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Oct. 5, 1979: Robert trade ends French Connection's run

The Buffalo Sabres’ famed French Connection line was broken up 37 years ago today. Quebec natives Gilbert Perreault, Rene Robert and Rick Martin teamed up to form one of the most prolific forward lines ever, playing seven full seasons together for the Sabres (1972-79).

But the trio’s successful run as linemates came to an end Oct. 5, 1979, when Robert, a right winger, was traded to the Colorado Rockies for defenseman John Van Boxmeer just six days before the season opener. Despite Robert being regarded as one of the best Sabres ever, trading him in the back half of his career didn’t turn out to be all that bad of a move for Buffalo.

Van Boxmeer was an outstanding offensive defenseman for a time, compiling 49 goals and 166 assists in 294 games across four years with the Sabres while Robert played three more NHL seasons following the deal.

Still, Robert-Perreault-Martin was a formidable line that not many teams, if any, could match in the 1970s. The individual numbers of each player during the French Connection’s prominent years are impressive.

From the 1972-73 to 1978-79 seasons, the line’s center, Perreault, registered 617 points while Robert and Martin posted 543 and 521 points, respectively, over that time period. That averages out to more than a point per game for each player.

Martin played for Buffalo until 1981 and Perreault retired in 1986, playing all 17 of his years in Buffalo, but the 1979 trade that sent away one-third of the French Connection marked the end of an era in Sabres history.

The jersey numbers of Perreault (11), Robert (14) and Martin (7) are all retired by the Sabres. Each ranks in the top six in franchise history for points as a Sabre, with Perreault No. 1 on the list.

Here is the Oct. 6 story of Robert being dealt to Colorado:

Robert traded for Van Boxmeer

There’s no chance now that Scotty Bowman will reunite the Buffalo Sabres’ most famous line, the French Connection.

Friday night, Bowman traded the line’s right winger, Rene Robert, to the Colorado Rockies for defenseman John Van Boxmeer.

Robert trade grabBowman, the Sabres’ general manager and director of hockey operations, said: “The injury to Jerry Korab, which may keep him sidelined as long as two more months, was the determining factor in the acquisition of a young defenseman of top-flight NHL quality.

“I feel Van Boxmeer can be one of the premier defensemen on the Sabres. He is young, and in the past two years he has been one of the league’s finest defensemen and particularly good on the power play. He played both defense and forward under me in Montreal and gives us some versatility, as he can also play right wing.”

Bowman added: “We are sorry to see Rene Robert go, as he has been one of the great players in Sabres history — an all-star — and a player who has thrilled Buffalo fans for many seasons. However, I felt the trade was one which had to be made in view of the circumstances.”

Van Boxmeer is 26, is 6 feet, 1 inch tall and weighs 200 pounds. He played his junior hockey at Guelph and was the 14th player taken in the 1972 amateur draft.

He played all or parts of four seasons under Bowman in Montreal. He was traded to the Rockies on Nov. 24, 1976, for “future considerations” and in the last two seasons with the Rockies scored 21 goals and 76 assists.

Robert, 30, played seven full seasons and part of an eighth with the Sabres. He scored 223 goals and had 341 assists in 529 regular-season games with Buffalo. He ranks third on the team’s all-time scoring list. He was the Sabres’ Most Valuable Player in 1975 and a second-team NHL all-star selection that year.

***

Robert was obtained from the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 4, 1972, in a trade for Eddie Shack.

Reached at his home, Robert said: “I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t feel like talking tonight.”

Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula meets the French Connection, Rene Robert, Rick Martin and Gilbert Perreault, before a game Feb. 23, 2011. {James P. McCoy / Buffalo News}

Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula meets the French Connection, Rene Robert, Rick Martin and Gilbert Perreault, before a game Feb. 23, 2011. {James P. McCoy / Buffalo News}

Tremendous trio

A look at the career numbers of all three members of the renowned French Connection line:

Gilbert Perreault

Goals: 512

Assists: 814

Points: 1,326

Games played: 1,191

NHL seasons: 17; 1970-86 (all with Sabres)

Rene Robert

Goals: 284

Assists: 418

Points: 702

Games played: 744

NHL seasons: 12; 1970-82 (1972-79 with Sabres)

Rick Martin

Goals: 384

Assists: 317

Points: 701

Games played: 685

NHL seasons: 11; 1971-82 (1971-81 with Sabres)

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