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Sean Leahy

The Rafters Debate: Who deserves to have his number retired?

Sean Leahy
Puck Daddy

Besides being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, the next highest individual honor bestowed upon an athlete is having his number retired by a club he's spent the most time with in a career (i.e. Mario Lemieux) or had the most impact on (i.e. Reggie Jackson with the Yankees).

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For certain players, there's a debate as to which team should retire their number. Currently, there's only five players that have had their number retired by two teams: Wayne Gretzky (Oilers and Kings), Mark Messier (Oilers and Rangers), Gordie Howe (Red Wings and Whalers), Bobby Hull (Blackhawks and Jets) and Ray Bourque (Bruins and Avalanche). You can look through the list of retired numbers throughout the National Hockey League and pick only a handful of players that could easily be added to that list.

In recent years, a lot of teams have been inducting players into a team "Hall of Fame," which is meant for players whose "raised to the rafters" qualifications are iffy, or for those players who had a significant impact on a franchise during a certain time period. Perfect examples of this trend is the New York Islanders "Hall of Fame" honoring Bob Bourne and the Pittsburgh Penguins "inducting" Paul Coffey this past season among names like Syl Apps, Jean Pronovost and Joe Mullen.

There are a number of players that recently changed teams (or in one case, leagues) whose credentials for number retirement from a certain franchise could be debated. Let's take a look at a few:

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Olaf Kolzig, Washington Capitals

Olie the Goalie was selected 19th overall in the 1989 draft by the Capitals. He spent 16 seasons with the club, leading them to the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals against Detroit. He's also the last Washington player who wore the old red, white and blue uniforms and he took home the Vezina Trophy in 2000, breaking a three-year winning streak by Buffalo's Dominik Hasek at the time.

Kolzig is huge in the community, spending time with the charity he began with Byron Dafoe and Scott Mellanby, Athletes Against Autism, which earned him the 2006 King Clancy Memorial Trophy. In 2004, while celebrating their 30th anniversary season, the Capitals organization let fans vote on the top players in franchise history. Olie the Goalie had the most votes.

It's pretty clear Kolzig is one of the most popular athletes in Washington sports, not only for his contributions on the ice, but off it. I think his No. 37 should hang from the Verizon Center rafters; and after seeing a poll by our good friends at On Frozen Blog, Caps fans agree too.

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Markus Naslund, Vancouver Canucks

He found himself in Vancouver after being a part of one of the most infamous trades in Pittsburgh Penguins history, heading west in exchange for Alex Stojanov. Once Naslund settled in Vancouver, his game developed and he became one of the top players in the league.

His best season was 2002-03 where he netted 48 goals and 104 points, garnering him the Lester B. Pearson Award as well as the runner-up slot for the Hart Trophy. He quickly became the team's all-time leader in goals and points, and won the Team MVP award on five separate occasions. Naslund was named Canucks captain before the 2000-01 season and held it until he signed with the New York Rangers last week.

Also a charitable guy, Naslund sponsored a program called "Nazzy's Suite 19" that gives underprivileged kids a chance to see Canucks games.

I'm of the ilk that any team captain who's spent a significant amount of time in one city should have their number retired. I think Naslund, too, should have his No. 19 honored and stand side-by-side with Stan Smyl's No. 12.

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Jaromir Jagr, Pittsburgh Penguins

Jagr burst on to the scene as a supporting cast member of the great 1991 and 1992 Stanley Cup champion Penguins. He rode shotgun to Mario Lemieux, but created a name for himself early on, especially after this goal in the '92 finals against Chicago (video).

Between 1981 and 1997, "Mario Jr." was the only player to win the Art Ross Trophy not named Gretzky or Lemieux. He took over as captain of the Penguins in 1997 and won four more scoring titles as well as the 1999 Hart Trophy and Lester B. Pearson Award. His tenure with the Penguins ended in summer of 2001 when he was dealt to the Washington Capitals. The trade angered many fans, who felt that Jagr's greed and inability to be sympathetic to the Penguins' financial struggles at the time were the main reasons he needed to be traded.

The former Pittsburgh captain explained this past season that he asked to be traded to help the Penguins and their money woes at the time, knowing the team couldn't afford him. Whatever you believe, there are factions of fans that still adore Jagr (like me) and those that booed him every time he touched the puck inside Mellon Arena; as well as those were willing to let bygones be bygones and welcome him back to Pittsburgh with open arms.

As a Penguins fan, I'd like to see No. 68 in the rafters because Jagr made his name as a Pittsburgh Penguin. Sure, he might have been greedy at the wrong time, but in the end, just about all athletes go for the money, even if they say it's not about the money.

And maybe his brief two and a half year tenure with the Capitals was punishment enough?

Those are just a couple of players who you might spend some time debating their jersey retirement merits. I guess it all depends on your individual criteria.

What standards does a player need to meet to have his number honored?

What player numbers do you want to see retired by specific teams? Which jerseys deserve to hang in the rafters in your building?

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