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Stephane Robidas insists he wanted to come back and play for the Maple Leafs in the last two years of his contract – but couldn’t because of injuries.
In a rare public comment of his sudden departure from the lineup at the start of the 2015-16 season, the club’s newly named assistant director of player development said on a Friday conference call that a cumulative amount of damage to his right knee and leg prevented him from a return.
Robidas had turned 38 during 2015’s training camp and appeared ready to keep his job on defence in the second of a three-year contract approved by former general manager Dave Nonis, paying him US$3 million. Departing when he did gave the Leafs – under new GM Lou Lamoriello – valuable cap relief.
But Robidas said he had been nursing an exhibition game injury to his right knee, part of the twice-broken leg that caused him so much grief in previous NHL stops in Dallas and Anaheim.
“I couldn’t do it,” he said of continuing to play. “I had two surgeries, the fracture, two screws in there … there was a lot happening with that right leg.”
Robidas’s first season with the Leafs had been cut short by a severe shoulder injury, though he’d had a positive effect on young defencemen Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly. Robidas disappeared from day-to-day Leaf life after the knee issue, though it was known he had permission from the club to undergo part of his recovery at home in the Montreal area where his children live.
“It was not an easy year (to be in limbo), but I’d had my fair share or injuries, surgeries and rehab. The last injury was tough and my body can’t keep up. When you can’t play, that’s how it goes. Things don’t don’t always go your way, so it was a chance to stand back and take care of my body, reflect on all those years I played. I was lucky, I was a smaller guy, but it caught up to me.
“It was sad to not fulfill the whole contract. I wanted to help the Leafs, but there is not much you can do when your body breaks down.”
He says he gave the knee ample time to respond and it never did, to the point where he says it still hurts to even kick a soccer ball in the backyard with his daughter.
“I can live normally, but there are things I can’t do.”
A year ago, Robidas appeared at Leaf rookie camp in a player development advisory role, which expanded during the season to help the farm team Toronto Marlies. On Thursday, he was confirmed as player development director Scott Pellerin’s new assistant and has been prominent at practice with the Leaf rookies ahead of this weekend’s tournament at Ricoh Coliseum against Montreal and Ottawa.
“It has been a great experience for me, working with Scott, the coaching staff of the Marlies, and with (skating instructor) Barb Underhill,” Robidas said. “I’m impressed with the youth we have. There are things to learn, baby steps for some of them.”
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