While an induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto is probably the greatest honor a former player can receive, a jersey retirement is a close second. When a team chooses to retire a jersey, it means that a player had a gigantic impact on the organization and will forever be remembered as a legend within those walls.
Many deserving players have seen their numbers raised to the rafters in the past, but this list isn’t going to focus on them. No, this list is going to point out two separate groups of players: guys who were good enough to have their jerseys raised to the rafters but haven’t yet had the honor, and guys who have had their jerseys raised somewhere, but perhaps weren’t fully deserving of the honor.
I know what you’re thinking: who am I to dictate who deserves the honor and who doesn’t? Well, you’re right in that I have no right to do so, but this all just fun and games. Sit back and enjoy today’s list, which pokes fun at some of the more ridiculous jersey retirements across the league, as well as some of the most glaring omissions in the NHL. It’s funny how liberal some teams have become with their jersey retirements. I feel like my name could go up in the rafters of some of these buildings, and I retired after Bantam.
15 Shouldn’t: Glen Wesley (Carolina)
Look, I get how Glen Wesley (right) was an important part of the Whalers/Hurricanes franchise for many years. He’s second in games played for the club with 729, and he won the Cup with them in 2006. He definitely put together an impressive career, with the latter half of it spent entirely with the ‘Canes. He spent an almost equal amount of time with the Bruins to start his career.
So, it sort of begs the question: how come Wesley’s number is retired in Carolina but not in Boston? It could be because, as an Original Six team, Boston’s standards for jersey retirements are higher. However, I’d posit that Wesley is not quite deserving of such an honor in any NHL city. The 1987 3rd overall pick will forever have his #2 hanging in Carolina’s rafters, whether he is truly deserving or not.
14 Should: Ryan Smyth (Edmonton)
The Edmonton Oilers organization has gone on record stating that they won’t be retiring any more numbers unless said player is inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as well. The latter distinction is highly unlikely for Oilers legend Ryan Smyth, but that doesn’t mean he’s not fully deserving of the former honor in my humble opinion.
Smyth has played the second most games for Edmonton on the all-time list, behind only defenseman Kevin Lowe. Smyth is sixth in all-time franchise points, and he’s first among players who weren’t members of the 1980s dynasty teams. Smyth represented what it was to be an Oiler for many years, and for young Edmonton fans he was the team’s best player and face of the franchise for much of their youth. Raise #94, Edmonton.
13 Shouldn’t: Teppo Numminen (Arizona)
Teppo Numinen (right) was a fine defenseman for the Winnipeg Jets/Arizona Coyotes franchise for 15 seasons, but being a fine defenseman doesn’t necessarily mean you’re worthy of a jersey retirement. Nonetheless, Numminen’s #27 hangs in the rafters in Glendale, and it will for the rest of time (or until the franchise itself dissolves, which could always be any time with the ‘Yotes).
Numminen did play for the franchise for a long time, and his longevity is probably the biggest reason the club retired his number. He scored 534 of his 637 career points with the team, fairly evenly split between the two cities. He played 547 games with the club when it was in Winnipeg, notching 265 points there; he then moved with the team to Phoenix and played 551 more games, scoring 269 points.
12 Should: Sergei Zubov (Dallas)
The Dallas Stars had a powerhouse team in the late ’90s/early ‘00s, and Sergei Zubov was the club’s premier defenseman during that era. He consistently put up good numbers from the back end, and only Mike Modano has scored more points for the franchise than Zubov since it moved to Dallas from Minnesota in 1993.
Simply put, Zubov has done more than enough for the Stars to deserve a jersey retirement. He helped the franchise win its first and only Stanley Cup to date in 1999, playing heavy minutes night in and night out on his way to the championship. Zubov was more than capable in his own end but was an elite offensive defenseman for the Stars for 12 seasons. His #56 should be in the rafters.
11 Shouldn’t: Bill Goldsworthy (Dallas)
While Zubov deserves the distinction of a jersey retirement in Dallas, I would argue that Bill Goldsworthy didn’t do enough to earn the right, but nonetheless he’s up there with the rest of the Stars/North Stars legends. To be fair to Goldsworthy, he was probably the first scoring star the franchise ever had, which is probably why he’s commemorated in the first place.
However, now that 40 years have passed since he was in his hey-day with the North Stars, he looks a little lackluster up there next to the North Stars greats. Neal Broten, Mike Modano, and of course Bill Masterton are all deserving in their own right, but Goldsworthy’s #8 looks a little bit out of place up there. A swap out for Zubov—or even Brian Bellows—makes more sense in my mind.
10 Should: Paul Kariya (Anaheim)
The Anaheim Ducks franchise has just one jersey hanging from the rafters, and that belongs to Finnish legend Teemu Selanne. He’s definitely the most deserving Duck, but I would argue there is a close second in Paul Kariya, and he should definitely have his number right up where it belongs, hanging alongside Selanne’s.
Now, although nothing is well-documented, it’s been said that Kariya is sour towards the Anaheim Ducks franchise, as well as towards the game of hockey itself. That’s fair, considering how concussion issues forced him into early retirement and the league does a terrible job of ensuring the safety of its players. Nonetheless, we hope one day it’s all water under the bridge and Kariya’s #9 is hanging up there where it belongs.
9 Shouldn’t: Al Hamilton (Edmonton)
Al Hamilton was the very first captain of the Edmonton Oilers in franchise history, and as such his #3 hangs in the rafters alongside all the Oilers greats from the 1980s. Hamilton played with Edmonton during its WHA days, and did make the move to the NHL with the franchise for one last season in 1979-80. This isn’t the only example of this across the league, but does being a franchise’s first captain really warrant a jersey retirement? I’d think not.
Not to diminish any of Hamilton’s accomplishments, but realistically that’s his greatest claim to fame in Edmonton. He had some fairly impressive offensive numbers for a defenseman, posting seasons of 61 and 59 points in the WHA in 1972-73 and 1973-74. No disrespect here to Hamilton, but his jersey stands out as the one that doesn’t belong up in the Oilers rafters.
8 Should: Ed Belfour (Chicago)
Ed Belfour was a world-class goalie throughout pretty much his whole career, and while he won his championship with the Stars in 1999, I’d say that the Chicago Blackhawks should think about retiring the netminder’s number. Belfour was a colorful personality and an all-star goalie for the ‘Hawks, and he put up 201 wins with the club from 1990-91 to 1996-97, when he was dealt to the Sharks at the trade deadline.
Eddie the Eagle is in the Hockey Hall of Fame, enshrined in 2011 in his first year of eligibility. He was the face of the Chicago franchise for years, and even helped the Blackhawks to the 1992 Stanley Cup Final (a sweep at the hands of the Penguins). Perhaps Chicago is hesitant to honor Belfour because things ended somewhat sourly; he turned down a contract offer before being shipped at the ’97 deadline, and was notorious in Chi-Town for having poor relationships with his backups.
7 Shouldn’t: Minnesota Fans (Wild)
Don’t even get me started on this BS. The Minnesota Wild only became a franchise less than 20 years ago, so they don’t have any actual players’ jerseys hanging in the rafters. No, all they have is a Wild jersey with the #1 on it hanging in the rafters. The #1, of course, is supposed to represent the Wild fans (perhaps suggesting that they’re #1 in the league, but who really knows). The fans were bestowed this “honor” in the team’s first season of existence (2000).
This is dumb on so many levels. First of all, when you retire a number, it usually means the player/honorees are no longer with the franchise. The fans are still there, no? Also, what if you have a goalie come along who wants to wear #1? You’re going to say he can’t because, well, that’s the fans’ number? Bogus.
6 Should: Sergei Fedorov (Detroit)
An Original Six team (such as the Red Wings) understandably needs to be a little more selective than most teams with their jersey retirements. It’s unlikely we’ll see the Wings retiring a jersey to honor their fans any time soon, but I’d say Sergei Fedorov is still deserving of the honor nonetheless.
The all-time leading Russian in NHL history scored 954 of his 1,179 points as a Red Wing, and he sits fifth in all-time franchise scoring behind Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, Alex Delvecchio, and Nicklas Lidstrom. All four of those players have their numbers hanging in the rafters at the Joe (unless of course they’ve already been removed for the demolition), and Fedorov was one of the first Russian superstars in the NHL. He deserves to be up there with the best.
5 Shouldn’t: The 7th Canuck (Vancouver)
Alright, I pretty much said all there is to say about this back in the entry about the Wild Fans being honored, but I think it’s even dumber that the Canucks retired “The 7th Canuck” jersey back in 2008. They did this to “honor the fans” of Vancouver, who are notoriously some of the worst sports fans in North America. They were only three years away from their second riot (pictured) within a span of two decades, after all.
This was also a blatant rip-off of the Seahawks “12th man” promo, which itself was ripped off as well but that’s a rabbit hole for a different day. The bottom line is, in a Canadian hockey market, you really shouldn't have to grease up your fans too much. They were raised to love and live the game of hockey, and this move reeked of desperation from a middling Canucks organization.
4 Should: Al MacInnis (Calgary)
This one comes with a bit of an asterisk, as Al MacInnis’ #2 isn’t officially retired in Calgary, but he is one of only two players to be honored as “Forever a Flame,” which is just some other bogus thing the franchise introduced in 2012. MacInnis more than deserves a jersey retirement distinction, as the only Flames who currently hold that honor are Lanny McDonald and Mike Vernon.
Not to besmirch either of those players, but MacInnis is just as deserving, if not more. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy with the Flames in 1989, which remains the only championship the franchise has won. He sits third all-time in points for Calgary with 822, which is super impressive when you consider he was a defenseman. Heck, McDonald doesn’t even crack the franchise top-10.
3 Shouldn’t: Yvon Labre (Washington)
In 1980 the Washington Capitals retired its first jersey in franchise history. No one knows really why they felt the need to do this so early in the franchise’s life, as it had only existed for six years at the time. Nonetheless, it was defenseman Yvon Labre who saw his jersey raised to the rafters in Washington D.C., and it remains there today.
I’m not here to crap all over Labre, who was a fine defenseman. But retiring Labre’s jersey sets a precedent that’s impossible to keep up with. If Labre is worthy of a jersey retirement, I’m already planning the 2032 ceremony for Dmitri Orlov. I’m kidding of course, but really the only thing that separates the two players is that Labre served as captain for three seasons.
2 Should: Norm Ullman (Detroit)
Norm Ullman was an elite offensive talent for the Detroit Red Wings for over 10 seasons, yet that wasn’t enough to earn him a spot alongside the other Red Wings greats up in the rafters. The ship has likely sailed for Ullman, who is 81 years old and recorded 758 points as a Red Wing in his 875 games. What might be holding Ullman back: he wasn’t ever part of a championship Wings team.
Still, though, Ullman was a rock for the Red Wings during his time there, and one season (1964-65) he finished just four points shy of winning the NHL scoring title. That same year he led the entire league in goals with 42, and would have been crowned that season's Rocket Richard Trophy winner had the award been created.
1 Shouldn’t: Ray Bourque (Colorado)
Look, I get how Ray Bourque finally won his Stanley Cup as a member of the Colorado Avalanche in 2001, and he had a great final season with them to boot. But really, Colorado? The guy played one full season in Colorado. He’ll always be remembered as a Boston Bruin for the rest of his career, and that will never change.
It’s silly that a guy who played one year with a franchise has his jersey retired there. The other four Avalanche players who’ve had their numbers raised are Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy, and Adam Foote—all guys who had huge hands in the dominance of the franchise from 1994 through 2003 or so. Bourque was along for the ride for one year and gets to join them up there? Give me a break.