Jeremy Roenick has a strong opinion on why Chris Chelios doesn't play much with the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.
Roenick, a former teammate of Chelios when both were members of the Chicago Blackhawks, said Detroit coach Mike Babcock doesn't appear to like American players, especially Chelios.
"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," said Roenick, who played this past season with San Jose. Roenick's comments came Thursday morning on "The Monsters in the Morning" show on Comcast Sportsnet in Chicago.
"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," Roenick said.
"Sometimes it's just the verbal stuff that goes back and forth, from what I understand," he added. "Cheli will never complain. He is the ultimate professional. He will do whatever the team needs."
Roenick said he couldn't repeat some of the things Babcock has said to the 47-year-old Chelios. The defenseman is in his 25th NHL season and has played in only four playoff games this year. His role was limited this season, especially after he fractured a shin bone in a preseason game.
"If you'd know some of the things that Babcock says to Chris Chelios, it would make your stomach churn," Roenick said. "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, a Chicago native who was traded from the Blackhawks to the Red Wings in 1999, downplayed Roenick's comments.
"How does JR know anything _ is he playing?" Chelios told the Detroit Free Press. "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."
When the Red Wings arrived in Chicago on Thursday evening on the eve of Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, Babcock told reporters at a downtown hotel to consider the source.
"I think the whole key to that statement is JR said," said Babcock, an Ontario native who has also coached the Anaheim Ducks. "I've got two American kids. I've lived here for 16 years. There's lot of time now between games and you guys have got to come up with stuff."
Babcock insisted he and Chelios are fine.
"I think players who aren't playing, I don't think anyone is turning cartwheels about that," Babcock said.
"But I think Cheli and I have a good relationship," he added. "I hold him in high regard and I think he's an important part of our team and he has been for a long time. We bring him back year after year because we feel he's important. He's going to be a first ballot Hall of Famer and he's a real important guy for us."