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Unretiring Numbers

That ain't right.

Last night, the Detroit Free Press’ Jamie Samuelsen posted an entry on his blog, that – in short – examines whether numbers should be unretired as a method for honoring those players who have meant so much to an organization. The Red Wings have a handful of sweater numbers hanging in Joe Louis’ rafters – players whose digits may never be worn again because there’s simply no way anyone could ever live up to Steve Yzerman’s #19 or Gordie Howe’s #9. You can go ahead and add Nicklas Lidstrom’s #5 to the ceiling, since no one will dare ask for it anytime soon.

Joining 19 and 9, are Terry Sawchuk’s #1, Ted Lindsay’s #7, Alex Delvecchio’s #10, and Sid Abel’s #12. Although not officially retired, no one wears Larry Aurie’s #6 or Vladimir Konstantinov’s #16. That’s a lot of numbers – a lot of low numbers – that are out of circulation and forcing newcomers to pick (or stick with) sweater numbers in the 20’s, 40’s, and even 50’s.

I understand both sides of the argument. On one hand, these players’ contributions need to be honored and jersey retirement (at least, in Detroit) isn’t something taken lightly. All of the men listed above were extraordinarily valuable to the Red Wings, to Detroit, and to the game of hockey. Sawchuk is legitimately a top-five goaltender all-time, Howe is legitimately a top-two hockey player all-time, Lindsay is one of the most important figures in hockey history, Delvecchio played over 1500 games (all of them for the Red Wings) before stepping behind the bench, Abel was the third member of the fame Production Line that this space is named after, Yzerman may as well have been the second coming when he came to Hockeytown at a time when he was needed most.

Aurie and Konstantinov are two men whose contributions were cut short – the former’s broken leg didn’t allow him to regain the form that made him a fan (and organization) favorite, the latter’s devastating limo accident three days after the 1997 Stanley Cup victory has served as an inspiration for 15 years.

Samuelsen offers the following:

If a Red Wing player wears the No. 9 for a game or for a season, maybe it is a chance to honor Gordie Howe once again.

Maybe that’s true. Or maybe it’s being said right now because two of the guys near the top of the Wings’ wish list wear numbers that wouldn’t be available to them. Zach Parise, the Devils captain has worn #9 since breaking into the NHL; and Justin Schultz, the Wisconsin defenseman who is very unlikely to sign with the Ducks, has helped to make #6 famous in Madison. Would a uniform number be a deal breaker for either of these gentlemen? I can’t speak for them, but decisions have been made based on even less in this league, so who knows.

With sixty percent of the first 10 digits unavailable for newcomers, Brendan Smith rocking #2, Jakub Kindl in #4, and Justin Abdelkader wearing #8, one of those guys would have to settle for #3… or else they’re going to be in something like #28 (which has pretty much been assigned to Tomas Jurco) or #36 (last worn by Jordan Pearce).

Obviously, there’s a lot of speculation going on here. But is taking numbers that have been retired out of circulation wise for a team like the Red Wings? The Maple Leafs “honor” numbers, allowing current players to wear them while also hanging them in the rafters. Is that where we’re heading in Detroit – or will they honor their history with the finality of never allowing another to wear what has been so proudly and deftly worn in the past?

I’ll leave the answer to you. Is Samuelsen onto something… or is this a political play at a time during which the Wings will be fighting and clawing for both of these young potential superstars?

6 thoughts on “Unretiring Numbers”

  1. The only way you could honor one of those players is by them making monumental contributions to the team. To wear #19, you would have to be the driving factor in lifting the Red Wings out of mediocrity and shame to the top of the NHL and 3 Stanley Cup victories the way Oh Captain, My Captain Steve Yzerman did. Or something comparable.

    To wear #1, you’ve got to be the kind of lights out goaltender Terry Sawchuck was, at a time when goalies didn’t have masks let alone over sized jerseys and pads. 

    Since you simply cannot know if a player is going to make those contributions until their career is well underway, do they switch jerseys mid season or mid career? I mean, you can do that but why? Also, isn’t that going to piss off the thousands of fans who bought their LastName #X jerseys, only to have them switch to #5 once they acknowledge this new defenseman is worthy of wearing Nicklas Lidstrom’s number? Some people can’t afford to own ONE jersey, let alone two for their favorite player. 
    You don’t honor and acknowledge a player’s contributions as once in a generational by allowing them to wear someone else’s retired number. You do so by raising THEIR number to the rafters alongside the others.

    1. Spot-on, Mike.  I never thought through the fan/jersey angle, but it’s a good one.  All I know is that if some hot-shot dick rolled into Detroit and thought he was worthy of #19, he’s probably not the kind of guy we’d reel in anyway.  

      …though this is coming from a who suggested we consider signing Kane.  Me agreeing with you might not be the best source of validation.

      1. I don’t have a problem with signing Patrick Kane. So long as he keeps his drinking under control and doesn’t go anywhere near the number 19. Let’s give him #22 because just like Brett Lebda, Patrick Kane goes waaaaaaaaaay too fast. And just like Patrick Kane, #22 obviously needs to be rehabilitated. 

  2.  The newbies are going to need to get their own number. Even though its not up at the Joe, I have “Aurie 6” up in my own rafters at home right alongside the other individuals who contributed so much to Wings organization throughout history.

    Side Note: Letting newbies wear the numbers of the greats seems like something the NBA would do. Lets not do that lol.

  3. I agree with Mike above. Having your number retired is a way of the organization saying that what you have done is special and not likely to be replicated. Its part of their status as legends. Unless it’s Gordie Howe in the alumni game, no one should ever wear the Winged Wheel with #9 on the back. Likewise with everyone else. Plus, from the players standpoint, why would you want to set yourself up for years of comparisons to a legend?

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