Blittner’s Blue Line: The Ultimate Honor
By Matt Blittner, The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com
There will never be another New York Ranger to wear the number 30. Over the summer the Blueshirts announced they were retiring the jersey of former franchise netminder Henrik Lundqvist. The only question was when?
Well, now we have the answer.
On Monday September 27, 2021, the Rangers announced that Lundqvist’s number 30 will be raised to the rafters at Madison Square Garden in a pre-game ceremony on Friday January 28, 2022, prior to the team’s game against the Minnesota Wild.
It is no surprise Lundqvist’s jersey is being retired by the only franchise he ever played for during his NHL career. (Yes, he signed with the Washington Capitals after being bought out by the Bluehsirts but due to heart surgery, he never played for the Caps).
While there has been near universal praise bestowed upon Lundqvist — and rightly so — the question has been raised of whether his number should be retired and if he will eventually be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
These questions are not one and the same, but they do have a similar foundation.
In hockey — more so than in other sports — there exists a debate over the merit of retiring a player’s jersey. On one side of the ice are those who are all for it. At the other end of the rink are those who say jersey numbers shouldn’t be retired.
Before I go any further I must make it clear I fully believe jersey numbers should be retired when the situation warrants such an honor. However, that doesn’t mean I feel every single player of note should have his number retired. It is a special honor and one that should be reserved for only the crème de la crème.
Using the Rangers franchise as an example, the first number to go to the rafters at MSG was Rod Gilbert’s number 7. Gilbert was known as “Mr. Ranger” and upon his retirement held the franchise records for career goals, assists and points. (Brian Leetch eventually claimed the assist record). There’s no question Gilbert’s number 7 should never be worn again by a Ranger.
Gilbert’s GAG Line teammates Jean Ratelle and Vic Hadfield have had their numbers — 19 and 11, respectively — retired by the franchise and I was lucky enough to cover both ceremonies at MSG; as both were bestowed with the honor much later than they should have been.
The total tally of jersey numbers taken out of commission by the Rangers is nine. (Ironically enough, the number 9 has been retired twice in honor of Adam Graves and Andy Bathgate). With Lundqvist’s number 30 joining this select group, nine total numbers have been retired for 11 different players. (The number 11 is also twice retired as it belonged to Mark Messier and Vic Hadfield).
For the sake of our tally I’m not counting Wayne Gretzky’s 99, which was retired league wide upon the end of The Great One’s career.
With the Rangers closing in on 100-years of history (the team is entering its 95th season), it seems very reasonable that only 11 players have had their numbers retired. There are those though who feel that is too much. Some have argued about Graves’ and Hadfield’s inclusion. Meanwhile, others have wondered why the likes of Frank Boucher, Bun Cook and Bill Cook don’t have their numbers retired by the franchise.
So, it got me thinking, what criteria must a player have met to deserve this honor and does Henrik Ludnqvist meet the requirements?
For starters, the player should have spent a lengthy amount of time on Broadway with the Seventh Avenue Skaters. Next, the player’s career should have been impactful on the ice, leading the team to success. The player’s career statistics should be unmatched and they must have been a well respected figure off the ice.
Note, I do not believe a player needs to be in the Hall of Fame to qualify.
In the case of Henrik Lundqvist I count four (out of four) check marks. So, the only question I’m left with is if Lundqvist belongs in the Hall of Fame? And my answer is also “yes.” However, the Hockey Hall of Fame is notoriously difficult on goaltenders as only 36 netminders have ever been inducted (out of 417 total inductees).
For right now, let’s just enjoy one honor at a time as it pertains to King Henrik.
Meanwhile, for those who say jerseys shouldn’t be retired because it’s a meaningless gesture or because there’s no hard and fast criteria or because some teams overdo it, I only have two words for you. You’re wrong.
I’ll see the rest of you on January 28, 2022.