The Death Of The Jersey Retirement
The current NHL season has certainly had its fair share of special events with the 100th Anniversary of the Montreal Canadiens, the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field in Chicago, and various teams honoring former players by retiring their jersey number. The jersey retirement has been known to be a great honor bestowed upon a former player for their contribution to the franchise over the course of their career.
What has recently become disturbing to many hockey fans is the manner in which certain players have been chosen to have their jersey retired. Unlike many other honors in the game, the retirement of a jersey has no standard set of league wide criteria that are required to be met in order for a player to receive the honor.
What Are the Minimum Standards?
While it is certainly wishful thinking to believe that a set criteria would be agreed upon league-wide, there is an expectation by fans that franchises should be responsible in their selections of players to honor. Just as with the selections for the Hockey Hall of Fame, there are players whose accomplishments are (at least statistically) greater than some of those players who have been honored.
The Carolina Hurricanes honored Glen Wesley – Yes, they retired the number of Glen Wesley [apparently] using the ideology that tenure, being a good guy, and one Stanley Cup ring is good enough to hang a slightly above average defenseman’s jersey next to that of Ron Francis, the NHL’s 4th leading scorer of all time.
The New York Rangers used this season to honor Adam Graves, a one-time 50 goal scorer who had a decent tenure with the Rangers and suited up for the 1994 Stanley Cup winning team. What baffles the minds of many hockey historians is that the jersey of legendary Rangers Brad Park has yet to be lifted to the rafters at Madison Square Garden, while the jersey of Andy Bathgate was finally honored several weeks after Graves’ ceremony.
Logic And Rationale
If we argue that the main reason for Graves’ jersey retirement was his 52 Goal season in 1994, helping to bring the Stanley Cup to New York, then Sergei Zubov’s Jersey should have been retired long before Graves was honored. Zubov led the 1994 Rangers on both regular season and playoff scoring while quarterbacking the Rangers potent powerplay.
Simply put, without Zubov there is no Stanley Cup in New York in 1994. Zubov, a defenseman, also managed to score nearly twice as many points per game than Graves did as a Ranger and also has more career Stanley Cups than Graves (Zubov earned one more in 1999 with the Dallas Stars).
If we argue that Graves had a long tenure with the Rangers and that he was loved by fans, we must be prepared for an onslaught of Jersey retirements from every team who had a player suit up with the franchise for a decade (See Glen Wesley). Furthermore, if we combine the statistics of having a long tenure with the same team and winning a Stanley Cup, there are still several players who fit the bill. Most notable in this list is Mats Naslund.
Mats Naslund led the 1986 Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens in both regular season and playoff scoring and played the overwhelming majority of his NHL career with Montreal. This leads us to the question of whether playing for a franchise with more Stanley Cup victories is a detriment to having ones jersey retired?
For instance, by New York’s [apparent] standards, Naslund would have his jersey raised to the rafters. However, I don’t think that anyone in the Canadiens organization would dream of honoring Mats Naslund before a legend such as Elmer Lach has been recognized.
Leveraging the Retirement of Jerseys
It is unlikely that the majority of hockey fans have a problem with teams wanting to celebrate their former players and create more history for the franchise. However, it almost seems as though some teams are using the retirement ceremonies as a way to spike ticket sales more than to truly honor the commitment of a great hockey player.
Yes, I realize that there are more criteria than just statistics, trophies and records that can be used to determine the value of a player to the organization. However, without any basic criteria teams may eventually find more ways than not to draw in a crowd for special game featuring the jersey retirement of (Insert name here).