Retired Numbers: Who’s Next?

There’s been buzz over the last couple seasons about Sergei Fedorov‘s #91 being retired by the Red Wings, something that Jim Devellano seemed to put the kibosh on during the somewhat-surprising announcement on Thursday that Red Kelly‘s #4 would head to the rafters later this season.

But if not Fedorov, and with the team seemingly looking to its more-distant past for numbers to honor, who might be next?

Devellano tells us that, in order for your number to be retired by the Detroit Red Wings, you have to win a Stanley Cup in Detroit. We’re also told that Larry Aurie’s number is not retired because he’s not in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Additionally, you have to not have offended the Ilitch family and they don’t have to explain who has offended them, so that’s a bit of a wildcard that I’ll ignore here.

There are 23 players who fit those requirements for Detroit. As of February, eight of them will be in the rafters. That leaves 15 remaining.

Do they all qualify? Well, Luc Robitaille is one of those and I think you can eliminate him, so lets put a couple more limits on it.

No player with a currently-retired number had fewer than three Stanley Cups with Detroit. I think it’s safe to drop that down to two. Sid Abel’s 570 games played with Detroit is the lowest of those whose numbers have already been retired but it was across twelve seasons. As such, I think we can go with a limit of nine seasons or 600 games played, which helps us cover a few different eras.

That eliminates Robitaille, Dominic Hasek, Brett Hull, Igor Larionov, Larry Murphy, and Viacheslav Fetisov from the modern era. Marty Barry, Glenn Hall, and Harry Lumley are also out – though Hall’s only Cup with Detroit was as a spare goalie without playing a game, so he probably should have been eliminated even earlier.

That leaves us with six. Fedorov is out for now, per Jimmy D, but they’re clearly holding his number since Brad Richards couldn’t have it. Brendan Shanahan and Chris Chelios both have had their numbers given out multiple times since they left the team, so I would assume they’re out, or at least not immediately under consideration.

Ebbie Goodfellow won two Cups with the Red Wings in the 1930s while playing 557 games across 14 seasons, so he’s an option. His #5 is now retired for Nicklas Lidstrom, though, so there probably wouldn’t be quite so big of a ceremony to retire a number that’s already in the rafters.

Syd Howe only played 515 games with Detroit but did so across 12 seasons, winning three Stanley Cups while wearing #8.

I think the most likely option of the group, though is Marcel Pronovost and his #3, with 983 games played across 15 seasons and four Stanley Cups. A two-time first team All-Star and two time second-team All-Star, he – along with Kelly – was the a cornerstone of the blueline for the 1950s Stanley Cup teams.

All of that said…  I don’t think we’ll see any of these retired.  What is the one thing that Red Kelly has over the three other old-timers?  He’s still alive.  It looks a lot more like you’re actually honoring the player and not just trying to get people to buy tickets if the player can actually show up to the event.

Of course, we still don’t know why the Red Wings are retiring Kelly’s number after so long, so maybe there’s more here that we don’t know.

On Jersey Number Retirements

The Red Wings announced yesterday that they will retire the #4 of Leonard “Red” Kelly prior to their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 1, 2019.

Kelly won four Stanley Cups as a defenseman with the Red Wings in the early 1950s, was the team’s captain later in the decade, and then was traded to the Maple Leafs during the 1959-60 season (as punishment for disclosing that he had played on a broken ankle, something Detroit general manager Jack Adams was keeping secret).  He switched to playing center with Toronto and won four more Stanley Cups.

After retiring in 1967, Kelly was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1969.  The Maple Leafs honored his number on October 4, 2006, and fully retired it on October 15, 2016, in a celebration of the team’s 100th anniversary.


Retiring Red Kelly‘s number makes sense but I still can’t shake a cynical feeling about it.

It’s an honor that should have happened in the early 1990s.  The Red Wings retired Ted Lindsay‘s #7 and Alex Delvecchio‘s #10 in 1991, Terry Sawchuk’s #1 in 1994, and Sid Abel’s #12 in 1995.  Kelly would have fit perfectly into that group as the core of the team’s early 1950s Stanley Cup Championships.  That his number wasn’t raised to the rafters then seemed to show that it wouldn’t be.

Since then we’ve seen Steve Yzerman‘s #19 and Nicklas Lidstrom‘s #5 raised, with much pomp and circumstance leading up to the events.  The dates were announced before the start of the season and ticket packages were sold around them.

So to see Kelly’s number retired now, with the announcement tucked into a pregame press availability, gives me a bad vibe.  It feels to me like a ploy to get people to come down to a game between a bad team and a very good team.

That said, as I Tweeted last night, the timing makes more sense than the Wings usually give to jersey retirements.  Toronto is the perfect opponent to raise Kelly’s number against, while history shows the team preferring to do so against a lesser draw on a weeknight to boost their ticket sales.  So if there’s a reason to give the team the benefit of the doubt, it’s that.

Whatever the reason, a deserving number is going to the rafters, righting the wrong of it not having been up there already.


But if I’m talking about wrongs, I have to mention Larry Aurie.  The franchise’s first star player, Aurie led the Red Wings in their early days, including when the team was known as the Cougars and the Falcons.

Jack Adams thought enough of Aurie that his #6 was retired in 1939, when Aurie hung up his skates.  It was later brought back into circulation so that Aurie’s cousin, Cummy Burton, could wear it, then put back into retirement.

Gordie Howe‘s #9 later joined Aurie’s #6 as unavailable, but in old arenas like The Olympia, teams rarely raised numbers to the rafters.

That changed with the team’s move to Joe Louis Arena and Mike and Marian Ilitch buying the team from the Norris family.  Howe’s #9 was the first number given a banner.  Ted Lindsay, Alex Delvecchio, Terry Sawchuk, and Sid Abel would follow.  Aurie did not.

At some point, the team’s story became that the core of the 1950s Cup Championship teams were all Hall of Famers and that only those in the HHOF would get banners.  Aurie never made it to the Hall, so his number would be retired but not honored.

Then the 2000-01 NHL Guide and Record Book came out, with Aurie’s #6 no longer listed among the team’s retired numbers.  Suddenly it was not only not honored but not even retired at all.

Despite this seeming lost of status, #6 was not assigned between 2000 and 2010, when Mike Modano signed with Detroit.  Modano – unable to get his usual #9 due to it’s retirement for Howe – asked about #6.

“I wanted No. 6, but they told me about Larry Aurie,” said Modano, referring to Aurie, who played between 1927-39, and had his number retired by former Wings owner James Norris.

“I thought it would be easy to just flip 9 to 6,” Modano said. “I would have loved 6, but maybe 90.”

If the all-time leading American scorer can’t have the number, that sure sounds to me like it’s retired.

They may not have raised banners to celebrate that in the 1930s, but we do now, and it’s time for Aurie’s number to have that honor.


And then there’s Sergei Fedorov.

There was buzz over the summer that Fedorov’s #91 might be retired this season, something that didn’t come to happen.  Chris Ilitch commented on that when Kelly’s number retirement was announced.

“Obviously Sergei was an outstanding Red Wing. He was a big part of bringing three Stanley Cups to Detroit. He’s in the Hockey Hall of Fame,” Ilitch answered. “The subject of number retirement, it’s an important subject, it deserves a lot of conversation, a lot of thought. We’re continuously evaluating that with our organization. Related to 91 and 40 (Henrik Zetterberg), let’s see what the future holds.”

It wasn’t what Ilitch said, though, that really explained where Fedorov stands with the organization.  That was Jim Devellano.

“There are other things that I’m not going to get into,” Devellano said. “Do you realize that he wanted out of the Red Wings (organization) on two occasions? Are you familiar with that? Did you know he turned the owners down on a 5-year, $50 million contract? Did you know he signed an offer sheet with the Carolina Hurricanes and we had to match with a $24 million signing bonus?”

What this makes clear is that this is an organization that holds grudges.

You buy a team, you get to run it how you want, and that means you don’t have to honor any players you don’t want to.  We’ve seen that with Aurie (for whatever reason) and we’ll see that with Fedorov.  We’ll probably see it with Pavel Datsyuk.

May Asks for Chelios’ Sweater Number, Sparks Jersey Retirement Talk

Brad May could be switching to a new sweater number.

The enforcer was given #20 when he joined the team on a pro tryout at the end of the preseason and kept that number for his first regular season game after signing a one-year deal on Thursday. Ansar Khan reports that May has asked Chris Chelios for permission to switch to #24.

“(Chelios) was really cool,” May said. “I just figured it’s his (number). He’s such an icon, I figured I’d call him.”

“I like the number – Chris Chelios, Bob Probert. But I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I may ask, but now that I’m 20, who knows?”

May had previously worn #24 during his stint with the Anaheim Ducks.

Like May, Chelios also asked permission to wear #24. When he came to Detroit in 1999 he called the number’s previous owner – Probert – to run it by him.

George Malik asks whether or not the Wings should retire #24 for Chelios.

He mentions Brendan Shanahan‘s #14 being put back into use but Sergei Fedorov‘s #91 remaining out of circulation, as well as the #16 of Vladimir Konstantinov.

Personally, I think it’s a travesty that the #6 of Larry Aurie is not represented in the Joe Louis Arena rafters and would not raise any of those numbers before Detroit’s first real star was recognized. The Ilitch family’s refusal to honor Aurie is confusing and downright ridiculous.

At this point the only numbers I’d even think about retiring are #6 and (when the time comes) Nicklas Lidstrom‘s #5. After Aurie’s number is retired we can talk about another old-timer in Red Kelly‘s #4.

Chelios should have his number retired, just not here. Though he won two Cups and ended his career with the Red Wings (and one more Cup with Montreal) I believe he’ll always be remembered as a Blackhawk and his #7 should hang at United Center.

Shanahan and Fedorov should wait, we shouldn’t even be talking about them until they retire from playing. And as I said above, they don’t get consideration until Aurie is taken care of.

Konstantinov, as much as it pains me to say it, should not have his number permanently retired. It should remain out of circulation until all of his former teammates have left the Red Wings. Only then should it be brought back.