Robinson discovers he likes teaching role

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DETROIT -- His name is engraved on the Stanley Cup nine times and that alone is enough to get any hockey player's attention.

These days, that's exactly what Larry Robinson wants. Because among his roles as an associate coach on the Sharks' bench, Robinson likes the one of teacher enough to list it as a reason for not wanting another stint as an NHL head coach.

"I enjoy the teaching part of it," he said. "I found that as a head coach, you weren't given time to do that because there were so many more things you had to worry about."

His students are learning their lessons.

"It's the little things that he's very clever with," rookie defenseman Matt Irwin said. "For example, if you're boxing someone out at the net, if you let him know you're there by touching him, he can spin the other way. If you're in the same spot but you don't have a hand on him, he doesn't know which way to go."

Positioning makes up much of Robinson's curriculum. And it's not only the rookies benefiting from access to a Hall of Fame defenseman who won six titles as a player with the Montreal Canadiens and three more as a coach or consultant with the New Jersey Devils.

"When you're taking pointers from a guy who's pretty much seen everything in the game, it's not hard to know that he probably knows what he's talking about -- even for a guy like myself who's played a lot," said Brad Stuart, whose 914 NHL games are a long way from the 1,324 that Robinson played with Montreal and the Los Angeles Kings.

Robinson knew he wouldn't be returning to the Devils this season as an assistant coach, primarily because his wife wanted to be closer to their grandchildren in Southern California. His family's needs ended up meshing with general manager Doug Wilson's interest in finding someone to help reconstruct a penalty kill that had fallen to 29th in the NHL.

While he flirted briefly with the head coaching job in Montreal, Robinson has made it clear he isn't looking for that title in San Jose or anywhere else. He spent four years as bench boss for the Los Angeles Kings and two different stints in that role for New Jersey. The last one with the Devils ended in 2005 with Robinson citing stress-related insomnia and headaches.

One rung down the ladder suits him well. Beyond the reduced stress and added time for teaching, he explained, there's also less need to maintain "that little bit of a barrier" between coach and the players.

"As an assistant, you're kind of the buffer," he said. "You can still have that closeness and be the shoulder for them to cry on."

Robinson can draw on four decades of NHL experience when problems come up with the Sharks. But he doesn't have to reach far back into his past to find a season that reminds him of this inconsistent one in San Jose.

Last year in New Jersey, he said, the Devils spent most of the season without any production from their third and fourth lines -- the same problem that has plagued the Sharks.

"Yeah, I've had a little bit of 'Groundhog Day,' " he said. "At times we were playing 13 or 14 guys because they were the only ones scoring goals."

Eventually, the Devils did find a fourth line -- Steve Bernier, Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta -- that kicked in 21 points during the post-season as New Jersey reached the Stanley Cup finals as a sixth seed.

"I enjoy the teaching part of it. I found that as a head coach, you weren't given time to do that because there were so many more things you had to worry about."

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