Roenick signing peculiar for a team that doesn't do peculiar
Twenty-seven years ago, a nation was captivated by the question: "Who Shot J.R.?"
A generation later, a hockey nation remains captivated by a new riddle: "When Will J.R. Give It Up?"
The answer appears to be ... not just yet.
After announcing his retirement in a text message to a Philadelphia reporter earlier this summer, Jeremy Roenick un-retired, found the hockey equivalent of god and signed a one-year deal with the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.
It brings to mind the old adage, how can we miss you if you don't go away?
The 37-year-old forward was so understated, even contrite, in a conference call announcing the signing Tuesday. He said he was "honored" to get a chance to play for the Sharks and the call from GM Doug Wilson (who apparently had been contacted by Roenick's agent) was a "godsend."
"I'm going to try and blend in," Roenick said.
He was on the phone, but we assume he said it with a straight face even though Roenick has never really "blended in" anywhere.
A year ago, when ESPN.com visited with Roenick at the Phoenix Coyotes training camp, he said almost exactly the same things in almost exactly the same tone; all of it sincere, all of it believable.
Asked Tuesday what would be different this time around, Roenick refused to answer. Presumably, he didn't want to disparage coach Wayne Gretzky. But the reality is Roenick has seen his once-great career track sideways to the carnival sideshow side of town since the end of the 2003-04 season.
There was his forgettable turn in Los Angeles after the lockout, during which he nearly threw in the towel. That season was marked by apologies for taking the Kings' money and suggestions he had reported out of shape on purpose to somehow punish the league. If there was punishment meted out, though, it was to fans that had to endure watching Roenick slog through that season.
A remorseful Roenick turned up in Phoenix the following season after practically begging GM Darryl Sutter to bring him to Calgary. Former Coyotes GM Mike Barnett should have been so lucky.
Roenick reported to Phoenix in great shape and looked like he might have been the right fit for a team looking for leadership. Instead, Roenick showed little in the way of stamina and had nothing of his old hands. He bristled when Gretzky tried to limit his ice time, especially when it appeared Roenick was breaking down physically.
In a pique of anger over being made a healthy scratch, Roenick one night left GM Place in Vancouver and watched his Coyotes play the Canucks in a local restaurant. He then seemed surprised that anyone made an issue of it, even though we imagine he would never have pulled such a stunt in Philadelphia under Ken Hitchcock or Chicago under Mike Keenan.
That Roenick was set to retire this summer seemed a foregone conclusion -- until Tuesday.
This brings us to the San Jose Sharks and GM Doug Wilson.
The Sharks have long been a model NHL franchise. They have drafted wisely and developed their players with uncanny precision. Among their successes are former Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy winner Jonathan Cheechoo, former Calder Trophy winner Evgeni Nabokov and two of the NHL's top rookie defensemen last season, Matt Carle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
When there have been holes in the roster to fill, Wilson has boldly filled them, most notably by adding scoring champ and MVP Joe Thornton during the 2005-06 season. That the team has not managed to take that final step to a Stanley Cup championship is the only blight on an otherwise sterling track record.
One would imagine Roenick is the last player Wilson or coach Ron Wilson (no relation) would want on board.
Where the Sharks are quietly confident and by the book, Roenick has often appeared bigger than the game and certainly bigger than his team and teammates.
Roenick insisted he will be "camouflaged" on this Sharks team, invisible to the outside eye while doing good in the dressing room and on the ice.
"He knows he's coming here to play hockey. The other stuff is not what it's all about," Doug Wilson said. "We don't expect any distractions."
Fair enough, but when was the last time a GM admitted, "Yeah, we're likely going to have some major distractions with this Wally here?"
If you thought the guy was going to pot 20 goals and tip the scales come April and May, then you'd put up with pretty much anything. But at this stage, having chipped in 20 goals over the past two NHL seasons, there appears to be little left in the Roenick tank. And if it's about adding veteran leadership, one could hardly find a glaring yin to the yang provided by current captain Patrick Marleau, who signed a two-year extension this week.
Marleau was flayed by the media and by his own coach, if not by name then by deed, as the Sharks bowed out in the second round of the playoffs for the second straight year; but his contract extension should suggest whatever rift might have existed has been patched.
Still, the Roenick signing is peculiar at best for a team that has never done peculiar. Maybe this is just the "something out of the ordinary" that will shock the Sharks to unprecedented success. Perhaps Roenick will have the same effect in San Jose that Roenick's old teammate in Los Angeles, Sean Avery, had with the New York Rangers. The needling, abrasive Avery gave the Rangers some much-needed jam as they advanced to the second round of the playoffs last spring.
The Sharks, who were pushed around against a Detroit team that should have been overwhelmed by the bigger, more talented San Jose squad, may be looking for Roenick to provide some playoff "je ne c'est quoi."
That's provided he lasts that long. Because if this Roenick is anything like last season or the 2005-06 model, don't expect either Wilson to put up with it for long.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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