Having your number retired is among the greatest honours an NHL player can receive. Knowing that your number will never again be worn on that team speaks to the impact the NHL greats have had on their organization.
No team has bestowed this honour more than the Montréal Canadiens. The Habs have retired 14 numbers, the most in the NHL. Boasting generational talents throughout their history, it seems unlikely that any new names would be raised anytime soon.
However, a few players still deserve this honour, including one who is on the team.
Drafted by the Canadiens in 1993, Koivu joined the team three seasons later and finished fourth in the league in scoring. Injuries hampered his next few seasons, but he managed to play more than 60 games each season and posted 56 points in 50 games in 1996. On Sept. 30, 1999, Koivu was named the 27th captain in team history, and the first European to hold the title.
Koivu wore the “C” for the next ten seasons, to become the longest-tenured captain in team history, an honour he shares with Jean Béliveau. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2001-02, and missed most of the season to undergo treatment. His unexpected comeback the same year elevated him to “cult hero” status. His leadership, on the ice and off, and his elevated place in the hearts of Habs fans means his number 11 deserves retirement consideration.
Although he only wore a Canadiens sweater for five seasons, P.K. Subban is permanently connected with the franchise and the city. He arrived on the scene in 2009-2010, with an on-ice performances that made him one of the most consistent defensemen in the NHL and earned him the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the league’s best defenseman in 2011-12.
During his time in Montréal, he was known for his on-ice antics, often feuding with the opposition, most notably the Boston Bruins’ Brad Marchand (from ‘Canadiens’ P.K. Subban can’t take rivalry with Brad Marchand outside,’ Boston Herald, 01/01/2020).
The strongest case for Subban’s #76 to be raised to the Bell Centre rafters lies in his philanthropic commitment to the community. Subban has pledged to donate $10 million to the Montreal Children’s Hospital by the year 2022 and he still visits the hospital when he returns to the city. He also partnered with Air Canada to organize a “Winter Wonderland” display for the hospital along with donated gifts for the children and their parents.
It’s commendable that Subban’s connection to the city and his fans didn’t end when he was traded to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber. That alone should get him a place among the Habs’ most hallowed.
A teammate of both players listed above, Carey Price has quickly and continuously climbed the list of the best goaltenders in Canadiens history, having passed Jacques Plante for the most wins on March 10, 2019, with his 315th victory, a shutout over the Detroit Red Wings.
Considered by many to be the best goaltender in the league, Price has won nearly every major award. He’s a seven-time All-Star, and he won the Vezina Trophy, the Hart Trophy as leage MVP, and the Ted Lindsay Award as the league’s MVP as voted by the National Hockey League Players’ Association in 2014-15.
Price has also won a gold medal at the IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championship, a gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and a World Cup of Hockey gold medal. Statistically the best goaltender in Canadiens’ history, his name is already in the record book alongside the great netminders of the past; it’s only right that his #31 will join them.
Each player on this list has proven his dedication to the franchise in ways that may only be matched by those whose numbers already hang from the Bell Centre rafters. It only seems right that these modern Canadiens legends take their rightful place among those already honoured by the club.
Covering the Pittsburgh Penguins and other topics for The Hockey Writers. Also a big fan of the Chicago Cubs and progressive rock music.