There are people that like Jeremy Roenick and there are people that can’t stand him. Most of the people that hate him seemingly do so because he was so outspoken for the majority of his career. Ironically enough, I hate him (and I’m glad he’s retiring), but I actually enjoyed the fact that he was a vocal guy during his playing career. He never censored himself, he didn’t give the standard plastic answers and you can tell that he truly cared about the game of hockey. For that, I could only respect the man.
When you take a look at his career, it’s hard to argue with the fact that he was one of the best American-born players ever to play in the NHL. He scored over 500 goals and over 700 assists throughout his 20 year career. In his prime he was one of the most exciting players in the league putting you on the edge of your seat every time he had the puck. He would speak his mind on tough topics—usually saying what everyone was thinking but was afraid to say in the media. Simply put, he was the kind of player that the NHL could have used more of.
Unfortunately, the twilight of his career showed a different side to the almighty JR. The way his tenure went down in Los Angeles is the reason that most Kings fans will hate him. King fans should have seen the warning signs as he claimed that he was still experiencing the effects of a previous concussion throughout the lockout. Even though the Flyers doctors had cleared him and given him a bill of clean health, he continued his claim in order to continue to get paid (injured players were still paid during the lockout).
When he arrived in Los Angeles, we only got more of the same. He complained that his lack of productivity was because of a skate problem and he showed up out of shape. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he said that his horrible play was his payback for the lockout. You’d think that he was done, but he wasn’t—he just took the Kings money and ran.
After the Roenick experiment proved to be a bitter failure in Los Angeles, Roenick went to Phoenix to regain some of that pre-lockout magic. Again, he drifted much more than he used to and just looked like half the player he used to be. At one point, he was a healthy scratch in a game vs. Edmonton. Instead of watching the game from the press-box (as healthy scratches are mandated to do), he took the opportunity to bounce early and grab a steak in a local restaurant.
“All JR had to do was become a new man, but he was ripe for change. Like in the movies, he’d already hit the skids. It was December 2006. Before a game against the Canucks in Vancouver, coach Wayne Gretzky made Roenick a late, healthy scratch from the lineup of the last-place Coyotes. Stunned, JR breached NHL protocol by heading to a bar for a steak and a beer instead of watching the game from the press box. A day later, Gretzky suspended Roenick for a game. The nine-time All-Star had become a bitter joke. “The bottom fell out,” Roenick says now.” –Chris Smith (ESPN)
But sometimes the game just passes a guy by—it happens to everyone at some point.
When he went to San Jose, those feeling of resentment came to the forefront yet again. With San Jose, he showed that he was capable of being the leader that the Kings thought they were getting when they signed him to his free agent deal. A veteran who has been through the grind of the NHL for a decade and a half, he had experience that could help any young player that was finding his way. He made the EFFORT to contribute in San Jose. He never gave the Kings that courtesy. I doubt that Kings fans would still be pissed if he didn’t go on to play EFFECTIVELY for the Sharks a few years after he left. Where the hell was that when the Kings were paying him just under $5 million dollars?
The only person that I can think of in recent memory that is comparable is Brett Hull. He was extremely opinionated in the media and moved around to multiple cities. But the difference is: there is no one place where he played that he is hated. Dallas may be annoyed that he wasn’t a great assistant GM, but as a player he’ll be remembered for his Stanley Cup winning goal in 1999. He’ll be remembered as a Stanley Cup champion in Detroit and he’ll be remembered as a GREAT goal scorer in St. Louis. The only place he’ll be hated is Buffalo, and that has more to do with a “No Goal” than anything else. And he never played there—so it’s only natural for OPPONENTS to be hated.
It’s not the easiest thing to do to be hated when you’re a PLAYER on the team. Just ask Ranger fans what they think of Sean Avery. You have to figure that about 95% of the fans in the league hate that guy; but when he was with the Rangers, a lot of their fans liked him! Winning and productivity has a way of making fans look the other way when it comes to the sins of their players.
Jeremy Roenick managed to piss off most of the Kings fans while he was STILL with the team! Maybe it was because he only scored a total of 22 points in his entire tenure with the Kings. Maybe it’s because he was blaming the Kings staff for fucking up his skates and rendering him useless. Or maybe it’s because he didn’t have one redeeming quality during his entire year with the Kings, yet he grew into a leader in his later stops. Whatever the case may be, he was a complete waste of $5 million that could have been used to buy someone else. Anyone else—even better parking lot attendants and a raise for the ushers at Staples Center would have been a better use of money!
He was busy playing golf and finding any camera in the world to put his face in front of during the lockout. Maybe a guy at his age should have concentrated on keeping his body in decent shape. It took him over a year to get back into NHL shape—meanwhile the Kings had to pay his salary while he tried to figure it out.
“It was a nightmare season from hell last year,” Roenick said Wednesday from Los Angeles. “The embarrassment of the season I had last year is enormous. So I’ve totally re-arranged my summer and re-dedicated myself to the game of hockey… I’m working out and getting into the best shape possible that my body can get to. I want to make amends for a season lost. It was totally embarrassing.”
Maybe it would have been different if the Kings were winning when he was here or he catapulted the Kings to some measure of success post-lockout. Something I vividly remember is the huge signings of one particular day. The Kings traded with the Flyers to get Jeremy Roenick on August 4, 2005, the Ducks signed free agent Scott Neidermayer on the exact same day. One of those players came in and spent more time on the set of the Best Damn Sports Show than the rink. The other eventually led his team to the Stanley Cup. Talk about a stark contrast.
I’m sure that Roenick will be remembered by most of North America as one of the most talented and charismatic players of his generation. But just for a second, think about if his career was flipped on his head. He had his best years in traditional hockey markets—from his high school days as a star in Boston, to his electrifying early years in Chicago, to his productive years in Philadelphia. Fans in both Chicago and the northeast still remember the player that they watched and loved.
When he came west, he was a completely different player. He wasn’t a particularly good teammate (please refer to the Steak in Edmonton quote), wasn’t productive and overall looked like a guy that was more interested in himself than his team. Those are the facts.
Now imagine that he played juniors in the Western Hockey League, played his peak years with the Kings and Sharks; only to head east and completely tank on the Bruins and the Flyers. Do you think the media would look at him the same way, or do you think they’d think he was an overrated loudmouth whose ego was bigger than his game? I’m not saying that’s the case—but its something to think about.
Those years went from excitement, to confusion, to anger, and now I’ve settled into disappointment for a few years. I’m disappointed that we never got to see what kind of player Roenick could have been in Staples Center. I’m disappointed that he was never the leader that he ended up being in San Jose. Most of all, I’m disappointed that he never cared about any of it.
“The fans can kiss my ass,” was his claim to fame during the lockout. I wish I could say the same back to him—but I don’t think I care anymore. He’s retired—just another guy that never won a cup. People actually have to CARE for that.
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