Tim Sassone has a great take about the possibility of taking the #7 out of circulation for the Chicago Blackhawks in order to honor hometown boy, Chris Chelios. Of course, the points are there for Chelios to have such an honor happen, but I think the one thing that I wonder about is if it should happen while someone who is forging his own path, Brent Seabrook, is donning the number.
Of course, Chicago is the only place where Chelios wore #7 (even with the Wolves in the AHL) because he wore #24 in his other stops in the NHL trail. Considering how Chelios ended his tenure in Chicago, is it going to be a good thing for the Hawks to bury the hatchet and leave the old regime behind them by retiring Chelios' number?? That debate will probably rage on for a while until a decision is made one way or another and will probably continue to rage on after a decision is made.
It's one to have a player who is a rank-and-file type give up their number in order to honor one of the greats the team has produced, but it's not like Seabrook is a slouch and he has worn that number since his time in juniors with the Lethbridge Hurricanes. While I don't think that Seabrook would put up much of a fight, it makes you wonder if the kid wants to change up his identity like that or if he'd like to change his number in order to get out of the shadow of Chelios and give him a send off.
If my memory serves me correctly (Iron Chef tribute there), Ray Bourque changing from #7 to #77 so the Bruins could honor Phil Esposito is the last major issue when it came to jersey numbers of two stellar players having a number clash. I'm sure there's been a bit of an issue when it came to some players dealing with numbers possibly being retired-- like in Montreal and Toronto; but often the numbers that are going to be retired are, for the most part, unofficially taken out of circulation because of the assumption that the number will be hanging from the rafter sooner rather than later.
Personally, I don't like the idea of having a fairly established guy give up his number because the team finally decided to give the rightful due to an older player. You'd think that a team would know right away that they would retire a number of a player in their organization. Maybe not "Colorado Avalanche/Ray Bourque" quick, but you'd usually have an idea if you're going to honor a number. Plus, you look at a situation like Montreal, where they've had multiple players have the same number, turn out to be meaningful to the team history, and then retire the number with multiple players attached to it. Hell, the Blackhawks split the #3 with Keith Magnuson and Pierre Pilote. Even with the Maple Leafs, they honor numbers and give the correct due to the players who made an impact with their team; but don't take it out of circulation, which I think is ingenious.
While this era of the NHL will yield us plenty of retired numbers and debate about retired numbers, maybe the Maple Leafs idea is ahead of the curve and something that teams should definitely implement in their own schemes of jersey retirement. This way, you won't have a situation like there where two solid players, one retired and one current, have the same number and then you have to try and bribe the current wearer to give it up for someone who was on the outs with the organization at one point.