PROGRAMMING ALERT: The Owen Nolan Sharks press conference will be streamed live on CSNCalifornia.com at 2:30 p.m..
Owen Nolan is retiring as a San Jose Shark today, which means he is signing a one-day contract which will not require him practicing even once for Todd McLellan. And if it helps, he retires as the best Nolan in NHL history.And to be honest, Nolan was a good servant to the club in his eight years. He bounced around after being traded to Toronto in 2003, and never quite reached the heights predicted of him when he broke with the supremely talented but oddly underfunctional Quebec Nordiques, but he was a good Shark.
You may argue if he is the best Shark, and that answer will doubtless change as Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and the younger classes hit retirement age, but he is getting a reward for eight years (six full, and parts of two others) helping build a franchise, and being a credit to the club when it was going through its obvious growing pains.However, Nolans honor, being paid today, reminds us that the Sharks remain one of six active NHL clubs who have not yet found a number to actually retire, and frankly, the race not to be the last turkey in the shop should be more pressing than it seems to be.(At this point, we should mention that this is sarcasm, and that retired numbers arent what they used to be. The Minnesota Wild retired the number 1 on the opening day of its existence in honor of the fans it didnt actually have yet, thus lowering the bar for rafter enshrinement considerably).Oh I suppose technically the Sharks can say they retired Wayne Gretzkys 99, since that was a league-wide decision, but thats sort of cheating. And Mario Lemieuxs 66 was unofficially retired, at least until Calgarys T.J. Brodie wore it for three games last year before being upgraded to 7.Point is, the Sharks still have none, putting them in with Anaheim (which presumably will retire Teemu Selanne and Chris Pronger), Florida (which probably should have retired John Vanbiesbroucks by now), Tampa Bay (which is just waiting for Vincent Lecavalier or Martin St. Louis to stop being good), Nashville (which has a number of tepid candidates) and Columbus (which may move before it gets the chance, making them the new California Seals).And if youre going to retire players by signing them to one-day deals, you should be preparing for the next step.Doug Wilson, being a bluff old traditionalist, is probably loath to retire a number just to retire a number. He may want a Stanley Cup banner before he starts honoring individual players, but the standard is flexible. The Washington Capitals retired Yvon Labres 7 because he was Yvon Labre.And there are candidates. Arturs Irbe was sort of a fans pet, and his return as an assistant coach with Carolina was greeted with a huge ovation. He could be Yvon Labre. Mike Rathje is the only player other than Marleau to play a full decade in San Jose, though he could be a frustrating favorite. Mike Ricci did seven years here, represents the teams first renaissance, and is still in the organization. Wilsons been on board since the beginning, though he is unlikely to submit to such an honor for years to come yet.More likely, though, the first Shark to get his number retired will be Marleau, because 14 years with one team not only gets your number retired, it often gets you into the Hall of Fame. And theres a better-than-average chance that he wont have to sign a one-day-finish-as-a-Shark deal, which given the number of times fans have demanded he be traded is a feat in and of itself.By then, Anaheim will have retired Selanne, Floridas new ownership might have figured out how to celebrate 20 years of existence, Nashville will probably salute its last original Predator, David Legwand, Tampa will take care of Lecavalier and St. Louis, and Columbus will probably be in Newfoundland.In the meantime, a salute to Owen Nolan is well earned. Maybe if the Sharks decide to exchange ad space for a ring of honor at the arena, they can put him there as well.Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com