Stu Cowan: It’s a good time for Canadiens to bring back Larry Robinson

Hall of Fame defenceman says he’s too old now for grind of being an assistant coach, but would be interested in a consulting role with Habs.

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The Canadiens now have a big hole to fill behind their bench before the start of next season.

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The Chicago Blackhawks made it official Monday, naming Luke Richardson as their new head coach after he spent the last four seasons as an assistant coach with the Canadiens in charge of the defence.

One name that will definitely come up as a possibility (or hope) with Canadiens fans is Hall of Famer Larry Robinson, who won six Stanley Cups as a player with the team. Robinson also won one Stanley Cup as head coach in New Jersey, two as an assistant coach with the Devils and his 10th as a consultant with the St. Louis Blues.

The 71-year-old has been out of hockey since helping the Blues win the Stanley Cup in 2019 and says he isn’t interested in getting back into coaching.

“If you took the travelling out of it, I would say yes, I would do it in a heartbeat,” Robinson said during a phone interview last Friday when asked if he would be interested in an assistant coaching job with the Canadiens. “But I can’t take the travelling anymore. I tried it for a month in St. Louis. I just couldn’t at my age. I can’t get back at 2:30 in the morning and be back at the rink at 6 o’clock the next day. As much as I would like to, this old body of mine just doesn’t work that way now.

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“I’m enjoying retired life right now,” he added. “But if you’ve been in hockey, are you ever out of hockey? It’s in your blood.”

Robinson lives year-round in Florida now, but said he would definitely listen if the Canadiens were interested in bringing him back as a consultant — similar to the role he held with the Blues and, before that, with the San Jose Sharks. Robinson was visiting his brother, Moe, in the Ottawa area to play some golf when we spoke.

“You never stop being interested … it would depend on what the offer would be,” Robinson said when asked about getting back in the NHL as a consultant or in another role. “I’m at the point in my life and my career that I can be as picky as I want. So I guess it would depend on what the offer is because I cherish the time that I have now with my family. So it would have to be something that would interest me and I would be interested in.”

The Canadiens had a chance to hire Robinson as an assistant coach in charge of the defence in 2012, after Marc Bergevin was named GM, but it never happened. Robinson said he was supposed to have a meeting with Bergevin about the job, but it never happened after Robinson’s farm in Florida was flooded by a storm and he had to postpone the meeting.

Bergevin decided to hire J.J. Daigneault instead as an assistant to head coach Michel Therrien without meeting Robinson. Nothing personal against Daigneault, but it’s still hard to imagine another NHL team picking him over Robinson as an assistant coach — not to mention the team Robinson played 17 seasons with.

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Robinson was disappointed at the time that he didn’t get the job, but it’s all water under the bridge to him now.

“I haven’t had any problems with the Habs,” Robinson said when asked about his current relationship with the team. “There was a time where they wanted me to come as an assistant coach. All I know is that when they called and I was going to come down, we had a major storm in Florida so I wasn’t able to go that day and they decided to go another way with J.J. Daigneault and hired him as a coach. But I’ve never had a problem with Montreal. It’s a business, so you’re allowed to choose whoever you want. … I don’t hold any grudges. J.J. turned into a pretty good coach. He has a very good hockey mind.”

So does Robinson and it would make sense now for the Canadiens to hire him as a consultant to do some work with the team’s young defence prospects.

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New Canadiens GM Kent Hughes has already hired Vincent Lecavalier as a special adviser to hockey operations, Marie-Philip Poulin as a player development consultant, Adam Nicholas as director of hockey development and Christopher Boucher as director of hockey analytics. But there is no NHL salary cap when it comes to hockey operations and you have to think Robinson could help the Canadiens as they look to rebuild.

Robinson said he doesn’t know Jeff Gorton, the Canadiens’ executive vice-president of hockey operations, personally, but he does know GM Kent Hughes.

“You want to know how I feel old?” Robinson said. “Kent Hughes and my son, Jeff, played together for the same peewee team on the West Island.”

In many ways, Montreal still feels like home to Robinson.

This would be a good time to bring him back.

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