A Bourque Mistake

Ray Bourque had an illustrious 22-year NHL career. In 1,612 games, he scored 1,579 points to go along with 180 in 214 playoff games. He was destined to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame no matter which way his career ended.

Towards the end of his career, however, Bourque felt there was something missing and that something was a Stanley Cup victory to add to his trophy case. The Boston Bruins, Bourque’s team since 1979, were in no shape to offer him a chance of adding a championship to his legacy.

So on March 6th, 2000, the Bruins traded Bourque to the Colorado Avalanche but the team fell short of their goal that spring.

After losing to the Dallas Stars in seven games in the 2000 Western Conference finals, Bourque decided to give himself and the Avalanche one last chance at a Cup run.

2000-01 season

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The 2000-01 season was a great one to say the least. Bourque showed he was still a highly effective defenseman and scored 59 points in 80 games from the blueline. He formed a lethal and bruising defensive corp that included Adam Foote and Rob Blake.

Heading into the playoffs, the Avalanche were favorites to win the Stanley Cup after having won the Presidents Trophy as the best regular season team. Not only was their defense filled with future Hall of Famers, but so was their forward group.

As expected, they plowed through the Western Conference teams with only the Los Angeles Kings giving them any hint of trouble. Waiting for them in the final round was the defending champions, the New Jersey Devils.

The series was hard fought and at one point it seemed as if the Devils were about to win back-to-back Stanley Cups when they held a 3-2 series lead heading back to New Jersey for game six.

But as fate would have it, Bourque and the Avalanche rallied to win games six and seven.

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Jersey retired by the Avalanche

The Quebec Nordiques retired four numbers but the Avalanche, who had only been in Denver for five years, had no numbers of their own up at the Pepsi Center. So when they raised number 77 to the rafters in November of 2011, it seemed a little odd it was the number of a player who had only played for the team for 15 months and not of someone from the franchise’s years in Quebec.

The justification was that Bourque was a legend and his contributions outweighed the time he spent in Denver. There was a lot of respect for Bourque throughout the league even in his early days in Boston. The Stanley Cup winning honeymoon period was still in full effect at the time and not many wanted to question giving him that honor.

Almost 15 years later, the number of those who voiced their disagreement with the Avalanche retiring Bourque’s number has grown. Particularly because the franchise has since retired the numbers of 19, 21, 33, and 52 – all players who will forever be remembered for their many years spent as an Avalanche.

Similarly, the Hartford Whalers retired Gordie Howe’s number and the Carolina Hurricanes have unofficially retired it. A lot of great players have won Cups with teams they are not best remembered for playing with – Hasek and Robitaille in Detroit. Whether it is right or wrong, is definitely still up for debate, but for this Avalanche fan, number 77 still looks out of place.

15 thoughts on “A Bourque Mistake”

  1. Being an Av’s fan from day 1, I agree his number should not be flying from the rafters any place but Boston Garden. This isn’t in anyway meant to disrespect an obviously phenomenal career, but Ray’s career was not in Colorado, it just so happened to end there. He got that honor bestowed because he was close with some upper front office brass. But truly whats the difference? What is done is done and it is ancient history. But again, it shows that hockey is truly in a different class than other sports when it comes to embracing their athletes.

  2. I grew up a B’s fan and became an Avs fan when the trade was made. Couldn’t have been happier for Bourque, and for the Avs. Retiring his jersey was the right thing to do, it helped to unify and solidify a “new” fan base, not just the old Diques’ fans. Just one example of the entire league getting something right.

  3. Being from Pittsburgh, the Steelers have retired only 2 numbers #70 & #75. #70 was retired in 1964. Mean Joe’s number was retired this year.
    The Pirates have 9 + 1 (#42 is retired by all of baseball).
    The Pens #21 & #66. #21 was Michel Briere, who’s life was cut short.

  4. This REALLY reminds me of the Padres and their retiring Steve Garvey’s number 6. In all honestly, his number was retired over his great 1984 Post Season and nothing more. Mrs. Kroc had a lot to do with his number being retired as well. It just is not right seeing number 6 up there with 31,35,51,42, and of course, Mr. Padre, Tony Gwynn ( R.I.P ) and his iconic “19”.

  5. Sometimes, a little bit of a good thing goes too far, and it is difficult to stop bad ideas.

    I very much disagree with the increasing trend to retire just about everyone’s number. This is not good for the sport. Retiring a number, if at all, should be reserved for only the true legends of the game, and the only two which really come to mind are Gretzky and Howe. The Hall of Fame and getting on’es name on the Stanley Cup are how the great ones are to be immortalized.

    The rush of every team to retire the number of every Hall of Famer on their team cheats future generations of players from the opportunity to make their own impact on that number. It is truly a shame that future players will not have the opportunity to wear numbers such as 4, 5, 7, 9 10, and even 99 on many teams, and it is even more of a shame that teams rush to retire the numbers of players that from an historical perspective are not at all legendary. I do not at all disagree with lavishing the greats of the game with all of the honors that they so rightly deserve, but is it really right to remove from future generations these numbers?

    Though I grew up in Detroit following Howe, Delvecchio, Yzerman, etc., I long to see most of their numbers on the ice again. Providing a young player with one of these numbers in Detroit would be to give them the challenge of trying to live up to the standards that made these numbers great, and perhaps one day one of those young players will even play to a level higher than their predecessor, after all, records are meant to be broken, and the history of human performance in sports is that the performance of each generation builds upon and exceeds that of previous generations.

    And so, I wish to suggest that it is rather arrogant for our current generation to decide that a certain number can no longer be worn by any player in the future. This does not honor the game. Rather, numbers should represent a continuing legacy to the game of the performance and standards which the greats who wore such number represented. Can you imagine the privilege and duty a player in Montreal or Boston would feel to wear the number 4 on one of those teams, or the number 9 in Detroit? To allow this would not dishonor Jean Beliveau, or Bobby Orr, or Gordie Howe, but to exhault them. We should be continuing to pay homage to the greats by keeping the numbers alive by bestowing the right to wear the number on deserving young players rather than killing them off and hanging them from the rafters to gather dust. Or perhaps continue to hang them from the rafters, but keep them on the ice as well.

  6. I am a Bruins fan and remember when the Avs where going to retire Bourque’s number and thinking he played for the Bruins for 21 seasons 18 All star Games 5 Norris trophies and held just about every Boston scoring record there is. Then he plays for the Avs 15 months during which he wins a cup and later gets his number retired and I believe he also has a street named after him. The situation just seemed funny to me at the time 21 seasons to 15 months and your retiring his number.

  7. Obviously not an Avalanche fan. Bourque ties this franchise to a Stanley Cup and is one of the best players to ever played on the Avs or in the league. I have a Bourque Cup jersey and have no regrets about his number being in the rafters.

  8. As a fan of the Red Wings, a team that has one of the, if not the highest standard to retire a number, I hated the decision to retire Bourque’s number. At the time, it seemed pathetic, trying to glom onto a great player’s legacy and adopt it as the team’s own somehow making it a slight to Boston. Then again, as a Wings fan, it was fun to just hate the Avs. But as time has passed, I think that 77 banner is, at least, just a fun quirky thing at very least about a truly great NHL franchise. And at best, it was a great, but young, franchise honoring a great player in the best way it could. Some kid will look back and say, “Wait, Bourque was here less than 2 seasons?” and then delve into the history more. Much like I was when as a kid I first read about all the crazy adventures of the Stanley Cup. Sure it was unconventional, and certainly unnecessary, but it was a celebration for the franchise and the fans. That’s what sports and fandom’s all about, right?

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