Rejoicing rejection

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

It's quite possible Darryl Sutter has never been happier to lose out on a free agent.

Finishing a close second to the Phoenix Coyotes for the services of Jeremy Roenick yesterday, Sutter said his former star in Chicago will be right where he belongs this season.

"It was more of a personal thing, to be honest," said Sutter of his desire to reunite with the 36-year-old centre he coached for five years as a Blackhawk.

"I think all along I wanted to give him an opportunity if no one else was going to because he still has something to offer. To be quite honest, there weren't too many teams that were going to give him that opportunity at a price that didn't embarrass a player who's done a lot in his career."

That price was darn close to the $1.2 million US the Coyotes nabbed him for.

"At the end of the day, it wasn't a difference in money," said Sutter.

"He's married and has a family and they're there (in Phoenix, where they are building a home). That's where he should go. Probably the most stabilizing thing he could have is his family, who he's been away from off and on for five years. I was an option that could have worked out for him but I think he made a really good decision."

Vowing to rededicate himself to the game that saw him score 50 goals twice while under Sutter, Roenick proved to the Coyotes he was already five weeks deep into an off-season fitness program that would help him bounce back from a "humiliating" nine-goal season in Los Angeles for which he was paid almost $5 million.

"What really bothers me in this decision is that Darryl Sutter is so near and dear to my heart," Roenick told Canadian Press after saying for weeks he'd cherish the opportunity to play on a Canadian team for the first time.

"He's always stood by me. It would have been a really good thing with him in Calgary but I had to do what's right for my family."

Although Sutter has a long history with JR as well as a knack for bringing out the best in players, he also has a reputation as being one who frowns upon outspoken or colourful players.

He'd prefer they share little insight and let their play do the talking, which is something Roenick -- the NHL's most colourful and quotable player -- has done the opposite of the last few years.

"It doesn't matter what anybody thinks," said Sutter of such a label.

"Ultimately that's why I'm able to reconnect with players -- they can do whatever they want as long as they lay it on the line. In the past, that was the problem with the organization: Too many guys that were really popular with the media, it didn't matter how they performed."

Sutter confirmed yesterday he is close to signing recently acquired restricted free agent Alex Tanguay -- his No. 1 priority -- to a long-term contract, which is why his offer to Roenick wasn't flexible.

Coyotes GM Mike Barnett said Roenick could make as much as $1.5 million with incentives and was signed to add character and maybe even some goals to the club for whom he played from 1996 to 2001.

"His popularity here isn't the reason we brought him back, it's the pride," said Barnett of the 484-goal scorer.

"He's driving back to the level he played at earlier and he has convinced us he's not just talking the talk. I'm sure playing in Canada, as he stated, was intriguing but being able to live under one roof with his family has got to be above and beyond every other consideration if all things are equal."

Sutter agrees, making his offer to an old pal a deal he can live without.


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