CHICAGO -- Instead of answering questions about the Western Conference final, Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock had to defend himself against comments from Jeremy Roenick upon arriving in Chicago.
Roenick, the former Blackhawk who played for San Jose this season, said on a morning radio show in the city Babcock dislikes American-born players and has a vendetta against Wings defenceman Chris Chelios.
"The whole key to that statement is 'J.R. said' " Babcock replied. "Anything else?"
Roenick was on The Monsters in the Morning in Chicago and said Chelios isn't playing in the series because Babcock "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 went on to say: "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."
He also said: "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 defencemen 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 spent nearly nine full seasons in Chicago. The 47-year-old defenceman played the first four games of Detroit's series with Anaheim, but hasn't skated in the series against Chicago, which resumes tonight.
Babcock pointed out two of his children are American (he's lived in the U.S. for 16 years) and has American-born players on the team flourishing.
Asked whether he had a good relationship with Chelios, he replied: "You should ask Chris. It doesn't matter what I think. All players who aren't playing, I don't think anybody is doing cartwheels over that, but I think Cheli and I have a good relationship. I hold him in high regard and he's an important part of our team and 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 a really important guy for us. I don't know what else needs to be said."
Chelios wasn't available to the media upon arriving in Chicago, but told the Detroit Free Press: "How does J.R. know anything? Is he playing?
"The last time I talked to J.R. was a few weeks ago, and it was about his charity pool party in Vegas.
"I don't know what J.R. is talking about."