Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas
It was a long time coming at the Garden. The Rangers had decided to retire Adam Graves’ #9 last year and announced, at the time, that they would “honor” (but not retire) the #9 of Ranger legend (and Hall of Famer) Andy Bathgate and the #3 of Hall of Famer Harry Howell. Anyone who knows about the two #9s knows that Adam Graves, as a hockey player, was nowhere near the player that Andy Bathgate was in the pre-expansion era. There must have been a behind-the-scenes backlash because eventually it was decided to retire (rather than just “honor”) both Bathgate’s and Howell’s numbers.
When the Rangers announced that the retirement night would be for Graves, I asked a former Garden higher-up who had been there for over 20 years how they could possibly retire Graves’ number and not retire it for Bathgate. He essentially laughed at my naivete and simply said “a few million dollars.” But clearly others stepped up to tell the right people that this would be a travesty. Hence, the wonderful retirement ceremony that took place this past Sunday night at the Garden.
Nothing against Adam Graves, arguably the greatest community guy in the history of New York sports, a huge statement. Whether that should count towards getting your number up in the rafters is an entirely different matter.
ANDY BATHGATE – SUPERSTAR
People forget what a superstar, as a Ranger, Andy Bathgate was in his heyday. Even Stan Fischler, the night Adam Graves had his number retired, told the MSG audience that Andy Bathgate was Adam Graves before Adam Graves. Utter nonsense, of course, as Graves was a one-time second team NHL All-Star who never cracked the top 10 in scoring. Bathgate, on the other hand, was a first-team NHL All-Star twice, beating out a guy named Gordie Howe. And he was a second-team NHL All-Star twice, finishing second to, you guessed it, Mr. Hockey.
Here’s an even more impressive and fascinating stat that you probably won’t read anywhere else. From 1955-56 through 1962-63, Andy Bathgate, as a Ranger, finished in the top 5 in scoring every season, a stunning accomplishment. That eight-year stretch of scoring brilliance was surpassed only by Wayne Gretzky (13 years) and Stan Mikita (nine years). Phil Esposito also did it eight years in a row.
Andy Bathgate won the Hart Trophy (MVP) in 1958-59. He tied Bobby Hull for the scoring championship in 1961-62 (Hull was given the Art Ross trophy because he scored more goals). He eventually won his Stanley Cup with Toronto. He was the main and often the only real offensive threat for the Rangers in the above-mentioned eight-year span, where he averaged over 78 points a season (a staggering number in the 70-game, pre-expansion NHL) and led the Rangers in scoring by an average of 21 points per season over any other teammate (most stats here are from Hockey-Reference.com).
One can easily argue that he was the greatest player, AS A RANGER, in the history of the Rangers (we might have to go back to the ‘20s and ‘30s for that debate, but that’s for another time).
THE GREAT HARRY HOWELL
Harry Howell was an all-time great defensive defenseman. Aside from playing more games as a Ranger than anyone else in the history of the Rangers, Harry Howell won the Norris Trophy for best defenseman in 1966-67. This is particularly notable because Howell is the only defenseman not named Bobby Orr to win the Norris Trophy when Orr was healthy (Orr won the Calder (Rookie of the Year) in 66-67 and then would win the next eight Norris trophies).
Howell was as steady as they come and played on the Rangers power play (with Rod Gilbert in the 1960s often playing the other point, leaving it up to Howell to essentially defend alone against short-handed rushes). And what old-timers will remember is that Howell was the greatest at “accidentally” turning the wrong way in the neutral zone when an opponent shot a puck out of their defensive zone which led to hundreds of icing calls against the Rangers’ opposition over the years.
Howell played in every game in ten Ranger seasons. He was a first-team All-Star in 1966-67 and played in seven All-Star Games.
MANY THOUGHT IT WAS LONG OVERDUE
It’s hard to know what went on behind the scenes over the last 20 years or so but it’s interesting to see the present-day reaction. When told on Adam Graves Night that their numbers would be retired, Howell said “It’s been a long time coming.” Bathgate praised Graves more as a great community guy than as a player. It was clear that both were happy with kind of an edge about how long it took to finally happen.
On their night, however, others didn’t pull any punches. Eddie Giacomin, blunt as always, simply said “I thought this should have happened 20 years ago.” Vic Hadfield agreed that it was long overdue. Rod Gilbert said that he “had been praying for this day for many years.”
DOES THIS OPEN A PANDORA’S BOX?
Of course it does. Excellent hockey writer Larry Brooks of the New York Post has already stated that he thinks the numbers of Brad Park, Jean Ratelle, Vic Hadfield and Ron Greschner should be retired. Great debates abound but next week you can read an article here about why Frank Boucher (who?) is easily the greatest Ranger ever and what the next banner raised at the Garden really should have on it to right a number of wrongs.
© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.