The Death Of The Jersey Retirement

February 23, 2009 by Tyler  
Filed under Hockey Columns

rangers-graves-jerseyThe 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).


8 Comments on "The Death Of The Jersey Retirement"

  1. The Tuesday Love Fest at The Love of Sports on Tue, 24th Feb 2009 8:00 am 

    [...] The Death of Jersey Retirement in the NHL. [NHL Digest] [...]

  2. Dana Fosburgh on Tue, 24th Feb 2009 9:40 am 

    It’s not an “or” thing. It’s an “and” thing. While I think the NHL needs to standardize the “order” in which they retire particular sweaters, I think they get it right, for the most part, other than that.

    I think it needs to be something more than just…well, he won a cup, or he scored twice as many goals as another guy, or he was the most popular guy on the team, or he put up great numbers.

    It needs to be…he played x amount of years for a team AND he put up great numbers AND he was popular on AND off the ice AND he won a cup AND he was a leader, etc.


  3. Kyle on Tue, 24th Feb 2009 9:54 am 

    Nice work Tyler! And you make a great point.

    It becomes a very slippery slope when a team makes an exception for a guy because the community liked him. As you mentioned, the danger then becomes that half of the guys who played in the league and had a fair career will be eligible to have their jerseys retired.

    To me, some of this, especially in the case of the Glen Wesley is to help drive ticket sales. I don’t know if the Hurricanes held any special promotions to help sell the event, but I have to imagine that the answer is yes. It smacks of more of a cash-grab than honoring a distinguished player. After all, Glen Wesley was a good, not great blueliner.

    All this being said, I have more leniency for teams doing what they need to do to drive enthusiasm in their respective communities and establish a “tradition” or “standard” or “legacy” or whatever you want to call it. Where I HATE seeing this sort of mediocrity being honored is in the Hall of Fame. As a local radio host here in Montreal always maintains: the HOF is for the best of the best. It’s the Hall of FAME, not the Hall of the very good. I think we’ve seen some guys get in that are worth rethinking: Bob Pulford, Dick Duff, Rod Langway, yes, even Scott Stevens and Bernie Federko. These guys were all excellent NHLers. But I don’t think they were ever the best of the best.

  4. Jamie Favreau on Tue, 24th Feb 2009 11:10 pm 

    I know in Detroit you need to be a really “special” player to get your jersey retired. They even have someone that didn’t meet Illitch standards from the old time that didn’t get his jersey re retired by the Illitch’s. I forget who it was off hand it has been a long day.

    You basically have to be a Hall of Famer to get your jersey retired in Detroit.

  5. Chris Nadeau on Wed, 25th Feb 2009 7:58 am 

    Great article and great comments thus far by Dana, Kyle and Jamie.

    Overall I think the NHL and the teams do a decent job of retiring jerseys. I am not so sure it would be a good idea to have a league standard for retiring jerseys. The reason being is the teams all have their own criteria and that may vary from team to team. Maybe I guy wins 4 cups for a team, maybe he starts a foundation for children and puts up some decent numbers, maybe someone passes away at an early stage in their career. Who knows, but what we should do is trust their reasoning. We as fans will never “really” know what each individual meant to a team/community during a certain period. So I say, if they think they jersey should be retired, let them retire it and celebrate the good the individual did for their team during their tenure.

    Here is the list of retired numbers in the NHL

    All quality individuals in some way, shape or form.

    Once again great article and thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  6. ogie on Wed, 25th Feb 2009 3:25 pm 

    Peoople need to realize one thing about the Graves’ jersey being retired. It really has nothing to do with his on ice career. He is being honored for his work in the community, with charities and his availability and kindness to the fans of the New York Rangers. The into to his ceremony showed him walking down a hallway lined with fans, and kids from the multiple charities he has worked for. there was probably a hundred people or so, multiply that by 10000 and you have the number of people that Graves has helped off the ice.

  7. Have number retirement ceremonies become an absolute joke? | Lancilo on Sun, 1st Mar 2009 4:01 am 

    [...] sort of minimum standard for a number to hang from the rafters forever, never to be worn again, as Tyler from NHL Digest questioned: While it is certainly wishful thinking to believe that a set criteria would be agreed [...]

  8. Condenser Dryer on Tue, 21st Dec 2010 1:51 pm 

    when i do get my retirement, i would really love to relax near the beach and enjoy a home on a tropical country ‘.;

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