Murray grins as he tells the story. "JR makes me laugh," he says. "I heard his statements during the summer and I see it as entertainment." A fan website has run a guess-the-date contest for the first public spat between a pair that seems as mismatched as Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett, and such a spat is a distinct possibility considering the sometimes fractious relationship Roenick had in Philadelphia with coach Ken Hitchcock, who is basically Murray with a saltier vocabulary. There has been no winning entry yet. And there won't be, Roenick says, as long as the coach treats him with respect.
Amid the outrageousness and verbiage--with Brett Hull's retirement, Roenick indisputably is the NHL's Lord of the Gadflies--it is easy to forget that look-at-me JR really isn't all about JR. He thinks about his fans, his team, his league and his game as much as himself. There is substance to Styles, who makes veteran moves even off the ice. He treated everyone to dinner on the first road trip; instead of taking a single room, as is the right of a player who has played at least 600 NHL games, Roenick asked to bunk with promising young forward, Michael Cammalleri. He invited rookie George Parros to move out of a hotel and into his apartment overlooking the Strand in Manhattan Beach, where Roenick takes 5 p.m. walks in the sand and writes poems like The Shore: The sound of the ocean can calm all my fears/The sight of the sunset can bring me to tears.
O.K., he is jr and not e.e. cummings. But Roenick is nothing if not uninhibited in his new hometown. During a "strip shootout" at a practice last month, he kept missing the net and removing pieces of clothing and equipment. "I'm not sure whether JR wanted the attention or just wasn't scoring that day," Cammalleri says. "The guys guessed he just wanted to get down to his jockstrap."
"Every player you play against, you have an assumption," Kings captain Mattias Norstrom says. "My picture of JR was of a self-centered guy. What a pleasant surprise. When he gets to the rink, it's business. It's about being a team, and he always puts that above his own opinions."
For Roenick, who at week's end had 478 career goals, this might be his last chance to win hearts and change minds. He could be a King for a year; he's in the last season of the contract L.A. inherited from the Flyers. ( Philadelphia traded him to create cap space to sign Peter Forsberg.) Though Roenick is undecided about whether he'll return for a 17th NHL season, he says he won't play another year merely to pass Joe Mullen's mark of 502 NHL goals by an American. "I'm not going to jeopardize my health for three goals or whatever," says Roenick, who has had, by his count, 11 concussions.
Roenick has options, of course. If you are the world's only hockey-playing celebrity, life is lousy with TV possibilities, movie scripts and whatever else filters to the famous. "I'm going to be in front of a camera somewhere," Roenick says on the way back to Manhattan Beach. "Without question." He then jerks his Porsche left, into the fast lane.