When Shane Doan announced his retirement last month, there were two questions. The first and most pertinent was, who would take over as the Coyotes’ definitive on-ice leader and wear the captaincy for the up-and-coming franchise. The other, however, had to do with retiring his jersey.
It wasn’t really a question of if, mind you, but rather some discussion about when. For some players, it’s an honor that can take years. For others, it’s almost overnight. The moment a player hangs up his skates is the moment a franchise makes the decision to take the digit out of rotation. And in Doan’s case, it wouldn’t have been surprising for it to be the latter. After all, he’s the franchise’s leader in nearly every major statistical category and was the face of the franchise for an entire generation. One can see then why Arizona may have expedited the process of raising Doan’s No. 19 to the rafters.
But as it turns out the jersey retirement may take some time. Not because the Coyotes aren’t ready to do so, however. According to AZCentral’s Sarah McLellan, Coyotes owner Andrew Barroway said that Doan decided this year would be too soon for his jersey to be retired and that Doan will have his number raised “at a time that’s right for him.” That could mean as early as next season — Barroway said the two sides will talk next summer — but, for now, there’s no definite date for a ceremony.
Whenever Doan’s jersey retirement does happen, though, it will make him the first player to have spent his entire career in Arizona – apart from his pre-relocation rookie season in Winnipeg – to have his number retired by the club. Currently, the Coyotes honor several numbers, including Dale Hawerchuk’s No. 10, Bobby Hull’s No. 9 and Thomas Steen’s No. 25, most of which are holdovers from the Winnipeg Jets days, but there’s not a single jersey officially retired by the franchise. Obviously, those days are numbered, and when Doan’s number goes up, it will leave only seven organizations without any retired jerseys.
So, which franchises will be left without retired numbers and who could be the first player to see their number hung by each respective franchise?
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
It has to be Rick Nash. A Calder Trophy finalist in his rookie year, Rocket Richard winner as a sophomore and consistently the leader of the Blue Jackets during some incredibly tough years for a growing franchise. He no doubt has the numbers to back up jersey retirement, too. All-time games? Nash is the leader with 674. Goals? It’s Nash with 289. Assists? Nash with 258. He’s also the leader in power play goals, shorthanded goals and game-winning goals.
Beyond his on-ice performance, though, Nash was, without a doubt, the very first face of the franchise, a beacon of hope at a time when there was little to be positive about in Columbus. He was a leader in the community and on the ice, too, making his way into Columbus’ leadership group by the time his third campaign started and he later spent four seasons as captain from 2008 up until the end of the 2011-12 season. It shouldn’t take long for Nash’s No. 61 to be retired in Columbus once he calls it a career.
Technically, the Panthers have retired a jersey, as No. 93 hangs from the rafters. However, the sweater is hung up in honor of GM Bill Torrey, who helped build those early Florida franchises, including the team that made it to the Stanley Cup final. When it comes to retiring the number of a player, though, the Panthers have yet to pull the trigger. Might they finally do so once Roberto Luongo retires?
While he might not be the first choice for some, consider Luongo’s impact in Florida. He’s the franchise’s winningest goaltender, shutouts leader and games played leader for goaltenders. In fact, only eight players in team history — skater or otherwise — have suited up in more games than Luongo. Not only that, but he put himself into Hart and Vezina Trophy conversations while a Panther, and his presence during his first run in Florida brought legitimacy to the franchise. There are other options, such as Stephen Weiss or Olli Jokinen, but Luongo would be the best choice in the near future.
By signing a two-year extension this off-season, Mikko Koivu hasall but ensured he’ll spend his entire career with the Wild. Drafted by Minnesota sixth overall in 2001, he took the slow road to the NHL, developing in his native Finland before joining Minnesota’s AHL club during the 2004-05 lockout year. He was up with the big club once play resumed in 2005-06 and has basically been a fixture of the top-six ever since.
A heart-and-soul type player, Koivu has done everything that has been asked of him in Minnesota. He’s scored with the best and is the franchise leader with 614 points. He has skated in more games for the Wild than any other player (843) and done so while playing tough minutes against top opponents every single night. None of this is to mention that Koivu was and remains the organizations only full-time captain. He took the ‘C’ part-time in 2008-09 and has been the sole captain for the past eight seasons. It’s a no-brainer to retire his No. 9 alongside the fans’ retired No. 1.
Pekka Rinne’s career could end in the next four or five seasons. He’s already 34, past the prime age for a goaltender, so he’s probably not long for the Predators’ crease. When he hangs up his skates, there will be talk about doing the same for his jersey, no doubt. But it’s hard to fathom Rinne, the franchise’s winningest goaltender, seeing his number go up before Shea Weber.
Yes, at his age, it’s probably going to be six-plus seasons before Weber calls it a career, but it’d be worth it for Nashville to wait and make Weber’s the first retired jersey. He’s second all-time in games played with 763, second all-time in goals with 166 and third all-time with 443 points, but numbers don’t make Weber’s case. Rather, it’s his impact. Weber was regarded as one of the best defensemen in the world during his tenure in Nashville, a three-time Norris Trophy finalist who finished top-10 in voting in each of his final eight seasons as a Predator. Captain for six seasons, Weber helped shape the Predators more than any other player in franchise history, and that’s what makes him worthy.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
Seven times in league history, a team has chosen to celebrate two players on the same night by retiring both jerseys. The most recent instance was on Dec. 4, 2009, when the Montreal Canadiens paid tribute to Emile Bouchard and Elmer Lach by sending their respective No. 3 and No. 16 sweaters to the rafters. And dual retirement ceremonies such as that should be the template for when the Sharks eventually retire Patrick Marleau’s No. 12 and Joe Thornton’s No. 19.
There’s really no question that Marleau and Thornton will be the first to have their numbers retired by San Jose. Marleau is the games played, goals and points leader for the franchise, while Thornton ranks second in games, first in assists and second in points. The duo was the cornerstone of several incredibly successful regular seasons for the Sharks, both wore the ‘C’ at different points and both gave all of their best years to San Jose.
It’d be incredibly fitting for both to have their jerseys retired the same night, too. In the 1997 draft, Thornton and Marleau went first and second overall, respectively. So, seeing as their entrances into the NHL happened on the same day, it’d be somewhat poetic for both to have a celebration of their great careers on the same night.
If the Thrashers had never left Atlanta, and had Ilya Kovalchuk not left the NHL so suddenly, there’s really no doubt that No. 17 would have been the franchise’s first retired jersey. Neither of those things happened, though, so now the parameters change and the most likely scenario is that Dustin Byfuglien, an on- and off-ice leader who has become a foundational player for the so-called Jets 2.0, is the first to have his number retired.
Some will argue that others, like Blake Wheeler or Bryan Little, have a better case. Those arguments have their merit. But Byfuglien is the safest bet. Since the team arrived in Winnipeg, Byfuglien ranks second in games played, second in points, fourth in goals and has logged a boatload of ice time. He’s finished top-15 in Norris voting in all but one season, is continuously in the all-star conversation and has done everything — and everything well — for Winnipeg. On top of that, Byfuglien has four more seasons on his contract to build on his resume as a Jet.
Little, who is on his way to becoming the team’s all-time games leader, has time left, too, while Wheeler has the goals, points and captaincy in his favor. But Byfuglien has been the biggest league-wide name during these early years for the Jets and is beloved by fans in Winnipeg. That’s why No. 33 could very well be the first jersey retired by the Jets.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
We can’t really get away with leaving Vegas off the list, so let’s just go with Reid Duke. Sure, he hasn’t played a game in the NHL. He may never play a game in the NHL. But he’s already the answer to one trivia question, so why not another?
(Note: There’s almost no chance the first Golden Knights jersey retired is Reid Duke’s.)
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