With the Stanley Cup banner heading to the rafters of Ball Arena on Wednesday night, it got me thinking about maybe the most-asked question in Colorado Avalanche history: Should the team have retired Eric Messier’s number?
I know what many of you are probably screaming at your screen right now… “OF COURSE, YOU NEW HAMPSHIRE IDIOT!! He was the heart and soul of that 2001 Stanley Cup team!”
And you’d be right in regards to both parts of your screams.
Well, maybe not the heart and soul. But ask any Avalanche fan with a memory of that last Cup team and they will tell you that after all the star power at the top of the lineup, the third line of Shjon Podien, Stephane Yelle and Eric Messier was probably the heart of that forward group.
They weren’t the most skilled group or known for their offensive prowess, but they did seemingly everything they needed to when they were tapped on the shoulder. What they lacked in true scoring finish, they made up for in their ability to finish their checks and wear down the opposing team’s top players.
And without Messier’s high sticking penalty that led to New Jersey’s lone tally of the night, the Avalanche win Game 7 comfortably and probably in a shutout. Where’s the drama and showmanship in that? Thanks for giving us a bit more excitement that night, Mess! The holding penalty you took three minutes later was a bit too much for me, though…
Obviously, I’m joking about Messier’s No. 29 being retired by the Avalanche. Everyone knows that honor will one day go to Ryan Stoa. But it got me thinking: what Avalanche player deserves to have their number retired next?
The current team has four players who — if all things continue on the same trajectory — will one day have their numbers up alongside Sakic, Roy, Forsberg, Foote, Hejduk and the somewhat controversial Bourque. Those four are Gabe Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantenan and Cale Makar.
Okay, let’s clear the air before we move on. Is Ray Bourque a legend? Yes. Is he one of the five best defenseman in NHL history? Few would argue to the contrary. Is he deserving of having his number retired in Denver? I’m not sure. The problem is in a career that spanned 21 seasons and 1,612 games, 94.1% of it was spent with the Bruins. His number was retired in the feel-good wake of the 2001 win and at the time felt like an appropriate thing to do given his role in helping that team get over the hump. Two decades later, it feels slightly out of place next to longtime Avalanche legends.
All that aside, I don’t spend too much time worried about Bourque. He is such an all-time NHL figure and when most people think about his playing career today, the image they probably envision is Sakic handing him the Stanley Cup that night. That makes me feel that his place in the rafters is probably justified.
STOP GETTING ME OFF TOPIC!
I really wanted to look back on some of those legends of the past who wore the ‘Snowy A’ on their chest (I want to make ‘Snowy A’ a thing…) and could one day be honored as well.
For this exercise, I only want to look at those who are seen as Colorado players. I’m excluding Nordiques-only skaters as they had their own set of retired numbers before relocating in 1995. The Avs chose to unretire those numbers and add them back into the rotation once in Denver. However, I did include a player or two who made the move.
I always felt bad for Michel Goulet. Quebec retired his No. 16 on March 16, 1995, and exactly two months later, the franchise played its last game as the Nordiques. Warren Rychel wore the number the following fall as the team re-branded as the ‘Lanche (I also want to bring ‘Lanche back. People used to say that more and then ‘Avs’ became the thing to say), just months after Goulet was honored. Has to be the shortest retired number in sports history.
With all that said, let’s look at some players who IN MY OPINION should at least be considered for number retirement.
TO BE CONSIDERED:
4 – Rob Blake. I have a soft spot for big Robby Blake. The final piece acquired at the deadline that year to help Colorado win the Cup in 2021. He is a Hall of Famer most known for his contributions to the Kings franchise, but if Bourque can be up there, Blake is more than deserving of the honor in Denver, too. Plus I named my son after him, so obviously I have a special place in my heart for him. No. 4 might also be the most talented number in franchise history with a group of deserving, but, to me, it belongs to the tall guy with the big hip check.
18 – Adam Deadmarsh. I think that’s how you spell his last name. I should check on that before hitting publish on this article, but if I don’t spell check his last name, it wouldn’t be the first time someone didn’t for Deader. Interestingly enough, the first two names I picked were players who were… wait for it… traded for each other!! Deadmarsh was a great player on those mid-90s Avalanche teams and a beloved teammate, damn near casuing Peter Forsberg to ask off the Avs himself after the trade. He was also a huge part of USA Hockey at that time, too, playing in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey for an American team who — after the 1980 Miracle on Ice Team — is probably the most influential in our nation’s hockey history. (The jerseys for America and Canada were incredible, by the way.)
8 – Sandis Ozolinsh. He will go down as the best defenseman to wear No. 8 in team history. The quintessential pucking-moving, slick-handed, smooth-skating blueliner. Power-play quarterback. Defensive zone exiting magician. He could do it all and there hasn’t been a player in Denver like him since that 2000 trade to Carolina at the draft. Think about this: Sandis Ozolinsh was so highly regarded that the Avs traded former No. 1 overall pick Owen Nolan to the Sharks to acquire him. He was Cale Makar before Cale Makar was Cale Makar. (I only put him here and out of numerical order so I could make that comment about Blake and Deadmarsh being traded for each other.)
20 – Rene Corbet. Okay, maybe not. But I had to create him in NHL96 for Sega Genesis and I made him LEGIT. For that, he is a legend in my mind. (Yet another sidenote: Despite winning the Stanley Cup in 1996, the Avalanche were not in that year’s annual game release as the move to Colorado came too late for developers to adjust, so the Nordiques were in a game during a season in which they were not an NHL franchise! Feel free to use that as a conversation starter at bars, guys.)
22 – Claude Lemieux. And do it when the Red Wings are in town. Do it, Joe and Josh. Do it. Lemieux is actually deserving of the honor based on his play on the ice, but many people only remember him for the hit and the fights against Detroit. I have many things to say about that E:60 doc — and only two are about the shirt Dater chose to wear during his interviews — but I’ll save that for another rant some day.
24 – Jon Klemm. I mean… probably the slimmest of chances of all the players I’ll name here, but he played on both the ’96 and ’01 teams. He joined Sakic, Forsberg, Foote, Roy and Yelle as the only players on both… for that, he should hold a special place in Avs fans’ hearts as one of just six players with two rings as a player (SO FAR!).
26 – Stephane Yelle. See Jon Klemm’s write-up. I hope people remember that Yelle was also insanely resilient. He missed scoring the OT game winner into an open net during Game 3 of the ’01 Western Conference Final in St. Louis (which former ‘Lanche Scott Young would win for the Blues a few minutes later), only to bounce back and net the winner two nights later in Game 4. Go watch that year’s championship film (which I wore out on VHS when I was 16) on YouTube and you’ll see just how much that goal meant to Yeller and his teammates.
37 – a few players. I thought long and hard about No. 37 for Chris Drury, Ryan O’Reilly and now the red-bearded legend JT Compher. Realistically: no for any of them. But that’s actually a good track record for a super random number. Drury would go on to wear No. 18 in 2001-02 before being traded, but his best days in Denver were in 37.
40 – Alex Tanguay. He, like Drury, also wore 18 with the Avs, but is best known for his time in the No. 40 sweater. When you score twice in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, that’s the number you’ll forever be in the eyes of that fanbase. He also scored a goal at Coors Field in one of the greatest (sarcasm) games ever played in league history. That game came during his second stint with the Avs while wearing 40.
41 – Tyson Barrie. Sure, he’s known for No. 4, but I’m giving that to Blake or maybe John-Michael Liles or maybe our sweet little angel baby Bo Byram when his career is all done. Barrie wore No. 41 from 2011-13 and I think that’s where he really came on… or it’s just to see him in a number people forgot he wore. Or maybe we retire it for PE Bellemare just because of that press conference where he thought they were playing on the actual Lake Tahoe. Loved that guy on the ‘Lanche (bringing it back!).
54 – David Jones. He played at Dartmouth and after I spent a decade working with that program, I grew to really like ‘Jonesy.’ He was always an awesome guy and he had a great career while with the Big Green and remains the program’s most recent All-America. His Dartmouth days should definitely count toward consideration for this honor. And this is my list and I do what I want!
88 – Eric Lindros. I’m breaking every rule I set at the beginning because I can. Time has given me perspective on this whole situation. I hated him as a kid because I thought Lindros felt he was too good for the Nordiques. Now, with the benefit of hindsight and age, I see his side of it. That being said: I thank him for his refusal to play in Quebec because that trade and its massive trickle-down effect basically led directly to the heyday of the 90s/00s Avalanche teams and two Stanley Cups.
Wait… Joe Sakic wore 88 as a rookie with the Nordiques. Second thought: retire 88 for Sakic instead.
There you have it: the complete and completely correct list of POSSIBLE Avalanche retired numbers to be considered. Feel free to tell me who I missed, but only if it’s Aaron Miller, Curtis Leschyshyn, Greg de Vries, Ville Nieminen, Serge Aubin, Ian Laperriere, Dan Hinote or Carl Soderberg. Anyone else and I won’t take it seriously.
DOG NAME UPDATE:
My fellow-Avs fan buddy who used to work at Dartmouth with me (I used to work at Dartmouth, did I tell you that?) sent me the pic of his new puppy, Landy, wearing the jersey of his namesake! He also told me his friend also has a dog named Mikko, though not after the Avs player. Apparently, they’re just fans of Finnish culture.
WHAT A GOOD BOY!!