Saturday, September 3, 2011

Retiring Scott Niedermayer?s number, pushing aside petty angst

Retiring Scott Niedermayer's No. 27 is probably seen as a no-brainer by everyone except New Jersey Devils fans, or at least a subset of them.

This is because as hockey fans, those petty, bitter, spurned-lover feelings when a franchise player chooses to leave when the team needs him the most don't necessarily have a finite expiration date.

According to Tom Gulitti of Fire & Ice, Al Dhalla of Super Agent Inc., a Toronto-based sports marketing company, tweeted over the weekend that Dec. 16 will be "Scott Niedermayer Night in New Jersey," as the Devils host the Dallas Stars. The Devils haven't confirmed it ? why the hell wouldn't they do it when the Anaheim Ducks are in town on Feb. 17? ? but Niedermayer seems cognizant about it, according to Gulitti:

"It's sort of a strange thing to talk about," Niedermayer said. "If it does happen ? and I guess maybe it will ? it's a great honor. But I don't really find it my place to talk about it. It's their decision ultimately. They're in charge. They're calling the shots, not me, and that's the way it should be."

Fire & Ice reported that Niedermayer and the Devils have discussed dates for number retirements for the last two years, so this does seem inevitable. Which brings us back to bitterness.

In 2005, Niedermayer had a choice. He could remain a Devil via a lucrative unrestricted free-agent contract, stabilizing a franchise that was at the end of the Scott Stevens era on its blue line and entering a new trap-unfriendly era in the NHL; or, he could leave for the Anaheim Ducks' less lucrative offer and play with this brother, Rob.

Niedermayer of course chose the latter, winning the Conn Smythe along with a Stanley Cup in 2007 and solidifying his place as a top three defenseman of his era.

The Devils? Well, if you were going to trace a line from their three-Cup mini-dynasty to their sometimes hapless years under the salary cap and new NHL rules, it begins at Niedermayer's end in New Jersey.

GM Lou Lamorielllo waited on Niedermayer before enacting a Plan B that summer: a pair of panicky, disastrous signings in Vladimir Malakhov (who entered into a controversial retirement that year) and Dan McGillis (whose contract was banished to the AHL). With Niedermayer, the Devils reached the conference finals five times; since he left, they haven't made it once.

But again, this is petty. The team's clearly gotten over it, putting No. 27 back in mothballs after Mike Mottou wore it post-Niedermayer. And most of the fans have gotten over it, with Pucks and Pitchforks lobbying to get his number in the Rock's rafters.

And yet for some Devils fans ? and I'll hesitantly out myself as part of this sect ? maybe seeing No. 30 hang next to Nos. 3 and 4 before No. 27 gets up there would take some of the edge off the lingering bitterness. He can wait, just like John MacLean has waited (and will likely continue to wait, thanks to his stellar coaching last season).

Are there any non-retired numbers for your teams that outsiders would see as "no-brainers" for honors but that you feel are more complicated than that?

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