The 40-year-old forward is enjoying a career renaissance of sorts, appearing in every Florida Panthers game this season and of late has been skating on the first line with Olli Jokinen and Nathan Horton. His contract expires at the end of the season but the Toronto-born left-winger has given no indication he sees the end approaching. He had a light-hearted response when asked how many years he’d continue playing.
“Five, 10, I don’t know,” he said with a grin after the morning skate to prepare for a game Tuesday night against the Maple Leafs.
Anything is possible with an athlete who keeps himself in as good a physical condition as does Roberts, who retired in 1996 after suffering a serious neck injury while playing for the Calgary Flames but who rebounded impressively.
“I’m thankful I was given an opportunity to play again,” he says. “At 30 years old, I thought I was done.
“So, I take it a year at a time. As long as I’m healthy and enjoying the preparation – it’s not just the playing, it’s the travelling and the preparation in the summer getting ready for the next season – I’ll keep playing.”
Roberts, 41-year-old goaltender Ed Belfour and 36-year-old forward Martin Gelinas are the oldtimers on an otherwise young team.
“We have a lot of good young players on our team who are really starting to be, I think, good pros – meaning you come to the rink every day prepared to try and get better and work hard,” said Roberts. “This organization definitely has a bright future.”
The last time Roberts played all 82 games in a season was in 2000-2001, which was the first of his four years with the Leafs. He missed all but 14 games in 2002-2003 while recovering from off-season shoulder surgery.
He got into only 58 games last season because of various injuries, and GM-coach Jacques Martin is giving him certain privileges this season to ensure he stays healthy.
“I’m not practising as much, and Jacques has been great that way, letting me have days off and doing my rehab and stuff away from the rink which has been very helpful and one of the reasons I’ve stayed healthy,” said Roberts.
Strength and conditioning coach Andy O’Brien, head medical trainer Curtis Bell, assistant trainer Dave Zenobi and physical therapist Steve Dischiavi have worked closely with Roberts.
“One thing about Florida, I’ve had a great staff,” he said. “The strength coach has been awesome and the trainers have been really good to me, and Jacques is giving me leeway on practising – there’s always a team behind the team and I’ve been fortunate to have a good group of guys who have helped keep me healthy.”
Joe Nieuwendyk retired earlier this month, and Roberts is already missing his good friend and teammate.
“It was very tough to see him retire,” said Roberts. “It was an emotional day for him, I know, and for me.
“We’re going to miss him. He was a character guy and a star for a long time, but he’s doing the right thing for him and his family. He’s a great person and we all wish him well. He left a mark on our team and, hopefully, that’ll carry over and we’ll start winning some games.”