Muckler: Price for Roberts too high

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:29 AM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Senators didn't get their man at yesterday's NHL trade deadline.

Instead, they settled for Phoenix winger Oleg Saprykin.

The guy the Senators really wanted before they turned to 'Plan B' was Panthers winger Gary Roberts, but in the middle of the night he came to his senses and accepted a deal to the Penguins.

But sources say the experience of trying to acquire Roberts left Senators GM John Muckler upset because nobody is sure if Florida coach and GM Jacques Martin and assistant GM Randy Sexton were bargaining in good faith.

There's a strong feeling that Martin didn't really want to help his old employer get the one player who might put it over the top in a run to the Stanley Cup. Let's not forget, it was Muckler who summoned Martin to his office after an ugly playoff defeat to the Maple Leafs in 2003 and sent him packing.

The Senators aren't the only ones feeling used. Sources say Maple Leafs GM John Ferguson isn't pleased that he got left out in the cold by the Panthers in the Roberts sweepstakes.

"Never hold a grudge," Muckler said from Ottawa. "These were straight negotiations and it didn't work out."

The Senators and Leafs had both held talks with the Panthers about Roberts in the last couple of months. Toronto had only mild interest up until about 48 hours ago.

Roberts informed Martin last month that he would only waive his no-trade clause to be moved to either Toronto or Ottawa and wanted a contract extension. The Panthers agreed to try and fulfil his wishes, but made no guarantees.

Roberts wanted to be closer to his daughter, who is attending high school near Toronto.

Sources say the Panthers made it clear to the Senators they wanted either winger Patrick Eaves or Antoine Vermette, along with a No. 1 pick for Roberts. Muckler told Florida to go fly a kite.

DEAL LOOKED IFFY

So when word trickled out around 1 p.m. Monday that the Penguins had worked out a deal for Roberts, it didn't come as a surprise to the Senators or Leafs.

It also didn't stun either team that Roberts was hedging about waiving his no-trade clause to accept the deal to Pittsburgh.

With the trade to Pittsburgh looking iffy, sources say the Senators and Leafs both received phone calls from Sexton late Monday saying there was a strong chance Roberts wouldn't accept the deal to Pittsburgh. If that was the case, the Panthers wanted to know what Ottawa and Toronto were willing to offer.

It's believed the Panthers changed their demands, but not dramatically. Sources say Florida wanted Russian centre Ilja Zubov and a No. 1 pick from Ottawa for Roberts, while the Leafs upped the ante by offering either defenceman Staffan Kronwall or Brendan Bell, along with a second- and fourth-round draft pick.

The Senators weren't willing to pay that price for a rental player, but sources say Muckler wanted more time to make a counter-offer. The Leafs' Ferguson was of Muckler's mind set, sources say. The word is Sexton was demanding an immediate answer.

Then, at 11:55 p.m., the Panthers informed the Senators and Leafs, they'd completed a deal with the Penguins to send Roberts to Pittsburgh for prospect defenceman Noah Welch.

"I got a call and we had to bow out," said Muckler.

So instead of suiting up alongside Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley, Roberts will be lining up with Pittsburgh's young stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the playoffs -- quite possibly against the Senators.

Now, Muckler is facing the wrath of Ottawa fans for not bringing in a proven playoff competitor. He has maintained he believes in this team. We'll find out in June if he's right. If he's wrong, we could know as early as April.


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