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Dave's Thoughts on Jersey Retirements


Dave's Thoughts on Jersey Retirements

David R. Smith

I don't know how this blog is going to shape up. I know what I want to say, I just don't know when I'm going to get to the points I came here to make. This is one of those days where I'm just going to type and eventually I'll get everything I need to say across. Then I'll end the blog when it's done. That's how this usually works, right?

A few years ago, I was privileged to write for Book of Loob's website before he let it lapse and just elected to stick to Twittering. I only wrote one article, but I still got to write for him. It was fun and I think it was good. I enjoyed re-reading it.

As it was a Calgary Flames blog site, I wrote about who I thought should be the next person to have his jersey retired in Calgary. Now; that article is moot, partially because the site is defunct but mostly because the Flames have this stupid Forever A Flame program. What this basically means is that key players to have come through the franchise and have done spectacular, noteworthy things for the organization can have their numbers "honoured" but not retired. This means that players coming through could technically wear these honoured numbers (such as 2, 14 and 25 - if you don't know these Flames numbers... do your research) but couldn't wear 9 or 30, as they have officially been retired.

I have many issues with this program. But it's all been written about both here and here so I'm not going to get into any more of it. 

Except this: I understand that you can't retire every jersey for players who have done decent things for your team. And when you have a storied franchise like the Maple Leafs or the Canadiens, eventually there are going to be too many players who are considered great. It's hard to keep jersey retirements going. (The New York Yankees, for example, don't have any numbers remaining in the single digits. Literally every number from 1-9 has been retired.) But I think if you have players such as Al MacInnis*, Theo Fleury, Jarome Iginla or Joe Nieuwendyk who have done incredible things for your team, you should appreciate them and show them that. Give them the honour of retiring their jersey. If you retired those 4 jerseys (and maybe Kipper's) you would still have 91 numbers to choose from for your players. That's enough to pick from. Trust me. 

Now, if you have followed my math, you'll see that I mentioned 2 already retired numbers, as well as 5 other players who I feel should have their numbers in the rafters. 91+7=98. Wait. What?

Well now we get to what I really wanted to write about.

This is going to get controversial.

/deep breath

In my opinion, Wayne Gretzky's jersey should not be retired league-wide. 

There. I said it. I'm not even sorry.

I was watching the Flames-Oilers snooze fest last weekend. Connor McDavid was absent because he's injured. But I got to thinking about his number. Connor McDavid wears 97 because he was born in 1997 (man, that makes me feel old.) This has been a trend that has been going on for a while, now. Sidney Crosby wears 87 for the same reason. As I was thinking about this, I thought "in 2 years time, nobody is going to be able to wear 99 because the league has retired Gretzky's number throughout.)

Now; I'm not sure anybody would wear 99 for any team out of respect for one of the greatest players to ever play the game. Although; many players wear 9 because of Gordie Howe and 4 because of Bobby Orr because they loved these players and want to honour them. But I digress.

The NHL, in its infinite wisdom, decided that because he set a lot of records, Wayne Gretzky's number should never be worn again.

And I don't get that. 

Do you know what other league has a number retired league-wide?

Major League Baseball.

Do you know what number?


Do you know whose number that is?

Jackie Robinson. 

Do you know why he's important enough to have HIS number retired league-wide?

Because he broke the f*****g colour barrier!

Nothing against Wayne Gretzky - the man was an incredible hockey player. But forgive me if I don't think his achievements are worthy of having his number retired in the entire league. What did he ever do for the teams he didn't play for (besides embarrass them with his skill?)

I get that he's the Great One. I get that nobody played on his level before (although, before we had the Gretz, we had Gordie Howe - he was pretty good, why is HIS number not retired?) and I know most of his records will never be broken. But I'm sorry; what sort of pain and anguish did he go through, compared to Robinson? Did Wayne have to deal with threatening letters? Did his teammates try to refuse to play with him because of his colour, despite his skill? Hell no. 

Look; I appreciate his skill. But how is it, that he's the only one among the 4 major professional sports whose number is retired due purely to his skill? Why isn't MJ's retired in the NBA? Or Joe Montana's retired in the NFL? I don't get it.

I'm not the world's biggest Gretzky fan. I've gotten into many debates about who the greatest player of all time is, and I always side with Bobby Orr. But comparing a defenceman to a forward in two different eras of the game is the same as comparing a wide receiver to a quarterback. Records mean sweet eff all when you have a guy who is predominantly on the blue line...


As I said; I'm not the biggest fan of Wayne, but I appreciate him as a player. Even if he was my all-time favourite player, I would argue that I don't think he deserves to have his number retired in the league. It just doesn't make sense to me.

But that's my opinion. And I am certain I am asking for a fair amount of vitriol with my statement. But that's the beauty about topics such as this; I can speak my mind and others can tell me they think I'm wrong.

I'm not. But they can try to tell me.

So if you're one of those people who thinks he should be in the rafters of every rink, tell me. And tell me why. I'm certainly willing to hear all arguments. But trust me when I say this is something I've been thinking about since they first did it so it's unlikely you'll change my mind.

Happy Monday, friends!

D (@davidronn)

P.S. I am well aware that nothing is going to change. His number is retired in the league, it's done. It's not like they're going to un-retire it. I just wanted my opinion on the record...

*I would like to point out that Al MacInnis played fewer seasons in St. Louis, was not integral in them winning a Stanley Cup and didn't win the Conn Smythe trophy with them while there and yet they've still retired his number AND built a statue of him outside their rink...

...and Calgary has "honoured" his number. Awesome.