Saturday, August 21, 2021

Retired Numbers that Weren't - the 1970's

Here we are in the quiet of the hockey calendar, and we find ourselves daydreaming of days gone by.  Which brings us to one of those topics fans like to talk about… retired numbers.  There are almost 200 retired numbers among the 31 NHL teams playing in the 2020-2021 season, including the number “99,” which has been retired by every NHL team in honor of Wayne Gretzky.  Not all of the retired numbers were worn by players.  For example, the late Wayne Huizenga, the original owner of the Florida Panthers, was honored with a retired number (“37,” his birth year and what he believed was his lucky number) in December 2017.  The Panthers also retired the number “93,” symbolizing their first year of play in the NHL, in honor of Bill Torrey, the first president of the club. And the Vegas Golden Knights retired the number “58” to honor the 58 people who lost their lives in the 2017 shooting in Las Vegas.

In Washington, four players have had their numbers retired – Yvon Labre’s number “7” on November 22, 1981; Rod Langway’s number “5” on November 26, 1997; Dale Hunter’s number “32” on March 11, 2000; and Mike Gartner’s number “11” on December 28, 2008

One of the persistent topics among Caps fans is whether or not the list should be expanded and for whom?  We are going to approach this from a slightly different direction.  The four retired numbers align fairly well with the honored players’ best decades in Washington – Labre in the 1970’s as one of the early captains of the club and one of the most popular, if not the most popular player during his seven seasons in Washington; Langway and Gartner as the “Secretary of Defense” and the leading goal scorer/point producer, respectively, in the 1980’s; and Hunter as the heart, soul, and guts of the club and as captain (1994-1999) in the 1990’s.

But who might be identified as “reminder” numbers to be honored, numbers of Capitals players who might have made significant contributions on the ice, but the memories of which have faded over time?  We will take a look at each decade and identify players whose numbers should serve as a reminder of what they meant to the club, even if their production does not quite rise to the level of “retired” number.  It all begins with the 1970’s.

The Candidates:

“15”  This was the number worn by center Guy Charron from 1976-1977 through 1979-1980 (he played a fifth season in Washington, in 1980-1981).  In those four seasons to close out the 1970’s, Charron scored more goals (113), recorded more assists (143), and posted more points (256) that any other Capital.  Not that the Capitals won a lot of games over that period, but Charron also recorded more game winning goals (12) than any other Capitals and accounted for more than ten percent of the game-winning goals posted (111).

“24”  Robert Picard was a third-overall pick of the Capitals in the 1977 Amateur Draft, and he did not disappoint in his three seasons with the Caps to close out the 1970’s (his only three years with the Caps).  Despite playing in only those last three seasons of the 1970’s, Picard was the third-leading point getter for the Caps (156) among all skaters and led all defensemen in goals (42, more than twice as many as Rick Green (20)), assists (114, the only Capital defenseman to top 100 assists in the ‘70’s), and points (156, the only defenseman in triple-digits).  In his sophomore season (1978-1979) at age 21, he finished sixth in Norris Trophy voting, no small feat for a defenseman playing on a club that was next to last in scoring defense that season.

"30"/“1”  If Yvon Labre had his number retired for more than just his on-ice performance, then there might be something to be said for retiring a number (or numbers) of a player who toiled mightily under the worst of circumstances.  Goaltender Ron Low appeared in 48 of 70 games in the Caps’ inaugural 1974-1975 season, and his eight wins were the only wins posted among the three goalies to dress for the club that season.  Yes, his numbers that season were ghastly (8-36-2, 5.45, .855), but he did record the club’s first shutout in team history (a 3-0 blanking of the Kansas City Scouts on February 16, 1975), and he went on to appear in 145 games for the Caps in the 1970’s, by far most among the ten goalies to play for the Caps in the period.  And, he had 30 of the team’s 111 wins in the ‘70’s.

The Choice:

Robert Picard’s “24” gets the nod here. He was Mike Green before there was Mike Green, a dominant offensive producer, not only among his defenseman teammates, but among his NHL cohort as well.  In his three seasons with the Caps to close the 1970’s, he ranked ninth among all NHL defensemen in total goals, tenth in total assists, and ninth in total points.  And even though his minus-41 sticks out like a sore thumb, that was middle of the pack in rankings among Caps defensemen in the 1970’s.

Honorable Mention:

“25”  Forward Bob Sirois dressed for 282 games for the Caps in the 1970’s and potted 91 goals with 211 points, joining Guy Charron as the only Caps to top 200 points in the ‘70’s.

“14” In three-plus seasons with the Caps in the '70's, Gerry Meehan recorded 65 goals, nine of which were game-winners.

“5” Although this number would be retired later by Rod Langway, Rick Green deserves a mention for being the second leading goal scorer (20) and point-getter (99) among Caps defensemen in the 1970’s.