In 2006, Cheechoo’s stats were staggering, every bit as impressive as the likes of Crosby and Ovechkin. He won the Rocket Richard Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s annual goal-scoring leader. He led the NHL in game-winning goals (11 — Sharks record), home ice goals (31) and divisional goals (29) and T-2nd in power play goals (24 — Sharks record). He was the first player to record five or more hat tricks in one season since Mario Lemieux had six in 1995-96… Set the Sharks franchise record for game-winning goals in a season. He broke Owen Nolan’s team mark for most shots in a single season (317).
Within 2 years, his game eroded horribly. 4 years later, he’s out of the NHL. Everyone knows the tale of his fallen star. No one knows exactly why it fell.
After a disastrous run here in Ottawa, San Jose, the team he started with, took a chance he still had something left in the tank this season. The rest of the hockey world believed it was over. He wasn’t a quick skater to start with and double hernia surgery cost him half a step he didn’t have to give.
The Sharks gave him a chance with Worcester of the AHL, hoping he could find at least a little of his 2006 magic. At the very least, they gave him a chance to resdiscover his love of hockey again after his brutal experience in Ottawa. The Sens quickly soured on Cheechoo, demoting him to third and fourth line play. To be sure, Cheechoo wasn’t producing at all. Once he was relegated to bottom six forward minutes, his chances of reclaiming his scoring touch were nil.
But this was a guy three years removed from a Rocket Richard win. By comparison, Alexei Kovalev has never come close to winning that award. Kovalev has been disinterested and/or unproductive. Yet, unlike Cheechoo, the Senators continually give Kovalev nothing but patience, top line minutes and power play time. It must be frustrating for Cheechoo, one of the nicest guys in the game, to see that.
The good news is, there appears to be life out there for Cheechoo. He is forcing the Sharks take notice in the AHL this season, now 4th in league scoring with 11 goals and 30 points in 28 games.
Sharks GM Doug Wilson had this to say to the San Jose Mercury News on Saturday, criticizing the Senators in the process. “I think he just needs to play and enjoy the game of hockey. The last couple of years, I think, were difficult. Personally, I think he was treated unfairly in Ottawa. Sometimes you have to put a person in a role to succeed and give him a chance.
“He’s getting the chance in Worcester. He’s helping our team win games. He’s helping the young guys realize you play the game because you love it. He’s a positive experience for us. Can he get it back? We’ll see. Time will tell.”
Cheechoo is only 30. Anyone who hangs around the top of the AHL scoring race eventually gets a chance somewhere, especially if they have Cheechoo's track record. In any event, it's impossible not to root for Cheechoo and his wife Ashley (who works with kids with autism). Couldn't find two nicer people.
If he does get back, I'd immediately put him on a line with Devin Setoguchi (Gooch) and Logan Couture (Cooch). The world NEEDS Gooch, Cheech and Cooch to play together. Behold, the legendary Goo-Chee-Coo line.