Whenever a fan walks into the United Center, they can’t help but look up to the roof and see the plethora of banners that hang down from the rafters of the iconic building.
Whether it’s the six championship banners for the Chicago Bulls, or the six that hang in honor of the Chicago Blackhawks, there’s plenty of memories contained within the fabric of the massive pennants.
Those memories are also embodied in the banners honoring the retired numbers of the two franchises. Currently, the Blackhawks have honored seven players, retiring six different numbers from their franchise history. Glenn Hall’s number “1” hangs in the corner of the arena, and he’s been joined by Keith Magnuson, Pierre Pilote, Bobby Hull, Denis Savard, Stan Mikita, and Tony Esposito in that hallowed club.
The question that fans nowadays can ask themselves is this: what Blackhawks players from the current era will have their numbers hoisted to the rafters when they retire?
There are at least three players who are virtual locks to have the honor bestowed upon them when they hang up their skates. Patrick Kane’s “88” jersey and Jonathan Toews’ “19” will certainly take their place among the other immortals in Blackhawks’ team history, and Duncan Keith’s “2” will likely reside next to Hall’s banner someday.
Outside of those three, there are plenty of other players who could potentially make it up into the rafters of the United Center.
Brent Seabrook - #7
Seabrook, who was drafted by the Blackhawks in the first round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, has spent his entire 11-season career with the team, and he will likely be here a lot longer after signing an eight-year contract extension. In 844 career games, he has scored 85 goals and dished out 282 assists, and he has been a key contributor to all three of the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup championships in the modern era.
His games-played and goals scored totals are similar to Pilote’s (who had 890 games played and 80 goals scored in his career), but he’s well behind the Hall of Fame defenseman in assists. His three Cups will certainly help, and he will only continue to pad his totals as he goes further in his career.
If the Blackhawks retire Seabrook’s jersey, would they do what they did with Pilote and Magnuson and retire the jersey in honor of Chris Chelios too?
Our Verdict: Yes
Patrick Sharp - #10
During his career with the Blackhawks, Sharp scored 239 regular season goals, and he was one of the most important wingers on a squad that won three Stanley Cup championships in six seasons.
Acquired in a trade from the Flyers, Sharp was a player that served as a veteran influence when guys like Kane and Toews were drafted into the organization, and he continued to play that role throughout his tenure. Whether it was playing on the penalty-kill early in his time in Chicago, or serving as a first and a third line left winger at various times, Sharp was versatile and did whatever was required of him, making him an indispensable part of the team’s core.
Despite those accomplishments, it’s unclear whether Sharp will meet the threshold required to have his number retired by the team. He’s probably a player that would fit into the “Hall of Very Good” camp rather than the “Hall of Fame” club, but he’s still an important figure in the team’s modern era, and he could be honored by the franchise in some way.
Corey Crawford - #50
Another player taken by the Blackhawks in the 2003 draft, Crawford has backstopped the team to two Stanley Cup championships and has arguably been their most important player in several seasons, including the 2015-16 campaign.
Largely viewed by outsiders as a “system goaltender” that benefits from his team’s excellent defense, Crawford really had to shoulder the load during the 2015-16 season, going 35-18-5 with a .924 save percentage despite facing more shots than he ever had in his career up to that point.
Despite these accomplishments, it does feel like there is still more that Crawford would need to do to ensure his place among the banners at the United Center. Another Stanley Cup would likely do the trick, or perhaps a Vezina Trophy or two, but his career with the team, while spectacular, still has a little ways to go before it reaches the level of a Hall or an Esposito.
Verdict: Not Yet
Marian Hossa - #81
If Hossa plays in seven regular season games for the Blackhawks this season, he will have spent more time in the Windy City than in any of his other NHL stops, exceeding the 467 games he spent with the Ottawa Senators to kick off his career.
Even though his statistics aren’t exactly eye-popping with the Hawks (160 goals and 210 assists in 461 games), his impact on the team cannot be understated. He is arguably the best defensive winger in the NHL, and his influence has helped players like Brandon Saad to thrive as two-way skaters, and has helped Toews to become a perennial Selke Trophy candidate at the center position.
Add to that the three Stanley Cups that he’s won, and Hossa has a really solid resume for jersey retirement, but there is one question that has to be answered: has he played with the team for long enough to warrant inclusion?
Ultimately that will be the deciding factor, but with a likely spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame waiting for him when he retires, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that Hossa will find his jersey hoisted to the rafters at the United Center.