No. 1 mistake for Sens: No Roberts deal

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- Was Gary Roberts worth a No. 1 pick?

The Senators didn't think so.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were willing to pay any price and that's why they gave up prospect defenceman Noah Welch and landed the 40-year-old veteran winger at the Feb. 27 NHL trade deadline.

To listen to the Penguins talk about the 40-year-old winger, it's clear they didn't just get any hockey player in their deal with the Florida Panthers.

The Penguins know they got a guy who could be a difference-maker in a playoff series against, ironically enough, the Senators.

Penguins coach Michel Therrien witnessed Roberts lead the Toronto Maple Leafs past the Senators. And he's hoping Roberts can have the same impact for the Penguins.

"He makes our team better," said Therrien. "I remember seeing him play a few years ago for Toronto (against) Ottawa and he was a key factor for the Leafs. That was the No. 1 guy we were looking for at the trade deadline."

The deal with the Panthers changed several times and there's a strong belief Florida GM Jacques Martin wasn't willing to make a trade with Ottawa, but in a late-night call to Senators GM John Muckler, 15 hours before the deadline, assistant GM Randy Sexton dropped the demand for winger Antoine Vermette and asked for a 2007 No. 1 pick.

WOULDN'T GAMBLE FUTURE

Muckler refused. He didn't want to gamble away the future.

Instead, Ottawa acquired Phoenix winger Oleg Saprykin, who sat out his fourth straight game last night.

Since joining the Penguins, Roberts has added character, grit and leadership alongside the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.

"He brings a lot," said Therrien. "At this time of year, you need a warrior, you need leadership and that's what I think this guy brings. At this time of year, he's capable of upgrading his game because he wants to win."

While Roberts would have preferred a move to Ottawa or Toronto, he's sent a message to his Pittsburgh teammates that he's ready to battle for them. He has dropped the gloves twice, including a fight with New Jersey's Michael Rupp last week at Continental Airlines Arena.

"I know what you're asking, but I wasn't trying to send any message. That wasn't my intent," said Roberts. "The guy challenged me three times, he dropped his gloves in front of the Devils bench and I had to do something about it. You can't walk away from that kind of challenge."

Roberts said he is just trying to do his job.

"I'm not a big preacher or yeller and screamer," he said. "The guys here have had a successful year without me and I just want to be a piece of the puzzle and contribute in any way I can."

So, would Roberts like to face the Senators in the playoffs?

"I've had my battles with the Senators over the years. They're a good team. I wouldn't mind avoiding them," said Roberts with a sly smile.

You can bet Roberts is the last guy the Senators want to see.


Photos