J.R. benched, future with Coyotes uncertain

Updated: December 15, 2006, 2:03 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Jeremy Roenick wants to retire at the end of the year, but he may not have to wait that long.

"What, do you give your support from the press box? Give support with pom-poms from the press box? ... There's nothing that a player that's not playing can do. If anything, they want players that are not playing away because it's a distraction."
-- Jeremy Roenick

"End of the [NHL] year, absolutely [I'll retire]," Roenick told the East Valley Tribune on Wednesday. "The way it seems to be going right now, I don't think anybody would want to give me another chance to tell you the truth."

However, Phoenix Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky replaced Roenick with Mike Ricci in Phoenix's lineup Thursday in its 5-4 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets and that he didn't know when Roenick would return to the lineup. The move comes two days after Roenick stormed out of General Motors Place after learning he wouldn't play against the Vancouver Canucks because of back spasms.

"I treat players like men and they should act like men," Gretzky told reporters Wednesday. "J.R., all and all, has been pretty positive. But the reality is, last night he made a mistake. ...

"I'm not disappointed with him because J.R. is a very emotional young man, and he's a good person, but what he did last night wasn't right," Gretzky told the Tribune.

Gretzky said Thursday that he and Roenick worked out their issues at a meeting earlier in the day and there will be no further ramifications.

"I think the good thing about the meeting was that he understood my side of things now and the team's point of view," Gretzky said. "That was good and, like I said, it's a dead issue now and move forward."

"If he were 21 years old and had 25 goals, then yeah, you throw him in the lineup. Reality is -- and nobody likes to face it -- he's not 21 years old and he doesn't have 30 goals right now, so I was giving him a break ..."
-- Wayne Gretzky

Gretzky said he understood Roenick's desire to play.

"J.R.'s been actually really good here,'' Gretzky said. "Obviously he was shook up the other day that he didn't play and that he really wanted to play that night. I understand that and, as I said to him, I wouldn't expect a player to be happy not dressing."

Roenick told The Arizona Republic on Wednesday that he felt he was healthy enough to play Tuesday and that he left the arena because he didn't want to talk to the media. He also said that although he respected Gretzky's decision, he didn't regret leaving.

"I was at the game for part of the game and then I went for dinner," Roenick said. "I don't think there is anything wrong with going and having a nice dinner, having a beer and watching the hockey game. I don't know why everybody is trying to create a stir or create a controversy."

Gretzky said that because no Coyotes personnel knew of Roenick's whereabouts during the game, Roenick had broken an unwritten rule that says players who aren't playing stay for the game.

"Obviously I'm a proud guy. I've worked my ass off this year. ... So it frustrates me when you want to play, and you think you can play, but you don't play."
-- Jeremy Roenick

Roenick said he didn't know about the rule.

"What, do you give your support from the press box? Give support with pom-poms from the press box?" Roenick told the Tribune. "We're not allowed to go into the locker room in between periods and tell the guys what they're doing wrong or cheer the guys on. We're not allowed to be around the guys during game action. ... There's nothing that a player that's not playing can do. If anything, they want players that are not playing away because it's a distraction."

But by leaving, Roenick did become a distraction.

"Obviously I'm a proud guy," he told the Tribune. "I've worked my ass off this year. Obviously I can't get a break to save my life offensively. I feel I've worked hard, and I will continue to work hard. So it frustrates me when you want to play, and you think you can play, but you don't play."

Gretzky, however, said that he chose to rest Roenick after the center received treatment for back spasms he first suffered Monday night.

"He was legitimately hurt," Gretzky told the Tribune. "He could hardly get through the game in San Jose. If he were 21 years old and had 25 goals, then yeah, you throw him in the lineup. Reality is -- and nobody likes to face it -- he's not 21 years old and he doesn't have 30 goals right now, so I was giving him a break and a night off to rest his back, to regroup and come back."

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Phoenix Coyotes

Profile
2007 SEASON STATISTICS
GM G A PTS +/- PIM
28 1 5 6 -9 18

Roenick, 36, who signed a one-year, $1.2 million contract in July, is averaging 15:24 of ice time in 28 games and has one goal and five assists and is minus-9. However, he said he's happy enough with his production and the Coyotes that "I'm not going to retire in the middle of the year and quit on anybody."

And, according to Gretzky, the Coyotes don't plan to force him out, either.

"I'm never going to tell him to do anything [regarding his career]," Gretzky said. "I have too much respect for what he's done for the game and how much he loves the game.

"He was the face of this team when it came here and I want him to enjoy this year," Gretzky said, "and I want him to love playing here again and living in this city again. As I said to him, down the road here we'd like to have him part of our organization."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.