Hate to be a killjoy here, but can anyone explain why it took the New York Rangers 45 years to decide to retire Andy Bathgate’s number and fewer than eight to retire Adam Graves’ digit?
After all, they both wore the same number with the Rangers – No. 9.
Geez, if you were a conspiracy theorist, you’d almost be tempted to think the Rangers were intent on retiring Graves’ number, then decided they had to do the same for Bathgate because they knew there would be all sorts of outrage if they didn’t.
Actually, the Rangers wanted to complete the circle that was the magical team of 1994. Graves was certainly worthy of the honor, most of all because he is truly a special and sincere person. He connected with the fan base and community in a way that transcended anything he did on the ice. There wasn’t a charity with which he wouldn’t involve himself and he was a special Ranger figure on and off the ice.
It’s nice to see the Rangers will do the same thing with Bathgate and Harry Howell (No. 3) in a couple of weeks, but what were they waiting for?
Look at Bathgate’s and Graves’ careers in The Big Apple. As one of the only legitimate stars on an otherwise moribund outfit, Bathgate played a little more than nine full seasons with the Rangers, years that were the foundation of a Hall of Fame career. He won the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP once and was better than a point-per-game player seven of the nine full seasons he played with the Rangers. He was a first-team all-star twice and a second-teamer twice.
(Of course, you have to keep in mind it was statistically easier to become an all-star when there were six teams. But practically speaking, Bathgate also had to go up against Gordie Howe and ‘Rocket’ Richard many of those years.)
Graves, on the other hand, had a couple of outstanding seasons sandwiched around a bunch of decent ones. With the exception of a couple of seasons, he was essentially a third-line player – albeit one who was a pivotal figure in bringing New York its first Stanley Cup in 54 years.
But Graves never scored at a point-per-game pace for the Rangers during his 10-season career there, even when he scored 52 goals. He won no major trophies – sorry, but the Masterton and King Clancy don’t count – and was a second-team all-star once.
In a place like Montreal, that and a buck might get you a cup of coffee.
Actually, you could argue the Rangers have done a good job of honoring the likes of Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter and Graves, but they have also given some of their former stars the short shrift.
You could easily make the case that, based on their achievements as Rangers, Bill Cook (No. 5), Frank Boucher (No. 7), Jean Ratelle (No. 19) and Brad Park (who wore No. 2 before Leetch did) deserve to be in the rafters of Madison Square Garden along with Ed Giacomin (No. 1) and Rod Gilbert (No. 7).
LEARNING ON THE JOB
Still with the Rangers, it was interesting to see Messier once again declare that he wants to “chip in” with the Rangers’ hockey department.
Sounds great, but will he drive through a snowstorm to get to a junior game in Chicoutimi?
What a lot of these star players who made mind-boggling amounts of money over the courses of their careers have come to realize is that in order to succeed on the other side of the hockey business, they have to work as hard, in some cases harder, than they did as players. Many of them have learned very quickly that you can’t “dabble” in these sorts of pursuits.
Superstar players from Brett Hull to Joe Nieuwendyk to Steve Yzerman are learning how difficult and time consuming it is to work in the hockey business. In fact, there are those close to Yzerman who insist he still hasn’t completely made up his mind on whether he wants to pursue a career as a GM in the NHL. Part of the reason is it would almost certainly involve him uprooting his family from the Detroit area.
HAWKS A BOON
It’s impossible to argue with the numbers, but if I’m Gary Bettman, I’m not so quick to crow about the NHL’s attendance numbers.
Bettman told a group of Toronto businessmen Tuesday that, “This will be our fourth consecutive year of record revenue growth and, because our attendance historically increases month by month, 2008-09 also likely will be our fourth consecutive season of record attendance.”
According to ESPN.com, attendance is indeed up this season to an average of 17,336 per game to this point, compared to 17,308 after last season. Much of that has to do with the Chicago Blackhawks, whose per-game figures are up almost 5,700 from a year ago. The fact is, attendance is down in exactly the same number of markets in which it is up – with an even 15-15 split.
A little more ominous, though, was hours after Bettman spoke, the New York Islanders had an “announced” attendance of 9,808, meaning there were probably closer to 6,000 people in the building. New Jersey drew just 14,018 for the hottest team in the league in a game that featured Alex Ovechkin. Nashville had an announced crowd of 13,195, a Columbus team in the thick of a playoff race had just 13,560 spectators and a Dallas team that was riding a four-game winning streak drew more than 2,000 short of capacity.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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