Tag Archives: Larry Robinson


by Ron Spence

You want to be an NHL head coach.

And you’d really like to have that Stanley Cup resting in your living room – at least for a while.

Even though there’s a stranger sitting – in your favourite reclining chair – guarding it, while you’re entertaining that brother-in-law – and his friends – you can’t stand.

So, what’s the secret?

Is there a template for success?

Well, if you’ve been an NHL player, and management believes that you have promise, you might be named an Assistant Coach. That could be step number one.

Of those who have won the Cup since 1997, two have followed that route.

Larry Robinson was hired as an assistant by the New Jersey Devils in 1993. And Randy Carlyle advanced in the Winnipeg Jets’ organization, becoming an assistant coach before the 1995–96 season.

Larry stayed with the Devils, was named head coach and won the Cup in 2000, and Carlyle raised the Trophy seven years later, with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

Some career minor leaguers have started their coaching careers in the bottom professional leagues – mostly where they have played, because that’s where they’re known.

And two of them went on to win Stanley Cups.

Peter Laviolette was first a head coach of the Wheeling Nailers, in the East Coast Hockey League. He had played ten years in the minors, including a 12 game cup of coffee with the Rangers during the 1988–89 campaign.

John Tortorella played for Salem State College, the University of Maine, and in Sweden, before finishing in the lowly Atlantic Coast Hockey League.

With his third ACHL team, the Virginia Lancers, Torts was promoted to both the GM and head coach from 1986 until 1988.

Tortorella had his name engraved on Lord Stanley in 2004, with the rest of his Tampa Bay Lightning, and Laviolette with his Carolina Hurricanes two years later.

Dan Blysma was a variation on Robinson/Carlyle and Laviolette/Tortorella.

Dan-Bylsmacourtesy of sportsillustrated.cnn.com

He played nine NHL seasons, and began his coaching career as an assistant with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks of the AHL. After one season, he became an NHL assistant with the New York Islanders. He joined the Penguins organization as an assistant to Todd Richards in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and when Richards became an assistant with the San Jose Sharks, Blysma became Pittsburgh’s AHL head coach. He was Wilkes-Barre Scranton’s head coach for less than one season when he was promoted to the Penguins, and won the Stanley Cup.

Five of the last eleven Cup winners (There was no Cup awarded in 2005 because the season was canceled.), started their significant part of their coaching careers in Canadian junior hockey.

Scotty Bowman, who won two (1998 and 2002) of his nine Cups over the past decade, started coaching with the Ottawa Junior Canadians in the Quebec Junior Hockey League, and later the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey Association (This of course was during the days when most junior clubs were NHL farm teams – the Petes belonged to Montreal.).

And, Bowman might have joined Robinson and Carlyle at the top of this list, but his playing career ended after a head injury.

Pat Burns coached the Hull Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Bob Hartley the Junior ‘A’ Hawkesbury Hawks, before the Laval Titans of the QMJHL. Neither had much playing experience, Burns appearing in three games with the OHL’s London Knights.

Hartley won the Cup in 2001, and Burns followed in Robinson’s footsteps with the Devils, two years later.

Out in western Canada, Ken Hitchcock started coaching Midget Triple ‘A’ in Edmonton, before moving to the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League.

And, Mike Babcock coached the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors, after three seasons of leading Red Deer College in Alberta.

Hitchcock had never played to any degree, but Babcock starred for Saskatoon and Kelowna in the WHL, and later the universities of Saskatoon and McGill (1983-87).

Hitchcock led the Dallas Stars to the Cup in 1999, and Babcock the Red Wings in 2008.

So, there is a path to follow.

You can start coaching midget, like Ken Hitchcock, or Junior A like Bob Hartley, and work your way up to Major Junior.

From there, maybe the East Coast Hockey League, or the American Hockey League, and then the Big Tent.

Of course, you have to be the very best there is, at every level that you coach.

Those guys, who have briefly rested the Stanley Cup on their mantles, have had to create room.

They have other trophies there as well.


by Ron Spence

To me Vancouver’s six wins count – as long as they count in the heads of the players.

This is how a winning attitude is developed.

I had talked to Larry Robinson and Dwayne Sutter, and included my interviews with them in earlier posts.

Now, I would like to include more information – on how to develop a culture of winning.

To start with: The Atlanta Braves had won 14 straight titles – largely through their concept of winning.

Below, are the five main points that Atlanta’s manager listed – in The Wall Street Journal – on how to transform a culture of losing.


There’s also some great information on – the cultures of winning and losing – in basketball.

Steve Aschburner, from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, discussed this topic with the Timber Wolves’ new coach, Randy Wittman.


Yes, the six games will count, if Vancouver’s leadership – both on and off the ice – creates a concept of winning that uses these wins as a foundation for the 2008-09 season.


by Ron Spence

And, because I’ve never met a dead horse that I didn’t want to kick, at least three times, I’m staying on the subject of the culture of winning.

Larry Robinson briefly referred to winning in Montreal.

There is also a family that personifies winning – the Sutters, from Viking, Alberta.

“If I had to be adopted,” Pat Burns once said, “I’d want to be a Sutter. Those guys have a special mixture.”

Six of the brothers played in the NHL (Brent, Brian, Duane, Darryl, Rich and Ron), and four (Brian, Darryl and Brent, and Duane) became NHL head coaches.

I have talked to Duane Sutter on a few occasions.

He’s the Director of Player Personnel in Calgary. For eleven seasons prior to this, he was either: Head Coach, Assistant Coach, Director of Player Personnel, or scout with the Panthers.

Before Florida, he spent two seasons as a scout for the Blackhawks, before taking over as head coach of their IHL affiliate in Indianapolis, for three years.

Duane explains some of the Sutter qualities:

“It was our overall approach to the game. We hated to lose, and we’re noticed more for our second and third efforts, rather than our first effort, because we weren’t some of the more talented guys in the league. It’s because of the work ethic, and because of the second and third efforts that we get noticed every night.”

“We’re all our own people,” he’s quick to point out. “I think each of us has tried to create our own identity, especially now with us being out of the game.”

If Duane’s schooling was his family and junior hockey, his grad school was the New York Islanders – the Past Masters of the culture of winning. Or, at least they were at one time.

They now have become the apparent successors of the New York Americans.

There was no better hockey environment than Long Island, during the early 1980’s.

Sutter was their first-round pick in 1979 (17th overall). He played on four consecutive Stanley Cup winners, during his 11-year playing career – eight seasons with the Islanders, and three more with the Blackhawks.

Duane explains why the Island was such a positive environment.

First of all, it started at the top – the shrewdness and leadership of GM Bill Torrey, who would later take Duane to Florida.

”They drafted very well in the early part of the Islanders’ franchise,” Duane continues. “They did their homework. They were patient with young kids coming along.”

“It started right from management and coaching, and the depth we had, and the understanding what role you had to play, to carry your weight on the team. And we had the superstars, the big guys to score the big goals, the goaltending. There was an overall great chemistry.”

And the Islanders had one of the best coaches in NHL history, Al Arbour.

“When he walks in the dressing room,” Duane explains, “he has an impact on everyone, whether he’s silent, or chalking out strategy on the board, or whatever. It’s what he brings – the impression he leaves on people. He’s a smart hockey man. He was really good technically, and he knew when to give you a boot in the rear end, and when to pat you on the back.”

Duane later played for another coach, who used his foot more than his hand. “Iron Mike” Keenan was coaching in Chicago, and is now with Duane and the Flames.

“Mike has a lot of different motivation tactics that people don’t agree with,” Duane explains, “He’s a really good technical coach. If you give Mike 120%, he’ll treat you great. If you give less than 120%, then you’re going to have trouble with Mike Keenan. Bottom line, if you look at his winning percentage, he’s won a Stanley Cup. He’s a good bench coach.”

So, what’s the basic principle of a winning culture?

“Number one,” he states, “the coach is only as good as his players, and the players are only as good as their coach. If everyone works together, you’re going to have some kind of success. You have to believe in each other. Money has become a big part of the game, but with teams that win, there’s a really good cohesiveness between the staff and the players.”

One of the ironies Duane learned, was what it takes to win as a player, isn’t necessarily what it takes to win as a coach.

“I’m an awfully intense individual [as a coach], much like when I played the game … I struggled early in my coaching career, in the minors, not winning a lot, but it was a great coaching experience … I believe I have a good understanding of all the strategies that can be used. More the technical side of the game … Probably my biggest downfall [was] poise as far as handling myself in front of the team. I learned a lot from [former Florida coach] Doug [MacLean], because he’s a very poised individual, and he’s short and to the point. [I learned] that a kick in the rear end isn’t always the best way. You’ve got to hand out more pats on the back … There’s always new ways you learn to motivate people”

Which helps, of course, to create the culture of winning.


by Ron Spence

Referring back to the Dwyer article again, I talked to Larry Robinson once about the culture of winning.

He was coaching the L.A. Kings at the time, and was very frustrated by his team’s lack of effort, in a loss to the Canucks.

“Would your players play differently back in Montreal?” I asked.

“You always play different,” he said. “Over there you’re under the microscope. And sometimes it comes down to, you just have to play, or you’re going to be embarrassed. I don’t know if some of the athletes [in L.A.] are embarrassed by not performing.”

“If you were to take these same L.A. players, who are taking nights off, lack pride, and are underachieving and beamed them into a Montreal uniform – would it be any different?” I asked.

“A lot of players came to Montreal,” he shrugged. “But, there were as many players who made it there, as there were players who didn’t. It was because of the pressure. So some of these players wouldn’t be able to take the pressure….”

HOCKEY SALARIES: 1987 1988 1989 1990

by Ron Spence

When Bob Goodenough took over the NHLPA in February, 1990, he introduced salary disclosure. It’s something that’s taken for granted today.

How important was it?

Wayne Greztky’s father, Walter admitted to Terry Jones: “I knew Wayne was getting traded days before he did because Nelson Skalbania phoned me and asked, ‘How much does Wayne make?’

I said ‘Why?’

He said ‘Because Peter’s shopping him to the highest bidder.’

I said ‘No he’s not.’

He said ‘Yes he is.’

That was during the 1988 Stanley Cup finals – a year and a half before salary disclosure.

Of course Pocklington knew how much his star was making, as did Wayne and his father, but it wasn’t public knowledge like it is today.

Hockey Zone Plus has compiled a comprehensive database of some 2500 players who’ve played in the NHL from 1989 until the present.

Also, a hockey fan, who calls himself Ogopogo, has located copies of Sport magazine, which ceased publishing in 2000. In his issues were the: 1987, 1990, and 1991 NHL salaries.

I have included the Hockey Zone’s 1990 salaries, along with those listed by Sport.

I would note, however, that the two lists for 1990 aren’t always the same – some are calculated in American funds, some Canadian. But, I am including both, as they provide a good idea of NHL salaries at that time.

I would ask the reader to also note, that the years from 1987 until 1990, was the time in which Offer Sheets were first being presented.

SPORT – June, 1987

1. Wayne Gretzky – Oilers – $950,000 CDN – (converted to $717,250 USD)
2. Marcel Dionne – Rangers – $700,000
3. Mike Bossy – Islanders – $650,000
4. Bryan Trottier – Islanders – $625,000
5. Dave Taylor – Kings – $600,000
6. Mario Lemieux – Penguins – $550,000
5. Denis Potvin – Islanders – $550,000
8. Mike Liut – Whalers – $450,000
9. Rod Langway – Capitals – $400,000
10. Barry Pederson – Canucks – $350,000

SPORT – June, 1989

1. Gretzky – Kings – $2 million
2. Lemieux – Penguins – $1.5 million
3. Trottier – Islanders – $950,000
4. Taylor – Kings – $700,000
5. Dionne – Rangers – $600,000
6. Liut – Whalers – $550,000
7. Goulet – Nordiques – $510,000
8. Messier – Oilers – $510,000
9. Savard – Blackhawks – $500,000
10. Coffey – Penguins – $485,000
11. Duguay – Kings – $475,000
12. Hawerchuk – Jets – $467,500
13. Stastny – Nordiques – $446,250
14. Carpenter – Bruins – $425,000
15. LaFontaine – Islanders – $425,000
16. Gustafsson – Capitals – $410,000
17. Stevens -Capitals – $400,000
18. Pederson – Canucks – $400,000
19. Bourque – Bruins – $380,000
20. Fuhr – Oilers – $340,000
20. Robinson – Canadiens – $340,000

SPORT – June, 1990

1. Gretzky – Kings – $2.72 milion
2. Lemieux – Penguins – $2.15 million
3. Chelios – Canadiens – $1 million
4. Trottier – Islanders – $975,000
5. Taylor – Kings – $950,000
6. Bourque – Bruins – $925,000
7. Messier – Oilers – $875,000
8. Nicholls – Rangers – $725,000
9. Yzerman – Red Wings – $700,000
10. Goulet – Nordiques/Blackhawks – $600,000
11. Carson – Oilers – $585,000
12. Robinson – Kings – 550,000
13. Savard – Blackhawks – $525,000
14. Dineen – Whalers – $510,000
15. Wilson – Blackhawks – $500,000
16. Hextall – Flyers – $500,000
17. Kerr – Flyers – $500,000
18. Coffey – Penguins – $485,000
19. Stastny – Nordiques – $480,000
20. Hawerchuk – Jets – $462,000

HOCKEY ZONE PLUS – 1989-90 (U.S. Dollars)

1. Lemieux – Penguins – $2,000,000

2. Gretzky – Kings – $1,720,000

3. Messier – Oilers – $855,271

4. Yzerman – Red Wings – $700,000

5. Trottier – Islanders – $ 575,000

6. Robinson – Kings – $550,000

7. Savard – Blackhawks – $525,000

8. Goulet – Nordiques/Blackhawks – $517,980

9. Bourque – Bruins – $500,000

10. Hextall – Flyers – $500,000

11. Wilson – Blackhawks – $500,000

12. Taylor – Kings- $500,000

13. Kerr – Flyers – $500,000

14. Chelios – Canadiens – $496,398

15. Coffey – Penguins – $450,000

16. Liut – Capitals – $445,000

17. Salming – Maple Leafs – $435,000

18. Kurri – Oilers – $431,650

19. Howe – Flyers – $425,000

20. Stastny – Nordiques – $414,384

21. MacInnis – Flames – $410,068

22. Sandstrom – Kings – $410,000

23. LaFontaine – Islanders – $400,000

24. Nicholls – Rangers – $400,000

25. Gartner – Capitals – $400,000

25. Carson – Oilers – $400,000