Friday, January 25, 2008

By Numbers: Brian Leetch Tells Us Who's Next

Most folks know that last night Brian Leetch’s number “2” went to the top of Madison Square Garden, in what was a very subdued ceremony. The night mirrored the player being honored. It was nothing like the ostentatious Mark Messier night which was fit for a king, er I mean messiah. The biggest pop or loudest crowd ovation of the night came when Brian Leetch announced that Adam Graves’ number “9” would be the next jersey to go up to the rafters. Rob Adams asked me about this in the comments section of my previous post. Four players from the 1994 Rangers' team will now have their number retired, is it too much?

Mark Messier and Brian Leetch are Hall of Famers, so in their cases, no. Mike Richter, although a borderline Hall of Famer, may be the best goalie in the history of the New York Rangers and was a primary reason for the Rangers’ success in 1994. Adam Graves is another story altogether. To take nothing away from Graves’ play on the ice, I have to say that this one is all about popularity, in my opinion much in the same way as Eddie Giacomin's number "1" getting retired. Yes, Graves played a key role in the magical run of 93-94, however, you wanna know who led the Rangers in points during the 1993-1994 season? Sergei Zubov. Yes, the smooth-skating Muscovite with the perpetual five o’clock shadow. Should Zubov’s number “21” go to the top of The Garden? Of course, not. How about Alex Kovalev? Stephan Matteau? Silly you say and right you would be.

Graves’ number goes to the top of Madison Square Garden because, yes his numbers as a Ranger were good, but his tireless effort on the ice is far surpassed by his tireless contributions to charitable endeavors off of the ice and are what makes him so popular. I don’t think there is anyone who like Adam Graves who gives so much of himself in pro sports - and that’s only the stuff we know about. Graves has always been someone that tries to do things with little fanfare, which in New York is no easy task.

For one championship, four numbers may be excessive, but it was a unique and memorable conquest 1994 was, done on the backs of four special athletes. I do wish that the Graves ceremony was spaced out a bit from the Leetch ceremony. I also know that if M.S.G. isn’t going to formally do something for Andy Bathgate, I can guarantee you that Adam Graves is such a class act that he will mention and pay the proper respect to Mr. Bathgate at some point during the ceremony.

It’s a tricky thing with numbers. After Graves and hopefully fellow number “9” Andy Bathgate, I don’t think there is anyone else that deserves to have their number retired. Again, I’ve made my case for a dual ceremony in a previous entry here. I’ve heard folks saying that Wayne Gretzky should have his Rangers “99” retired. Foolish! It doesn’t need to happen, because no one in their right mind would wear Wayne’s number again. A retirement ceremony would be superfluous. Ditto in Philadelphia for Pelle Lindbergh. If I was a goalie for the Flyers I wouldn’t wear his number “31” – a posthumous retirement ceremony is not necessary.

Other than that…

I really enjoyed seeing John Davidson come up to the broadcast booth with Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti during the second period. More so, I loved seeing Neil Smith in attendance and in the booth during part of the third period. I always thought that Smith was going to be a “lifer” with the Blueshirts. I think Rangers’ fans can appreciate now the great success that Smith had while general manager with the franchise. I thought it was also a nice touch for Wayne Gretzky and Derek Jeter to tape recorded video messages in which they congratulate Brian Leetch. Brendan Shanahan also did right by moving his locker over one and putting Leetch's stuff back into his old stall. Shanny then went out and got the game winner. If only Neil Smith would have traded for Shanahan in 1996 - to think not wanting to part with blue chip Christian Dube was the deal breaker.

One thing I will always remember about Brian Leetch was his uncanny ability to stop clearing attempts by the opposition while he manned the point on the power play. Leetch would either catch the puck with his gloved hand or use his left leg to sandwich any attempted clearing attempts. No one that I have seen, not the great Chelios, Bourque, or Lidstrom were able to do that.

Overall, a great night for a great New York Ranger.

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