Ont. rivals may battle for Roberts

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

There might be a skirmish of a different kind brewing between the Senators and Maple Leafs as the NHL trade deadline draws closer.

League sources confirmed to the Sun yesterday that Florida Panthers winger Gary Roberts has a "no-trade" clause in his contract, but he'd likely waive it to accept a deal that sends him to Ottawa or back to Toronto.

Roberts, 40, who's also willing to sign a one-year contract extension with the Panthers before the Feb. 27 deadline, will ultimately decide his destination if GM/coach Jacques Martin wants to make a move.

Sources say Roberts' list of potential destinations is limited and might include the Detroit Red Wings, because he'd like to be close to his off-season home in Toronto and have a chance to win in the playoffs.

It's believed Senators GM John Muckler and Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr. have both made calls to the Panthers. But Florida hanging on in the Eastern Conference playoff race, Martin finds himself in a tricky spot.

The Panthers entered last night's game at Scotiabank Place only nine points out a playoff position with 23 games remaining on the schedule. There is still hope -- not much, mind you -- but enough that Martin might want to hang onto his key assets.

At least one Ottawa player -- centre Jason Spezza, who has worked out with Roberts in the summer and knows him well -- would love to see the former Stanley Cup champion in a Senators uniform.

"He's a hard working guy," said Spezza yesterday. "He's a playoff-type performer and he's got experience. Obviously, he's one of the names that's popped up in the rumours and definitely he'd help our team out."

Spezza isn't trying to put pressure on Muckler to make a deal, so don't get the wrong impression. After bringing in centre Mike Comrie from Phoenix in January, Muckler indicated the only piece he's looking to add is a veteran who knows what it takes to win in the playoffs.

Roberts, the former Ottawa 67's star, fits the bill. He helped will the Maple Leafs to a playoff win over the Senators in 2002 and there was talk Muckler might take a run at him in the summer of 2005 as an unrestricted free agent. But Roberts chose to sign a two-year deal in Florida.

Martin wasn't in the mood to discuss Roberts' future before facing the Senators.

LEAVE NO. 10 HERE?

Your humble servant suggested to the Rockland native he might want to leave No. 10 behind before heading for Macdonald-Cartier Airport to return to Florida last night. Naturally, Martin smiled.

But as he heads toward his first trade deadline as a GM, Martin admitted he's getting plenty of calls from teams that are willing to "help."

Roberts isn't the only player on the Florida roster attracting interest. Several teams, including the Calgary Flames, want winger Martin Gelinas, while centres Nathan Horton and Olli Jokinen are among the names floating around. It's doubtful either Horton or Jokinen will be dealt.

Another interesting player to watch: Winger Todd Bertuzzi, who was the centrepiece in the deal that sent goalie Roberto Luongo to the Vancouver Canucks. Bertuzzi suffered a setback in his return from back surgery and won't play Saturday as scheduled against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

There is a chance Bertuzzi, who wants to get back before the deadline, could play Tuesday in the second game of the home-and-home series vs. the Bolts, but he didn't make the road trip here and he's iffy.

"I've gotten quite a few calls, but I'm not sure what's going to happen yet," said Martin. "We're still in this and we're going to fight right to the end.

"This week is going to be crucial in deciding whether we make it or not."

Martin hasn't taken any action with his players to find out where they stand before the deadline. That decision doesn't have to be made for 12 days and that's an eternity in hockey circles. If a guy like Roberts wants the chance to play for a contender, he'll likely have that option because his relationship with Martin is strong.

Oddly enough, nobody is wearing the No. 10 jersey in Ottawa. Roberts could be the perfect fit.


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