Examining Why the Boston Bruins Haven’t Retired Jersey #1

Jeremy Swayman made his 2022-23 season debut last night against the Arizona Coyotes, starting his third season in black and gold. The native of Anchorage, AK, made the NHL All-Rookie team last year, posting a stellar 23-14-3 record with a .914 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.41 goals-against average (GAA). The Bruins think highly of their former 4th-round pick from 2017, banking on him to split the duties with Linus Ullmark.

Swayman is no stranger to success, winning the NCAA Mike Ritcher award as the best goalie in college hockey as a member of the University of Maine in 2019-20. Since making his NHL debut on April 6, 2021, he has worn jersey #1, a number not worn since 2012 when Marty Turco was a member of the Bruins.

Some of the game’s greatest players have skated in Beantown, earning plaques in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Superstars like Bobby Orr (#4) skated end to end at the old Boston Garden, while Cam Neely (#8) opened up the Fleet Center (TD Garden) by hammering opponents with bone-crunching hits and scoring 50 goals a season. Before color TV, Dit Clapper (#5) and Eddie Shore (#2) represented the original six days and the franchise’s first two Stanley Cup titles in 1929 and 1939. Together, they are just four of the 12 players whose contributions to the game and the franchise led to their numbers hanging from the rafters, an honor only a few have ever received.

Bruins Swayman

Swayman is one of a dozen goalies to wear the #1 jersey with the Bruins. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Out of the other Original Six teams, New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Montreal Canadiens, the Bruins remain the only team who has yet to retire jersey #1. In previous eras, goalies usually wore the number, which explains why most of the names on this list donned the pads. In 1988, Glenn Hall (Chicago) became the first Hall of Famer of his era to see his number (#1) go out of circulation. Within a short time, Eddie Giacomin (New York) in 1989, Terry Sawchuk (Detroit) in 1994, and Jacques Plante (Montreal) in 1995 joined him. The Maple Leafs were the last team to honor the number, retiring it twice for Turk Broda and Johnny Bower in 2016.

If the criteria for jersey retirement is enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, the Bruins have had two goalies who wore the number, had legendary careers and punched their ticket to immortality, Frank Brimsek and Tiny Thompson. No one is saying that Swayman can’t carve his legacy with the number, but he may run into the same problem as two other Stanley Cup-winning goalies: Gerry Cheevers and Tim Thomas (#30). An older generation will remember Cheevers with his stitches goalie mask leading the Bruins to the 1970 and 1972 titles, while a young generation is only a decade removed from Thomas’ heroics and the 2011 championship.

There is much debate across all sports about jersey retirement, especially in New York, where the Yankees are running out of numbers for current players. Some people believe retired numbers are for the greatest, which may explain why the Bruins have never raised #30 to the rafters at TD Garden. It’s fair to say both Cheevers and Thomas deserve recognition for their efforts in the team’s last three championships, but only Cheevers is in the Hall of Fame, and that wasn’t enough for ownership to make the call.

The Bruins only have two single digits left for current players to wear, #1 and #6, with the latter currently on the back of Mike Reilly. When we look at the available history of #6, which only dates back to 1950, there are no sure-fire candidates worth enshrinement, which leads us back to #1, and the big question: why do the Bruins have yet to take the jersey out of circulation?

“Mr. Zero” Frank Brimsek

Brimsek is one of the most decorated Bruins goalies in club history. As a member of the black and gold, he won a Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) and two Veniza Trophies (Goalie of the Year). Moreover, he was the netminder who helped the Bruins to the 1939 and 1941 Stanley Cup titles. Overall, Brimsek suited up for 444 games and won 230, which ranked second all-time upon his trade to the Blackhawks in 1949.

His impressive resume includes the distinction of being the first American-born goalie inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1966. For 54 years, he was the country’s leader in wins and shutouts. Furthermore, Brimsek was the only goalie to win the Calder Memorial Trophy until Andrew Raycroft earned the award in 2003-04. Meanwhile, his two Veniza Trophy wins are tied with Thomas and were two short of Thompson’s team record of four.

There is no telling if Brimsek’s name has ever come into the discussion for retirement; however, players with less stellar resumes, like Neely and Rick Middleton, have found their jerseys lifted. Each player won one award during their career, and although both meant a lot to the Causeway faithful, there are still some fantastic players who may never see their names hang from the rafters. One of them is Mr. Zero.

Cecil “Tiny” Thompson

Tiny Thompson was a rookie in 1928-29 when he led the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup championship. In ten seasons with the black and gold, he compiled a record 252 wins in 468 games. He also owns the franchise record of 153 losses and still has a firm grasp on the shutout record (74) as of 2022. Thompson held those three records (GP-W-L) for decades until Tuukka Rask recently overtook him for the top spots.

Tuukka Rask

Rask may be the best statistical goalie in team history, but is that enough for a jersey retirement ceremony? (Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports)

Thompson earned the Vezina Trophy four times in ten years (1930, 1933, 1936, and 1938) to become the league’s most decorated goalie. For over a decade, he was the netminder with the most trophy wins until Bill Durnan of the Montreal Canadiens won six awards in seven seasons in the 1940s. Either way, Thompson earned enshrinement into the Hall of Fame in 1959 and is credited as the first goalie in league history to earn an assist on a goal.

When we look back at Thompson’s career, finding holes in his case for jersey retirement is complicated. His accomplishments with the Bruins remained unrivaled for more than half a century, and as mentioned in Brimsek’s case, we can not say whether his name has come up in discussions for retirement. If Rask gets his #40 raised to the rafters, it would almost be an insult to these two goalies.

Rask spent his entire career with the Bruins, beating all the records that Thompson and Brimsek once held. He has one championship he earned as a backup, a Vezina, and a William M. Jennings Trophy. When eligible, it will be tough for him to get a plaque at the Hall of Fame, which again takes us back to the discussion on whether it should be a requirement for retirement.

The Future of #1

Swayman is only 51 games into his NHL career and has already made the All-Rookie team. He’s in the final year of his rookie contract ($925,000/year), and if he has another stellar season, he could be in for a hefty pay increase in the range of $4-5 million a season. However, in a league built for parity now, it may be more challenging for Swayman to win four Vezina trophies or several Stanley Cups.

No matter what he does this year or during his next contract, the Bruins see him as the goalie of the future and signed Ullmark last year as a bridge guy to handle the duties while Swayman continues to grow and improve. Like Thomas and Cheevers, he has a chance to be this generation’s player associated with a number that could have retired ages ago. For fans who love history and know the players from the past, it is tough to watch new players try to carve out their narratives with a particular number. Imagine a player flying down the wing wearing #4 or #8, and you get the point.

Swayman can go on to have the most remarkable career in a Bruins crease, yet until the team honors their best players from the Original Six era, it would be difficult to say he is the best player to wear his number.