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Roenick retires in style, Dallas' secret weapon, Afinogenov's future

Gotta say this about Jeremy Roenick. He never lost sight of the fact that hockey was supposed to be entertainment. No surprise then that even his retirement announcement turned into something of a spectacle.

In a scene straight out of This Is Your Life (you might need to look up that pre-cable classic, kids) J.R. fought back tears while being roasted and remembered for more than an hour by old teammates Chris Chelios, Mike Modano and Keith Tkachuk, among others. The tributes poured in via phone and video, making for compelling TV and a fitting tribute to a larger-than-life figure that the league will sorely miss.

Not that he's really going away. Sure, at 39, he's finished as a player. After 1,363 games, 513 goals and 1,216 points, the turbocharged body that always operated at top speed and never veered from trouble had had enough. But it's hard to imagine that someone as passionate about the game will be out of the limelight for long.

Still, the question hung in the air long after the event wound down: What's next? Roenick wouldn't commit to any specific plans, and no reason he should at this point. No doubt he could name his role anywhere in television, including Hockey Night in Canada (my desire to the contrary, Don Cherry won't be around forever). San Jose GM Doug Wilson let it be known that a front office job was available. Chicago, where he enjoyed the most productive years of his career, wants to talk to him about a role similar to the one assayed by Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita. Tkachuk got a laugh when he suggested his buddy take a run at the title on Dancing With the Stars.

Chelios, whose genuine affection for Roenick was clear during a five-minute call-in segment, might have suggested the best possible landing spot for the man who earned a reputation as the league's best quote.

"We need a little work in the [NHL's] marking department," he said. "There hasn't been a better ambassador or personality, either for USA Hockey or the NHL, over the past 18, 20 years."

The league's front office would be lucky to have him, but it's hard for me to imagine him committing to that gig, or any other, for long. Not that he's incapable of making a commitment. It's just that it's easy to picture Roenick dabbling in a number of fields, giving each his all for a time, before moving on to a fresh challenge.

Despite a career spent talking without a filter, he'll have few fences to mend no matter where he goes. It's more than people writing off any perceived sleights from the past as "J.R. being J.R." There was always a sincerity to his words that forced you to give his position some consideration ... even if you were the one he was skewering.

"I can honestly tell you that I spoke from the heart, it was how I was feeling,'' he said. "Some people didn't like it. Some people didn't enjoy it. Some thought I was arrogant, and that's a little bit true. But I didn't want to be generic and cliched. Fans and media don't want to hear generic stuff.''

Right to the end, he was willing to stir the pot to make what he thought was a valid point.

Chelios laughingly referred to the grenade Roenick dropped on him this spring when he accused Detroit coach Mike Babcock of being anti-American for not giving Chelios sufficient ice time during the Wings' run to the finals.

"When we were in the playoffs and you tried to help me get out on the ice with [Babcock] was quite entertaining," Chelios said. "You put me through hell with the press for a couple days. It's nothing that I'm not used to... always answering for you."

At one point during the proceedings, Roenick was asked what advice he would pass on to younger players.

"For me, it's to be yourself, enjoy what you're doing," he said. "Don't be afraid to open your mouth, don't be afraid to say what you feel. ... to be different. Don't be afraid to rock the boat every once in a while. But do it with respect. Enjoy what you do, work hard and love your teammates."

It wasn't his parting shot, but should have been. More than just a concise summation of his career, those are words the future generation would do well to live by.

***

A friend once quipped that the NHL wouldn't be big time until one of its retired legends appeared on Dancing With the Stars. Turns out Roenick actually was offered a spot last season on the show of record for the American hausfrau, but he turned it down because the taping conflicted with his final season of hockey.

Would he re-consider now that his daybook is cleared? It's possible. Next season's cast will be announced later this month. If he's really interested, this performance from a 2005 preseason game in Las Vegas probably showed up on his application.

***

Tough to pick the best line from the press conference, but I'll give it to Chelios.

"I always thought you'd retire with me," the 47-year-old unrestricted free agent said. "Actually, I might be retired. I just don't know it yet."

The news that Charlie Huddy had signed on with the Stars as an assistant coach didn't exactly generate 20-point headlines outside of Dallas. Still, this stands to be one of the most impactful bench acquisitions of the offseason -- and might end up being more important to the club than the hiring of head coach Marc Crawford.

After eight seasons in a similar role in Edmonton, Huddy will be tasked with developing Dallas' promising, but very green, defense corps. With All-Star (yeah, I double-checked) Stephane Robidas as the group's only legitimate veteran, the struggling Stars are counting on rapid development from Matt Niskanen, Nicklas Grossman, Mark Fistric and Ivan Vishnevski, the former first rounder who should benefit the most from the repatriation of former Star Sergei Zubov.

That's a handful for any coach, but Huddy's biggest challenge could be stabilizing Trevor Daley. As he approaches his 26th birthday, Daley is the group's second-oldest vet, but he remains a frustrating presence. No one doubts his talent -- he has speed to burn and has evolved into a reliable penalty killer -- but his occasional offensive forays showcased the maddening inconsistency that led former coach Rick Wilson to keep him on a short leash. For every highlight reel-worthy dash, there were a half dozen marred by inopportune timing or a rash decision with the puck (usually a shot off the glass). If Huddy can mold him to the point that the reward justifies the risk, Daley could emerge as a breakthrough player ... and ensure the team's true greenhorns have a little less responsibility heaped on their plates.

No word yet on the future home of Maxim Afinogenov, but the erstwhile Sabre is skating with Dynamo Moscow of the Russian league. There are rumors of two or three NHL teams desperate enough for offense that they've given him some consideration (including the Islanders and Rangers) but it's hard to believe either John Tortorella or Scott Gordon would put up with his extended periods of non-involvement. Odds are he'll find somewhere to float in Europe.

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