nail yakupov 3

When the puck dropped to start the 2006, a major milestone had been reached. With the donning of number 84 by Guillaume Latendresse, every number from double zero to 99 had been worn by a player in the NHL.

The reason the number 84 had not been worn in over 100 years of NHL action is a dark and complex tale, but I feel comfortable saying I’m the right man to reveal the truth: it’s because 84 is a stupid number.

While I’m not sure what drove Latendresse to 84, a lot of the 80s were finally checked off thanks to trend of players selecting their birth-year as their jersey number. It’s a cute concept that young players use as a subtle bit of braggadocio, though it becomes less cute as they move towards league average age (I see you #82, Curtis Glencross). I suppose it’d be cool again if someone like Teemu Selanne rocked his (70 – one off being really cool), but for the most part, I think it’s pretty lame.

When I saw that Nathan MacKinnon has chosen to wear 29 with the Avs (Matt Hunwick wears MacKinnon’s 22, and players don’t give up “their” number easily), I thought I’d lay out my general understanding of jersey number selection for the uninformed.

At a glance:

* During pre-season and training camp, new players don’t get to choose their numbers (unless they’re like, The Dude), so they end up as I did, rocking #63 or some other random mess.

* Call-ups to ECHL and AHL teams rarely get to choose their number – what, we’re going to sew a new number on just for you? You’re wearing what the kid we just traded wore. 

* Players who make NHL teams always get to choose their number. If someone has “their” number, the player with more seniority (games played is king in the dressing room) gets it, but the two are free to work out a deal between themselves. It’s not uncommon for a player to “buy” his number of another guy (more common in football). Hey, this stuff matters a bunch to some people.

* It has long been custom in the NHL that defensemen wore lower, generally single-digit numbers. While this is still partially true, ego and the drive for individuality (often suppressed in hockey) has led some to branch out and get cray-cray. Also, some players just don’t care. Justin Braun wears 61, for example.

* Double digit numbers between 10-20 are the most popular forward numbers. As someone born on 12/12 at 12:12, you can guess my preference. My Dad wore 14, so that’s my backup. Some of the greatest players ever have sported 19. It’s sort of the sweet spot for forward numbers. Buuuut, as I mentioned above: with more players striving for individuality, it makes sense to wear something marketable and unique. Nobody’s wearing 87 anymore because it’s clearly Sid’s, and guys like Nail Yakupov seem to be making an effort to find a number they can make “theirs.” I mean…64? If he becomes an all-time great, he gets to be associated directly with a number, which is a real privilege.

* Goalies were long confined to #1 or something in the 30s (usually the low 30s), but again: the stigma of being a showboat by breaking from that mold has more-or-less been shucked, and goalies are branching out now. Craig Anderson wears 41. …Kay, whatever man, do you.

* Double numbers mean something, but I’m not sure what. I think they’ve sort of become a bold choice, like “you better be good to wear this.” I mean, look at the history of double numbers:

11: Mark Messier
22: Mike Bossy
33: Patrick Roy
44: Chris Pronger
55: Larry Murphy
66: Mario Lemieux
77: Ray Bourque
88: Eric Lindros
99: Wayne Gretzky

Not bad.

There are obvious exceptions, but I know I wouldn’t don a double number unless I felt I was something special. If I had to guess, I’d say MacKinnon is probably a little annoyed with the whole 29-instead-of-22 thing right now because of that.

I’m so Canadian in my hockey heritage that I’d always do my best not to wear something that stands out. I suppose that’s part of my personal nature though as well. I don’t hold it against anyone who chooses to wear something more frisky, but I do think what you chose to wear reflects on what type of person you are in some loose way. What you wear doesn’t really matter, but it does make a statement.

Comments (76)

  1. Yakupov wears 64 because his favorite player was Bure and 10 was taken, so he picked something random.

    • That adds up to 10.

      • He should have went with either: 19, 91, 28, 82, 37, 73, or 46

        I dont understand the logic behind the numbers add up to make my favorite players number thing.
        Why not pick a number that equals your favorite player number when you subtract them or better yet when you divide them.

        • Well he couldn’t take 19, 28,37, and 91 because players already had those numbers in Edmonton…. Horcoff is gone so I’m sure he’ll make the switch over to 10.

  2. I’m a big fan of the Sedins’ choices: 22 and 33. Easy to remember because of the double numbers, and the numerical order matches the alphabetical order of their names–Daniel comes first as 22, Henrik second as 33. The jersey order also happens to correspond with their relative ages, in a way–Henrik is older by six minutes, and has the higher number.

  3. #41 was Jocelyn Thibault back when…
    Theodore’s #60 is far weirder

  4. i definitely felt like i got a lot more attention in HS when i changed numbers from 7 to 77. it was like people just assumed i was good because i had a double number.

  5. Now that Horcoff is gone and #10 is open, I’m curious to see if Yakupov is gonna change numbers. The nickname “N64″ is pretty sweet though, so I hope he doesn’t

  6. You also didn’t mention that some teams (like the Devils) try to enforce a situation where only certain numbers can be used. The Devils, with very few exceptions (Mogilny, Jagr, etc) don’t let players take anything over 31 as long as there are still numbers available. Not sure how prevalent this is, but there are definitely teams that do it that way.

    • The Devils also don’t allow anyone to wear the number 13. I checked hockey-reference and New Jersey and Minnesota are the only active teams that have never had a player wear 13.

      Interestingly, I think Bill Guerin has worn 13 for a fifth of the NHL… or something close to that, but had to wear 12 in New Jersey. Seriously, he wore 13 for Boston, Dallas, St. Louis, San Jose, the Islanders and Pittsburgh. He wore 9 in Edmonton though, so there must have been something odd going on there. No one else on the Oilers at the time (1998) had 13.

      Also, if you check the registry for the Devils you’ll see two players under #13. The first is Robin Burns who wore 13 for the Kansas City Scouts. The second is Harri Pesonen who played 4 games in the NHL this season and according to the roster reports for each of those games he wore #9 and #16 but not #13, so I’m not sure where that comes from.

      The fact remains, no player has ever skated in an NHL game in a Devils or Wild sweater with 13 on their back.

    • Brian Burke has shown a preference for lower numbers as well. Mikhail Grabovski was made to switch from #84 to #54 briefly, before Burke traded for Phil Kessel and decided that numbers in the eighties after all.

  7. Matt Hunwick – he of 4 goals in the past 3 seasons – needs to give up his #22.

    I suspect his teammates will convince him to during the pre-season. MacKinnon will probably be a Top-10 All-Time player, and if not should be in Peter Forsberg territory which, to me, means that he should have whatever number he wants right now.

    • I’m going to make a not so bold prediction tha MacKinnon won’t be a top-ten all-time player. Maybe top ten all time for the Avs franchise, but not top 10 overall.

      • I’ve watched him enough to think that he could be, and yeah it may be too early to even think that, but it’s my opinion that he probably will be. I also consider Sid to already be a Top 5 All-Time and most people would probably disagree with me..

        • I loved Sundin, but I think in a few years he’ll be a better player than Mats ever was in a few years. I think he’ll turn out like Forsberg, who is thought of as better than Sakic, and one of the best ever.

          Remeber, the kid is still only 17 (11 months younger than Seth Jones).

  8. I dislike it when guys wear 98 or 89, it looks too much like 99 and none of those players are Wayne. (Sam Gagner may get a pass because of the 8 point game a couple years back)

    I know playing we always chirped the guy who wore 99 on the other team, at some point the jersey numbers on our minor hockey teams had all the double digits thrown in along with 1-20.

    • I can’t even stand it when people wear 99 in other team sports. It just seems wrong.

      • 99 always looked funny on Jaime Moreno’s D.C. United jersey to me.

        That said, 99 shouldn’t be retired leaguewide, just by Gretzky’s teams. (Leaguewide retirements need to transcend the sport, i.e. Jackie Robinson.) If somebody’s ballsy enough to try to own 99 for himself, I want to see that.

        • The thing is… Gretzky’s nickname was “99″ a lot of the time (Jim Hughson *only* called him that in a couple of the NHL games he called). It’s *his* number. You can’t say that for, say, Wilt Chamberlain or Joe Montana or even Jackie Robinson. Those numbers were too common, but the “99″ was an integral part of his legend (even down to things like the ties to Howe).

          And Gretzky pretty much built the modern NHL and pretty much owned the entire record book. I’m fine with that one as a leaguewide retirement.

  9. I like Gordie Howe’s story on choosing number 9. I guess back in the day the sleeping births they got on the train were assigned by jersey number. Howe started at 17 and that was a top bunk, he didn’t like sleeping up there and then one year 9 became available (a bottom bunk) so he switched to that.

  10. 88 means Patrick Kane to me. Even if he is an American, he’s got way more class & way more Cups than Lindros.

    • yeah, Kane just oozes class

    • Class is right. I *never* heard of Lindros punching cabbies or being blackout drunk in public. What a plug.

      • #88 rightly belongs to Lindros, not only because he had it before Kane but also because of his monstrous physical size. The digits 88 take up more sheer room on a sweater than any other combination; it takes a big guy to carry off sporting that number without it looking oversized on him.

      • Lindros may never punched a cabby, but he did whip (and spit) beer in a girl’s face. Just google Lindros and coco bananas, classic bar name btw.

  11. The fact that it bugs me so much makes me feel like a cranky old man, but man, that birth year thing really does bug me. Like, choose your dad’s birth year, or your daughter’s birth year, or *anything* that doesn’t scream LOOK AT ME I AM HOT SHIT. And now, with seemingly dozens of guys wearing numbers in the 80s and 90s, the *hot shit* factor has been dialed WAY down.

    A similar thing that bugs me on my team, the Capitals, is the number of established NHL guys they have that STILL have their rookie numbers (70-Holtby, 74-Carlson, 83-Beagle, 85-Perreault – I’m going to assume Oleksy will still be rocking 61 this year whether he makes the team or not). It just doesn’t seem right to see a 4th liner running around wearing #83 year after year.

    All that aside, I think Latendresse is a pretty solid choice for worst number.

    • I don’t quite get how the birth year thing is obnoxious. Is it a perception that the player is laying claim to that entire year, and therefore must think they’re THE BEST of that year?

  12. I love talking jerseys and numbers.

    In regards to Theodore and his #60, it is odd, but I heard in an interview the reason why he started wearing it is because it was the number given to him in training camp. He made the team and was offered the chance to change, but decided to keep it out of good luck, I believe (and I may be wrong), this is the same deal with Latendress. I dislike any high number with some exceptions (66, 77, 88,99 ended up where they belong).

    I wore #54 my first year playing rep, but that was to honour my dad who sick. It was his football number. I got stuck with #94 one year because it was the only number left and the coach/GM wouldn’t let me change it, even though I offered to pay for it.

  13. There are 10 kinds of hockey players: those who get it regarding jersey numbers, and binary thinkers.

  14. I know Mike Smith also wears the number 41, so it could be that 41 is becoming more popular with goaltenders

  15. Shawn Horcoff has moved on, which leaves #10 vacant – It’s all Yakupov’s if he wants it.

  16. i was told when i was younger that teams used to just give out jersey #s based on position and depth.
    Starting Goalie – #1
    Top defenseive line: #2-3…
    9 was taken, and instead of taking a “reasonable” number Gretzky was good enough to be able to have anything he wanted, so he went with 99, which i guess is probably the start of all this madness.

    anyway – that’s the hackneyed history i’d always heard, no idea how based in fact any of that is though.

    • You started off correctly… the numbers usually corrollated with status/longevity on the team, with Starting Goalie getting #1 all the way to Back-up Goalie getting #30.

      Gretzky took #99 because #9 was always Gordie Howe’s number and since Gretz was a fan of Howe’s, he didn’t want to wear #9. So, he simply doubled it to #99.

      • I think the exact story (according to his book) is that he wore 9, but 9 was taken. He apparently played around with 14 and 19 before settling on 99.

  17. I was told by a friend in the Sabres organization that they get handed a jersey number when they get drafted.

    Vanek was going to make the team the team, so he got to choose. Clearly MacKinnon’s going to be on the team, so the brass lets him choose. Other than that, you’re kinda stuck with what they hand you (Pomminville said that about his selection, what other explaination could you have for 72, 57, 53, 63 or any of the other ugly numbers running rampant on that team, and, in general, across the league). And undrafted Chad Ruewedell (sp?) got to choose when he was signed, which is why he’s sporting the normal looking 5.

  18. I was on a beer league team one year whose rule was no jersey numbers under 40; the “reverse Brian Burke” if you will. Needless to say, there were some really ugly numbers. For some reason I thought 90 was the worst. High enough to be considered a vanity number, but no imagionation at all.

  19. Sometimes you just gotta go with the punnery. Commodore is a stick in the mud for not wearing 64.

    Steve Heinze, on the other hand, earned the respect of fans everywhere for 57. And two cheers for Tootoo for wearing his number.

    • Tootoo actually wore 55 with Nashville because 22 was taken, and his older brother who committed suicide had worn 22 so I think he wanted to avoid it for a while.

  20. Something you have to keep in mind with Latendresse (he was with Montreal at the time) and some of the other interesting number choices in Montreal is that there are quite a few numbers in the rafters at the Bell Center. A lot of current Habs have some pretty brutal numbers.

  21. When I played hockey and I made the AAA team. I was the youngest in my age group and a guy that was older than me wore my number 11. That was the only time I ever cared about wearing a different number cause I was so supersitious back then. I ended up wearing 47. I picked it cause it was the absolute worst number of the bunch I could pick from. I ended up wearing it all through my short and crappy hockey career and still wear it to this day in any sports i play. If anything that situation made me grow up a bit and realise a number means absolutely nothing when it comes down to it.

  22. anything in the 50s that is not 55 should be outlawed.

  23. My initials are DS so in high school a lot of people called me Nintendo and as a result I figured the best number to wear was 64

  24. The convention traces its origins back to soccer – originally, you wore jersey numbers from the goal out.

    When that went to hockey, the same thing happened. As rosters expanded, the starting goalie wore #1, then the Ds were 2-7, then forwards from then onwards. Hence Tretiak’s #20 – he kept it even after he was named the starter.

    Of course, even that was pretty malleable – Ace Bailey was a forward and wore what was traditionally a defenceman’s number.

  25. Al MacInnis wore #2 because he was the shit.

  26. Pick any number you want and make it a hot number. No one thought anything about 87 until ’87′ came along.

  27. I wonder why Claude Giroux likes #28 so much. Even when he was an emergency call up for two games, he got #56 (2 x 28) as #28 was occupied at the time.

  28. i wore 84 throughout my hockey playing days, and 84 was the number on my racecar for the 9 yeras i raced.. also, anyone remember when t.j brodie from the flames wore 66?

  29. Leafs best centre M. Grabovski has been wearing 84 for a few years…

  30. buddha hat, yes you are.. also i remember a long time ago when i played junior, i was soooo mad cause i thought corey locke was gonna make the show before me and become the first 84, obviously neither of us got there and lalalalalalalalatondresse did

  31. old school:

    1 – goalie
    2-6 – d’men
    7-20 – forwards
    21-28 – forwards or d’men
    29 – ken dryden
    30-31 – goalie
    32-upwards – not used in general

    i think the Habs started the trend towards higher numbers – they had so many between 1 and 30 retired that players started having to take higher numbers and now of course we have chaos.

    personally i blame gary bettman.

    ps. according to wikipedia, Habs current retired numbers are: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 12, 16, 18, 19, 23, 29, 33 (+ 99 obviously). interestingly, 12 and 16 have been retired TWICE – Moore & Cournoyer and Lach & H.Richard.

    • “i think the Habs started the trend towards higher numbers – they had so many between 1 and 30 retired that players started having to take higher numbers and now of course we have chaos.”

      Paul Coffey and Ray Bourque, as well – of course, Bourque had his number forcibly taken away from him when Boston retired Espo’s number.

  32. I read somewhere that theo fluery took 74 instead of 14 when he played on team canada becuz a dude named shanny had it and didn’t want to be disciplined later…
    also on the same team sakic took 91 over 19 cuz yzerman was older….
    i have heard 61 is 19 flipped over so its kinda kool.
    in all other cases where there doesn’t seem to be a reason (49? 38? 56?) they need to be banned from pro hockey cuz it looks ugly.
    best ever number? 27. goalies (hextall, meloche) defense (neidermayer, numminen) fowards (kovalev, mahovlich, tonelli, roenick, sittler) wore it. bobby orr once sported 27 in a bruins jersey. probably a rookie pre-season shot.

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