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Ex-Shark of the Week: Jeremy Roenick

Friend of the Blog Jeremy Roenick is this week’s focus.

San Jose Sharks v Florida Panthers Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images

Let’s address the elephant in the room first. Yes, for many Sharks fans, Jeremy Roenick’s comments about Patrick Marleau overshadow his tenure in teal. Roenick has never been kind to his former teammate. In 2011, he called Marleau’s performance “gutless” and questioned his heart after Game Five against of the Semifinals against the Detroit Red Wings. Three nights later, he largely retracted those remarks after the Sharks won Game Seven.

Dallas Stars v San Jose Sharks - Game Five
Jeremy Roenick and Patrick Marleau in happier days.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Then his autobiography came out in 2012. In it, Roenick said he came to Marleau’s house unannounced “around Thanksgiving” to try and instill some leadership into Marleau. Marleau told David Pollak years later:

“For anyone to think they are trying to ‘inspire’ me by coming to my home and giving me their two cents is comical. I will always welcome constructive criticism from my teammates, but I don’t have time for the ones who have their own agenda or are just trying to make themselves sound better.”

Jeremy Roenick is still struggling to find the high road. Last spring during the playoff run, he called Marleau “one of the best I’ve ever seen” in terms of “pure talent and the ability to score goals at a high clip,” then said “that doesn’t mean I have to like him as a person or like him as a player or anything like that.”

We at Fear The Fin have already shown that Patrick Marleau and Jeremy Roenick have each had pretty great careers. Both are great centermen who, at the end of the day, will be remembered fondly by most. JR’s one-sided war with Marleau takes a typical pattern: Roenick says something outrageous, Marleau shrugs it off, Roenick walks his statement back most of the way. It’s not particularly unusual for Roenick, who has never left any doubt as to his talent but has left plenty as to his judgment and discretion. I’m not sure Jeremy cares: he tells it like he thinks it is, and that’s OK if he’s willing to take his lumps when he’s wrong. After all, he said this in 1996:

My personal opinion is that Sharks fans should get over Roenick’s weirdness with Marleau. They clearly didn’t get along — teammates don’t sometimes! — and Roenick lacked the tact to keep their dispute private. Whatever. It clearly hasn’t bothered Marleau much: he passed Roenick in career playoff goals in 2013, and he will pass Roenick in regular season goals scored early next season. So let’s set it aside and remember Roenick for what he was: a quality veteran presence on the Sharks who scored some timely goals and worked his butt off when he wasn’t scoring. If Patrick Marleau doesn’t waste energy on negativity directed at him, neither should we. Jeremy Roenick is one of the greatest American hockey players of all time, and one of the brashest characters in hockey history. That should be his legacy.

Blackhawks v Ducks
Jeremy Roenick passes the puck around Randy Ladoceur of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in the early ‘90s.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 17, 1970, Jeremy Roenick grew up all over the American Northeast. Constantly relocating because of his Dad’s job with Mobil Oil, Jeremy took up hockey at the age of 4 and joined teams wherever he moved. His dedication to hockey was insane. At 14, he joined a bantam team called the New Jersey Rockets. They were good, and Roenick was their star, but his family had to relocate to the Washington, D.C. Metro area. What did Roenick do? Sports Illustrated tells the story:

At age 14, J.R. would fly People Express every Friday night during the season from Dulles to Newark, where he was met at the airport by a teammate's father. In the next day and a half, the Rockets would play three games against various East Coast opponents, then he would reboard a plane Sunday night and fly home. "Jeremy's been on the road his whole life," his father says. "Everyone talks about how hard the travel is in the NHL. Tough travel is getting home at five in the morning when you're 14. But we always believed that he should play against the top competition in his age group we could find."

After that hectic year, Jeremy’s father requested a transfer back to Boston and JR settled in at Thayer Academy, an private athletics powerhouse. He became an elite talent, and it was clear he would be drafted at the 1988 NHL Draft after graduation. The Chicago Blackhawks chose him 8th overall. Roenick went to Boston College for a week, then joined the Hull Olympiques, the QMJHL team owned by Wayne Gretzky. He netted 70 points in 28 games, moved on to represent Team USA at the 1989 World Juniors, and then was called up to the Blackhawks with 20 games left in the season. Jeremy Roenick was still just 19 years old.

Jeremy Roenick was a good player for a long time, but his absolute peak was during his eight seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks. JR was blessed with great puck vision, an elite-level snap shot, and was a brilliant skater. He also brought a rink rat mentality to his game: he was a pugnacious in battling for the puck, physical, and threw his 205-pound body around with reckless abandon. Coach Mike Keenan tells a story of what happened after JR had his teeth chipped by a Glen Featherstone high stick during a 1989 playoff game: “To ensure that a major penalty was called, Jeremy kept the teeth [chips] on his tongue and skated over to show the referee.” To top it all off, he was an unstoppable force in the early editions of EA’s NHL video games.

Jeremy Roenick’s very best years were spent wearing the Chicago Blackhawks crest.

Roenick scored 18 points (9 goals) during that his abbreviate first NHL stint in 88-89. In his first full NHL season, he followed that up with 66 points in 79 games. Then, at age 21, he established himself as one of the great young two-way players in the league, posting 94 points in 1990-91, 103 in 1991-92, and 107 points in each of the 1992-93 and 1993-94 seasons. A good Blackhawks team made the postseason each of those seasons, and Roenick kept up his point-per-game production in the playoffs as well.

The lockout and a fractured tibia shortened Roenick’s 1994-95 season to 33 games. He potted 34 points, then played through the nagging injury to play 8 postseason games as the Blackhawks made the conference finals. Roenick’s final year as a Blackhawk was 1995-96, and he scored 67 points in 66 games before missing the final 11 games of the season with a broken ankle. That offseason, Roenick’s contract was up, and he was a restricted free agent. Bill Wirtz was notoriously stingy with a dollar. Hawks General Manager Bob Pulford reflected: “The situation with [Roenick’s agent] Neil [Abbott] got to the point where we basically had no choice. We didn't feel we were going to be able to make a deal, and I don't know if they even wanted to make a deal.” Jeremy Roenick was out, leaving Chicago in a most acrimonious fashion. His rights were traded to the newly-relocated Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for Alexei Zhamnov, Craig Mills, and a first round pick.

Contract negotiations in Phoenix dragged on into the 1996-97 season, but the two sides got a deal done: 5 years, $20 million. “I'm ecstatic,” Roenick told the Associated Press. “This is where I wanted to play all along.” And so Jeremy spent five years as a Coyote working alongside fellow stars Keith Tkachuk and Teppo Numinen to establish hockey in the Arizona desert. The points kept coming: in 384 games in his first stint with the Coyotes, JR put up 354 points. This was the heart of the dead puck, clutch-and-grab era. He made the All-Star Game two more times. His defining moment as a Coyote was a savage Derian Hatcher hit that broke his jaw in 1999. JR had his jaw wired shut, but came back 17 days later to play in a losing Game 7 effort against the Blues in the Quarterfinals.

Philadelphia Flyers vs Buffalo Sabres
Philadelphia Flyer Jeremy Roenick skates in on Alexei Zhitnik of the Buffalo Sabres during a March 18, 2003 game.
Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images/NHLI

An unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career ahead of the 2001-02 season, Roenick signed with the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers had just lost Eric Lindros to the New York Rangers, and they signed JR to a 5 year, $37.5 million contract in an effort to compensate for the considerable loss. It worked out pretty well. Across 3 seasons in Flyer orange, Roenick scored 176 points, and the Flyers made the playoffs each year. He made another All-Star game in 2002-03. In 03-04 he missed a month of hockey due to a severe concussion (his ninth of an eventual thirteen), and promptly came back to score the overtime winner that sent the Flyers to the Eastern Conference Finals that season:

After the cancelled 2004-05 season, the Flyers signed Peter Forsberg, then remembered there was this new thing called the salary cap. A big contract had to go, and so Jeremy Roenick was traded to the Los Angeles Kings. J.R. hated L.A, and continued to struggle with his jaw and concussion problems. The 2005-06 season was a disaster for him. This was the highlight of his Kings tenure. 22 points in 58 games were not. Roenick went to Phoenix on a one year deal, put up just 28 points in 06-07, and it seemed like it was all over. He was 37 years old, and the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that he was going to retire. Not so fast. Roenick got a phone call from his old Chicago Blackhawks roommate Doug Wilson.

San Jose Sharks v Los Angeles Kings
JR celebrates scoring his 499th career goal near the start of the 07-08 season.
Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Doug Wilson told ESPN at the time of the signing:

“You bring in guys that are at the end of their run, and they don't want to look back and have any regrets," Wilson said."Nobody can question Jeremy's willingness to compete. ... We're building on the experience we had last year. We had some success, but Jeremy -- certainly one thing about him, he's not tentative.He'll run over his best friend if he has to.”

Roenick’s first season in Sharks teal was an unqualified success. Eager to prove himself, Roenick made $500,000 that season, meaning he was a rare veteran presence willing to play for relative peanuts. Playing on San Jose’s third and fourth line throughout the season, he ground out 13 minutes per game alongside Torrey Mitchell, Patrick Rissmiller, and Jonathan Cheechoo. But the numbers were nice: 33 points in 69 games. He scored 10 game-winning goals that season, and his CF was at 54.9%, which was just fine for a role player on a great possession team. He scored his 500th goal in comical fashion and had a great sense of humor about it. And, most importantly, he put up the best Game 7 performance in San Jose history:

Those two Game Seven goals sent San Jose into the next round. They lost to Dallas, but JR was convinced he had more in the tank and loved playing with the Sharks. He re-signed for one more year and $1 million. After 42 games and very little production during that 08-09 season, Jeremy Roenick realized it was time to hang up the skates for good. He had one legacy from that season, though: on a trip to Las Vegas, Roenick pranked Torrey Mitchell into believing that his old buddy JR had been murdered by vampires, causing poor Torrey to jump head-first through a window.

Jeremy Roenick retired with 1216 points (513 goals, 703 assists) in a 1363, 20-season NHL career. The Blackhawks should absolutely retire his number 27, and I think he’s very close to being a Hall of Fame-caliber player. You can see him on NBC Sports as an in-studio analyst, fighting with Mike Milbury. And you know what? Anyone who hates Mike Milbury as much as JR does can’t be all that bad.

Let’s talk Roenick in the comments.