Pic from Sportsnet.ca

When Nicklas Backstrom decided to head across the pond to play with his long-time linemate Alexander Ovechkin, nobody was surprised. What they were surprised about was his choice of number – he went with 99, the sacred, ever-cherished number of The Great Wayne Gretzky.  How dare he!

Those in the know are aware that 99 is the only number that isn’t just retired by one NHL team, but is retired by all of them. It’s supposed to be disrespectful to wear it anywhere, which is basically the opposite of the NBA, where every great player who came up after MJ wore 23 as a sign of respect (though some, like Lebron, have switched to their own number since – it’s better for the brand, and all).

So the kerfuffle on the internet was, is it cool to wear the number 99 when you’re not in the NHL, or is it just implied you shouldn’t wear it anywhere? Was Nicklas Backstrom wrong to choose it?

Well, it turns out he didn’t chose it at all, so everyone can shut up. 

Russian Machine Never Breaks had the story yesterday, and shared the translation (by Jake Ware) of the original story by Magnus Nystrom of espressen.se:

Nicklas Bäckström did not want to have number 99 for Dynamo Moscow, which he made clear before his KHL debut, but still has it [three games into his tenure]. The KHL has managed to mess up despite personal visits from Dynamo Moscow delegations. But, finally, Bäckström has been promised that he can change number after the national team break. Permission will have been acquired, signatures will be correct, and all the stamps will be in the right place. Nobody loves stamps like Russia. Whatever, soon Bäckström will be rid of number 99, and after Karjala Cup he will be Nicklas Bäckström, number 69.

There’s a break coming up in the KHL from November 5th to the 14th (god, can you imagine being without hockey for that long, ugh), and after that, he’ll be allowed to switch to 69, making him the first-ever person to switch to 69 and be ruled more classy than he was with his previous digit. The cool part for Nicky is that is his first game sporting it will be against goon squad Vityaz Chekov, which guarantees the fact that at least a few meatheads will give him a high five for his awesome, hilarious number.

Ian Oland (who wrote the RMNB post and did the pilfered graphic below, by the way), points out that number 69 has only been worn twice in the NHL before – currently, Andrew Desjardins is sporting it, and Mel “The Mangler” Anglestad wore it back in the day.

Pic courtesy KHL, seen on Russian Machine Never Breaks

So there you have it. Everyone can re-lax about the perceived slight by the Capitals all-star. He was never trying to offend anyone. In fact, if his new name is any indication, he was actually trying to please people.