When Mario Lemieux retired from playing hockey in the National Hockey League for the final time on January 24, 2006 Penguins fans thought the NHL should retire his number 66 the same way Wayne Gretzky’s number 99 is retired. Even though it hasn't officially been retired, there seemed to be an unwritten rule that no one would wear 66, as no one has until this year when 20-year-old Calgary Flames defenseman T.J. Brodie put the number 66 on his sweater.
The time is now for the NHL to give Lemieux the respect he deserves and retire his number. No one can argue that Lemieux's numbers are better than Gretzky's, but Mario’s career is deserving of this honor as well. Lemieux won the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year, has two Stanley Cup rings as a player (winning the Conn Smythe Trophy both times), six Art Ross Trophies, three Hart Trophies, four Lester Pearson, and one Bill Masterton Trophy, and one Stanley Cup ring as an owner. He single handily made hockey relevant in Pittsburgh and made the moribund Penguins into Stanley Cup Champions.
Mario’s stats would be a lot better if he had not spent three years retired during the prime of his career. When he came back out of retirement in December of 2000 he led the Penguins to the Eastern Conference Finals. His 76 points in 43 games (regular season only) are more points than most players get in an entire season. Lemieux just came down from the owner’s booth and put them up like he had never stopped playing. He’s overcome a bad back (sometimes not even able to tie his own skates), Hodgkin’s disease, and the “clutch and grab” era.
Not only should Lemieux’s number be retired for his on ice accomplishments, but also for everything he has done for the game of hockey off of the ice. He’s saved hockey in Pittsburgh on more than one occasion. When it looked like the team was going to fold or be sold out of town he stepped up and literally put his money where his mouth was. He bought the team and kept the Penguins in Pittsburgh. He brought in a group of investors and made the Penguins financially stable. The new Consol Energy Center is the house that Mario built. The Penguins would not be in Pittsburgh and that new arena would not be built if it wasn't for Mario.
There is only one Mario Lemieux and no one else should wear his number 66.
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