)
He has led the Stars in ice time in each of the last three seasons, in addition to often leading in hits given, hits taken, blocked shots, and nose surgeries. He is will to take whatever physical punishment is necessary to move a puck and sacrifices himself more readily than perhaps anyone else in the league. This would be to a fault if not for his propensity to just get back up and keep on trucking.
Since the lockout he has played in 467 of a possible 492 games (.949). He is mister dependable on a blue line that has been anything but the last three playoff-less seasons. He plays in all situations and draws the toughest assignments, which makes his plus/minus numbers the only thing about his game that is not flat out terrific. Add to it all that he's become a real leader in the locker room. After a tough loss we've come to expect that Brenden Morrow and Stephane Robidas will remain to address the media.
Any criticism involving Robidas has always centered not on his game, but his fit with the team. He's been their "number one" guy on the blue line for a while now, but on a Cup contender he wouldn't be, ideally. The defense has finally been changed this off-season and now we must re-evaluate the situation with Alex Goligoski and Sheldon Souray in the mix while keeping in mind how far Trevor Daley and Nick Grossman have come.
The Stars may not have added a true "number one" guy, but the balance and quality throughout is greater now than it was two years, or even just one year ago when Matt Niskanen and Jeff Woywitka rounded out defenses featuring less experienced versions of Grossman and Fistric with Trevor Daley still finding consistency.
Alex Goligoski showed what he could contribute last year down the stretch, playing gargantuan minutes in all situations while contributing much more than Robidas on offense. If they get a rejuvenated Sheldon Soruay like they hope, Grossman can stay healthy, and Trevor Daley has another season like last year, then Robidas will have a cast of characters around him helping to pull the proverbial wagon with equal strength and competency. Partners, they will be, rather than the students he has had in previous seasons.
In a perfect world, it would enable him to reduce his minutes a little as well as the wear and tear on his body, keeping him fresh down the stretch and (hockey gods willing) into the playoffs, not to mention the rest of his career. At 34 years of age, it's almost time to start wondering how much longer that will be. Almost. Not yet.