September 07, 2010
Hockey historian John Kreiser has done some of the most interesting hockey writing of the summer on NHL.com, and his latest project could be his greatest: The best NHL players for each sweater number, from No. 00 to No. 99. (That No. 99? You guessed it: Wilf Paiement.)
It's obviously not the first time this has been done: Publications spanning the spectrum from Sports Illustrated to the Bleacher Report have done variations on it. But Kreiser's analysis and honorable mentions turned his project into something in-depth and special: Here are Nos. 00-33, Nos. 34-66 and Nos. 67-99.
Some numbers on these lists are cemented with specific names in hockey history: Gordie Howe is No. 9, Wayne Gretzky is No. 99, Bobby Orr is No. 4 and Mario Lemieux is No. 66. So it is in 2010, so it shall be in 2050.
Other numbers are simply waiting for their standard-bearer to arrive: According to Kreiser, Arron Asham(notes) is No. 45, with Jody Shelley(notes) and Dmitri Kalinin(notes) in the mix. Taylor Hall(notes) could announce he's wearing that number for the Edmonton Oilers and move to the top of the list without having played a game yet in the NHL. (Ed Note: Huh, great timing -- Hall will be announced as No. 4 for the Oil on Wednesday.)
Then there's another category: Numbers currently synonymous with former NHL players that current NHL players may, by the end of their careers, claim for their own.
Again, what we're examining here isn't necessarily who the better player is; just which player can claim a right to that sweater number's legacy in NHL history. Geography, new generations of fans and the passage of time should be taken into account in determining these legacies.
With: Sergei Fedorov(notes), who wore the number for 18 seasons with the Detroit
Red Wings, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington
Capitals -- and scored 483 goals wearing it.
Currently Synonymous With: Miroslav Satan(notes), who has worn it for 14 seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins and most recently with the Boston Bruins. His jersey name is iconic; so is the number.
Could Be Owned By: Phil Kessel(notes) of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Yes, this is completely presumptuous, and no, a player with 96 career goals isn't guaranteed to surpass Satan's 363 career tallies. But if the Leafs do the unthinkable and win a Stanley Cup, and Kessel is a major part of that victory ... well, the Toronto hype machine may force the NHL to take No. 81 out of circulation for the rest of the 29 teams in honor of his accomplishments.
Could Be Owned By: Mike Green(notes) of the Washington Capitals, assuming he continues his record-setting offensive pace for a defenseman; eventually wins a Norris Trophy; and we can finally locate his sweater number on the ice in the postseason.
Could Be Owned By: Pavel Datsyuk(notes) of the Detroit Red Wings. Two Stanley Cups, a closet full of Selke and Lady Byng trophies and 592 career points at age 31. This may turn into a geographic debate: The closer you are to The Center of the Hockey Universe, the more Sundin's number will be iconic.
Currently Synonymous With: Jarri Kurri, Gretzky's wing-man with the Oilers, a Hall of Fame player and scorer of 601 goals. It could be argued that Kurri's number isn't as celebrated as those of Gretzky, Messier, Lowe or Coffey.
Could Be Owned By: Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) of the New Jersey Devils, who has 338 goals at age 27 and who we all know will be playing for the next 15 years (wink wink). In order for Kovalchuk to own this number for new generations, however, he'll have to do something he's never done before: win something.
Currently Synonymous With: Eric Lindros, during his at times dominant and always controversial career with the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Dallas Stars. He scored 372 goals and 865 points in 760 games, won a Hart Trophy and owned this number like Mario owned No. 66 during the same time period.
Could Be Owned By: Patrick Kane(notes) of the Chicago Blackhawks is already making his case based on stats, accomplishments (Stanley Cup-winning goal) and impact. Jonathan Toews(notes) wears either Steve Yzerman's or Joe Sakic's(notes) number, depending on your loyalties. He may never supersede their legacies; does Lindros own No. 88 or can Kane knock him out?
Any other numbers that current stars are wearing that you think will become more synonymous with them than anyone else?