I have to admire the Edmonton Oilers for their rule about retiring numbers. No one wants to retire so many numbers that the process becomes watered down and is no longer a special achievement. Too many teams (Montreal Canadiens, Boston Celtics) have retired too many numbers over the years, and I don’t think it means that same as it used to in those organizations.
The Oilers rule of having to make the Hall of Fame in order to get your number retired is an interesting one. Again, I understand why it is in place, but I think the club needs to move passed that rule now. Bottom line is, the 1980’s era Oilers will never be duplicated. Not only not by this organization, but probably not by any organization in the league again. They were that special.
Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Grant Fuhr, Glen Anderson, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri and WHA-era Oiler Al Hamilton are all very deserving of the honor, but they shouldn’t be alone in that regard. This rule, in my opinion, completely neglects a large portion of the club’s history and leaves one of its best players from the glory days out in the cold.
Kevin Lowe’s reputation took a massive hit after the 2007 trade deadline deal that sent Ryan Smyth to the New York Islanders. Lowe was unable to rebuild the Oilers from that point on, and became enemy number one as the decade of darkness began to spiral out of control at an alarming rate.
That said, Lowe is the most loyal Edmonton Oiler in franchise history. Not only that, but he was one of the best defenders to ever play for the club, and was actually a pretty solid GM for nearly a decade, almost capturing the Stanley Cup in 2006 thanks to his astute moves in the ten months leading up to that Final.
Lowe scored Edmonton’s first NHL goal on October 10th, 1979, and holds the franchise record for games played with 1,037. He won five Stanley Cups with the club, lead the team to the playoffs in his only season as head coach (1999-00), and oversaw as Western Conference Title as the club’s GM during the 2005-06 season. He brought Chris Pronger, Mike Peca, Jaroslav Spacek, Dwayne Roloson and many other successful Oilers to town as GM, and kept the club competitive almost every year he held the title.
Back to his playing days, Lowe suited up for Edmonton from 1979-1992, when he was traded to the New York Rangers. After four seasons on Broadway, Lowe returned for the 1996-97 season, helping the Oilers return to the postseason He played 64 games that season, then added seven more in 1997-98 before retiring due to an ear virus.
A strong case could be made that Lowe is the second best defender in franchise history behind only Coffey, and that he is Mr. Oiler. His offensive numbers don’t scream Hall-Of-Fame, but he was one of the best defenders of the 1980’s and one of the most important players on arguably the greatest teams in the history of the league.
Lowe, for all of the PR warts over the last five years, should have his number four retired to the rafters of Rogers Place.
Fittingly, the player traded away that began the death of Lowe’s image in town should also join him up in the rafters. Drafted by the Oilers sixth overall in 1994, Ryan Smyth was the heart and soul of the blue-collar Oiler teams of the late 1990’s and early-to-mid 2000’s. His style, while not sexy by any means, was extremely impactful on the ice and forced an entire city to fall in love with him.
Smyth played with the Oil from 1994-2007, rejoining the team via trade on draft weekend in 2011. He’d remain with the Oilers until he hung up the skates following the 2013-14 season. He registered 30 goals on four occasions with the Oilers, and put home 20 goals in four other years. He was the face of the franchise for a long time, helped lead the club to the 2006 Stanley Cup Final, and was the player most fans from my generation connected with.
The dynasty Oilers have always gotten the reunions, the specialty nights and all the press. It’s easy to see, and quite frankly to understand, why. They deserve it, and that era should be celebrated. That said, to forget the hardworking teams of the 1990’s and 2000’s, that more fans now connect with than the 1980’s, is a misstep by the organization.
Retiring Smyth’s number would be a very nice way to remember and give a nod to that important era of Oiler hockey, and would be a well deserved honor for a player that is as connected with the club as anyone from the dynasty era.
The Oilers implemented their rule about jersey retirements to keep the process a special one. While I respect that decision, I think it is time to revisit it, and to include two of the great pillars in this organization in the process.
Thoughts, Oil Country?