May 21, 2009

San Jose Sharks forward Jeremy Roenick, never one to be shy about expressing his opinions, dropped a few verbal bombs this morning on Chicago's "The Monsters in the Morning" show on Comcast Sportsnet.

Roenick told hosts Mike North and Dan Jiggetts that Red Wings coach Mike Babcock dislikes Americans, especially veteran defenseman Chris Chelios, and that dislike is reflected by Chelos's diminished playing time.

"The coach just doesn't like him for some ungodly known reason, I think he's got a grudge against American players, but he does not like Cheli at all," Roenick said. "There is an underlying, I don't know if it's a hatred, because hatred is a strong word. But there is some underlying issue there that I don't understand. You know Babcock is the coach. You have to respect him for his decisions on who he plays, and that is all well and good. Sometimes it's just the verbal stuff that goes back and forth, from what I understand. Cheli will never complain. He is the ultimate professional. He will do whatever the team needs."

Roenick continued: "If you'd know some of the things that Babcock says to Chris Chelios, it would make your stomach churn. Just total disrespect for not even just one of the best Americans, but one of the best defensemen to ever play the game. The way he is talked to is just unacceptable. I wish I could elaborate, but that's not proper. It's just disrespectful."

Chelios was quoted by Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press as saying, "How does JR know anything -- is he playing? The last time I talked to JR was a few weeks ago, and it was about his charity pool party in Vegas. I don't know what JR is talking about."'s Michael Farber is in Chicago and he spoke to Babcock, a Canadian, who pointed out that two of his children are Americans and dismissed Roenick's charge by saying, "The operative phrase here is 'JR said.' We keep signing Chelios because we think he's an important part of the team."

Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski, an American player from Michigan, rolled his eyes when told of Roenick's remarks and said to Farber, "Yeah, sure, [Babcock] doesn't like me. He only lets me play with Nicklas Lidstrom, the Norris Trophy-winner."

Farber points out that if there is any friction between Babcock and Chelios, it's likely due to the defenseman's outspoken nature.

"Last year, Chelios was insistent on getting power play time and wasn't hesitant about expressing his feelings," Farber says. "For a guy who is not playing major minutes, he can be a handful. This year, he's been forced into the background because of the emergence of Jonathan Ericsson, who looks like Lidstrom's successor and plays with Brett Lebda on third pair.

Since the middle of 2007-08, Chelios hasn't been as effective a player," Farber adds. "He's shown his age (47) and lost a lot of physical battles. When Andreas Lilja is healthy, Chelios is essentially an eighth, not a sixth defenseman. If there's anything here, it's professional and not personal, as Babcock will play whoever he thinks gives him the best chance to win."

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