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With just over 18,000 fans in the building, the Chicago Blackhawks lost 2-0 to the Seattle Kraken on Thursday night. It was their sixth loss in a row and eighth time this season having been shutout. But the story of the night wasn’t what happened on the ice. Rather, it was about what happened before the game and what happened during an early TV timeout.
Prior to Thursday night’s contest, the Blackhawks honored Hockey Hall of Famer and three-time Stanley Cup champion Marián Hossa with a one-day contract to retire, officially, as a member of the Blackhawks. It was an honor that Hossa had always wanted.
“I had a conversation with Rocky,” Hossa said during a media availability on Thursday night, “Basically he called me because he knew my contract was over. He knew I wanted to retire as a Blackhawk. He called me and he said, ‘We’d like to sign you for one day and you can retire as a Blackhawk as you like.’ I was like, ‘Wow. That’s amazing.”
Hossa played the most games of his career with Chicago, suiting up for 534 of his 1,309 NHL games as a member of the Blackhawks. While he didn’t have many of his career-best seasons with the team, he was one of the biggest reasons the club won three Stanley Cups in a six-season span. In a pre-game ceremony, Hossa signed his one-day contract and officially retired as a Blackhawk.
But the night wasn’t over.
Midway through the first period of the game, with the shots on goal fittingly being 8-1 (although not in the favor of the Blackhawks), the team ran a tribute video for Hossa during a TV timeout. With narration by the legendary Bob Verdi, it was announced that Hossa would become the eighth player to have his number retired by the Blackhawks.
On a date yet to be determined next season, Hossa’s No. 81 will go into the rafters at the United Center, joining Glenn Hall (1), Pierre Pilote (3), Keith Magnuson (3), Bobby Hull (9), Denis Savard (18), Stan Mikita (21), and Tony Esposito (35).
“I haven’t been in this building in almost four years,” Hossa said about his return to the city this week, “But today I kind of sit and start enjoying the game. After national anthem I sit down there and I look to the left and I saw those names and I still couldn’t believe that my name next year is gonna be up there. There is only a handful of names, or jerseys, and Chicago’s got a history over 100 years. So to me that’s amazing. I’m losing words.”
Number retirement conversations and debates are a tale as old as time in sports. We’ve had those discussions numerous times already on CHGO podcasts and just spit-balling in the office. You’ve likely had them while watching games with friends and family, or while at the bar, or (if you’re like me) debated within your own mind on which players are deserving of having that honor for their respective clubs. For the Blackhawks of the modern era, the “One Goal” era of hockey that churned out so many memorable moments and players deserving of being commemorated by the club, there’s been a sense that they couldn’t retire all of the numbers of those players.
The shoo-ins are there, of course, like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith. But Hossa was always on that next tier of player in that age of hockey in Chicago. He was unquestionably great, but did his short time in Chicago lend enough to have No. 81 be worn only by him forever? The answer now is yes.
And that answer now opens the door to many other players from that era that are forever going to be remembered for their time spent as Blackhawks and as multi-time Stanley Cup champions.
Players like Corey Crawford, arguably one of the best goaltenders in franchise history and a two-time Cup champion. Like Niklas Hjalmarsson, who was one of the greatest defensive-defensemen of his era and a three-time Cup champion. For someone like Patrick Sharp, too, who was always talked about in the same breath as Toews, Kane, and Hossa during his time with the Blackhawks as a member of the three-time Cup champions club.
But where is the line drawn now? And should those more recent players be honored before the ones who came before them, but didn’t have quite the same amount of success in Chicago?
You think about a number like 7, which has been held by both Chris Chelios and Brent Seabrook. Two players with varying degrees of complicated legacies with the Blackhawks. But in all likelihood, just like with No. 3, the Blackhawks will eventually retire the number in honor of both players.
You think of Ed Belfour. Another legendary goaltender in Chicago, who is in the same conversation as Esposito and Crawford as arguably the best goaltender in franchise history. Stanley Cups talk, and although Belfour does have his name on the greatest trophy in all of sports, unfortunately it didn’t happen with the Blackhawks in his seven and a half seasons in Chicago. He’s a Hockey Hall of Famer and won two Vezina trophies while with the Blackhawks. No. 30 should be retired eventually.
You think of Steve Larmer. A player so long overdue for this honor to have his No. 28 retired by the club. Larmer is one of the most underrated players of his generation in Blackhawks hockey. A player who did the dirty work to allow for his long-time linemate Denis Savard to shine. 891 of his 1,006 NHL games were played with Chicago and he recorded 923 of his 1,012 career points with the Blackhawks. His time should have already come.
You think of a player like Jeremy Roenick. Talk about complicated Blackhawks legacies. Roenick was one of the most impactful Blackhawks of his era. Much like Hossa, Roenick played the most games of his career with the Blackhawks, suiting up for 524 of his 1,363 NHL games with Chicago. But unlike Hossa, Roenick started his career in Chicago and then went on to play over 800 more NHL games with other clubs. Forget the number retirement, it’s borderline criminal that Roenick is not in the Hockey Hall of Fame. His career-best seasons were with the Blackhawks, but he never won an award or a Stanley Cup with the club or ever in his career.
What more hurts his case now more than before is his reasons for having fallen out of the spotlight with the Blackhawks and with the NHL. His dismissal from NBC, whether you agreed with the reasoning or not at the time or if you could move on from it now, has cost him facetime around the league. There’s likely a scenario where Roenick is brought back into the league in some way, and likely brought back to the Blackhawks with some amends making, which could end up with his No. 27 being lifted to the UC rafters as well (sorry Lukas Reichel, you’ll need to find a new number).
It is unlikely that every one of these players will actually end up having their number retired. The Blackhawks would start to run out of numbers at some point. But Hossa’s legacy is cemented among the greats of the Blackhawks. His No. 81 will undoubtedly be joined by at least four other former teammates’ numbers in the coming years. Beyond that, who knows?
With the outlook of the Blackhawks now as they face the upcoming years-long rebuilding process, there will be a need to fill seats from time to time. What better way to honor some of these former players, and sell tickets, than with these kinds of ceremonies? Nostalgia sells and it might be the biggest marketing tool the organization has for a while.
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