The Sharks and NHL fans everywhere ought to send thank you notes to Jeremy Roenick.
Without a sensationally scurrilous comment by the former hockey star turned TV analyst, how else do the Stanley Cup Playoffs emerge from the shadows of Major League Baseball and the NBA playoffs?
A day after calling Patrick Marleau "gutless" following the Sharks’ 4-3 loss to the Red Wings in Game 5 of their Western Conference semi-final, Roenick backtracked…slightly.
"It probably was the wrong choice of words, but it doesn't change the fact that Marleau, in one of the biggest games of the season, was the worst player on the ice and made two huge mistakes that ended up costing his team the game," said Roenick.
No denying Marleau has been mystifyingly ineffective in failing to register a single point in the series, with few hits or blocked shots. But San Jose defensemen Nicklas Wallin and Ian White were both on the ice for all four Red Wings goals Sunday and managed to escape Roenick's wrath.
Roenick added: "I love the Sharks. I just want more from a $6 million man."
The truth is, Marleau will never be the tough, gritty player Roenick was. Patty plays the pretty game. Blessed with great speed and stick-handling skills, Marleau is not only the Sharks’ all-time leading scorer, he led the league with 26 home goals this season along with a team high nine game winners and a club-record three overtime goals.
Unfortunately, his low-key personality sometimes mirrors his demeanor on the ice. That's probably the main reason coach Todd McClellan stripped Marleau of his captain's jersey two years ago. Unburdened, Patty responded with a career high 47 goals in 2009-2010. This season he led the Sharks with 37 goals.
Then again, in sixteen playoff games against the Red Wings, Patty has only two goals and two assists. True to form, Marleau shrugged off Roenick's criticism, but hopefully he's quietly seething.
Meanwhile, Roenick is sounding more and more like hockey's answer to Charles Barkley. Like Sir Charles, Roenick is no stranger to controversy. He was implicated in high-stakes sports gambling while playing for the Flyers, publicly told fans to, "kiss my ass" when many claimed the players were spoiled during the 2004 strike and feuded with USA Hockey officials after saying he was "blackballed" from the 2006 Olympic team.
Then again, in his last year in the league with the Sharks, Roenick was a frequent guest on KGO Radio and couldn't have been more gracious, even agreeing to be mic'd for sound during a charity holiday skate at the Union Square ice rink. Jeremy was probably lobbying for his new career in broadcasting. He has learned well. Love him. Hate him. Most viewers can't wait to hear what he says next.
More importantly, I can't wait to see how Marleau responds tonight.