Gary Roberts discusses his post-NHL career as a strength and conditioning coach

During a trying period between the 1994-95 and 96-97 seasons, Gary Roberts’ career was in serious jeopardy. A bad neck injury forced him to play just eight games in 94-95, 35 in 95-96 and miss the 96-97 season entirely. For many people, that might be enough to call it a career at 30 years old.

Although injuries hounded him for the rest of his playing days, Roberts developed intense training regimens that helped him remain an NHL player until he was 43 years old, spending his final season with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 08-09. (Before that, his intensity and grit made him something of a folk legend with the Pittsburgh Penguins, as the “WWGRD?” movement exploded.)

Roberts’ impressive longevity and training methods have made him a sought-after fitness guru in hockey circles, especially after disciples such as Steven Stamkos and Jeff Skinner raved about his process and went on to have exceptional 2010-11 seasons. The Toronto Sun’s Dave Feschuk spotlights Roberts’ path to become such a well-respected strength and conditioning coach in this story.

Roberts spoke about his own training camp struggle when he was 18 and how he fought back from that neck injury at 30.

“I was a skinny fat guy, that’s who I was. Not only was I skinny and weak, but I had high body fat. So basically I had very little lean muscle mass. I didn’t weight train back then. I certainly didn’t have great nutrition. I was a cardiovascular guy . . . I played hockey. I played lacrosse. I thought I was in great shape at 18 years old. (The Calgary Flames) threw me on a pull-up bar for my first fitness test, and I did 1½ pull-ups. I was pretty embarrassed by that.”

(snip)

“I realized, after what I went through as a player, making a comeback (from a devastating neck injury at age 30) and playing those extra 13 years, that I was only able to do that through the great advice that I got from friends in the nutrition world, and the strength and fitness world. I wish I had that information when I was 18, 19, 20 years old. To be able to pass that on to these guys, and see the way they’re excelling, it’s gratifying.”

Roberts’ attention to detail – especially when it comes to dietary habits – has become well known. Last summer, Stamkos (jokingly?) said he was worried that he would receive a little heat from Roberts when cameras caught him eating popcorn. There’s a method to that madness, though, as proper training and nutrition can make a significant difference in a punishing league that doesn’t provide much margin for error.

“I’m a little over the top with this stuff, you realize,” he said. “I’ve never done anything half-assed before. And I want these athletes to have the right information. Even if they apply the majority of what I tell them . . . they’re going to be way better off. The only reason I played in the NHL until I was 43 was because of what I did off the ice.”

With all the money teams like the Lightning have invested in players like Stamkos, the hope is that they carry that same level of commitment.

The Dallas Stars probably hope that Roberts has a similar effect on their young players as the team’s player development consultant. (Maybe Jamie Benn will have an easier time retaining his locomotive-like energy over a full season with Roberts whispering in his ear?) From the sounds of things, he might be the fittest man for that job.

Sheary’s agent — who’s also Dumoulin’s agent — hoping to avoid arbitration

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Conor Sheary‘s agent is hopeful that an arbitration hearing won’t be needed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And that same agent has reason to be optimistic, since he’s also the agent for Brian Dumoulin, who settled at the last minute today.

“Each (case) is so different,” Andrew Gross told the Post-Gazette this morning. “Ultimately, though, team and player would like to avoid going in that room. It’s not a pleasant experience.”

Sheary’s hearing isn’t scheduled until Aug. 4. The 25-year-old forward is coming off a 53-point regular season. In his young NHL career, he’s already won two Stanley Cups.

That said, the Penguins can’t afford to break the bank on an extension. After all, a big reason for their success has been having players like Sheary on affordable deals — a necessity with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang taking up so much cap space.

Sheary wasn’t all that productive in the 2017 playoffs either, scoring just two goals with five assists in 22 games, while finishing a team-worst minus-5 for the postseason.

“We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said last week.

Of course, Rutherford was also speaking about Dumoulin, and the two sides were able to reach an agreement on him.

You can probably expect a similar outcome with Sheary.

Just don’t bet the house on it.

Preds avoid arbitration with Austin Watson

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Another narrowly avoided arbitration to pass along.

The Nashville Predators have signed forward Austin Watson to a three-year, $3.3 million contract that will pay him $1 million next season, $1.1 million in 2018-19 and $1.2 million in 2019-20.

Watson’s hearing was scheduled for today.

From the press release:

Watson, 25 (1/13/92), set career highs in goals (5), assists (7), points (12), penalty minutes (99) and games played (77) during the 2016-17 season as he established himself as an integral member of the Nashville roster. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound winger then added four goals and nine points in 22 postseason contests as the Predators advanced to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Watson also appeared in 57 games for the Predators during the 2015-16 season, recording three goals and 10 points.

The Pittsburgh Penguins also avoided an arbitration hearing today by signing defenseman Brian Dumoulin to a six-year contract.

Spooner seeking $3.85 million in arbitration

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Ryan Spooner‘s arbitration hearing with the Boston Bruins is scheduled for Wednesday. And if it goes ahead, it could be a rather contentious one.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Spooner is seeking $3.85 million on a one-year deal, while the B’s are thinking almost half that at $2 million.

Spooner, a 25-year-old forward, will certainly be able to sell his offensive statistics. He had 49 points in 2015-16, then 39 points last season.

“Ryan’s a talented player,” said GM Don Sweeney, per CSNNE.com. “He’s had a lot of success. Our power play is better when he plays as well as he’s capable of playing, and he can really be a good complement to our group.”

But the knock on Spooner has always been his defensive play. The past two seasons, he’s a combined minus-17. Back in May, it was reported that the B’s were entertaining trade offers for him.

Spooner’s last contract paid him $1.9 million over two years.

Dumoulin agrees to six-year contract with Penguins

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Brian Dumoulin won’t need his arbitration hearing today.

The Pittsburgh Penguins announced this morning that the 25-year-old defenseman has agreed to terms on a six-year contract with a $4.1 million cap hit.

From the press release:

Dumoulin, 25, has been a key component to the Penguins’ back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, as he played in all 49 playoff games in that span, and recorded 14 points (3G-11A). In the 2017 playoffs, Dumoulin had an average ice time of 21:59 minutes, the most of any Penguins skater, and his plus-9 paced all team defenders. He assisted on Carl Hagelin‘s empty-net goal that sealed the 2-0 victory in the decisive Game 6 of the Cup Final against Nashville. 

Dumoulin is coming off of a contract that paid him just $800,000 in each of the past two seasons.

With Dumoulin signed, Pittsburgh now has five defenseman under contract for at least the next three seasons, the other four being Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Olli Maatta, and Matt Hunwick.

The Pens still have one more arbitration case in forward Conor Sheary. His hearing is scheduled for Aug. 4.

Related: Without Letang, the ‘simple bunch’ gets it done for Penguins