If there was one event that cemented the stellar reputation of general manager Cliff Fletcher, it was the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. The names the Flames acquired that summer ranged from solid contributors to future hall-of-famers: Gary Suter (180th overall), Jiri Hrdina (159th overall), Brett Hull (117th overall), Paul Ranheim (38th overall), and the best pick of them all (for the Flames purposes anyways), first rounder Gary Roberts (12th overall).
Pugilist and Sniper
Before he was a fitness and diet guru, Gary Roberts was a great hockey player. Jumping to the NHL two years after the draft, he became part of an up-and-coming core of players that included Joe Nieuwendyk up the middle and Theo Fleury on the right side. Throughout the 1990s, that trio basically encapsulated the Calgary Flames. No matter how bad things got, the Flames always had that one great line of players.
Granted, that did not last, but it was enough to get the club its first (and only) championship in 1989.
On the ice, Roberts was a force to be reckoned with. He had over 200 penalty minutes in his first five full seasons (and complemented that grit with 20 goal seasons in four of those five years). Oddly enough, his best statistical season with Calgary was the club’s worst – he put up 90 points and scored 53 goals in 1991-92, best known as the only season he spent in town when the team missed the playoffs.
The Decline and Rebirth
Roberts’ rough-and-tumble style eventually caught up with him, as he developed a nagging and recurring neck problem. Due to the Flames’ insane travel schedule, Roberts requested a trade following the 1996-97 season. The Flames shipped him and goaltender Trevor Kidd to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for forward Andrew Cassels and future Conn Smythe winner Jean-Sebastian Giguere. Cassels eventually left the Flames as a free agent and Giguere was sent to the Ducks for a draft pick.
At the time, there was a sense Roberts wasn’t going to stick around the NHL for too much longer owing to his chronic injury issues. In fact, he had sat out the year before being dealt to Carolina, having announced his retirement from hockey at just 30 years old. His unlikely return, and subsequent 20 goal, 49 point effort in 61 games, nevertheless showed he had a bit of gas left in the tank.
And by a bit, I of course mean "a lot". Owing to his new found obsession with fitness, nutrition and training, Roberts would ironically go on to play another 10 seasons in the league, eventually retiring in 2008-09 at 43 years of age.
Gary Roberts was all that you hope a first-round pick will turn out to be. The best player in Flames history to wear the number 10, he put up 505 points with the club (8th in franchise history), won a Stanley Cup and left the team gracefully. He also pummeled a lot of the bad guys on a nightly basis to boot.