By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj
Recently, the Boston Bruins announced that Rick “Nifty” Middleton will join the likes of Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque, Cam Neely, Milt Schmidt and all the other retired numbers along the rafters inside of the TD Garden.
Middleton was one of the best goal-scorers in Bruins history, finishing his career ranked third-most in goals as well as the fourth-most points scored over all of the former Bruin players. Without question, Middleton deserves to have his number retired and according to many, the decision to raise his banner to the rafters was long overdue.
One of the fortunate things of cheering for an Original Six franchise in the National Hockey League is that your team most likely has countless players who can be considered ‘great’ and the Boston Bruins are no different. Since joining the league back in 1928, the B’s have had some of the best players skate with the Spoked-B on their chest, (or a bear, depending on the era).
Following my article on Middleton’s number being retired on November 29th, I came across the thought – who’s next? By which I mean, what Bruin will be the next to have their unique number forever retired by the organization. Gerry Cheevers, Tiny Thompson, Wayne Cashman, and other Bruins could have their name in the conversation, but so could current Bruins such as Zdeno Chara or Patrice Bergeron. It is nearly inevitable that those two will gain the legendary status, but will one of them be the next one?
So within this article, I’ll go over three players who I believe could have their number retired by the Boston Bruins and you can feel free to voice your personal thoughts and opinions regarding the matter. The players listed will be in no particular order, just the three most-likely in my own opinion. Without further ado, let’s get started.
Gerry Cheevers – #30
Born in St. Catharines, Ontario back in 1940, Gerry Cheevers is one of the most iconic goaltenders in Bruins history and even of all-time. With the legendary stitched mask that nearly every single hockey fan who has been watching for any amount of time has at least heard of or seen Cheevers’ mask.
Playing with the Bruins during the era of Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, and company, Cheevers often went under the radar when it comes to the Bruin superstars of the early 1970’s. Gerry was monumental to both the 1970 and 1972 Stanley Cup wins, going a combined 18-3 throughout both postseasons.
Before the Cups, Cheevers was still considered one of the best to play the position at the time. After some subpar and some decent years between 1965-66 and 1967-68, Cheevers would find real success for the first time in the ’68/’69 campaign, where he finished the year with a 27-12-13 record, but only a .911 save percentage and a goals-against-average of 2.80. During the playoffs of the same year, Cheevers went 6-3-0, winning with three shutouts. The Bruins would lose to the Canadiens in the semi-finals, but the dominance and skill of Cheevers were noticed.
The following season, in 1969-1970, Cheevers had an amazing 24-8-8 record once the season came to a close, four of the wins being shutouts. Cheevers holds the NHL record for longest undefeated streak as a goalie (32 games, 24-0-8). Of course, the postseason for the Bruins that year was as historical as historical gets. Bruins only lost two games during the entire postseason, including sweeps over the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues. Bobby Orr would score his famous Flying Goal in the final game against the Blues, and Gerry Cheevers would go 12-1-0.
For the next two seasons, Cheevers would continue his domination between the posts, producing a 54-13-13 record in the two years combined. As we all know it, the Bruins would have another successful season in the 1971-72 season, winning their second Stanley Cup in three years. Cheevers would help with the Cup victory with six wins and only two losses over the course of the playoff rounds.
In the summer of 1972, however, Gerry would leave the National Hockey League and sign a seven-year, $1.4 million contract in the World Hockey Association (WHA) with the Cleveland Crusaders. It was believed that this would his final contract of his career, but instead, he would request a buyout after the fourth year and would return to the Bruins to play for the majority of the next four campaigns.
Gerry never cared about his own statistics, once saying that he doesn’t care how many goals he allowed, as long as the Bruins scored one more. The shutouts and trophies were not a big deal to him, just the Stanley Cup. He finished his career with one of the best win/loss ratio in the playoffs (53-34). Cheevers retired in 1980 following knee problems. Below is a paragraph from the Hockey Hall of Fame website about how Cheevers became known for his iconic mask.
“During practice in the 1968-69 season, he began what was to be his most famous trademark – painting stitches on his mask to indicate where a puck had hit him. “I was trying to get out of practice one day,” he explained, “when this shot that couldn’t have broken an egg hit me in the mask. I faked a serious injury and went into the dressing room. I was sitting there having a Coke when Harry Sinden came in and told me to get back out onto the ice. All the guys were laughing, so I knew I had to do something. I told the trainer to paint a 30-stitch gash on the mask. Then I went out and told Harry, See how bad it is!” In ensuing years, he periodically added more scars, and his mask became a symbol of the first generation of mask-wearing goalies demonstrating the safety of face protection.”
Cheevers was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1985.
Patrice Bergeron – #37
This one may be a tad bit too soon to bring into the discussion as Bergeron still plays in the NHL to this day. It is nearly guaranteed that one day Patrice Bergeron will be in the Hockey Hall of Fame and will have his number up with the greatest Bruins to ever wear the sweater. The question is, will he be the next player to have his number retired?
Probably not is the quick answer to that, but there is a slight possibility that Bergeron could beat out the likes of Gerry Cheevers or any other already-retired Bruin to get his name and number on a banner in the TD Garden.
Regarded by many as the best two-way forward in the league right now, Bergeron has prided himself on not only being good offensively but also responsible in his own end. Not a single player in NHL history has more Frank J. Selke Trophies than Bergeron, who is tied with Canadiens’ legend Bob Gainey with four trophies each.
Bob Gainey was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992 and has his number retired by Montreal on February 23rd, 2008. He had a career plus/minus rating of +201, scored 239-262-501 totals in 1160 career games. Gainey scored 34 game-winning goals and had 585 penalty minutes.
If we use Bergeron as a comparison to Gainey, Bergeron seems to overtake Gainey regarding production. In only 963 career games, Patrice has 289-445-734 totals and a +155 rating. He has 59 game-winning goals and 366 penalty minutes. Bergeron also has an insane takeaways-to-giveaways ratio, currently possessing 510 takeaways and only 270 giveaways.
There is only one main thing that Gainey has over Bergeron – four more Stanley Cup rings. However, Bergeron has more points (86) in fewer playoff games (112) than Bob Gainey (73 points in 182 playoff games). While offense does not necessarily mean one player is better than another, it sure makes a difference when both players have equal trophies for best defensive forward in the league.
While Patrice leads in certain categories, the categories he does not lead he can make up for. At only 33-years-old, Bergeron has a few more years remaining in his career, and the stats will only increase. Already, Bergeron is seventh all-time in points by a Boston Bruin, only 54 behind Wayne Cashman for sixth.
Bergeron represents not only what it is like to be a Boston Bruin, but what it is like to be a hockey player. From playing with a broken rib, torn cartilage and muscle tissue, a separated shoulder, and a punctured lung in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, to mentoring the future players of the organization on and off the ice. An almost certain future captain once current captain Zdeno Chara retires, Bergeron deserves to have his #37 retired, but will he be the next one – that’s the question.
Zdeno Chara – #33
Zdeno Chara is also one of the current players on this list that will most likely have his number raised to the rafters in the TD Garden. The tallest player in NHL history has made a name for himself in this league for two things – his hard shot and being the captain to end the 39-year Cup drought in Boston.
A former third-round draft pick of the New York Islanders in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, Chara has gained a reputation for being a tall, scary force to all opposing players or teams. Since joining the Bruins in 2006, he would play the sixth-most games in a Bruins sweater (893).
As soon as he signed his five-year, $37,500,000 contact with Boston, he was handed the task of wearing the prestigious ‘C,’ becoming the new captain of the B’s, a position held by Joe Thornton for the previous three seasons and he would not disappoint. The five-year span, scoring 68-164-232 totals in the 398 games, not to mention five All-Star Game appearances and a James Norris Memorial Trophy in the 2008-09 season.
As we all remember so vividly, Chara would finish the contract by lifting the Stanley Cup above his head in June of 2011. However, the Bruins did not want to prolong the extension of Chara, as they had already agreed to a seven-year contract, a deal that would come into effect in 2011-12.
In 495 games on the new contract, Chara scored seventy goals, 151 assists for 221 points and a +124 rating as well as just shy of 1000 hits in the time span alone, tallying 960 bone-crushing hits total in the seven years. While the point totals for Chara never reached his career-high of fifty-two set back in the 2011-12 season, he would consistently produce 20+ points, with the exception of the 2012-13 lockout season, where he tallied only nineteen.
Following a one-year contract extension this past March, the 41-year-old is guaranteed to play one more season in the National Hockey League. If he retires after the season and playoffs conclude, he may just find himself atop the list for the next Bruin to have their number retired. Below are some of Chara’s top career accolades.
- 1x Stanley Cup (2011)
- 1x James Norris Memorial Trophy (2008-2009)
- 1x Mark Messier Leadership Award (2010-2011)
- 3x NHL First All-Star Team (2003-04, 2008-09, 2013-14)
- 4x NHL Second All-Star Team (2005-06, 2007-08, 2010-11, 2011-12)
- 5x All-Star Game Participant (2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09, 2010-11, 2011-12)
- 3x Golden Puck Winner as Best Slovakian Player (2008-09, 2010-11, 2011-12)
- 2x Silver Medal at IIHF Men’s Ice Hockey World Championships with Slovakia (2000, 2012)
- Hardest Slap Shot as of June 7th, 2018 (108.8 mph set at the 2012 NHL All-Star Game)
These are only three players that could have their number retired next. Sure, Chara and Bergeron’s number retirement could be well into the future, considering how long it took to get Middleton’s number raised. Gerry Cheevers, however, could be the next player recognized by the organization and receive the honor. Who do you feel gets their number retired next by the Boston Bruins? Let me know via Twitter @tkdmaxbjj