September 02, 2008
The Washington Capitals have announced they are retiring No. 11. No, not Jeff Halpern or Jeff Nelson or Tim Bergland or Bobby Carpenter. Those players just happened to wear No. 11 by some crazy 18-year-long uniform malfunction. Everyone knows there's only one No. 11 in Washington Capitals history since 1979, and it's Esa Tikkanen. Uh, make that Mike Gartner.
The Capitals announced that Gartner's number will be retired on Dec. 28 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He's the second all-time leading scorer of goals (397), assists (392) and points (789) for the franchise. "Capitals fans have fond memories of Mike Gartner flying down the right wing and scoring goals at the Capital Centre," said Capitals chairman and majority owner Ted Leonsis in a press release. Yeah, that about sums it up.
Look, every fan base has its own personal connection to its own players. There are no doubt fans from other NHL cities that don't believe Ken Daneyko deserves immortality in the rafters of Newark; ask a Devils fan, and they'll tell you he meant as much to the franchise as Martin Brodeur, and perhaps even more.
So as a non-Capitals fan, I'm in no position to say this is the wrong decision. I can say, in my 13 years in the D.C. area, the topic of Mike Gartner's number retirement has never come up in conversation; outside of, perhaps, some brief discussion when he entered the stat-happy (unless you're Dino Ciccarelli) Hall of Fame. The undeniable fact is that he doesn't stir emotions like the names Peter Bondra or Olaf Kolzig or even Jeff Halpern, the guy who more modern Caps fans likely associate with No. 11 to begin with.
Gartner has the numbers, thanks to being the fastest player during the most offensive (pun intended?) era in NHL history. But he doesn't transcend his contributions on the ice like fellow retired number-men Rod Langway and Dale Hunter did for the franchise. If you're going to have a threshold for these things, that's it; see Adam Graves in New York, whose number the Rangers will retire this season.
Japers posted the press release without comment, as did On Frozen Blog; the debate is ongoing over on the Capitals' boards. By my admittedly stringent standards, Gartner wouldn't be in the Hall of Fame. The validity of retiring his number ultimately is the Capitals fans' call, and it'll be an interesting one.