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NHL LHinks: Roenick walks into the sunset, Zherdev walks away

While yesterday was Lighthouse project-focused (more coverage and wrap-up links in the next thread), there was some real hockey news to think about, too. Here is a shot of thoughts on Nikolai Zherdev, and a reflection on the scope of Jeremy Roenick's career. Zherdev and Roenick are each somewhat divisive for completely different reasons, so add your own thoughts or quibbles in comments as you wish.

Rangers Let Nikolai Zherdev Walk: Not a surprise, but curious asset management once again by Glen Sather [NY Post/Brooks]. Brian Burke says the Leafs aren't interested. Zherdev has serious flaws that delighted me as a Rangers-hater, but he's also a budding talent who led the team in scoring (outside of deadline acquisition Nik Antropov, also gone, and Scott Gomez ... also gone). You'd think for under $4 million Sather might have been able to trade him to a small-market team in need of such skill, even if for scraps. Short Island Smurfs fans debate the move at Blueshirt Banter.

Jeremy Roenick To Retire [SJ Mercury News | AP | Puck Daddy's top 10 off-ice JR moments | Second City Hockey says goodbye | Fear the Fin's ballad of JR | Tribute at Barry Melrose Rocks]:  In the 1980s, the Norris Division was an entertaining yet talent-poor division. Great playoff races and intra-divisional brawls, but little hope for the survivor to get past the Smythe Division's Alberta teams in the playoffs. Then came a trio of rookies in 1989-90 who added flair and signified a new era in that division:

Mike Modano (75 points) in Minnesota, Jeremy Roenick (66) in Chicago, and Rod Brind'Amour (61) in St. Louis were at the top of the rookie scoring race all season. (Russian veteran Sergei Makarov won the Calder with 86 points at age 31, eliciting the creation of an age maximum for the trophy in future years.) Within a couple seasons, add Sergei Fedorov to Detroit and the Doug Gilmour trade from the Smythe's Flames to the Norris' Maple Leafs, and suddenly the balance of power was shifting in the 1990s then-Campbell Conference.

The Oilers won their last Stanley Cup that year, but the next season Chicago and St. Louis finished 1-2 overall in the league, while the cindarella North Stars skated past both of them plus the Oilers to make it to the Cup finals. The next year, Roenick's Hawks went to the finals only to be swept by the defending-champion Penguins.

Anyway, I can never think of Roenick, Modano or Brind'Amour without remembering that 1989-90 rookie scoring race, which I followed each week in The Hockey News (a little print doo-hickey that predates this here Internet). Given their starts, it's surprising to think that of the three, Roenick is the one who never won the Cup. In fact, that 1992 season was his lone appearance in the finals.

In my mind, his decline began with the Bill Wirtz Blackhawks' steady dismantling of that squad (go win Cups elsewhere, Chelios; you too, Belfour) and sending of that great NHL market into hibernation. After the hilariously Wirtzian trade for Alex Zhamnov, Roenick had a fantastic first season in Phoenix (along side league-leading goal scorer Keith Tkachuk) in 1996-97, but suffered a gruesome knee injury in Game 6 of the thrilling 7-game Coyotes-Mighty Ducks playoff series that year. He came back the next year to have a good playoff (another first-round Jets/Coyotes exit), but the Coyotes never looked as dangerous again and the injury bug would stalk the once-dynamic Roenick for the rest of his career.

As a partisan fan of two loyalties (I've got Blues blue and Islanders orange in my blood and my upbringing), I was in position to hate Roenick for much of his career, in both conferences. But part of me later grudgingly appreciated his skill, his speed and his Brett Hull-esque frank foot-in-mouth tendency. If I step back and look at this league as a whole, I can say it's a shame he never lifted the Cup. Because you know he would've given us one helluva celebration: