(To take your minds of off the train wreck that has been the start of the Flames season, Robert Vollman of Puck Prospectus discusses the Flames questionable jersey retirement habits. Enjoy!)
The Calgary Flames have retired two players’ numbers, Lanny McDonald and Mike Vernon. Given that standard, who else should have their numbers retired?
First of all, should Mike Vernon’s number really be retired? While it’s true that Mike Vernon was fantastic in 1988-89, leading the league in Wins, earning the 4th best save percentage in the NHL (his highest ranking ever), and earning a spot on the NHL’s 2nd All-Star team en route to a Stanley Cup, is one season really enough to have his number hanging from the rafters?
Another goalie may have been more worthy of the honour – Daniel Bouchard. Bouchard had far more shut-outs in far fewer games, and while he pre-dates the era of recording save percentages, Bouchard bests Vernon 3.03 to 3.26 in goals-against average. According to GVT, which measures the number of goals a netminder has prevented relative to a replacement-level player, Bouchard isn’t the only goalie to contribute far more to the franchise than Vernon – remember Reggie “Let ‘em in” Lemelin?
Goalie – Calgary – Career
Daniel Bouchard – 139.0 – 170.2
Reggie Lemelin – 84.5 – 116.5
Mike Vernon – 51.8 – 93.0
As the goalie ranking a distant 3rd in franchise history, even when you include his time elsewhere, does Vernon truly deserve this honour just because of one great season?
As significant as Bouchard’s contributions were, there are two Flames who contributed far more while wearing the Flaming C but, believe it or not, neither one had a bushy red moustache.
I’m hesitant to disparage the selection of Lanny McDonald’s jersey for the honour given the Hall of Famer’s iconic stature, but it appears that once again a single season has been the decisive factor. In 1982-83 McDonald was a 2nd Team all-star, finished 2nd in the NHL in goal-scoring with 66 and earned the Bill Masterton trophy for his sportsmanship and perseverance.
At the risk of getting mugged on my way home, our legendary Captain was weak defensively, and the vast majority of his career production was while donning a blue Maple Leaf. What’s more, there are 8 other Flames with more productive careers, including the aforementioned puckstopper, all but one of which (Doug Gilmour) earned a greater share of their career GVT as a Flame. No, the two deserving Calgary Flames to which I’m referring are Al MacInnis and Theo Fleury.
Hall of Famer Al MacInnis does indeed have his number retired, but by the St. Louis Blues, where he spent far less of his career and earned far fewer of his accolades. His Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe were with Calgary, as were 5 of his 7 All-Star team recognitions. He was a Calgary Flame in 1990-91 when he had 75 assists (3rd in the NHL) and 103 points (9th), and was +42 (3rd). He’s the all-time leading Flame in assists and +/-, 3rd in points, and despite being a defenseman, he’s 7th in goals scored – just 2 behind Mr. McDonald.
Just ahead of MacInnis on the point chart is Theo Fleury, whose offensive accomplishments are exceeded by only Jarome Iginla in most categories, and has the 4th best career +/- among Flames. Fleury’s best season was either strike-shortened 1994-95, when he was named to the NHL’s 2nd all-star team, and finished 6th in goals and points, or else 1990-91, when his 51 goals were the league’s 2nd best, and he finished 8th in points, and led the league in +/-. Yes, Fleury’s defense is often ignored , but his integral role on the Flames penalty kill is obvious when you consider that he’s 9th all-time in short-handed goals with 35. Don’t let his off-ice struggles distract you, #14 should be waving at us from the rafters.
Player – Calgary – Career
Al MacInnis – 207.8 – 377.9
Theo Fleury – 184.8 – 225.7
Joe Nieuwendy – 131.1 – 240.7
Gary Suter – 125.7 – 209.5
Gary Roberts – 108.1 – 175.9
Paul Reinhart – 92.1 – 119.5
Kent Nilsson – 84.5 – 116.5
Guy Chouinard – 82.5 – 85.3
Joey Mullen – 80.4 – 189.6
Hakan Loob – 74.1 – 74.1
Jamie Macoun – 71.6 – 86.4
Eric Vail – 68.8 – 68.8
Tom Lysiak – 68.1 – 110.9
Doug Gilmour – 65.5 – 239.2
Joel Otto – 58.2 – 73.2
Lanny McDonald – 55.7 – 156.8
According to GVT there are perhaps 17 Flames that should be considered for the honour before Lanny McDonald, if you include the two goalies (Bouchard 3rd, Lemelin 9th). Since many of these players, including MacInnis and Fleury, both enjoyed single seasons as distinguished as Vernon’s and McDonald’s, and were part of the Stanley Cup season (heck, MacInnis was the MVP), there must be some other criteria we’re overlooking.
Sure, McDonald and Vernon were known for leadership and heart, but so too were so many of the statistically more deserving. Would it really be fair if these players are eliminated from consideration simply because they didn’t end their careers wearing red?
Make of it what you will, because at the end of the day the jerseys on the rafters don’t put points on the board. Regardless of whether or not your favourite Flames is ever selected for this honour, you do have to appreciate that the Flames are historically so deep in talent that players like MacInnis, Fleury and Nieuwendyk aren’t immediately hustled to the Saddledome. Most teams would be thrilled with even a Nilsson, Mullen or a Loob (hey, who wouldn’t be thrilled with a Loob?), whereas the Flames have several doors on which to knock first.
Nevertheless, if I may be so bold with my closing words: Send the 9 to Toronto, put up 2 and 14, and say the 30 is Bouchard’s.