When John Tonelli returned to an Islanders game after a long absence and an apparent estrangement from the team, speculation began that his No. 27 will be the next jersey retired. Jon Ledecky told nhl.com that any future number retirements will be decided by the alumni because theirs is the opinion that carries most weight.
If you had a vote, though, which number would you retire? Or none at all, on the grounds that all of the elite already have been honored.
In any case, here are some potential candidates:
27. Unlike almost all of the others enshrined, Tonelli is not in the Hockey Hall of Fame. But he was on all four Stanley Cup teams, played in two All-Star Games and, most important, made the perfect pass to Bob Nystrom on May 24, 1980 that resulted in The Goal. Ny strom’s No. 23 is retired and he is not in the Hall of Fame. Tonelli also had the tying and winning goals against the Penguins in 1982 that kept the dynasty alive.
16. Pat LaFontaine never was on a Stanley Cup-winning team. The closest he came was a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 1984 when he was a rookie, fresh off Team USA in the Olympics. He also had a bitter departure from the team, holding out and forcing a trade. Still, when he was honored last year as one of the greatest 100 players in NHL history, he wore an Islanders jersey. He is in the Hall and ranks as one of the best American players ever. And he made his home on Long Island.
18. Ed Westfall retired in 1979, just missing being in on the start of the dynasty. But he was in on the formation of the franchise, coming from the Cup champion Bruins in the expansion draft and becoming their first captain. He had the only goal in Game 7 of the Penguins series of 1975, when the third-year franchise got on the map. Westfall became known simply as “18” as a beloved commentator on Islanders telecasts for years.
91*. Butch Goring also fell short of the Hall of Fame, but he was the one who changed everything. His acquisition from the Kings just before the 1980 trade deadline still is seen as the deal that turned the Islanders from notorious underachievers to champions. He was on all four Cup teams, won the 1981 Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and later served the organization as coach and broadcaster.
* (The asterisk indicates that the number might not be taken out of commission because the Islanders and their fans hope captain John Tavares will continue wearing it for many years.)
Food for thought, anyway.