Five goals. Just five more goals over the course of an 18-year career and Jeremy Roenick would have had the credentials that automatically warrant Hall of Fame consideration.
A couple of passes off a defenseman's skate here, a few less goalposts there, maybe a little better aim on an ice-long shot at an empty net somewhere down the line and boom, Roenick would have left the game with 500 goals.
|Jeremy Roenick scored 50 goals twice during his career. (Getty Images)|
And that benchmark certainly wouldn't have hurt Roenick down the road, because -- with little call these days for 37-year-olds who don't skate the way they used to, even those willing to play for the minimum -- his playing days ended in forgettable fashion.
Admirably though, he is not trying to hang on in an attempt to rewrite the finish. Maybe he would have if the Calgary Flames, who almost signed Roenick last summer, had offered him a deal. But the Flames signed veteran Owen Nolan this week and Roenick announced his retirement in a brief text message to Philadelphia Inquirer beat writer Tim Panaccio before going incommunicado.
His actions caught a lot of people by surprise, including the Phoenix Coyotes he played for last season. Others wondered what took so long. Truth is, Roenick's legacy would have been better served had he packed it in after the lockout, instead of going though two seasons that were embarrassments to him and the teams he played for.
Unfortunately for Roenick, those final two seasons will taint what was really an impressive career for the one-time high school prodigy from Boston, who broke into the NHL at age 18 with the Chicago Blackhawks a few months after being drafted eighth overall.
Roenick wasn't the best American-born player in an era that had Chris Chelios, Brian Leetch and Mike Modano at their peaks, nor he wasn't the most prolific scorer ever produced in the U.S. But J.R was an elite performer for at least the first dozen years of his career, and a rarity for the NHL -- a colorful and outgoing personality. Roenick was a media darling because he never met a microphone he didn't like and often spoke first while considering later, and he had enough mainstream appeal to turn up in cameos of movies and television shows, making him a visible presence for hockey in the United States.
Roenick dressed for four teams (Phoenix twice), scored 50 goals twice and 40 on two other occasions, and played more than 1,300 regular-season and playoff games all told. He had a number of highlight moments, none bigger than the goal that sent the Flyers to the Eastern final in 2004, but it was the kind of verbal exchanges he had, like one with former Colorado goalie Patrick Roy during the 1996 playoffs, that might well be what he is remembered most for.
"I cannot really hear what Jeremy says because I've got my two Stanley Cup rings plugging my ears," Roy said in response to Roenick's gloating over scoring a key goal.
Roenick never got one of those rings. His best chance came in 1992 when Chicago was swept by Mario Lemieux's Pittsburgh Penguins, but the sun really set on Roenick's opportunity just prior to lockout when he overcame a concussion and went to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Post-concussion symptoms prevented Roenick from dressing for Team USA in the World Cup that fall and when the labor war ended, he was traded to Los Angeles because Philadelphia acquired Peter Forsberg. However, instead of being a focal point in a big media market, he bombed with the Kings.
Roenick arrived out of shape, suffered a series of injuries and ended up with only nine goals in 58 games. He was one of the many major disappointments during a horrible year for the team, but he was singled out for public criticism from the team president. In an interview last summer with CBS Sportsline.com, Roenick said there were a variety of issues to blame, the biggest his inability to get his skates sharpened properly.
"To an athlete, not being able to rely on your equipment is nerve-racking," he said. "I couldn't skate on the skates I was using. Every time I tried to turn, I ended up on my face. It affected my confidence and decision-making because you can't play a game like the NHL at such a high level and question whether you're going to stand up or not. It was enough to almost make me retire."
Roenick didn't. Instead he became a free agent, turning down a deal from Calgary to sign with coach Wayne Gretzky in Phoenix, where J.R. presumably got a better sharpening device. Still things didn't improve in his second tour of duty in the desert. He finished with 11 goals and hit what was likely a point of no return in midseason when he left the arena during a road game after being made a healthy scratch.
Roenick patched things up with his bosses and finished the season, but clearly didn't figure in the Coyotes' future plans. He did some broadcast work in Canada during the playoffs, and let it be known that he was willing to work cheap. But once the initial frenzy of free agency died down without an offer, he decided to quit.
It was time.