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“I darn near fell out of my chair, it came as a complete shock,” Robin Sadler confessed upon learning he had been the Canadiens’ top pick in 1975. The idea of playing in a Canadian city appealed to him, even if it meant starting in the minors.

As a defenceman, Sadler stood out not just for his size (6’2, 180 lbs), but also for his offensive prowess, leading the Junior Edmonton Oil Kings and setting a WHL rookie record with 32 goals and 61 assists. In an era dominated by the likes of Bobby Orr, Sadler’s talents made him a coveted asset for the Habs. Yet, the shifting sands of the NHL’s economic landscape meant that the windfall prospects once expected was growing elusive.

Alan Eagleson, Sadler’s agent and a figure of controversy in the NHL, pointed out, “In Sadler’s case, the Canadiens are offering 35 to 40% less than what they did a year ago.” Despite being the 9th overall pick in 1975, Sadler’s entrance into professional sports was anything but smooth. A disastrous training camp with the Canadiens, capped by a $250,000 contract offer, led him to walk away, his aspirations shifting from the rink to the fire station. “It wasn’t a game anymore; it’s a serious business, far more serious than I enjoy,” Sadler remarked.

Returning to Vancouver, Sadler found himself behind the wheel of an Eaton truck, earning $250 a week. Yet, his undeniable skill meant the NHL’s door remained ajar. His post-Canadiens career took a contentious turn with Glen Sather, then-GM of the Edmonton Oilers, branding him a thief after Sadler exited Oilers’ camp, citing overwhelming pressure and a lost desire for the game.

Sather’s bewilderment escalated to indignation when Sadler, after accepting a signing bonus, opted for a tryout with the Nova Scotia Voyageurs, the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate, in March 1978. “We never got the money back,” Sather lamented, declaring Sadler a quitter, even in light of the Oilers’ defensive injuries.

Sadler’s brief but impressive AHL tenure yielded six points over nine games before he departed again, this time for Europe, to play with Dutch and Austrian national teams, tracing some ancestral ties for eligibility.

Rumours of anxiety plaguing Sadler persist, underscoring the NHL’s daunting nature in the 70s and 80s. The full measure of what Sadler could have achieved, had he remained in the league, remains a tantalizing what-if. Echoing Alice Meynell, one is reminded that “Happiness is not a matter of events, it depends upon the tides of the mind.”