In honor of his selection into the US Hockey Hall of Fame on Thursday, here’s a re-print of CommittedIndians’ remembering Jeremy Roenick from November of 2009, before he was honored at the United Center.
Sunday night, the Blackhawks will celebrate the career of Jeremy Roenick by honoring him with a “Heritage Night.” The thought of celebrating Roenick’s career got the wheels turning… so many memories, so many great highlights, such an ugly divorce.
What do you remember most about the Jeremy Roenick Era of the Chicago Blackhawks?
Roenick was drafted eighth overall in 1988 and climbed to the NHL level late that season. He pitched in 18 points in 20 games and was effective in the playoffs his rookie season.
Roenick’s first full season in the NHL, 1989-90, saw him score 26 goals and 40 assists as the Blackhawks improved 22 points in the standings. He was starting to establish himself as a leader on an aging team that was going through some dramatic changes.
After the 1990 season, in part because of Roenick’s emergence as a scoring threat, the Blackhawks traded long-time fan favorite Denis Savard to Montreal for Chris Chelios and a second round draft pick. Roenick backed up the faith (or penny pinching) or management in 1990-91 by scoring 41 goals, 53 assists (94 points) and he was selected to play in the legendary All Star Game at the Chicago Stadium that season. The Hawks jumped another 18 points to win the Presidents’ Trophy.
During the ’90-’91 season, Roenick led the team with 10 game-winning goals, and he teamed up with Steve Larmer (who had 101 points that year) to give the Hawks one of the most potent offenses in the league.
The next season, 1991-92, was magic for the Blackhawks, as they advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Roenick scored 103 points that year (53 goals, 50 assists). He played in his second All Star Game, and was firmly established as one of the elite scoring forwards in the NHL.
The two seasons that followed that campaign made Roenick a legend in Chicago and a league-wide household name. JR had back-to-back 107-point seasons. That total was the highest for a Blackhawks player not named Savard since Bobby Hull’s incredible 107-point season in 1968-69.
Despite the team’s successes of the early 1990s, this was a time filled with frustration from Hawks players and the fans. The trade of Savard for Chelios ended up bringing another eventual Chicago legend home, but unloading one of the best players in franchise history wasn’t the easiest trade to stomach.
Again in large part due to Roenick having established himself as the team’s top scorer, the team moved another fan favorite, Steve Larmer, with Bryan March to Hartford for Eric Weinrich and Patrick Poulin, on November 2, 1993. Larmer hadn’t missed a game, or the playoffs, in a Chicago uniform in over a decade, but Dollar Bill Wirtz was beginning to show an unwillingness to keep a great core together. Larmer wanted to win the Cup, and Wirtz wasn’t showing any signs of keeping the Hawks competitive.
The reasons for Larmer’s departure seemed to effect many of the young Hawks as they entered the mid-1990s. So did Wirtz being one of the most recklessly cheap owners in the history of professional sports.
That 1993-94 season was Roenick’s fourth All Star Game, and he set career highs in power play goals (24) and short handed goals (five). He was +21, and ranked by a number of major publications as one of the top players in the league. But the Hawks fell back further in the standings, something Larmer wanted nothing to do with, and it was appearing that an implosion of the roster was coming.
It was in 1994 that Roenick took another step in his evolution as a legend: NHL ’94 made Roenick a god.
In the movie “Swingers,” Vince Vaughn absolutely wrecks another guy on the game, referring to Roenick by name a couple times (including a supposed fight between Roenick and Wayne Gretzky on the great video game). It will be interesting to see if Vaughn, who was in attendance on Wednesday night at the United Center, makes another appearance for Roenick’s Heritage Night on Sunday.
Another development that began the erosion of Roenick’s roster status in Chicago in 1993-94 was the arrival of Tony Amonte. Just as Roenick did with Savard and Larmer, over the next couple seasons it would be Amonte’s talent, coupled with Roenick’s expiring contract, started to make the superstar expendable.
Roenick didn’t help himself, though. During the strike, Roenick infamously told the media that fans believing pro athletes were spoiled could “kiss my ass.” Unfortunately, pairing Roenick’s fan-directed comments with Wirtz was poison to a great fan base.
The final issue that would haunt the Blackhawks franchise was Wirtz’s disrespect for his players and the fans after the strike that shortened the 1994-95 season. Roenick scored 34 points in 33 games that season season (despite missing 15 games with leg issues), and the Hawks advanced all the way to the Conference Finals again. But 1995-96 was the final year of Roenick’s contract, and would be the end of his Chicago career.
Despite missing the final 11 games in 1996, Roenick led the team with 32 goals. When that season ended, Roenick ranked eighth all time with 596 points for the Blackhawks organization. His 267 goals were sixth all time (eventually eclipsed by one by Amonte), and he ranked in the organization’s top ten in assists as well.
That wasn’t good enough for Wirtz, though. Roenick wanted to get paid like a Top Ten hockey player, and Wirtz was running (and paying for) a Bottom Ten organization.
Roenick was traded to Phoenix on August 16, 1996 for Alexei Zhamnov and Craig Mills.
While the the organization tried to spin this as a move forward, it was clear that Bob Pulford and Wirtz were destroying what was one of the best young teams in the NHL piece by piece. Over the next three seasons, the Hawks would unload Ed Belfour, Chris Chelios and most of their paying fans in an effort to become an anonymous, losing franchise.
Roenick was sold as “washed up” and having lost a step on the ice, but Phoenix knew better. Roenick played in five All Star Games in the 12 seasons he played after leaving Chicago, and would prove to be a clutch playoff performer time after time.
Roenick would also continue stirring the pot after leaving Chicago. Even in his final season, one that saw him as an irrelevant player on the ice, Roenick made headlines when he claimed that Detroit head coach Mike Babcock hated American players, and refused to play Chelios because he was born in the US.
Do you remember Roenick for being one of those Chicago players that “got away”?
Do you remember Roenick for being a controversy waiting to happen?
Do you remember Roenick for being a god on NHL ’94?
The point isn’t whether or not you remember Roenick, it’s how he’s placed in your memory. There is no questioning Roenick’s place among the great Blackhawks of all time, and Sunday night the team will celebrate his achievements.