If you had to build your team's blue line around your choice of one defenseman in NHL history, you certainly couldn't go wrong selecting Larry Robinson.
Larry Robinson's first impression was as a policeman obtained to protect the Habs smaller, more gifted skaters. His last impression was as one of the greatest defenseman of all time.
Robinson, at 6'4" and well over 200lbs, was exactly what the Canadiens needed to create the dynasty of the 1970s that many consider the greatest team of all time. The team was loaded with smaller and extremely talented skaters, but what they needed was a tough, no-nonsense blueliner who would force the opposition to think twice before taking any liberties on the Habs skilled stars, as well as to the keep the crease clear of giants, thus making Ken Dryden's job much easier. Robinson established himself in this position early in his career when he defeated infamous pugilist Dave "The Hammer" Schultz in front of a national TV audience. His reputation was quickly established, and he rarely had to drop the gloves again to prove it. Instead he played an intimidating and physical but clean game that was his natural style.
Big Bird, as he became known as, was always more than just a goon though. When he was drafted he was a bit of a diamond in the rough with great potential. I think even the biggest Robinson supporters were surprised that all of that potential was reached and then some.
Robinson became an almost flawless defender. Blessed with a near perfect understanding of positioning, an amazingly long reach, and physical prowess combined with a frequent mean streak, Robinson became the pre-eminent defenseman in the modern era. Every team covets a monster on the blue line who can control the games power forward by installing fear in the minds before the game even starts, yet add an offensive level that is well above average. Modern day warriors like Rob Blake, Chris Pronger, Scott Stevens and Derian Hatcher do their best to imitate Robinson, an intimidating devastator who almost never made a defensive mistake.
Robinson developed into an offensive threat as well. He was a catalyst on the power plays as he was a strong puck carrier and brilliant passer. In his younger days he was a frequent puck rusher. He finished his career with 208 goals, 750 assists for 958 points in 1384 games. He accumulated 793 minutes in penalties in 20 years, 17 with Montreal, the final three with Los Angeles.
Robinson was a major part of 6 Stanley Cup Championships. A six time All-Star, he also won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP in the playoffs in 1978, as well as 2 Norris Trophies as the top defenseman in the NHL. He once held the record for most playoff games participated in in NHL history.
There is little doubt that Robinson played on one of the greatest teams ever assembled. It should not be underestimated that he was a big a part of those teams as anyone.
"He's taken quite a few games I've seen and broken them open with an end-to-end rush" admired long time Boston Bruins defenseman Mike Milbury. "As far as I'm concerned, Larry's far and away the Canadiens' MVP."
And Robinson thrived in the Montreal pressure cooker.
"I honestly believe that if I'd played somewhere else, I might not have had the career I had. It wasn't just a game in Montreal," Robinson told interviewer Adam Proteau. "Every day you had to be at your best. You needed that drive. You needed to be pushed."