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
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.