MONDAY MAY 22, 2017

Six hundred stitches, 513 goals, 20 NHL seasons, two shout-outs in Vince Vaughn movies and one very outspoken mouth. During his NHL career, Jeremy Roenick — the third highest scoring American-born player, was anything but a “by the numbers” player. He was an original, just as entertaining off the ice as he was on it. 

In his new book, J.R - The Fast, Crazy Life of Hockey’s Most Outspoken and Most Colorful Personality, the current NBC hockey analyst covers his entire hockey career — from his start with the Chicago Blackhawks, through the numerous controversies caused by his candor. TORO spoke with the retired hockey great about his book, the NHL lockout and hockey players today.

You start your book right away talking about how the modern athlete has become too worried to say anything remotely controversial. Why do you think that is?

Good question. I mean, I don’t know why they are like that. I think they just don’t want to rock the boat. The National Hockey League is trying as hard as it possibly can within the organizations to keep it very very team-oriented and not an individual oriented sport. Hockey players are very respectful and they’re very appreciative of what they have and I think they care about their teammates more than other sports. With that being said, you know if they do have an opinion or they don’t like someone, they’re not going to come out and say it. They’re just going to keep quiet and go about their business, which doesn’t give the writers of newspapers or television anything good to go on.

I was a little bit different. That’s why I’m still on TV [laughs].

You make mention that most of your low moments in your career resulted from your mouth? Given that, do you understand why athletes aren't more outspoken?

Umm, nope. I turned out just fine. I certainly took some backlash but, you know, life is all about experiencing different things and having an opinion. Yeah, if you want to go through life without controversy, go through life unscathed and try to make everyone like you then keep your mouth shut. Me, I just didn’t give a shit.

You can’t have everyone like you and I didn’t try, I still don’t. Actually, I don’t want everyone to like me.

What do you think about a guy like Paul Bissonnette, who has carved out a huge following for himself on Twitter? Do you pay attention to a guy like that?

I do. He’s a guy who uses social networking with his on-ice talents. He’s a good hockey player but by no means is he someone you hear about around the country or around the world. But his personality makes him so rare and so fun to be around. So he’s carving a niche out for himself after sports because of his ability to allow the world to see his wit and his mind. 

Is there anyone that you played with during your career that you thought would have been more popular if they'd showed how they were in private to the fans and the media?

Umm, there’s always guys who are really funny and who are always on in the locker room and they wouldn’t really bring it out of the locker room. When I first got to Chicago a guy like Steve Thomas, was really, really funny but when it came to the media he was very stoic and was very businesslike. A guy like Stéphane Matteau, you put a camera in front of him and a mic and he would freeze up but all of a sudden you get him in the locker room and he’d have everybody in stitches.

JR.jpgYou single out Rob Ray as the player you hated most during your career because he took trash talking too far. What's the line of what's acceptable?

I think it’s one thing to call somebody an asshole and go after someone personally and not like them but when you take it into the families and you take it into certain things that have happened with people and you use those things against them. You know, he wasn’t a terrible player but he wasn’t a good player by any means. He loved to trash talk but I didn’t have any respect for him for a long time after watching his true colours. I still don’t care for him but I’m sure he’ll say the same about me. I’m sure he’s a great guy to his friends and family but just not to me. Personally I won’t watch a Buffalo telecast because I can’t stand to watch him on television.

You were outspoken in the last lockout in suggesting that the players made a mistake in not accepting an earlier offer. What do you think it will take to fix this lockout?

Well if you look at it, we didn’t want to give up to a salary cap. I was one that said, “No, we could probably live with a salary cap” even though I took a lot of heat for it. We lost a whole year of hockey and yet, we still in the end had a salary cap. That’s what we’re talking to the players about now, don’t throw away a year when you kind of know where the end result is going to be. I truly believe that they are fighting over something very strong and that is their contracts that they have in place right now. I think the owners should honour those contracts. It’s going to be a battle against the owners no matter what; they’re a tough organization to beat.

Players like Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Jack Johnson have come out and voiced their displeasure with the owners. Essentially saying they want their contracts honoured and it’s disingenuous for the owners to not do so.

That’s the whole issue. The whole issue is the fact that you have Leipold in Minnesota who in one day signs two guys for 10 years for $100 million each and the next day he’s in the meeting telling the union that we can’t have these long-term contracts that are hurting teams. To me that’s not integrity. You don’t do that to your players. I’m a guy who believes that you sign a deal, make a handshake on a deal and you stick by the deal. Once you start reneging on contracts and deals that’s when all of businesses fall apart. It’s one thing to be an asshole but it’s another thing to be honourable.

What sort of damage do you think this lockout will bring?

Oh man, now you have the social networks like Twitter and Facebook where you can really see people’s opinions. I think it’s much more detrimental when you go to do a lockout twice in eight years, especially if they lose a whole year. I think there’s a very good chance they could lose a good percentage of their fans just being sick of the economics and business side of the game. Hockey fans are very loyal, they might revolt for a little while but I think people will come back in droves. The game is too good, the players are too good, and the stars are too appealing. It’s the best hockey ever in the history of the game. Maybe that’s why the owners are doing what they’re doing right now. They’re seeing a spike in revenue because people are coming out to watch and they’re able to charge more money per ticket, which is not a good thing in my opinion. That’s why they want this revenue to be evened up and divided properly. I just think they should have had these revenues percentages figured out in 2004. They should have done everything in one step. You’re telling me that in 2004 they didn’t foresee 43% not being good enough for them (the owners) at the end of the contract and a $3 billion revenue stream? Pretty bad foreshadowing if you ask me.

And finally, in the book you make mention of both Jeremy and JR, is there a difference between the two?

There definitely is a difference. When I’m with my friends and family, I’m not “on”, I’m not trying to entertain all the time. You know, I’m laid back and quiet and helpful with a lot of things, especially with my wife (laughs). Then when I’m out you just have to omit a different persona sometimes. I always want people to be entertained. I always want people to feel good around me. With my family and friends I can just relax and let them entertain me and I like that. I’m not as opinionated around my friends and family when I’m at home, I’m pretty laid back and easygoing.

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