The Numbers Game

In a move that is universally unpopular with Lightning fans (based on the two comments I saw posted), it was announced on Friday that recently re-acquired defenseman Matt Carle would wear number 25. The number was previously worn by former captain Dave Andreychuk and hasn't been worn since his retirement in 2006.

There was belief among many that the team was waiting to officially retire the number in honor of Andreychuk, possibly during the upcoming season, the team's 20th. That would have made it the first number so recognized in the history of the franchise.

Who and what does or does not deserve lifetime recognition from a team is a debate that can be fought on several levels and Andreychuk is as worthy of consideration as anyone, but when it comes to numbers, there's always lots to talk about.

A strong case can be made for 25 finding its way to the rafters of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, having been worn for the last time by Dave Andreychuk. He had a fair share of individual accomplishments as a member of the Lightning, including scoring the 600th goal of his career and establishing the NHL record for power play goals with 274. His contributions to the team include serving as captain during a period that included the 2004 Stanley Cup championship, and playing a key role in developing a winning culture within the organization.

Conversely, it can be said there's nothing wrong with an organization setting extremely high standards in regard to the recognition of individual players, as opposed to some teams in professional sports that retire a player's number every few years because they think they're supposed to as a means of reminding everyone what a great organization they are/were. Taking a conservative approach makes sure that the honor of retiring a player's number is truly an honor, and it also ensures there are plenty of numbers available for future players.

The Dallas Cowboys have never retired a player's number, preferring to honor individual players by inducting them into a "ring of honor". Still, certain numbers, such as Roger Staubach's number 12, are considered unavailable. Even though no Lightning player has worn 25 since Andreychuk wore it in 2006, they never officially retired it. It was basically considered off limits under an unspoken deference to Andreychuk.

Meanwhile, teams like the New York Yankees have so many retired numbers (15), that they find themselves in the position of having to assign what are considered non-traditional high numbers to some of their players.

In the case of Carle selecting 25 for this stint with the Lightning, it seems deference to Andreychuk was taken into consideration. Carle made the request and executives with the team spoke to Andreychuk before granting it. Had there been reluctance expressed at any level, it's likely another number would have been selected. Carle wore 5 in his last brief stint with the Lightning in 2008-09, a number currently assigned to Mattias Ohlund, and has worn 25 since.

Another number that hasn't been worn by a member of the Lightning since 2006 is 1, last worn by goalie Sean Burke. It's safe to say that Burke's .895 save percentage and 2.80 goals against average in 35 games isn't number-retiring worthy. In this case, the reason it hasn't been worn is probably because it's a goalie number and maybe most netminders appreciate irony enough to not want to wear number 1 for a team that has shown reluctance to declare a number 1 goalie.

What are some other numbers that haven't appeared on a Lightning sweater in at least five years?

  • 46 - by Kyle Wanvig, 2007-08 season
  • 57 - Kristian Kudroc, 2000-01
  • 61 - Karl Stewart, 2007-08
  • 62 - Kaspers Astashenko, 2000-01
  • 64 - Jason Bonsignore, 1998-99 (this should have been a no-brainer when the team acquired Mike Commodore last season)
  • 73 - Matt Elich, 2000-01
  • 74 - Nick Tarnasky, 2007-08
  • 79 - Vladimir Vujtek, 1997-98
  • 80 - Kevin Weekes, 2001-02
  • 85 - Petr Klima, 1995-96
  • 92 - Aaron Gavey, 1996-97
  • 93 - Darren Puppa, 1999-00
  • 95 - Michel Petit, 1995-96

In addition,

Numbers 45, 59, 60, 63, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 72, 75, 78, 81, 82, 83, 84, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 94, 96, 97 and 98 have never been worn by anybody on the Tampa Bay Lightning

Personally, I would have liked to have seen Andreychuk's #25 retired during the upcoming season. It could still happen at some point in the future, I suppose. And while many of us will probably continue to associate #25 with The Captain, Carle wearing it and playing well would be a nice tribute. Still, with so many numbers out there open and available, I wish he had settled for one of those. I'm pretty sure nobody would have to worry about the legacy of Michel Petit if he'd wanted #95.