There is only one number in the NHL that is retired leaguewide and that is Wayne Gretzky's 99. But last week, the Great One himself said he would like to see the league retire the No. 9 worn by Gordie Howe, who died on June 10.
Actually, what happened was Gretzky was talking about Howe's legacy and someone asked Gretzky if the league should honor Howe by retiring his No. 9. What was Gretzky supposed to say? Of course he had to say that the league should retire Howe's number.
Not to take anything away from Howe's contributions and impact on the game of hockey, but it seems a bit of a stretch to retire his number across all teams. In fact, I'm not even sure Gretzky's 99 should be retired. Although, if I'm a hockey player, I wouldn't be dumb enough to wear 99.
The only number in sports that should be retired is the 42 worn by baseball's Jackie Robinson. The impact he had socially by breaking the color barrier makes him a figure worth honoring in such a leaguewide manner.
As far as Howe's 9, part of the consideration is other players in the game have worn No. 9, including Rocket Richard, Bobby Hull and Brett Hull. To announce that Howe's 9 is being retired might, inadvertently, diminish the legacy of those players.
SB Nation came up with a great alternative to honor Howe: Name a trophy after him. Hand out the Gordie Howe Award to the player who combines toughness, leadership and skill — the exact traits that Howe possessed. In fact, it might quickly become the most coveted award in hockey.
Now that would be the best way to honor Mr. Hockey.