Every coach has his favourite players. And when you are a favourite player of the winningest and arguably best coach in NHL history, that is quite a compliment.
Scotty Bowman loved the versatility that Jimmy Roberts provided. Trained in junior as a defenseman Roberts often found himself playing on right wing as a defensive forward. And while he often never knew if he'd be playing defense or forward on the drive to the rink on game day, Roberts was the kind of guy who would do anything the coach asked for the betterment of his team.
Roberts and Bowman go way back. Roberts was a member of Scotty Bowman's Peterborough Petes of the OHA in the late 1950s. Roberts spent three full years with Montreal from 1965-1967, but played very little due to unmatchable depth at both right wing and defense, though he was pegged as a winger in Montreal. So when the 1967 Expansion Draft came along the Habs exposed Roberts, a member of both the 1965 and 1966 Stanley Cup championship teams, and Bowman was quick to pick up the useful role player.
Roberts instantly proved he could play in the league, and became an instant unsung hero. For 5 seasons Roberts was a very popular St. Louis Blue. And while he never scored much, it didn't matter much to Jimmy.
"That's not the job I'm paid to do," he said, but he was quick to add "I probably could, though." It was often said that Roberts desperately wanted to score 20 goals to prove to himself and his critics that he could. He never was able to do that however
Bowman left the Blues and returned to the Montreal Canadiens in 1971-72. It took just 26 games into the season before Bowman was able to get Roberts out of St. Louis, trading once promising Phil Roberto to get him. Roberts did the same yeoman's work under Bowman in Montreal as he did in St. Louis. The two had a little more success, winning 3 championships in Roberts time in Montreal.
Roberts definitely had the respect of his peers, which when you get right down to it is the highest compliment a hockey player can have. A survey of NHL coaches in 1974 named Roberts the second best defensive player behind only Bobby Clarke.
Roberts was near the end of his career as the Habs reached dynasty stage in the late 1970s. He was a veteran member of both the 1976 and 1977 championships, but was traded back to St. Louis in 1977. As a result he missed out on two more championships in Montreal.
Roberts played that one final season in St. Louis before retiring. He retired with an amazing 1006 games under his belt. In that time he notched just 126 goals and 320 points, but was a very valuable member of the teams he played for. He was also a very valuable figure in the Scotty Bowman's success.
Immediately following retirement as a player Roberts went behind the bench and became a long time coach himself.