Red Wings announce they'll retire Red Kelly's number

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Norris Trophy winner Red Kelly talks to a fan in 1955.

Detroit — The Red Wings healed an ancient wound and honored one of their greatest players Wednesday, when Christopher Ilitch announced that the 92-year-old franchise will retire its eighth number, No. 4, for Red Kelly.

Kelly, 91, was a mainstay of the four Stanley Cup winners in the 1950s, alongside Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Alex Delvecchio, Terry Sawchuk and Sid Abel, whose numbers hang aloft in Little Caesars Arena.

In other comments, Ilitch said he would not discuss the status of Steve Yzerman because of the NHL's anti-tampering rules, and is happy with the status of the Red Wings' rebuilding.

Kelly, inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1969, spent 13 seasons with the Wings.

Playing in 846 of his 1,316 career games with the club, the marvelous skating forward and defenseman scored 162 goals and assisted on 310.

In 1953-54, he received the first James Norris Memorial Trophy as the top defenseman in the league.

He was the Wings captain for his final two seasons with the team.

After a trade on Feb. 5, 1960, that came out of nowhere for Red Wings players and fans alike, Kelly ended up in Toronto, where he won four more Stanley Cups with the Maple Leafs.

During the playoffs in his final season in Detroit, the Red Wings asked Kelly to remove a cast on a broken ankle with which he had been playing.

Kelly complied and played in greater pain, but without much increased mobility.

When asked, at the start of the following season, if his most mobile days were behind him, Kelly told a reporter about the fracture and the cast.

In his biography and in an interview with The Detroit News, Kelly said the reporter got the story correct. But the headline screamed a question about whether the Wings forced Kelly to play hurt.

The next day, general manager Jack Adams traded Kelly to the lowly New York Rangers.

Kelly refused to report. He eventually played for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

His eight Stanley Cups are the fourth-most in history, and Kelly is the only NHL player with more than six who did not play with the Canadiens.

No. 4 will be lifted to the rafters Feb. 1 when the Wings host the Maple Leafs.

“Red is one of the greatest Red Wings in the history of the franchise, and we think it’s long overdue for the organization to celebrate his numerous accomplishments,” Ilitch said.

“Red was a prolific player for two decades and was a leader for the Red Wings during one of the most dominant decades in franchise history.”

Kelly, who was not present, greeted the news with great excitement on the phone when Chris Ilitch and his mother, Wings owner Marian Ilitch, called, Chris Ilitch said.

“I wish to thank Marian and Chris Ilitch for this great honor,” Kelly said in a statement.

“The Red Wings gave me my start in the NHL 71 seasons ago.

“I proudly wear the ring that commemorates the four Stanley Cups the team won when I played in Detroit. I treasure the memories I made during my time with the team, playing along some of the greatest players and people in the league’s history.”

Asked two questions about Yzerman’s status amid rampant speculation the former Wings star will return to Detroit, Ilitch demurred, saying league rules prevent him from “discussing personnel under contract with another team.”

Of the redevelopment of the Red Wings, Ilitch said he is happy with management's performance under Ken Holland.

“I’m very pleased with where we are in the rebuilding process,” he said, alluding to the opening night lineup that included the most first-time NHL players of any Wings opening night lineup in 33 years.

“We were one of the dominant teams in the 1990s. Let’s hope history repeats itself. We’re working on it.”