When Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts signed with the Panthers minutes after the 2005 free agency period opened, they said they did so to end their careers together.
Nieuwendyk's back didn't hold up that end of the deal, however, as he was forced to retire after playing in just 15 games in 2006. But the two are back together once more, the childhood pals from suburban Toronto helping get the Dallas Stars back on the right track.
Nieuwendyk is now in his second full season as general manager of the Stars. Last week, he officially put Roberts on the Dallas payroll as a player development consultant. Roberts spent parts of two seasons with the Panthers from 2005-07 before being traded to Pittsburgh at the 2007 deadline. He ended his career with a one-year stint with the Lightning in 2008-09. The two have their pictures in the redecorated Panthers locker room.. The action shots are, naturally, side by side.
“I've known Gary my whole life and I know he's excited about it,'' said Nieuwendyk, whose Stars made their lone visit of the season to Sunrise on Thursday. “Gary's going to work his way into a lot of different areas with us. He's going to teach these kids how to be pros.''
Roberts missed the 1996-97 season after undergoing two neck surgeries that some thought would end his career. Roberts came out of that challenge as a fitness freak, his workouts and supplement use becoming legendary in hockey circles. When Roberts was with the Panthers, it was commonplace to see buckets of different powders in the locker room with a number of blenders going at all times.
"I got a second chance then, and I learned how much training and nutrition can make a difference in your life," Roberts told The Dallas Morning News. "That allowed me to play to the age of 43, and I am truly thankful for all of that time. Now, if I can help other players have careers that long, I want to do that."
After his retirement, Roberts has become popular with NHL players and their offseason training near Toronto. Panthers center Stephen Weiss is one of Roberts' clients, as is Tampa Bay phenom Steven Stamkos. Nieuwendyk says Roberts will be allowed to continue his business with other NHL players during the offseason although he sees Roberts being more involved with Dallas' young players and prospects.
“He's worked with so many players, and they've all gotten something out of it,'' Nieuwendyk said.
-- Defenseman Keaton Ellerby didn't get much sleep Thursday as his plane from Rochester, N.Y., didn't land in Fort Lauderdale until 1:30 a.m. To make matters worse, the previous guest in his hotel room left the alarm set at 4:30. “I couldn't believe that,'' Ellerby said, his head in hands. “Thanks a lot.''
Still, even sleep deprivation couldn't contain Ellerby's joy at being back with the Panthers. Ellerby had a strong training camp, but a shoulder injury at the end helped facilitate his return to the minors. With Jason Garrison out with a groin injury, Ellerby was quick to be recalled.
“You can't expect things at this level, you have to work for everything you get,'' Ellerby said. “Gary's hurt right now, but there's still six guys here. I have to do everything I can to stay here, work hard in practice. If I stay, I stay.''
-- Bill Torrey, honored by the Panthers on Saturday, said he had to fight with then-owner Marti Huizenga regarding the team's colors and uniforms back in 1993. Said she prefered the Marlins black-and-teal color scheme, which then, was all the rage.
Then she saw the red jerseys on opening night in Chicago "and she came up to me and told me how much she loved them.''
I asked if he missed those red jerseys, gone now since the Reebok redesign. I take it he's not a fan of the new Tampa Bay BlueRays.
"We'll get 'em back,'' he said.