Last week the Pittsburgh Penguins announced that they’ll be retiring Jaromir Jagr’s number 68 this February. It’s a gutsy move considering that Jagr hasn’t retired from hockey. We don’t expect The Ageless Wonder to return to the NHL, but we also didn’t expect him to still be playing at the age of 52, so who really knows for sure?
Retiring a player’s number is a great way to honour the character players and fan favourites that help weave a hockey team into the cultural fabric of a city. The design of the banner itself can make a player seem like an inalienable part of a team’s rich history, or it can make the retirement seem like cheap pandering.
Here are the best and worst of NHL retirement banners.
THE NHL'S BEST
Every team honours its past in different ways, and some do a better job of it than others. Here are the teams that are setting the standard as far as number retirement banners go.
1. Detroit Red Wings
Red Wings fans can look up to the rafters and be met eye to eye with the names and numbers of NHL royalty.
Probably the best number retirement banners in the league belong to the Detroit Red Wings.
As a jersey maker, I love that their banners look like their hockey jerseys.
The brand consistency makes it seem like the honoured person is part of a long line of storied players that have all contributed to something larger than themselves.
I also love how the Wings added the captain’s C to Steve Yzerman’s banner — a nod to one of the most legendary leaders ever to play for one of the most legendary teams.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs
All of the Original Six franchises have done really well when it comes to retirement banners, as they should.
After all, if the Original Six can’t honour history properly, what chance does the rest of the league have? But, the Leafs have gone above and beyond with their retirement banners, emblazoning each banner with a photo of the honoured player.
It’s like an auxiliary wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame that includes the first ever retired number in all of sports — Ace Bailey’s number 6.
An beautifully visual and elegant tribute to the Leafs of yesteryear.
The unique collection of banners up in the TD Garden rafters.
3. Boston Bruins
I’m a big fan of Boston’s round number banners.
They’re unique compared with other teams’ banners, and the humble design seems to stem from a post-war sensibility — a time when individual accomplishments were secondary to team success.
They’re almost like war medals for the rafters of the TD Garden, and the result is a profoundly simple but meaningful salute to the characters that wore the spoked B.
4. Buffalo Sabres
Speaking of unique, the Sabres have done something with their retired numbers banners that no other team has done — they’ve honoured an entire line.
Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin, and Rene Robert all have their numbers hanging from the rafters in Buffalo beneath a banner honouring the French Connection, the three-way tandem that dazzled fans throughout the 1970s.
The iconic French Connection line will forever be on display at KeyBank Center in Buffalo.
BANNERS THAT NEED THE KEENER TOUCH
When it comes to retired numbers, not every team understands the assignment. Here are the NHL franchises that could do a little better in honouring their team’s history.
Calgary’s slightly confusing display of both retired and honoured numbers… which is which?
1. Calgary Flames
I’m not sure what Calgary is trying to do with their banners, but it’s sending mixed messages.
The problem is that, while the retired number banners are in the same style as the Flame’s home jersey, the honoured numbers banners have photos of MacInnis and Nieuwendyk.
You’d be forgiven if you think that the honoured numbers were more important than the retired numbers.
2. Vancouver Canucks
Two cheers for Vancouver, they really are trying when it comes to their retired numbers, but the thought doesn’t translate.
Each retired number banner is done up in the style of the jersey that each player last wore for the team.
Unfortunately, having different designs for each player takes away from the shared history of the franchise.
Not only that, but the number and letter fonts don’t match what they wore on the ice!
The Canucks’ unique take on the retirement banner was a great idea, just poorly executed.
3. Seattle Kraken
How the heck does Seattle even make this list? They’re three years old. How much history could they possibly have?
Well, that’s the problem.
On the opening night of their inaugural season, the Kraken retired their first number — number 32 to honour the Kraken fans (the Wild did the same, retiring number 1 in 2000). While part of me kind of likes the idea of a number that only the fans can wear, it ultimately feels like a shallow and forced attempt at establishing a history that doesn’t exist yet. And what if a generational player comes along who wears number 32? Are they not going to let him wear 32?
Sorry, Seattle — history is built through decades of heart break, early playoff exits, near misses, and bench clearing brawls. You’ll get there someday, but it’s going to take some time.
4. L.A. Kings
The Kings are hands down the most frustrating franchise when it comes to honouring retired numbers.
They suffer from the same problem that the Canucks do — each banner is designed to the jersey that the player wore, and like the Canucks, the fonts are all off.
But, what makes it even worse is that one of the players honoured in the rafters of the Crypto.com Arena is the greatest player to ever play the game, Wayne Gretzky.
You’d think that you would want to build a coherent team history that includes the best player to ever strap on a pair of skates, but instead the Kings give us a mishmash of players and styles.
It’s almost like a diner that has headshots on the wall of celebrities who ate there once.
A very “Microsoft Word Default Template” take on the jersey retirement banner. We expected more from the City of Angels!
Respect the History: Legacy Matters
As a jersey customizer, I’ll admit that I’m a stickler for details and accuracy. So, when I see banners that are supposed to look like jerseys, but have the wrong font, it drives me crazy. Hockey jerseys, retirement banners, logos, and fonts are all part of a team’s legacy, and taking that legacy seriously is good for the game.
This is no small issue. If fans can’t get inspired by a sense of camaraderie and shared history, then the game is in trouble. Fans want to connect with their team, so teams need to honour their history appropriately.
Anyways, I’m looking forward to seeing Jagr’s number raised up to the rafters in Pittsburgh in February. There’s nobody more deserving of the honour than Jags. And who knows, maybe he’ll take a shift with the Pens that night.
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Steve Yzerman has his jersey retired in front of a packed Joe Louis Arena, January 1, 2007.