In this excerpt from 'Shoot First, Pass Later: My Life, No Filter,' Jeremy Roenick addresses his criticism of players and how they responded.
Chapter 4: "Don't Be Cindy Brady"
Alex Ovechkin is the player that I've most criticized on the air, particularly during the 2013-14 season, when he finished with an embarrassingly ridiculous plus/minus of minus-35. [Mike] Milbury and I were frequently critical of Ovechkin's inferior all-around game. In my opinion, it was shameful to be the Washington Capitals' leader and not put a strong effort into playing a more effective style.
I'm sure Ovechkin was aware of my criticism because I've had a friendship with him for years. He pays attention to what I have to say. If he doesn't see it on television, members of his entourage will let him know what I said. Ovechkin has told me that he admired how I played when he was a young player. I wondered if my criticism would hurt our relationship.
When I was at the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, his entourage made it clear that he was aware of what I had said about him.
"You shouldn't criticize Alex," one said to me.
"You shouldn't be a yes man for Alex," I replied. "It doesn't help Alex if you tell him he is playing fine, even when he is not."
"He gets paid to score goals and he's scoring goals," the man said. "That's what you should be saying."
"If that is true, then you tell Alex to take the f------ 'C' off his chest," I told him. "If you are just there to score goals, then you are not a leader."
We argued back and forth, and I was keenly aware that our argument would get back to Alex.
I was prepared to lock horns with him the next time I interviewed him on the air. My first question cut right to the heart of the matter: "When you see me on television ripping you, saying you need to do things better, what do you want to say back to me?"
I paused for a second and added, "Do you want to swear at me when you hear me saying that?"
"No," he said. "If I play bad, you have to say bad things about me. It just means I have to play better the next game. If I play better the next game, you will say good things. I just have to make sure I play good, so you say good things."
"So you don't get mad?" I asked him.
"Sure, I get mad, but not at you," Ovechkin said. "I'm disappointed. I have to give you a reason to say good things."
My respect for Ovechkin grew immeasurably during that interview. He acted like a true professional. He didn't blame the messenger. He took stock of his game and concluded that he needed to perform at a higher level. I think everyone would agree that Ovechkin was a different player in 2014-15. I believe he was embarrassed by his performance in 2013-14.
When I asked Ovechkin that question, I was fully prepared for him to return fire. I wanted to give him that opportunity. I firmly believe that if you're willing to dish it out, you better be ready to get some blowback.
I think about 97 percent of the things I say about players on the air is positive in nature. I only criticize players who force me to criticize them. I can't stand lazy players or guys who display a lack of pride in what they're doing. I can't stand selfish players. [Patrick] Marleau and Ovechkin have made it easy for me to criticize in the past because they don't always do what's best for their teams.
That's why I have gone strong to the microphone against forward Alexander Semin. He needs to find another profession because he is shaming himself in this one. He was wasted space on Carolina's roster before the Hurricanes bought him out in the summer of 2015. It is sad that he is in the NHL because he is blocking a deserving player from coming to the show and giving a f--- about how he performs.
That may seem harsh, but can someone show me evidence that Semin was committed to helping the Hurricanes? I never saw the effort. He signed a one-year deal with the Canadiens after Carolina let him go. Good luck to them.
Sometimes I hear that players are mad about something I've said. I always hear about it third-hand, usually from people who get their kicks by stirring up trouble. Most of my so-called critics are too chickens--- to say anything to my face.
The only player who has confronted me directly is Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane. The oddity was that he was mad at me for something I said during a radio interview, even though I never actually said it.
The interview came during the 2011-12 season. The Blackhawks were in the midst of a nine-game losing streak, and, appearing on the Waddle and Silvy Show on ESPN 1000, I said the team needed to acquire a goalie. At the time, I didn't believe that Corey Crawford or Ray Emery was the answer. I thought the Blackhawks needed to acquire a big-name goalie, and the price would be steep. Also, keep in mind that this was happening at a time when folks in Chicago were concerned about Patrick's partying and maturity level.
"Everybody knows I am a huge Patrick Kane fan," I said. "But when you're talking something of this nature, is Patrick Kane dealable? As much as I don't want to say it, they can afford to get rid of Patrick Kane. They can afford to with the season he's having, maybe with his off-ice reputation, maybe with the skill they have on their team. It's doable. Do I like it? No, because I love Patrick Kane. He is one of the most talented and one of the best players in the NHL. But if you really want a top-end goaltender, you're going to have to give up somebody."
Never did I say that Kane should be traded. I simply said there was logic to the move and that it may have made sense if they wanted to acquire a frontline goalie.
Let's also remember that Kane's numbers were down that season.
ESPN and Yahoo both picked up the quotes and they received plenty of attention, mostly because I had previously been known as a Kane supporter.
To be honest, I forgot about the whole thing until I was at the Olympics in Sochi. Kane saw me and let me have it.
"F--- you, J.R.," he said. "You backstabbed me. You brought up my name as a guy who should be traded."
"Whoa," I said, trying to calm him down.
But it was no use. He was angry. He blew up on me and then left the building.
I didn't know how to respond. The situation really upset me. Not remembering exactly what I had said, I looked up the story on the Internet and then called him the next day. We talked for a long time. I had the interview up on my screen, and I explained exactly how the conversation started and what I had said. He told me why he was angry about it. It was a civil conversation.
Seeing Kane boil over made me feel terrible. I have always had a soft spot for him, partly because I saw some of myself in him on the ice. He is my favorite NHL player to watch. Thankfully, he said he felt better after getting the matter resolved and behind us.
Although I have been an analyst for a while, I still find myself rooting for some of my former teams. I hope for the best for the Chicago Blackhawks, the Arizona Coyotes, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Los Angeles Kings, and the San Jose Sharks. I would like to see the New York Rangers have success, because my dad owned season tickets at Madison Square Garden when I was seven. We lived in Hartford and used to come into the city for games. Having grown up in the Boston area, I also like to see the Bruins enjoy success.
That doesn't mean I'm biased for them. I can certainly criticize those teams. It's no different than being a parent. You love your child, but when he or she misbehaves, you let them know about it.
Even though I still have friends in San Jose, I have been disappointed and critical of the franchise over the past couple of seasons. There is plenty of blame to share from top to bottom, but I believe Doug Wilson has to accept responsibility. I think he's a high-grade general manager, but even quality general managers make mistakes.
After the Sharks allowed the Los Angeles Kings to rally from a 3-0 series deficit to beat them in the spring of 2014, Wilson should have had a major response. Instead, Wilson signed tough guy John Scott, who might be the most ineffective player in the National Hockey League.
How are you going to improve your team if your only move is to sign a guy who historically cannot take a regular shift? I know Wilson wanted to give his younger players an opportunity to step up, but that wasn't what his team needed. It needed a kick in the pants, a bold move, and Wilson didn't provide the lift the franchise needed.
This team needed to send a message to the players and fans that things were going to get back on course immediately. Bringing in Scott didn't tell the boys that "we expect to be better next season."
Taking the "C" off Joe Thornton was also a mistake. When the "C" was removed from Thornton's sweater, it was like stripping away a piece of the team's character. It chipped away some of the team's identity.
"This excerpt from Shoot First, Pass Later: My Life, No Filter by Jeremy Roenick with Kevin Allen is printed with the permission of Triumph Books. For more information and to order a copy, please visit www.triumphbooks.com/ShootFirstPassLater."