Robidas adds versatility on the attack

DALLAS -- Defenseman Stephane Robidas remembers a brief conversation he had with former Dallas Stars coach Dave Tippett two seasons ago.

The Stars had just lost defensive stalwarts Sergei Zubov and Philippe Boucher, two high-minute players, to injuries. It left Tippett and his coaching staff with little choice but to rely on Robidas.

"He told me, 'Hey, it's up to you now,'" Robidas said. "That was my chance, and there was no choice but to go out and do it."

Robidas did it, earning the trust of management and his teammates in the process. The increased minutes and responsibility gained in that 2007-08 season led to more confidence. Robidas had a great playoff run -- 11 points in 18 games -- as the Stars advanced to the Western Conference finals.

Now, two years later, he's a part of the Stars' top defensive pair, competing each game against the opposition's best forwards. The 32-year-old Robidas was at it again in Monday's 2-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. He led the Stars in minutes played (24:20) and was an integral part of the power play and penalty kill units.

Besides playing a solid game defensively, Robidas adds offensive punch by joining the rush and throwing the puck at the net, something that is critical in new coach Marc Crawford's attacking system. He had four points Saturday in a win against the New Jersey Devils and was helping to create scoring chances in Monday's victory.

"He comes in every day, and it doesn't matter if it's practice, playoffs or Game 40, he's giving it his all," said defenseman Nicklas Grossman, who was scratched on Monday with a lower-body injury. He's listed as day-to-day. "He always in good position and makes good first passes. He's just a reliable, solid defenseman, and he's a professional."

It was just five years ago this month that Robidas was traded midseason from Dallas to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Stars needed more size on the blue line and acquired Jon Klemm in return for Robidas, then a second- or third-pair defenseman.

Robidas finished the 2003-04 season with the Blackhawks and Chicago didn't offer him a contract, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent. But the lockout arrived, and in order to keep playing, Robidas went to Frankfurt, Germany. He played in 51 games and had 47 points, including 15 goals. He became more of an offensive threat in a league with plenty of open ice and a quicker flow.

When Robidas returned to play for the Stars in 2005-06, he had more confidence and rejoined an NHL that was putting a premium on defensemen who could skate and create more offensive chances.

"The new rules and the fact that he was growing and maturing as a player hit at the same time," Crawford said. "You have to have great ability, you have to be able to skate, and strength is not the be-all-end-all of the defenseman. You have to be cagey, smart and have good skating ability. He has those things."

That's not to say Robidas isn't tough, even at 5-foot-11 (probably with his skates on) and 190 pounds.

"He's not afraid to hit guys that are 20 or 30 pounds bigger or three or four inches taller than him," said Stars assistant coach Charlie Huddy, a former defenseman who won five Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s. "He's not the biggest of guys, but he's a battler."

That competitiveness is one reason Robidas was a part of Team Canada's 2010 Olympic team orientation camp before the season started. Only 46 players got an invitation, and that list didn't include Stars teammates Brad Richards or Marty Turco. Robidas is probably a long shot to make the team since only the top seven Canadian-born defenseman will be on the team and two more will be taken as reserves. But he's being considered.

"He had a good camp, too," said Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk, who signed Robidas to a four-year extension worth $13.2 million before the season began. "He's the type of player we want here. He comes to play every day, works hard, plays well and has a great attitude."

Robidas said he still feels like his game can improve, and that's his focus as he tries to help the Stars get back to the postseason.

"As you get older, you learn and you get better," Robidas said. "I know there are areas where I can get better. I want to get even more comfortable joining the rush. I don't want to give up anything defensively, but add even more offensively. I'll keep working on it."

Richard Durrett covers the Dallas Stars for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail him at richard.durrett@espn3.com.