Unless he pulls a Claude Lemieux(notes) down the line, Jeremy Roenick(notes) is retired as an active player from the National Hockey League. While speculation can begin on his next line of employment – color commentator, pro golfer, hockey coach, entrepreneur extraordinaire – a sure future destination has to be the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Now, before anyone rolls their eyes, the idea of whether Roenick has done enough to gain entry among hockey's immortals shouldn't even be up for debate, but apparently it is in some circles.
A slam dunk for the U.S. Hockey Hall, Roenick has plenty of credentials for enshrinement in downtown Toronto, too. Yes, hockey is a bit more subjective than, let's say, baseball, which has benchmark numbers – 300 wins for a pitcher, 500 homers for a batter, etc. – to qualify, as long as you've kept your nose fairly clean.
For comparison, let's look at how Roenick stacks up against Pat LaFontaine, a fellow American-born center who has long since gained entry into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
LaFontaine appeared with three teams (Islanders, Sabres and Rangers) during 16 seasons from 1983-1998 while Roenick suited up for five teams (Blackhawks, Coyotes, Flyers, Kings and Sharks) during 20 seasons from 1988-2009.
LaFontaine scored 468 goals and 1,013 points in 865 career games while Roenick collected 513 goals and 1,216 in 1,363 games. LaFontaine added 26 goals and 62 points in 69 playoff games and never won the Stanley Cup. Roenick scored 53 goals and 122 points in 154 playoff games and, too, never won the Cup.
LaFontaine, from St. Louis and drafted third overall, appeared in five NHL All-Star games, won one major award (Bill Masterton, 1994-95), and was honored on the NHL All-Star team once (2nd team, 1992-93). Roenick, from Boston and drafted eighth overall, appeared in nine NHL All-Star games, didn't win any major awards or get named to an all-league team. LaFontaine and Roenick were U.S. Olympic team members twice each.
LaFontaine played his last NHL game at age 33, forced to prematurely retire due to concussion-related injuries. Roenick certainly had concussion-related issues throughout his career in addition to other injuries, but played until age 39 last season.
Five years after his retirement LaFontaine was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003, a fitting honor considering, too, he was considered one of the very best men in a game full of great guys.
OK, those are the tangible numbers, and clearly Roenick outdistances LaFontaine in virtually every category, some by a wide margin. But that's not the only reason why Roenick is deserving of the Hall.
Throw all the numbers out the window and try to find another player over the last 20 years who brought more attention to the league with his colorful personality, his outgoing nature and his honest, often controversial opinions than Roenick. Brett Hull is the only player who even comes close. And he finishes a distance second.
The only thing Roenick wanted the last two seasons in San Jose was that elusive Stanley Cup. Looking for all the world as done following a second tour of duty in Phoenix, close friend and ex-teammate Doug Wilson stepped forward with one more chance for Roenick. The Sharks' general manager demanded Roenick toe the line – no excessive partying during the season – and that he'd be expected to display a good example for the organization's younger players.
Roenick grasped the role and ran with it. He never found trouble or controversy during his two seasons in San Jose. He was a coach on the ice and motivator in the dressing room. It was obvious Roenick approached each practice, each game, each playoff opportunity as something to savor for the rest of his life.
Already one of the most passionate players to play the game, Roenick wore it all on his sleeve during the last two seasons of his career, and it was great to see. The happy ending that Raymond Bourque was afforded in winning the Stanley Cup with Colorado after 21 failed tries with Boston was not to be for Roenick in San Jose.
And while the mind was willing to keep playing the game, his body was telling him otherwise. His career may have ended without winning the Stanley Cup. But Jeremy Roenick should soon be remembered for something else just as soon as he gets elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.