Over the past week NHL Hall of Famer Jeremy Roenick has been one of the topics of conversation all over the hockey world from TV and radio up to and including just about every social media format that is out there. The reason for the attention is also the reason why JR is one of the most prolific sports personalities; you either love him or hate him.
The controversy started after Game 5 of the Western Conference semi-final series between the San Jose Sharks and the Detroit Red Wings. Roenick basically called out his former Sharks teammate Patrick Marleau referring to his lack-luster performance as, "An unbelievably poor effort from Patrick Marleau," ... "A gutless, gutless, performance by Patrick Marleau. Count them -zero points in this series."
Within minutes the internet was abuzz with a barrage of responses to Roenick’s comment. Yet, the interesting aspect of this entire situation was that the overwhelming majority of those who did not approve of the comment agreed with JR’s opinion, they just weren’t too happy with the use of the word ‘gutless.’
Tweets and blog comments were almost exclusively in agreement that Marleau’s performance thus far in the play-offs was nothing to write home about. Even CSN California’s Scott Reiss, who has regularly reported on the Sharks, agreed with JR in theory.
I’ve covered the Sharks for three seasons now, and in that time they’ve played six playoff series. In five of those series, Marleau has been a head-scratcher. One of the league’s most consistent regular-season goal scorers, he not only fails on that end, he fails miserably on the other end. Defensively speaking, he’s given them next to nothing.
Like many in the hockey world, Reiss is concerned about JR’s word choice, ‘But none of this justifies Roenick’s reckless remarks in the wake of Game 5. Calling Marleau “gutless” is wrong on two levels. First, factually -- lack of a willingness to compete does not equate to lack of courage, rather lack of effort. There is a difference. Second, philosophically -- it’s a personal shot levied against a former teammate on national television, which is over the line and flat-out unnecessary.'
This is where Reiss and those who have criticized JR so strongly are dead wrong. JR was careful to use the word 'gutless' as a descriptor for Marleau’s performance – not him personally. Far too many people, in a reactionary fashion, wanted to jump on the band wagon and sound off on the often controversial JR.
JR is good for the game of hockey because he is a breath of fresh air in what could easily be referred to as an overly cautious collection of cookie cutter commentators. JR never followed the status quo as a player and those who hired him as an analyst knew that JR would never compromise his personality moving from the ice to the analyst chair. In fact I think they were counting on it.
He has no problem taking the fans out of their comfort zone and making them look at a player, play or situation in a different light. He also unequivocally stands by what he says. Over the past three days I have been monitoring his Twitter account and he has graciously and often comically responded to those who support him as well as his detractors. Often times in the very early morning hours or late in the evening.
Hockey Night in Canada Radio tried to throw another log on the fire when JR cancelled a radio interview a few days ago. They tweeted that JR was a no-show for a telephone interview, which was the delight of his detractors, sarcastically using the word ‘classy’ to describe Roenick. HNIC tweeted only that JR cancelled because he was in the middle of lunch.
Yet, JR quickly responded that he was having lunch with his wife and daughter whom he hadn’t seen since April 8th. That seemed to put the issue to bed for most fans and probably even softened the hearts of a few of those who were not happy with JR for the Marleau comment.
So, now the question remains, after Marleau got on the scoreboard in Game 7 with the game winning goal that pushed the Sharks into the conference finals; what was JR’s motivation for the Marleau comment?
Some believe that he may have been playing devil’s advocate in an awkward attempt to motivate his former teammate. Others believe that there may well have been some residual bad blood between Marleau and JR and this was his way of having the last word.
A third stance is one that the large majority, particularly those who have followed JR’s career support – JR was simply being JR. This is who he is and who he has always been. He takes the chances that many who walk the fine PC line would never dare to take and this may well be the reason why some in the sports world have been so critical of JR – not necessarily because of what he says, but because deep down they know that they would never have the guts to openly speak their minds-to say what JR says.