Roberts defiant

Maple Leafs winger Gary Roberts says he is doing everything he can to stay in shape so he can...

Maple Leafs winger Gary Roberts says he is doing everything he can to stay in shape so he can return to the game he loves once the lockout ends. (Bruce Bennett Studios)

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:48 AM ET

Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk went for a morning workout yesterday at Station Seven and afterwards began to do the math. It wasn't encouraging.

They weren't calculating the amount of money that each has relinquished in this extended National Hockey League lockout.

But they were adding up how much -- or how little time -- each may have left in his professional career.

"If we're talking about no hockey until next January, and that's what some people are saying, I turn 40 in '06 and Joe does in September and you think, 'That last half a season, that could be it for us,' " said Roberts in a rare interview yesterday.

"Both of our contracts are up at the end of this season. Who knows what that means. There's no way we want our careers to end this way.

"We'd love to come back and play in Toronto but we don't know what the Leafs' plans would be for the future. Hopefully we're in their plans but we don't know. We can't possibly know.

HE'LL BE BACK

"All I know is I'm coming back. I haven't played my last game. Not a chance. It's the same with Joe. Neither one of us are ready to quit. We still feel we can play at the highest level and contribute. We hope somebody else feels the same way."

Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk are both 38 years old and running daily, a treadmill running out of time.

They grew up together, won a Stanley Cup together in Calgary, looked as though they would end their careers together at home, as Maple Leafs. Now there is no game to play, no league to play in, not much hope of any kind of season. If even the optimists like Wayne Gretzky are talking a season off -- maybe two -- the biological clocks of Roberts and Nieuwendyk are ticking rapidly.

RETIREMENT

"I've had my career ended once," said Roberts, who temporarily retired in the '90s with a neck injury. "I wasn't very good at retirement the first time. This time, I'd like to decide for myself. I've already had the game taken from me, I'm not about to let that happen again.

"If we're out a year (or) two years, I'm coming back. I can tell you that right now. I'm not going to let this stop me. I love to train. I know I'll be in shape. I'm not going to let them do this to me."

You might think that someone like Roberts, who had to fight his way back, who has little time left, who may be kissing his last contract goodbye, wouldn't be such an advocate of the NHL Players' Association stance against salary caps.

But, in fact, the opposite is true.

He is thankful for the past 10 seasons in which players, in his words, "Have been overpaid." He talks about the 70 or so players who lost their jobs after the last work stoppage.

"It would be pretty selfish of me to sell out those guys now. What angers me is the owners' stance. We offer a 24% rollback and give them a chance to start all over again. But they're not willing to make a deal.

"People say Glen Sather is one of the smartest hockey men out there and he had a $70 million US payroll and couldn't make the playoffs. You can't blame us if people mismanage their business. We're not asking anybody to spend $65 million or anything close to what they've spent before.

"We're just asking for them to be fair."

Roberts does have another concern that has not been readily addressed in this financial fight.

And that is the quality of play once hockey returns.

"I can tell you for certain the game will suffer dramatically," he said. "I look a year and a half off and know how long it took me to get my timing back. Even if you're training, it's not the same as playing.

"It's going to be unfortunate for everyone. The game won't be the same. If they don't like the game now, just wait to see what it looks like after a layoff.

"You won't be happy."


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