The Canadiens recently announced that two more jersey numbers will
be retired and raised to the rafters for all eternity; Larry “Big Bird”
Robinson’s #19 and Bob “Bo” Gainey’s #23.
This will bring a total of 13 jersey numbers retired by the legendary
Canadiens hockey club, honouring 14 legends of the game.
This is the first jersey retirement celebration that has been announced
in the NHL for the 07/08 season, but unfortunately, more will follow.
Jersey retirement celebrations have been flat out abused in the NHL in
the last few seasons and now mainly consists of marketing ploys
called “special nights” to draw more attention to the team and the gate
Lost in all of this selfishness is what it truely means to have your
number retired by an NHL team, and still know that it is deserved. This has
not been the case in the last few years and it is time the NHL steps in
and takes control of this process before it turns into more of a cash
grab then it already is.
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m all for players being immortalized in the
rafters of the team(s) they played for, but only if they are indeed
deserving of such an honour.
From 2006 through to 2007 there have been 17 jersey numbers retired
around the league (including the recent Robinson and Gainey
announcements) and no less then 13 of those are undeserving, possibly
The entire idea behind hanging the numbers of players in the rafters
and taking the number out of team circulation is because that player
was so special that they can never be replaced (hence the jersey
number) and the hall of fame just isn’t enough of an honor for
everything they accomplished.
To me, this is a player that is the greatest of all time (at that point of
history) like Howe, Orr, Gretzky, Lemieux, and yes, even Patrick Roy; or
a player that completely changed the way the game is played while
putting a hall of fame career together like Plante and his mask,
Geoffrion and the one-timer, Mikita and curved stick blades, Gainey and
introducing the 2-way forward position. An arguement could be made
for the best players of all time at thier positions as well, but why split
hairs at this point.
In 2006 St.Louis retired the jersey numbers of Brett Hull and Al
MacInnis. Both players were perennial allstars, always among the
leagues leading scorers, and leaders for any team they played for.
Taking a quick look at thier accomplishments, they both are very
deserving of being inducted into the hockey hall of fame, but thats as far
as it should go.
There are many other examples out there (Montreal included) that don’t
cut the mustard, but the most glaring and almost farcical is that of
Calgary’s Mike Vernon in 2006. Vernon isn’t worthy of being inducted
into the hall of fame (and for good reason ) and yet he has his number
immortalized by the Flames. Vernon’s career numbers are at best
average, and won only one Stanley Cup and a second team allstar
appearance while playing for the Flames. Vernon also has a very bland
career goals against average of 2.98, and a save percentage of .890.
These numbers would be considered terrible today and only average for
his era. All these statistics include having his best years on a
powerhouse Detroit Red Wings team for three seasons in the mid 90’s. Is
the reason he had his number retired all because he won one Stanley
cup in Calgary?
Nope, It is likely a marketing ploy or a “keeping up with the Jones’ ”
situation; either way it is extremely unacceptable. These self serving
moves by NHL teams only cheapens the experience for the truely
deserving players when they can see a guy like Mike Vernon had his number
retired for being average.
If an NHL team can’t come up with a legitamate candidate for
jersey retirement, then stop looking right there. Don’t, for any reason,
make it less meaningful to the past icons of the game that did earn it .