Gary Roberts certainly didn’t want it to end this way, but it looks as though his 21-year NHL career has come to an end…for good this time.
Roberts is expected to retire in the next couple of days after not being picked up after the Tampa Bay Lightning put him on waivers just prior to the deadline. Roberts was not at practice yesterday nor was he on hand today for the morning skate in advance of Friday’s game against the St. Louis Blues. His nameplate has been removed from his stall in the Lightning dressing room and those close to the situation say he will announce his decision in the next couple of days.
Should Roberts retire as expected, it will bring to an end the career of an all-time great player when it came to offensive production combined with truculence. In 1,224 games, Roberts scored 438 goals and 471 assists for 909 points and compiled 2,560 penalty minutes. That puts him third on the all-time scoring list for players who have 2,500 career PIM, behind Dale Hunter and Rick Tocchet, who coincidentally is his coach with the Lightning.
Roberts has had a remarkable career, one that was thought to be over 12 years ago when he sat out an entire season with back and neck problems. But Roberts, whose hallmark was his devotion to fitness and nutrition, willed himself back to the NHL the next season and went on to play 11 more with the Carolina Hurricanes, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Lightning. Even though his best years were with the Calgary Flames, with whom he once scored 50 goals and won a Stanley Cup in 1989, he managed to score 20 goals five times after his comeback and is credited with reviving the career of Jeff O’Neill when both played with the Hurricanes. Just last season, he was a legitimate contributor to the Penguins as they marched to the Stanley Cup final.
Not bad for a player who could do only three chin-ups at his first training camp. Roberts came into the Calgary camp as a first-round pick in 1984 and was in terrible shape, in part because he suffered from asthma and couldn’t adjust to the higher altitude in Calgary. But early in his career, Roberts became known as a conditioning and nutrition fanatic. In fact, it was his devotion to fitness that allowed him to make his comeback in 1997.
Neither Lightning GM Brian Lawton nor Roberts’ agent Rick Curran could be immediately reached, but Roberts’ parting with the Lightning is not characterized as acrimonious. The Lightning tried to give him a chance with another team when it put him on waivers, but no team was willing to take him. At the trade deadline, Lawton said the Lightning needed to get younger and wants to give bigger roles to the likes of Brandon Segal and Paul Szczechura.
In fact, Roberts watched the trade deadline coverage Wednesday in the Lightning’s executive offices. It’s believed the Lightning has told Roberts he no longer fits into its on-ice plans and that Roberts has accepted that decision willingly.
Roberts had played just 30 games with the Lightning this season, scoring four goals and seven points. He was hoping to be picked up by the Flames at the deadline and end his career in Calgary, but they didn’t have room for him after trading for Olli Jokinen and Jordan Leopold.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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