Tuesday, September 02, 2008

An Overdue Honor

By now you already know that the Caps are retiring Mike Gartner's #11. It is odd for a number of reasons, most of which is that Tim Bergland, Bob Carpenter, Jeff Nelson, Esa Tikkanen, and Jeff Halpern have all worn the number since Gartner last did in 1989.

He stood atop the Caps career scoring list for over ten years after leaving the Caps and despite being scapegoated for the Caps Playoff Failures in the 1980's, he currently sits 10th all time in playoff points with 43 points in 47 games. He played in four All-Star Games for the Caps, starting in his first appearance, and becomes the fourth player in Caps history to have his number retired.

Despite what some may say, this is a "feel-good gesture." Caps fans have been clamoring for this since Gartner retired and it never ever hurts to placate the fans, no matter how good or bad things are going. This also completes the fence mending process between the Caps and Gartner because of the way he was run out of town and scapegoated for the team's failures in the playoffs. We get the feeling that this would have been done a lot sooner had those fences bend mended sooner (and a certain ex-captain had been willing to give up the number). Gartner was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001 and is only now having that accomplishment recognized by the club. In contrast, Rod Langway (who's jersey was retired at the final game at the Cap Centre in 1997) was honored by the Caps shortly after his Hall of Fame induction in 2002. (There might even STILL be some memorabilia from that night on sale at the Phone Booth.) Yvon Labre and Dale Hunter saw their jerseys retired by the Caps shortly after their careers ended. It is pretty clear that getting Garter to appear and that the reception he received at the Draft Party/Jersey unveiling last year put the wheels in motion.

However, there is good reason to be concerned about this. As noted, Gartner becomes the fourth player to have his number retired. The Caps will also raise their fourth Division Championship Banner. Not Stanley Cup, Division Championship. If it wasn't for the 1998 Eastern Conference Championship Banner, the Caps would have as many retired numbers as they have banners. As a matter of fact, there can be no doubt that Peter Bondra and Olie Kolzig will eventually see their jerseys retired and should the Caps fail to add new Championship Banners before then, they will have more retired numbers than Championship Banners.

Certainly being the first Cap to be voted into the Hall of Fame, an All-Time Fan Favorite, and being the franchise leading scorer for over a decade is worthy of consideration for having your number retired over a guy who never appeared in a All-Star game, is not in the Top Ten in All-Time Scoring either in the NHL or for the franchise.

But just because there's no reason to NOT retire somebodies number doesn't mean you should. With some of the talent currently on this team, you could make a serious case for retiring another three-four jerseys just based on their performance so far and their potential alone. Considering that winning three Cups over ten years is considered a modern day dynasty, you're talking about having more than twice as many retired numbers as you have Cups should the Caps actually become a modern day dynasty.

Again, we're not saying that Mike Gartner does not deserve to have his jersey retired by the Caps, we're just wondering if the standards are set too low.

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