Last time around, we covered five somewhat surprising players who’ve yet to have their numbers retired by the team (or teams) they’d starred with. That led to plenty of debate over who was deserving and who wasn’t, and what sort of standards teams should use to determine who gets to see their number go up to the rafters.
But I also heard from plenty of fans who wanted to make the case for players that their own teams hadn’t honored yet. For a few of those. I was stunned to find out that a particular franchise hadn’t honored a star player years ago. I had to go and double-check that, yes, these guys are still waiting.
So today, let’s go back to the well for a look at five more players whose numbers haven’t been raised yet, but maybe should have been.
Peter Bondra – Washington Capitals
Bondra was the name that came up most often from readers reacting to the original post, and I’ll be honest: I’d always assumed his number had already been honored. After all, surely a member of the 500-goal club who scored almost all of those with Washington would be an obvious choice.
But apparently not, because Bondra is still waiting. He certainly has the qualifications, trailing only Alex Ovechkin in franchise history in both goals and points, while also ranking second in games played. No, he never won a Stanley Cup, but neither has anyone else in Capitals history, so we won’t hold that against him.
The Capitals have only retired four numbers in their 43 seasons, and it’s a weird mix. There’s Mike Gartner, which you’d expect given he had 700 goals in his career (although Bondra has better numbers as a Capital). There’s Rod Langway, a Hall of Famer and two-time Norris winner, and that makes sense, too. There’s Dale Hunter, a very good player who fans loved.
And then there’s Yvon Labre, who you may not even have ever heard of. He was a defenseman who played seven seasons for the Capitals back in the bad old days when the team was awful, including two as team captain. By all accounts he’s a great guy in the community and he’s remained with the team in various roles over the years, but in hindsight the decision to retire his #7 back in 1981 seems like an odd one.
Clearly, the bar here has to be a little higher than just being better than Yvon Labre, but the Capitals’ recent reluctance – they haven’t honored anyone at all since 2008 – seems like an over-correction. There’s a good case to be made for Olaf Kolzig, too, but Bondra’s been waiting for years and seems like the guy who should be first in line.
Eric Lindros – Philadelphia Flyers
Last week we highlighted Anaheim’s Paul Kariya and Detroit’s Sergei Fedorov, two star players with good cases for being honored but who have difficult relationships with their old teams. Lindros is another former star who fits that description.
On the surface, he should be an easy call. He’s a Hall of Famer and former Hart Trophy winner who posted some of the best individual seasons in Flyers history before injuries derailed his career. There are plenty of numbers hanging in arenas around the league that belonged to players who were nowhere near as good as Peak Lindros.
But of course, that’s only part of the story, and to say things ended badly between Lindros and the Flyers would be an understatement. His falling out with the team (and Bobby Clark in particular) was ugly and very public, and was a big part of his complicated NHL legacy. By the end, he was refusing to play for the team and sitting out a full season to force a trade, and it seemed like this could be one feud where burying the hatchet just wasn’t possible.
But fortunately, time has healed at least a few old wounds, and Lindros and the Flyers have been repairing the relationship over recent years. He’s represented the team at alumni games, and Clarke went to bat for his Hall of Fame candidacy. The Flyers don’t retire many numbers – just five in total, plus an unofficial honor for Pelle Lindbergh – but this one is going to happen. It just a question of when, and the answer will probably be “soon.”
(Now about Ron Hextall…)
Dave Andreychuk – Buffalo Sabres
Andreychuk stuck around the league so long that it’s easy to forget that his career began with over a decade in Buffalo. But despite playing for 13 years after the Sabres traded him to Toronto back in 1993, his 837 games in Buffalo ranks sixth in franchise history. More importantly, he ranks third in goals and second in assists and points on the team’s all-time list. He even returned to the team for a season in 2000. For most teams, all that would be more than enough to get you a spot in the rafters.
Maybe it still will for Andreychuk, who finally got his Hall of Fame call this year. The Sabres couldn’t have been waiting for that – they’ve already retired the numbers of three players who didn’t make the HHOF – but it could help his case. Meanwhile, everyone from Vaclav Varada to Mike Grier to Mikhail Grigorenko has been assigned Andreychuk’s No. 25 in the years since he first left.
Speaking of the Sabres, you could also make a solid argument for Alexander Mogilny, whose 76 goals in 1992-93 ties him for the fifth best single-season output of all-time. Mogilny only lasted six seasons in Buffalo, and for most teams that wouldn’t be enough. But Pat LaFontaine only played six seasons in Buffalo too, and he only stayed healthy for two of those. He was honored by the team in 2006, so Mogilny’s better numbers at least give him a case.
And yes, that means LaFontaine has been honored by the Sabres, for whom he played 268 games, but not the Islanders, for whom he played 530 while ranking in the top six for franchise goals and points. But the Islanders may have an excuse – no player who wasn’t part of the early 80s Cup dynasty has ever had his number retired by the team.
Pretty much anyone from the 80s, 90s and 00s – Chicago Blackhawks
When it comes to retiring numbers, Original Six teams are tricky. As we covered with the Canadiens and Red Wings last time, having up to a century of history is going to make the choices a bit tougher, and most Original Six teams tend to be stingy.
Chicago certainly fits that bill, having retired just seven numbers. Six of those are Hall of Famers, and former player and coach Keith Magnuson was included five years after he was killed in a car accident. That honor was shared with fellow No. 3 Pierre Pilote, and is the only retirement ceremony Hawks fans have seen this century.
Presumably, there are a few players on the current roster who’ll join that group someday – after all, this is a team that apparently features three of the 100 greatest players in NHL history. But there’s still a notable gap in the team’s history, with only Denis Savard having been honored among players who appeared for the franchise after 1984.
That’s over a quarter century that’s been all but ignored, including decent candidates like Doug Wilson and Jeremy Roenick. Maybe most glaringly, it also excludes Steve Larmer, who ranks in the franchise’s all-time top five for goals, assists and points. He was also considered one of the game’s better two-way forwards, not to mention his 11-season ironman streak.
It’s clear the Blackhawks are being picky here; remember, they somehow made Pilote wait 40 years. Larmer, Roenick and Wilson have all been eligible for the Hall of Fame for years with no luck, so maybe they just call into the “close but no cigar” category. There’s something to be said for making the rafters and exclusive club.
We’ll see if Jonathan Toews and friends have any more luck in another decade or two. In the meantime, young Blackhawks fans will be left to assume that for several decades, this franchise was Denis Savard and that’s about it.
Theo Fleury – Calgary Flames
The Flames are a bit of a tricky case. They’ve only officially retired two numbers – No. 9 for Lanny McDonald, and No. 30 for Mike Vernon, both of which will never be worn again. But more recently, the franchise has switched over to a policy of honoring numbers while keeping them in circulation, which is the honor bestowed on Joe Nieuwendyk’s No. 25 and Al MacInnis’s No. 2. Expect that change to become a point of debate the moment Jarome Iginla hangs them up.
But as far as Fleury goes, it’s a distinction without a difference, because the franchise hasn’t seen fit to give his No. 14 either treatment. That’s despite him being ranking second all-time in franchise history for goals and points (behind Iginla in each case), third in assists, fourth in games played, and even fifth in penalty minutes. He was a part of the franchise’s only Cup win back in 1989, is responsible for some of the biggest moments in team history, and stands as one of the most popular players to ever wear the uniform.
So why isn’t his number already hanging in Calgary? It’s hard to say. It’s not a case of waiting your turn, since Fleury’s NHL career (not counting an aborted training camp comeback attempt in 2009) ended well before Nieuwendyk’s. It can’t be about needing him to make the Hockey Hall of Fame first, since Vernon isn’t there. You’d hope it doesn’t have to do with his personal demons, since by all accounts he’s been winning those battles. And it’s not even as if the team doesn’t think he’s deserving – no player has been assigned Fleury’s number since he was traded way back in 1999.
His case sure seems like a slam dunk, as more than a few other have pointed out. Here’s hoping the Flames make it happen sooner than later.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008; you may know him from Twitter as @downgoesbrown. His e-book, The 100 Greatest Players in NHL History, is available now. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.