Monday, May 09, 2011

Jeremy Roenick (Rightfully) Calls Out Patrick Marleau

After Sunday's ridiculous comeback by Detroit in San Jose, there's much talk about the Sharks becoming the fourth team in NHL history to lose a series after leading 3-0.

It's deserved, too, because the Sharks have taken on every part of the "Choking Dogs" image they were slapped with after numerous early playoff exits over the years.

With Patrick Marleau being summarily destroyed by Pavel Datsyuk on the play that led to the game-winning goal, former Shark Jeremy Roenick -- never one to shy away from an opinion -- jumped at the chance to show he's not afraid to criticize one-time teammates during his studio gig at Versus.

After the game, Roenick laid into Marleau's play in this series, especially in the just-completed Game 5.

I'm not here to question Roenick's qualifications, because it's not my place. The nature of his comments, though, have generated much controversy.

Roenick played with Marleau. He was on the same line at times. If anyone has any right going on national television and questioning Marleau's effort, it's a former teammate. That said, those currently involved with the Sharks are taking exception to the commentary, most notably Sharks television voice Randy Hahn.

"For Roenick to call Marleau's performance gutless (twice) and question his heart on national TV is over the line," Hahn tweeted. "It was unprofessional."

Hahn also accused Roenick of trying to advance his broadcast career.

I respect Hahn a great deal. He's one of my favorite broadcast voices in the NHL.

I also think he's dead-wrong.

Roenick had every right to say what he said. After watching the replay of Pavel Datsyuk abusing Marleau to set up the winning goal, how could any analyst worth his salt not go after Marleau? That was a dreadful, pathetic effort that confirms every negative word that has ever been said about him. While Joe Thornton has learned how to raise his game to a different level in the playoffs, Marleau continues to flatline.

Puck Daddy has more comments from the Sharks' television crew. This includes a link to this piece by CSN California's Scott Reiss, a former ESPN personality and a damn good sportscaster himself. Reiss criticizes Roenick's comments while also confirming them in a way.

I’ve covered the Sharks for three seasons now, and in that time they’ve played six playoff series.  In five of those series, Marleau has been a head-scratcher.  One of the league’s most consistent regular-season goal scorers, he not only fails on that end, he fails miserably on the other end.  Defensively speaking, he’s given them next to nothing.  And with all the talk about how Joe Thornton has resurrected his playoff reputation by busting his butt in the defensive zone, his linemate has simply not followed suit.

But none of this justifies Roenick’s reckless remarks in the wake of Game 5.  Calling Marleau “gutless” is wrong on two levels.  First, factually -- lack of a willingness to compete does not equate to lack of courage, rather lack of effort. There is a difference.  Second, philosophically -- it’s a personal shot levied against a former teammate on national television, which is over the line and flat-out unnecessary.

JR is a good hockey analyst.  I’ve worked with enough analysts over the years to know that the best ones are willing to take a stand, and call out players when they underperform.  But as Drew Remenda so aptly put it on our postgame show, “Insult the play, not the player.”  Did Marleau play poorly?  Absolutely.  Is this a disturbing trend?  Obviously.  Does that justify “gutless?”  Not so much, no.

I'm in no place to call Patrick Marleau "gutless" in a national forum. I don't know the guy one lick, and while I watch a fair amount of Sharks hockey because of my aforementioned respect for their broadcasters (Hahn, Remenda, and Reiss are as good a local crew as you'll find anywhere in the NHL, including Canada), it's not enough to make me qualified to make such a biting comment.

I will say this, however. I disagree with those criticizing the words Roenick used to make a point virtually everyone seems to agree with.

As a former teammate, Roenick knows full-well what Marleau is capable of. Anyone who has watched more than five Sharks regular season games over the years probably has a good idea what Marleau is capable of. He is a wonderfully-talented player who is frustratingly spotty with his defensive effort.

In the playoffs, you can never be "spotty" with your defensive effort. While his teammates were busting their butts to get back defensively -- as noted by Daryl Reaugh of Versus during the game, when he talked about their "layers" of defensive coverage -- Marleau slogs back into his own zone, backchecks lazily, and can't win puck battles. He's the exact opposite of the player Thornton has become since replacing Marleau as captain.

Like everyone associated with San Jose should be, Roenick is clearly frustrated by all of this. He thinks Marleau should play harder, and meaner, and be more of a factor in the defensive zone. Given his veteran status, playoff experience, and overall ability, Roenick is right.

Debate his choice of words all you want, but the playoffs are all about heart, guts, determination, and those second and third efforts to make plays, whether it's getting a puck to the net, going to the net to create traffic, digging for rebounds, puck battles, or even something simple like chipping a puck out of your zone so your team can get a change.

Marleau needs to be better in all of those phases, and anyone who argues otherwise simply isn't watching closely enough.

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