What's In A Number?
The answer should be, “A lot”.
For a player that number becomes a part of his or her identity.
You can see evidence of this in their Twitter handles and how they sign their names for autograph hounds – always including that number at the end. Many times it’s the only way of knowing whose signature it is. Penmanship; not a strength with athletes and doctors.
Some of the bigger names have that number they’ve become so synonymous with become part of their ‘brand’ long after their playing days are done.
Those that reach a certain level of stardom stemming from a career of spectacular accomplishment have their number retired, never to be worn by another player for that franchise, or, in the case of Wayne Gretzky’s #99 – the entire league.
Most clubs execute this well, but a few teams appear too liberal when doling out the honor - in my opinion. They seem to get on a fawning PR high that becomes tough to kick, struggling to answer the question, “Where do we stop?”
This is why I like the combination of number retirement for only a select few with very select number recirculation for that level of ‘all-time great” just below the no-debate icons.
For the Stars: #9 is the full lobotomy no-brainer of no-brainers (duh), but what about #26? - And #56? - Or #2? You see how it can escalate quickly.
That’s why - if it were up to me – I’d stop at Modano’s #9.
For the rest I would hold certain numbers out of circulation until that right player came along, a player worthy of perpetuating the excellence of the man who sported the digit so majestically in past.
I think the franchise has tried to do this. Robidas carrying on similar character defending to what Ludwig provided in #3. I like Eriksson in Carbonneau’s #21, Niskanen when in Sydor’s #5, and Jamie Benn in Barnes #14.
Some others have been well intended but haven’t worked out as planned (Sawada in Keane’s #12, Glennie in Langenbrunner’s #15 and Grossman in Hatcher’s #2) while others border on blasphemy (Avery in Hull’s and Verbeek’s #16, Jeremy Stevenson and Chris Conner in Nieuwendyk’s #25, and any human in Belfour’s #20)
The number 10 gets added to the mix this week. Personally, I’d keep that digit in a velvet trunk for a considerable amount of time - until another character-dripping leader came along to carry-on the tradition.
The Cowboys do the hand-me-down, hold-a-number-out thing quite well. Exhibit A for hand-me-downs is #88 (Pearson to Irvin to Bryant) but at the same time no player has worn #74 since Bob Lilly and no one is ever getting Staubach’s #12 again (Ditto for #8 I’d think). Those numbers aren’t retired, they’re just “out of rotation”.
The Mavs have retired Brad Davis’ #15 and Rolando Blackman’s #22 (Got a feeling the big German’s #41 ain’t getting’ handed out after he’s done with it)
The Rangers have only retired one number, Nolan Ryan’s #34.
In conclusion, here is the Razorboy Rule for NHL player jersey retirement:
The player has to have been drafted by the team (or arrived in organization as a pup), spent a decade or more in the jersey, and performed at a level at which his legend is not debatable. Born, nurtured, blossomed, connected, endured, dominated, retired…honored.