Blackhawks Confidential

Roenick's number is up: will Blackhawks hang him out to dry?

roenick2.jpgDenis Savard didn't have to wait long at all to have his number 18 retired. The Blackhawks did it quickly after he finished playing with 473 goals, 865 assists. Slam dunk.
That begs the question now of how long, if ever, before the Hawks consider the same honor appropriate for Jeremy Roenick's uniform number of 27? This one is more of a long-range jumper and Roenick's chance for immortality might glance off the Hawks' rim, despite a prominent place in NHL history.
Roenick scored 513 goals and sits at 36th all-time among NHL goal scorers, 13 spots better than the 49th-ranked Savard, who earned his reputation more as an assist machine. Roenick isn't too far away, though, from Savard with his 703 assists.
Although their styles contrasted, their statistics reside in the same general area.
Savard is 26th all-time in points with 1338 and Roenick 39th with  1216. For appearances sake, JR crossed important psychological borders by exceeding 500 goals, 700 assists. That looks impressive.
But truthfully, I have doubts his number ever will be retired. A breakdown of his longevity in Chicago, where he spent 8 of his 20 NHL seasons, might keep him from getting his name inscribed on a banner for all to see for all-time.
Savard was a cultural icon in the city of Chicago in terms of hockey with a personality that still lights up a room. In fact, Savard superceded hockey. Roenick was appreciated in a much different way, but never really reached the same ingrained level of hero worship as Savard.
In addition, Savard didn't really have hidden enemies (we'll leave out Mike Keenan, who was a public enemy). Roenick did. He was intensely disliked by some and probably still is. And you must remember this? Backstabbing never goes out of style.
How an athlete is perceived in his attachment to a city might mean everything in this case.
The argument will be made that Roenick wasn't a Hawks player long enough over his career to truly qualify having an Indian sweater of 27 raised into the very exclusive rafters to hang out with, in addition to Savard, Bobby Hull (9), Stan Mikita (21), Glenn Hall (1), Tony Esposito (35), and Pierre Pilote and Keith Magnuson (a shared 3 because a defenseman always has to have a partner).
The Hawks obviously have been very choosy during the "just say no" decades when Bill Wirtz had his hand on the frozen controls and didn't move the levers very much. A lot has changed during the start of the Rocky Wirtz era, but will that impact Roenick's fate in this regard?
Roenick played 524 games for Chicago compared to Mikita's 1,394 games, Hull's 1,036, Savard's 881, Esposito's 873 and Hall's 618. Too few games to be a committed Indian?
Then again, here's a counter-argument. Roenick was a part of the 1992 Hawks that lost to Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup finals, a rare postseason surge for this club. Savard had been traded to Montreal in 1990 and didn't return for his final years in Chicago until 1995.
He missed this rare opportunity to be remembered for that postseason moment.
Maybe Roenick should be the first one honored from the '92 club. Maybe Rocky Wirtz, who has had good instincts so far, is ready to acknowledge a period of hockey in this city when the team fell short too often during the postseason, but at least had a vibrant pulse.
The Hawks, however, have not chosen to distribute their uniform retirement honor on much deserving winger Steve Larmer, who played 891 games for Chicago and scored 406 goals.
Only Mikita and Hull have scored more goals as Hawks than Larmer. So why hasn't the team seen fit to single him out for praise by retiring his jersey?
The Hawks have never had a player more dedicated and loyal to the cause than Larmer. He and Savard shared plenty of cigarettes together. No reason why they shouldn't both suck in the smokin' hot acknowledgment of retired jerseys.
If Larmer isn't worthy, is Roenick?
Even the overlooked Dennis Hull's 298 goals in 904 games puts him between Savard and Roenick for most goals scored in a Hawks uniform. Savard is fourth all-time with 377, Roenick sixth with 267. And honoring one Hull has been more than enough for the Hawks.
More than 100 goals seperate Savard and Roenick in their Chicago period. That might be more than enough distance between them to keep Roenick out of the superstar sweater club.
If they had the power, do you think the fans would raise Roenick to the rafters? Then again, we have seen how the fan voting has detrimentally impacted baseball's All-Star Game, so the fan is sometimes not the voice of reason.
Roenick has just started his retirement. How he figures into Blackhawks history is suddenly something new to kick around as we await next season's championship run.
Just another guy? Or a singular talent? You be the judge. Roenick is sure to be around and willing to talk about his legacy, poking his fingers into somebody's eye.
Maybe he would want to argue that the Blackhawks have a thing against American-born players if they see fit to shun him. Who the hell knows what JR might say?
It'll be fun finding out. And maybe that's why JR should be one of Blackhawk history's hangmen. He's fun. A little goofy, but fun. That's a rare talent.

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7 Comments

jeff greiner said:

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Roenick surely is a unique breed-- not only wonderful hockey skill, but great personality and charisma off the ice as well. I wouldn't mind seeing his name in the rafters.

Anyway, I just posted a blog with the top 5 hockey fights of the Chicago Blackhawks season, and thought you might be interested, Mike. Take a look!

http://acollegeperspective.blogspot.com/

Thanks for the read.

Mike Kiley said:

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Get Bettman's e-mail and send him the fights, so he might understand that fighting has its place in the game. The guy's still learning. Thanks for the clips. Good stuff.

Dave Morris said:

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Mike, I'm with you.

...put JR's 27 up there with the rest of the best. Shucks, the Black Hawks missed out on Frank Mahovlich's #27 and his goal scoring prowess, because Staff Smythe sobered up after taking Jimmy Norris' million dollar cheque for the Big M while they were getting sloshed...so JR's twin 50 seasons and his battle scars from the March of the Penguins, more than qualify him as the 27 who made Hawkey people happy.

Mr. Roenick will always be a Blackhawk...that time with other teams was just a mirage... ;-)

Mike Kiley said:

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Hey Dave Thanks for being a loyal reader. But I question if JR has Hall of Fame numbers. If he doesn't the Hawks won't retire his number. It's a borderline case and very, very interesting.

cubby23(eric) said:

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If you retire Roenick, then can't an argument be made for Larmer, Doug Wilson, Chelios, heck even Amonte to some degree also having their jerseys hang from the rafters?

JR's a slam dunk HOF'er in my book. The numbers are there 500 plus goals 700 plus assists. I'd be curious to see how many NHL players in that range that aren't in the hockey hall of fame.

I don't know if any of these players need to be retired but it's goodwill and good pr. with the fans. I bet the Chelios issue will be more divisive than whether JR deserves the honor. To me, there's some arbitrary pecking order that needs shaking out: Doug Wilson and Steve Larmer need to be honored (Heritage night for Larmer notwithstanding) and potentially have their jerseys hung from the rafters before the JR. issue comes up.

Mike Kiley said:

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Totally agree. Wilson's jersey should be retired. Chelios is like Roenick. How much is he a Blackhawk and how much other teams? Both worthy, but are they Blackhawk legends? Arguable.

JonL62 said:

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Numbers are important, but so is what the player meant and means to the organization. Roenick, Chelios, and Belfour are the Blackhawks to whom all rational Gen X'ers from Chicago relate. Those 3 are the reason the Hawks from the early 90's were so formidable. For me, the memory of those three is what kept me caring about the Hawks long after the ownership stopped caring about all of us.

Roenick has American HOF numbers, and arguable NHL HOF numbers. He may get in - he may not. But he was also great for the game - far more talented as a two-way skater, far grittier, and WAY more interesting to talk to than The Kid. That says something.

I am going to say something which is not popular, but it needs to be said for the point to be made - Ron Santo will probably never make it to the MLB HOF because he does not have HOF numbers. But Ron Santo's #10 flies over Wrigley because of what he meant and means to Cubs fans. Santo is a Cub; Roenick (who as late as last year expressed a desire to play one last year in Chicago) is a Blackhawk. McD got it right with Santo. I am sure Roenick's impact on Blackhawk hockey won't be lost on McD, regardless of whether Roenick makes the NHL HOF. Maybe it takes a sit-down between Rocky and Roenick, but those bridges have already been crossed with Mikita and Hull. Yes, there is something to be said for ending the Hawks' "apology" era once and for all and diverting attention to the future, but in my mind, Roenick represents an open wound for a majority of Gen X fans - 12 years after the fact, I'm still ticked, and if you heard Roenick's farewell speech, he's still hurt.

I, for one, am reasonably optimistic the Hawks will do right by Roenick and Hawks fans and retire the number.

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