BY GEORGE RICHARDS
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Panthers were able to swing their first major deal of the season Tuesday morning, as Gary Roberts decided to waive his no-trade clause in his contract and will join Sidney Crosby and the surging Pittsburgh Penguins.
Roberts, a 40-year-old forward, figures to be a key piece in the Penguins chase for the playoffs. Once on the outside looking in, a 14-0-1 run that ended last week helped them race up to fourth in the Eastern Conference standings.
It is thought that Roberts will be put on Crosby's line as the Penguins -- the worst team in the east last year -- try to make the postseason for the first time since the 2000-01 season. The Panthers haven't been to the playoffs since 1999-2000.
Florida will receive 24-year-old defenseman Noah Welch straight up for Roberts with no draft pick in return. The Panthers said a trade was imminent Tuesday morning, as Roberts' agent told the AP the deal was done as Roberts had agreed to it.
Roberts signed with the Panthers as a free agent on Aug. 1, 2005 along with childhood friend Joe Nieuwendyk. Both signed identical two-year deals worth $4.5 million. Nieuwendyk retired earlier this season because of chronic back pain.
• Welch is a second-year pro who has split his time the past two seasons between Pittsburgh and the team's AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
A former captain at Harvard, Welch has been brought up slowly by the Penguins. With good size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and range, the Panthers could give him playing time in the final 19 (assuming he suits up tonight) games. In 22 games with the Pens this year, the 2001 second-round pick has tallied one goal and an assist. The native of Brighton, Mass., has five goals and 16 assists in 27 games for Wilkes-Barre.