Tag Archives: Guy Lafleur

Why the Boston Bruins Might Never Retire No. 30

For a lot of Boston Bruins fans, the term “goalie controversy” often draws up images of people shouting at each other on Twitter about Tim Thomas vs. Tuukka Rask– yes, even to this day, despite the fact that 1) Thomas was traded to the New York Islanders in 2013 and 2) that he effectively retired after the 2013-14 season split between the Florida Panthers and Dallas Stars (he never announced his retirement officially, anyway). 

Both have a Stanley Cup ring to their names as they were members of the 2011 Stanley Cup champion Bruins roster, with Thomas leading the way to Boston’s first championship since 1972, while Rask was biding his time as the team’s backup before taking over as the full-time B’s starter since the 2012-13 season– racking up multiple franchise records in the process and two more Stanley Cup Final appearances in 2013 and 2019.

But this “goalie controversy” has nothing to do with the galaxy brain Thomas vs. Rask arguments on Twitter.

This is about the “controversial” debate that rages surrounding retiring No. 30 in Boston and the controversies that surround two of its most prominent Bruins to wear it.

When considering whether or not to retire a number in Bruins lore, first consider what other Original Six teams have done, since they’re the only comparable franchises with almost as many– if not more– years of history than Boston.

Then consider the fact that Boston has never retired a number for a goalie. For quick reference, retired numbers of goalies are in bold.

Boston Bruins retired numbers

  • 2 Eddie Shore
  • 3 Lionel Hitchman
  • 4 Bobby Orr
  • 5 “Dit” Clapper
  • 7 Phil Esposito
  • 8 Cam Neely
  • 9 Johnny Bucyk
  • 15 Milt Schmidt
  • 16 Rick Middleton
  • 24 Terry O’Reilly
  • 77 Ray Bourque

Chicago Blackhawks retired numbers

  • 1 Glenn Hall
  • 3 Keith Magnuson/Pierre Pilote
  • 9 Bobby Hull
  • 18 Denis Savard
  • 21 Stan Mikita
  • 35 Tony Esposito

Detroit Red Wings retired numbers

  • 1 Terry Sawchuk
  • 4 Red Kelly
  • 5 Nicklas Lidstrom
  • 7 Ted Lindsay
  • 9 Gordie Howe
  • 10 Alex Delvecchio
  • 12 Sid Abel
  • 19 Steve Yzerman

Montreal Canadiens retired numbers

  • 1 Jacques Plante
  • 2 Doug Harvey
  • 3 Emile Bouchard
  • 4 Jean Beliveau
  • 5 Bernie Geoffrion/Guy Lapointe
  • 7 Howie Morenz
  • 9 Maurice Richard
  • 10 Guy Lafleur
  • 12 Yvan Cournoyer/Dickie Moore
  • 16 Henri Richard/Elmer Lach
  • 18 Serge Savard
  • 19 Larry Robinson
  • 23 Bob Gainey
  • 29 Ken Dryden
  • 33 Patrick Roy

New York Rangers retired numbers

  • 1 Eddie Giacomin
  • 2 Brian Leetch
  • 3 Harry Howell
  • 7 Rod Gilbert
  • 9 Andy Bathgate/Adam Graves
  • 11 Vic Hadfield/Mark Messier
  • 19 Jean Ratelle
  • 35 Mike Ritcher

Toronto Maple Leafs retired numbers

  • 1 Turk Broda/Johnny Bower
  • 4 Hap Day/Red Kelly
  • 5 Bill Barilko
  • 6 Irvine “Ace” Bailey
  • 7 King Clancy/Tim Horton
  • 9 Ted Kennedy/Charlie Conacher
  • 10 Syl Apps/George Armstrong
  • 13 Mats Sundin
  • 14 Dave Keon
  • 17 Wendell Clark
  • 21 Borje Salming
  • 27 Frank Mahovlich/Darryl Sittler
  • 93 Doug Gilmour

There’s not many retired goalie numbers among Original Six teams, let alone the rest of the NHL. Plus Boston hasn’t even retired No. 1 for Cecil “Tiny” Thompson and/or Frank Brimsek.

Next, think about Hockey Hall of Fame status, as well as career longevity (in Boston and outside of Boston).

Especially since there is no “Boston Bruins Hall of Fame” (which is a shame, really– they built The Hub on Causeway and they couldn’t dedicate more to team history/histories (if you include the NBA’s Boston Celtics) than just the entrance to the old Boston Garden standing inside of Banners Kitchen & Tap?).

Sure there’s The Sports Museum inside TD Garden, but the Montreal Canadiens have a Montreal Canadiens Hall of Fame underneath Bell Centre. Your move, Mr. Jacobs.

Cam Neely– He didn’t play nearly enough games for his era due to Ulf Samuelsson, but Neely is a Hockey Hall of Fame member.

Rick Middleton– He played a lot, scored a ton, but Middleton isn’t a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Terry O’Reilly– He was like Milt Schmidt in that he did a lot for the Bruins organization (player and later coach), but O’Reilly isn’t a Hockey Hall of Fame member.

As with everything, there are exceptions to the rule and O’Reilly and Middleton are deservingly so in their own right.

Gerry Cheevers is a Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender. Tim Thomas is a U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender. He’s still eligible for the Hockey Hall of Fame, but he hasn’t gotten in and there’s no guarantees that he’ll make it.

Interestingly enough, however, while Thomas might never be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Cheevers made it in 1985, but never won a Vezina (Thomas has two, 2008-09 and 2010-11) and was never named to an All-Star Team at season’s end (Thomas was named to two, 2008-09 and 2010-11).

Then think about how they left Boston.

In 1972, the World Hockey Association (WHA) came into fruition as a direct rival of the National Hockey League (NHL). The WHA promised better pay for players and the same– if not better– experience for fans.

It was created by a pair of American promoters who also made the American Basketball Association (ABA), which, if you’re a fan of basketball, you already know the ABA merger story with the National Basketball Association (NBA) to form the National Basketball Association (NBA, 1976-present).

From the onset, the ABA was poised to one day merge with the NBA in its efforts for success a la the American Football League (AFL) and National Football League (NFL) merger prior to the 1970 NFL season.

The WHA was all about what the NHL wasn’t about.

They wanted to capitalize on markets where hockey could flourish, but were otherwise overlooked by the NHL, as well as attract the best players in the game by paying more than what NHL teams would– especially attracting European talent whereas the NHL was stuck as a “North American” game at the time. 

Free agency was a new concept for professional sports in the 1970s and it reigned supreme in the emerging shift towards player’s rights and the evolution of players’ associations.

The NHL’s reserve clause at the time meant players couldn’t become the equivalent of today’s unrestricted free agent until they were 31-years-old. These days, there’s restricted free agency, unrestricted free agency, as well as one-way and two-way contracts to worry about, but that’s another topic for another day.

Cheevers left the Bruins for the WHA, which was deplorable in the eyes of the NHL back then as much as it is now. 

Though fans might have loved seeing the Cleveland Crusaders jerseys, NHL owners hated them. 

Though players loved making more money at a time when all the other major professional sports were seeing significant raises, NHL owners hated them. 

Though WHA franchises thought they’d be on the fast track to continuing operations in the NHL after the WHA ceased to exist, the NHL went all out to slash and burn the remnants of the WHA. 

Seriously though, when the WHA initiated discussions for a merger in 1977, NHL owners voted down a plan to merge six WHA teams into the NHL.

The Edmonton Oilers, New England Whalers, Quebec Nordiques, Cincinnati Stingers, Houston Aeros and Winnipeg Jets wanted out of a league that was hemorrhaging money and into the safe arms of the NHL and its tradition. 

By 1976, there were 32 major professional hockey teams between the NHL and WHA, which diluted the talent pool of a sport that was nowhere near the numbers of popularity and youth through junior league development as it is today.

When it came time to re-negotiate a merger in 1978, Houston was no longer in the plan, since the Aeros ended up having to fold.

The Indianapolis Racers folded in the middle of December 1978, which set the final nail in the merger. Cincinnati and the Birmingham Bulls would each be compensated to disband elsewhere, while Edmonton, New England, Quebec and Winnipeg would join the NHL at the WHA’s insistence.

Except it wasn’t that easy for the Oilers, Whalers, Nordiques and Jets. 

Each team would be stripped of its history– rendering them as NHL expansion teams for the start of the 1979-80 season, subject to expansion fees, an expansion draft and penalizing them by allowing NHL teams to reclaim players that jumped ship to the WHA.

Additionally, the Bruins petitioned the “New England Whalers” moniker, resulting in the Whalers having to drop “New England” in favor of “Hartford” since Boston didn’t want any confusion that the Whalers were playing on their turf (despite Massachusetts and Connecticut both being part of New England). 

The Bruins owned New England. 

That only strengthened the underdog status of the Whalers and the hatred between the two clubs in their Adams Division rivalry after realignment for the 1981-82 season (Hartford kicked things off in their NHL tenure in the Norris Division from 1979-81).

Anyway, back to Cheevers and his departure from the Hub.

After winning his second Cup with Boston in 1972, Cheevers jumped at the opportunity Cleveland created to make a lot more money than what the Bruins were offering their two-time Stanley Cup winning goaltender. 

Cheevers lasted parts of three seasons as a Crusader from 1972-73 to 1975-76, when a financial dispute with Cleveland’s management resulted in Cheevers jumping back into the NHL fold with Boston in the middle of the 1975-76 season.

Since becoming a starting goaltender in the 1967-68 season through Boston’s 1971-72 Cup winning season, Cheevers amassed a 126-52-40 record in 221 games with a 2.72 goals against average and a .915 save percentage in that span, as well as 15 shutouts.

Prior to his departure from the Bruins for Cleveland, he had a career best 2.50 GAA and .920 SV% in 41 games in the 1971-72 season alone as a 31-year-old goaltender (he wouldn’t turn 32 until Dec. 7, 1972).

Though Cheevers returned in 1975-76, things never were really the same.

His WHA tenure racked up a 99-78-9 record in 191 career games for the Crusaders from 1972 through part of the 1975-76 season– with a 3.12 GAA and 14 shutouts in that span.

On Jan. 27, 1976, he returned to Boston as a free agent after being released by Cleveland– two days after the Crusaders suspended him for not showing up and refusing to play.

By that point, Cheevers was 35-years-old and finished off the 1975-76 NHL season with an 8-2-5 record, as well as a 2.74 GAA and a .900 SV% in 15 games played for the Bruins.

In his full seasons for Boston that followed from 1976-77 to his retirement after the 1979-80 season, Cheevers went 87-35-24 in 151 games, with a 2.96 GAA, an .878 SV% and nine shutouts in that span.

Though the emergence of Wayne Gretzky to the NHL scene may have shifted the offensive output across the league since 1979, Cheevers’ NHL playing days only coincided with Gretzky in Gretzky’s rookie season (1979-80).

Though Cheevers had a .524 winning percentage in his first NHL stint with Toronto (two games)  and Boston (250 games) from 1961-72 and a .572 winning percentage after his WHA days in 166 games with Boston from 1976-80, his goals against average and save percentage suffered dramatically from a 2.85 GAA and a .911 SV% in 1961-72 to a 2.94 GAA and an .880 SV% from 1976-80.

Of course, age and the inevitable “wall” that players hit at the twilight of their prime is likely a factor here.

Still, the fact remains the same.

Despite leading the Bruins as a head coach after his retirement as a player from 1980-85, his defection from the NHL to the WHA crushed his immediate chances at being honored for his work on the ice in a sweater with the spoked-B on the front and the No. 30 on the back.

And all these years later, he might still be paying for it.

Thomas, on the other hand, chose to sit out the 2012-13 season, citing a need for more connection to his faith, family and friends.

Though it’s certainly understandable these days, given the presumptive hell he must have gone through with all of his concussions and finding the love for the game again– albeit watching as a fan these days– since his retirement from the NHL after the 2013-14 season, Thomas’ 2012-13 plans weren’t the first time he angered the Bruins fanbase, let alone, Boston’s front office.

After winning the Cup in 2011, he skipped out on the team’s White House invitation— citing (to paraphrase) that both major political parties are at fault for the federal government’s overbearance on its citizens.

Other than that, there’s his staunch– if not, outlandish at times– political views that cannot be overlooked (his support for Chick-fil-A amidst the company’s anti-equal marriage stance) in a day and age where Hockey Is (supposed to be) For Everyone.

Like the rest of us, however, Thomas is human– complex, contradicting, well-defined and unique as an individual. We all struggle through our own cognitive dissonance through life. 

For some, his on-ice performance can be separated from what his private off-ice personal life ensues. 

For others, he might not be as high on the pedestal of Boston sports lore due to his complicated nature– one that contradicts research and the science behind traumatic brain injuries, therapy and experimental treatments with conspiracy theories related to climate change, among other things.

All of this begs the question “should there be a character component to retiring numbers,” which could lead to further discussion surrounding whether or not teams should permanently unretire numbers when legendary players don’t live up to being role models off the ice (see, Bobby Hull and the Chicago Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes). 

Likewise, the same argument could be applied to hall of fame inductions, but both are discussions for another time.

But Thomas’ decision to sit out the 2012-13 season with one-year remaining on his contract and a $5.000 million cap hit in a time when Boston was built for contending for another Cup run while spending $8.500 million combined between Thomas and Tuukka Rask in the crease as the team sat uncomfortably below the salary cap at about $68.868 million out of the $70.200 million ceiling, struck a nerve with then General Manager, Peter Chiarelli, and Co.

Oh and to further add to the uncertainty, the league hit a lockout prior to the start of the 2012-13 season, which saw the usual 82-game schedule reduced to 48 games that season once play resumed in January.

On Feb. 7, 2013, the Bruins traded Thomas to the New York Islanders to free up much needed cap space in an attempt to re-sign Rask, Nathan Horton, Andrew Ference, Anton Khudobin, Jaromir Jagr and others in the 2013 offseason after losing in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final.

Only Rask remained as Ference’s free agent status priced himself out of Boston, Jagr was deemed “too old” (joke’s on them!) and Horton left for the Columbus Blue Jackets in a shroud of “word on the street” rumors. Khudobin, meanwhile, went to the Carolina Hurricanes on a one-year, $800,000 deal after Boston signed Chad Johnson for $200,000 less to be Rask’s backup for the 2013-14 season.

Thomas returned to the NHL for the 2013-14 season with the Florida Panthers after signing a one-year deal on Sept. 26, 2013, before later being traded to the Dallas Stars on March 5, 2014– one day after Florida re-acquired Roberto Luongo from the Vancouver Canucks.

His comeback season didn’t go well (posting a 16-20-3 record, a 2.87 goals against average and a .909 save percentage in 40 games with the Panthers, as well as a 2-4-1 record, a 2.97 GAA and a .902 SV% in eight games with the Stars) and Thomas rode off into the sunset after Dallas was eliminated in six games in the 2014 First Round by the Anaheim Ducks.

The Bruins may let bygones be bygones and welcome Thomas with open arms for a “Tim Thomas Night” or special ceremony one day in the future, but it likely won’t be before Rask retires.

As it is, Thomas isn’t planning on traveling much outside of his Washington, D.C. appearance for his induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in Dec. 2019.

So, what goaltender could have their number retired by Boston?

If there’s one Bruins goaltender that will have his number retired sooner rather than later, it’s Rask.

His current contract expires at the end of next season and Rask has expressed he might retire, but he also might not.

There’s three probable options for Rask when all is said and done in 2021;

1) to sign a short term deal and remain with Boston for his entire NHL career,

2) to sign a contract elsewhere or

3) to retire– finishing his career as one of the greatest goaltenders in Bruins history as he currently ranks 1st in wins (291– Tiny Thompson is 2nd with 252), 1st in games played (536– Thompson is 2nd with 468), 1st in saves (13,711– Eddie Johnston is 2nd with 12,375), 1st in save percentage among goalies with a minimum of 100 games played as a Bruin (.922– Thomas is 2nd with a .921), 1st in goals against average among goalies with a minimum of 100 games played for Boston (2.26– Byron Dafoe is 2nd with a 2.30), 2nd in shutouts among goalies with a minimum 100 games played for Boston (50– Thompson leads with 74) and– as a bonus– Rask leads with the most points by a goaltender with the Bruins (15, all assists– Cheevers is 2nd with 11, also all assists).

That’s no slouch and not just a result of suiting up in a bunch of games for one team without any real success whatsoever.

That same 2011 Stanley Cup championship year for the Bruins?

Rask was part of that.

Doesn’t matter if you’re the starter or the backup when your name goes on the Cup for a job well done as one of the best goaltending tandems that season. Besides, in today’s NHL, there’s an ever increasing importance for a 1A/1B solution in the crease.

Rask also backstopped the team to two more Stanley Cup Final appearances since then in 2013 and 2019.

He also won the Vezina Trophy in 2014 and was likely on track to pick up his second Vezina this season– number of games played compared to his peers, like Andrei Vasilevskiy, be damned– at its pause due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic with a 2.12 GAA and a .929 SV%, as well as a 26-8-6 record in 41 games played.

No. 40 in black and gold led the NHL in goals against average this season and was second in save percentage, while sharing second place in shutouts with five.

Whether he wins this season’s Vezina Trophy or not, he’ll still have a consolation prize shared with his backup, Jaroslav Halak, as the duo won the William M. Jennings Trophy for the 2019-20 season as the goaltender(s) that have played a minimum of 25 games in a season for the team(s) with the fewest goals scored against it.

Rask and Halak allowed 174 goals this season in 70 games played, whereas Ben Bishop and Khudobin allowed 177 goals against for the Stars in 69 games.

This season’s hardware is Rask’s first Jennings Trophy win and Halak’s second career Jennings honors after previously sharing the title with Brian Elliott in the 2011-12 season with the Blues.

As for Rask’s jersey retirement case, it helps that he is tied for the best save percentage in league history (.922) with Dominik Hasek and 11th overall in the NHL’s all-time goals against averages with a 2.26 in his career.

Oh and the B’s have won the Presidents’ Trophy twice with Rask in the crease (2013-14 and 2019-20), something Thomas never did in his tenure with Boston and Cheevers could never do, since the award wasn’t presented for the first time until the 1985-86 season.

It’s possible the Bruins retire No. 40 before they make up for lost time and retire No. 30 for two players, like how the Toronto Maple Leafs retired No. 1 twice (Turk Broda and Johnny Bower).

After all, if you’re worried about running out of numbers that are typically used by a goaltender, Nos. 1, 29, 31, 35, 45 and any other number that isn’t already or won’t be retired by the time Boston gets around to retiring a goaltender’s jersey number (assuming the B’s retire No. 33 for Zdeno Chara, No. 37 for Patrice Bergeron, No. 46 for David Krejci and perhaps No. 63 and No. 88 by that time) will still be available.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #114- Mark Speed: The Mark Recchi Episode

Nick, Cap’n and Pete announce their top-10 right wingers of their lifetimes while Connor mails it in and Nick reads his list (somebody has to do work around here). Keeping with tradition, all of Thursday’s big news was announced during or shortly after recording.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

Numbers Game: Look to the Rafters- Montreal Canadiens

By: Nick Lanciani

I’m back with my continued exploration of what retired numbers around the league may look like in the future continues. While there’s only a finite set of numbers to utilize on the back of a jersey, many teams choose to retire (or honor) some numbers based on extraordinary circumstances, dedication to the organization, or legendary status.

Many thoughts went through my head in each and every consideration. Feel free to agree or disagree- I want to know what you, the fans, consider worthy when evaluating a player, their career, and whether or not their number should be retired by a franchise. I am interested in seeing what you have to say, assuming you are actually a fan of the team and/or player that you argue for or against. Drop us a line in the comments or tweet to @DtFrozenRiver using #DTFRNumbersGame.

For each team, I thought of former and current players that should have their numbers retired now or once they hang up the skates.

UnknownMontreal Canadiens

Current Retired Numbers- 1 Jacques Plante, 2 Doug Harvey, 3 Émile Bouchard, 4 Jean Beliveau, 5 Bernie Geoffrion/Guy Lapointe, 7 Howie Morenz, 9 Maurice Richard, 10 Guy Lafleur, 12 Yvan Cournoyer/Dickie Moore, 16 Henri Richard/Elmer Lach, 18 Serge Savard, 19 Larry Robinson, 23 Bob Gainey, 29 Ken Dryden, 33 Patrick Roy

Recommended Numbers to Retire

11 Saku Koivu

To have your number retired by the Montreal Canadiens is perhaps one of the greatest accomplishments in all of sports. Koivu was the definition of what it meant to be a Canadien in the 1990s and early 2000s, as well as the definition of courage in his battle with cancer. Saku Koivu was an exceptional player for Montreal and even Boston fans will agree with that statement. It was weird watching Koivu in a Ducks jersey, but it would be even weirder if the Canadiens don’t retire his jersey number.

Other Notes

Eventually, I’ll probably add Carey Price (number 31), Max Pacioretty (number 67) and P.K. Subban (number 76) to this list, but for the immediate future the Canadiens really should retire Koivu’s number and make Brendan Gallagher wear something else.

It’s Time for a Second Look

By: Nick Lanciani

It’s mind boggling that the NHL wouldn’t want to continue being a leader in sports and entertain the notion of having more than 30 teams in a league, for once, in North American sports. Okay, the NFL has 32 teams, I get that- but there’s this fascination for some odd reason that a successful sports league can only max out around 30 teams, given how the NHL, NBA, and MLB all have 30 teams in their leagues. Quite frankly, that’s a load of bull. The National Hockey League is old enough to still be young and reinventing itself, as was the case after the 2004-2005 lockout with the addition of new rules (the trapezoid) and the removal of old ones (two line passing).

What I mean is, the NHL is not Major League Baseball, which beats the “heritage” card to extinction year after year as to lamely explain why the MLB doesn’t change. While the MLB would never consider entertaining a franchise in Las Vegas (which would be a first in professional sports), the NHL could be a front-runner for professional sports of the future in North America. At least, given the eye of the young fan base that’s been keeping track of the league for the last few years, there’s a chance to really make a splash. Major League Soccer and the NHL’s interest in Las Vegas and other markets are good for their leagues and sports in general.

Peter Stastny center, flanked by brothers Marian (left) and Anton. All three played for the Quebec Nordiques in the 80s. Photos: HHoF
The Stastny brothers (from left to right, Marian, Peter, and Anton) were some of the first European superstars in the NHL back in the 80s. Photo: HHoF

While the MLS is adding a team in Atlanta in 2017, the NHL will likely stay away from Atlanta for eternity after two failed attempts at a hockey presence in Georgia. However, given the recent rate of expansion in the MLS, there’s a good chance that they too, will end up having 30 teams at some point. Soccer’s popularity in the United States is on the rise and it’s backed by the recent viewership of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, beating some traditional hockey markets, like Philadelphia, while a 2015 Stanley Cup Final game was being shown on TV at the same time. The two leagues are innovative and should work together as both sports gain popularity. As it is, hockey is becoming more mainstream by removing some of the importance once stressed on fighting, resulting in just as entertaining games as ever before.

Soccer is a sport best played with many teams and some form of relegation, like in Europe. While that model would not translate well with hockey, at some point the MLS is going to have to absorb many of the popular teams in developmental leagues, in order to make their game more exciting. The NHL should consider something similar when it comes to the minor league markets that are untapped, or have worked in the past. Expansion and relocation fees aside, both leagues should go for breaking the 30-team barrier.

The NHL as it exists right now, would be on the verge of going for it much sooner than the MLS and could act as an example of what to do and how to go about things. I’m in favor of 34 teams in 2017, the NHL’s 100th season. But first, let’s get back to Quebec (and the basics).

(Denis Brodeur/Getty)
Joe Sakic in his Quebec days, before the Nordiques moved to Denver (Denis Brodeur/Getty Images).

If the league is intent on adding franchises, a return to Quebec City, the inevitable Las Vegas team, an expansion to Seattle, and whatever else may come their way is exactly what the NHL needs. After watching the Winnipeg Jets play in their first playoff game at home since the original Winnipeg Jets left for Arizona 19 years ago, I cannot help but think that the NHL needs to return to another small market, where hockey has already worked, and everyone loves the game. There’s a place that is more readily equipped for a National Hockey League return- Quebec City.

Whereas a former member of the NHL, Hartford, doesn’t have an adequate arena to play in and potential spotty ownership, Quebec City has the 18,482 seat Videotron Centre- set to open this September. The brand new arena will have all the top-notch amenities and will be NHL move-in ready, should the league wish to expand or a team relocate, such as the Coyotes in their dreaded current state. Fear not, Arizona and Gary Bettman nay-sayers, the league’s experiment is just starting to see results in the growth of the game in the Southwestern region of the United States.

The Videotron Centre (Centre Vidéotron) sits in the background of the Pepsi Coliseum (Colisée Pepsi). DIDIER DEBUSSCHERE/JOURNAL DE QUEBEC/AGENCE QMI
The Videotron Centre (Centre Vidéotron) sits in the background of the Pepsi Coliseum (Colisée Pepsi). DIDIER DEBUSSCHERE/JOURNAL DE QUEBEC/AGENCE QMI

And don’t get me wrong, Connecticut, you guys love hockey and still love the Whalers to this day. It’s not realistic in Hartford’s current state, for an NHL return anytime soon. Yet, I’ll still be one of the first to help you demand a return and shout, “Bring back the Whalers!” should there be a more immediate and reasonable plan. But there’s a place that is more readily equipped for a National Hockey League return- Quebec City.

But what’s holding everyone back? Canada is able to sustain at least eight franchises, if not more, and hockey is Canada’s game after all. The league made the best of a hurtful breakup in its return to Winnipeg back in 2011, surely NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and crew can make due on Quebec’s aching heart since 1995 when the original Quebec Nordiques fled the struggling Canadian dollar and the lack of a locally interested owner and went west to become the Colorado Avalanche. Perhaps the league will find enough heart to forgive the Nordiques from almost rebranding with awful looking 90s teal on an otherwise decent looking jersey.

I mean, if the league is serious about adding a team in Las Vegas, which might not carry longevity, then why not look for a place with more staying power than whatever Vegas would become. The original Nordiques survived in the league from 1979 to 1995. Despite some down years, Quebec was on an impressive turnaround at the end of the 1994-1995 season. The team that moved wound up winning the Stanley Cup in their first season in Colorado.

The whiteout was in full force in Winnipeg in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Photo By: Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images
The whiteout was in full force in Winnipeg in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Photo By: Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

Among teams that no longer exist, Quebec Nordiques merchandise ranks second to the Hartford Whalers in sales. Still not convinced about the staying power of a new Quebec Nordiques franchise? Look at the return of the Winnipeg Jets in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It’s a small hockey market, but they sell out every seat in the 15,004 seating capacity MTS Centre for every home game, despite missing the playoffs from the 2011-2012 season to last season. In their first game back to the postseason, the MTS Centre was rocking at 124 dB from time to time as reported by Sportsnet.

Imagine how loud it would be in the Videotron Centre for the Nordiques return or their first provincial rivalry regular season meet-up with the Montreal Canadiens since 1995- in any case, it’d be awesome. As an aside, Boston Bruins fans would gladly welcome another team that despises the Habs. They’ll even forgive Ron Tugnutt for his extraordinary 70 save performance on 73 shots on goal en route to the Nordiques 3-3 tie against the Bruins on March 21, 1991, even though some of their modern day fans were not even alive then.

The NHL obviously has issues with adding another team to the Eastern Conference before adding anything to the Western Conference due to its current imbalance with 16 teams in the East and 14 in the West. The easiest way to solve the original realignment problem created when the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg four years ago would have been to simply swap the Jets with the Nashville Predators in their respective divisions. Winnipeg would have gone to the Central, while Nashville would have gone to the Southeast in a geographically sensible maneuver.

However, the league decided to consolidate the divisions from six to four and swapped Winnipeg for Detroit and Columbus. In the process, each conference makes geographic sense, with a focus on cutting travel expenses and reducing a carbon footprint league-wide. Yet, while the Central and Pacific Divisions are perfect, the Atlantic and Metropolitan Divisions are somewhat flawed. Yes, with all of the teams from the old Northeast Division, plus Detroit, somehow the Atlantic Division also has the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Division has both the New York Islanders and the New York Rangers.

It’d make sense to swap both New York City teams with both Florida teams, citing the exact same reasons the NHL came up with in the first place, but for whatever reason, that is frowned upon. It’s not like it wouldn’t saturate the market or anything, because as it is, New York already has three teams (four if you count the New Jersey Devils in Newark, New Jersey). While, yes, the Buffalo Sabres and both the Rangers and Islanders have a little distance between them, it’s nothing compared to Florida and Tampa.

And speaking of the Florida Panthers, it’s only a matter of time- no matter how good the product on the ice may get- before they have to relocate. The Panthers and Sunrise, Florida may find themselves at odds much like how Glendale, Arizona is in legal upheavals with the Arizona Coyotes. A hockey team in the suburbs of a non-traditional market isn’t proven to profit. But where should the Panthers end up without causing much fuss over realignment?

REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger
REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger

You guessed it- Quebec City. They’re already in the Atlantic Division, so absolutely nothing would have to be changed except for all franchise trademarks and whatnot regarding the transition from the Panthers to the, newly returned, Nordiques. In foresight, it’s not hard to fall in love with the furthest north professional sports franchise after all of the neglect it saw in one of the most southern nontraditional hockey markets.

Oh and if New Jersey had to move for whatever reason, given their recent downturn and less than stellar attendance, then Quebec is a prime destination. Realignment would still be simple, swap Quebec with one of the Florida teams and maybe then the NHL would have to realize it should kick the other Florida team to the Metropolitan Division and insert the New York Rangers (or Islanders) into the Atlantic Division. Then again, relocation of either the Panthers or the Devils could just mean that the league would send them west to Seattle or Las Vegas and call it a day, having a balanced fifteen teams in both conferences, but that wouldn’t be any fun, wouldn’t it?

Look, I’m all for a team in Seattle, so here’s what you do. Add an expansion franchise to Seattle and force Detroit back to the Western Conference; because we all know two matchups a year between longstanding rivals, the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks, really aren’t enough. Then add a team in Quebec City to make it a nice thirty-two-team league with sixteen teams in each conference. Besides, who wouldn’t want to see a reincarnation of the Nordiques after the beautifully aesthetic appeal of the current Jets installment?

That’s right, I’m saying that when the NHL goes back to Quebec City, it’s not a bad idea to modernize the franchise. The igloo with a hockey stick that somewhat formed the shape of an “n” with its tricolor scheme and fleur-de-lis all over the jerseys was great- timeless even, a classic for traditionalist vintage hockey fans- but there are some great concepts on the Internet for glorious designs in the event of a rebirth of the Nordiques.

This is my favorite of all the Quebec concepts on Icethetics.
This is my favorite of all the Quebec concepts on Icethetics.

I think a darker shade of navy blue would suffice, with maybe a snowy owl and the city skyline or something that is distinctive of Quebec City, and of course sharp looking fleur-de-lis prominently featured on the bottom half of the sweater and along the pants. If you have the time, go check out some great designs on Icethetics.co, some great concept artists have really gone all out on creating the perfect symbol for what should be a return to the true north strong and free- Quebec City.

In this day and age, with the billion dollar industry that is the sports world, it shouldn’t be hard to find an owner and work with the largely French speaking fan base. Back in the days of the original Nordiques, English speaking fans flocked to the Quebec City team over the much more hardcore French speaking franchise over in Montreal. Obviously it must have been the warm and inviting ­fleur-de-lis calling them to the light side of The Force in the battle of Quebec. Either that or it was because of the great players that once graced the ice at Colisée Pepsi, such as the Stastny brothers, Mats Sundin, Guy Lafleur, Owen Nolan, Peter Forsberg, and my favorite- Joe Sakic.

The bottom line, folks, Quebec City has an important mark on the history of hockey. It was once home to the Quebec Bulldogs who spent one season in the NHL (1919-1920) before moving to Hamilton, Ontario to become the Hamilton Tigers and it was once home to the 1977 Avco World Trophy champions as the World Hockey Association’s top team before joining the NHL in the WHA-NHL merger in 1979- the Quebec Nordiques. Isn’t it time that someone brought the game back where it belongs for all of us to enjoy? Even in the face of the uncertainty of the salary cap situation currently and the issues that are once again surrounding the Canadian dollar, I mean, hockey is for everyone, after all.