Anyone who knows me and has listened to me ramble on about hockey knows that I have EXTREMELY strong and particular opinions on player numbers. In a perfect world, I get to tell every single player exactly what number to wear. Unfortunately we don't live in that world (yet) but at least I do agree with the choices made by over half the players currently in the league and many more throughout history. This is partially because history helps dictate what kind of player should wear what number and it's one of the biggest factors in my own ideas. Some numbers like 4 and 9 are very easy to figure out as they've historically been enormously popular and have been handed down over the decades to a certain type of player. And numbers like 99 and 66 don't factor in at all because they are what they are no one is else is ever going to wear them.
So this list will just point out a few players past and present who bug me with their number choices. These are the players I want to go up to and just tell them that they are WRONG. In the case of the current players, there's still some hope I guess.
5. Brendan Bell #9 Ottawa Senators
While everyone knows I loathe the Sens, that doesn't mean I necessarily loathe all their players. Bell is a guy I've always liked and continue to like despite the fact that he is now playing for Ottawa. But the guy is a defenceman, and while he does have some offensive flair to his game, everyone knows that a d-man just never, ever wears nine. Nine is a number reserved exclusively for forwards and even more exclusively for dynamic offensive stars. It is the number of Gordie Howe, Rocket Richard and Bobby Hull. In today's NHL it is well-worn by players such as Mike Modano and Paul Kariya.
If you're a forward playing any level of hockey but scoring isn't your thing, then nine isn't your number and never will be. And if you're a high-scoring defenceman you should still understand there's a different set of rules for your position and you wear something like seven. And if you're Brendan Bell, you switch to a boring number under fifty and leave the forward-only numbers alone.
4. Jeremy Roenick #97 Phoenix Coyotes, Philadelphia Flyers, LA Kings
JR was one of the rare American players to not only play junior hockey in the Quebec League but to also tear it up while he was there. He stepped into the NHL with the Blackhawks and established himself as a star almost immediately scoring 100 points in three straight seasons at one point, two with 50 goals. He did all this wearing a pretty good number: twenty-seven. Then he was part of a major trade to the newly arrived Phoenix Coyotes, and Roenick, a guy with lots of talent and even more ego, switched to the flashy number ninety-seven. Granted, defenceman Teppo Numminen was wearing twenty-seven when Roenick got there but ninety-seven? Come on. One can argue I'm being pretty hard on the guy since Doug Gilmour had donned the number ninety-three when he arrived in Toronto but I still see Roenick's choice as some sort of statement about how awesome he thought he was.
When he signed with San Jose in 2007, Roenick went back to his old twenty-seven claiming he didn't want to stand out anymore and wanted to be "just one of the guys" so I see that as an admission that he really was trying to be special when wearing the highest number in the league besides You Know Who.
3. Any Player to Ever Wear #25
I'll admit that I really shouldn't be blaming any players for this one. The problem here is that unlike pretty much every other number worn in hockey, not counting weird stuff that has been worn only by insignificant players or extremely briefly by others (say as rookies without a guranteed place on the roster) like fifty-four or something, I do not understand twenty-five at all. I just can't figure it out. To me, the number twenty-five has no identity in hockey despite the fact that it's fairly common and has been worn by some very notable players over the years. It seems to be slightly favoured by forwards and yet defencemen wear it too, most notably and recently Chris Pronger with the Ducks, changing from his old forty-four.
Here's a few of the most notable players to have regularly worn this number:
Jacques Lemaire - Gritty two-way forward with scoring touch
Joe Nieuwendyk - Big goal-scorer and faceoff specialist
Chris Pronger - Huge physical (downright nasty, really) defenceman with offensive punch
Vincent Damphousse - Flashy offensive star
Kevin Stevens - Bruising scoring power forward
Randy Carlyle - Defensive shutdown defenceman
Now what do these players have in common as far as their strengths and playing styles go? You guessed it - pretty much fuck all. Someone needs to come along and define this number for me.
2. Eric Lindros #88 Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs (gag), Dallas Stars
My hatred for little baby Eric has been well documented so we'll just stick to the numbers part here. His story is that he didn't pick 88 because he thought he was special. His story is that it's a tribute to John McCauley, a former NHL ref, now deceased, who was the father of a teammate of Lindros's in Junior B. McCauley wore number eight so that's what Lindros wore. But when he got to Major Junior with the Oshawa Generals, eight was already taken so he picked eighty-eight. Bit of a jump there, doncha think? It's worse than what Roenick did considering this was a KID and this was also back when high numbers were only just starting to be more widespread in the NHL. So you can either buy his story or you can believe the guy was just aching to claim a unique number once he reached Major Junior because he was buying into his own stupid hype.
Ridiculously dominant as a teenager, and admittedly for the first few years of his NHL career as well, Lindros was the only player to wear eighty-eight for any significant amount of time. Seems kind of like 66 and 99 to me. Not to mention people were referring to him as "The Next One" before he was even drafted - don't tell me that didn't go to the guy's head - remember that draft day? Quebec City sure as hell does.
In the last two years, young rising stars Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks and Peter Mueller of the Phoenix Coyotes have both come in wearing eighty-eight, which they also wore in junior and I'm glad someone finally has so they can take the mystique off the number. Because despite all his talent, Lindros will always be remembered for what a tool he is rather than anything he actually accomplished in the game of hockey.
1. Vincent Lecavalier #4 Tampa Bay Lightning
Another former number one pick turned superstar who thought he was something special, I can think of no bigger hockey number crime than Lecavalier's insistence to wear number four. If you don't know, perhaps because you're a moron or something, the number four is to defencemen as the number nine is to forwards except that it's actually slightly more accessible. Basically it is the ultimate number for those who patrol the blue line and it was worn most famously by the amazing Bobby Orr.
While defenceman wear all sorts of numbers these days the tradition remains that the numbers two through six belong solely to them (although six is possibly the most interesting number in all of hockey and I'm cool with some forwards wearing it). Before Lecavalier, the big exceptions to this were Boom Boom Geoffrion (number five) and Jean Beliveau (number four). But they started playing in the forties and fifties respectively and back then NO ONE had anything over thirty and the odd forward might dip as low as five and defencemen would sometimes wear something over ten (but NEVER did they wear nine). But as Beliveau's career went on, it was pretty strange for a forward, particulalry a high-scoring star, to wear four. But here's the thing: he was JEAN FUCKING BELIVEAU. He really was special.
Vinny, on the other hand, is a very good player but he's got a hell of a long way to go to, say, be considered for the Hall of Fame and even then, I don't know how to help you understand just how strange it is for him to wear four. I'll put it this way - if Steve Yzerman wore four I MIGHT have been ok with that (although it's pretty much impossible to picture him wearing anything but nineteen but this is just for the sake of an example).
What's funny is this rumor that just won't go away about Lecalvalier possibly signing with Montreal this off-season. Now, tons of players have to switch numbers heading there simply by virtue of it being the team that has retired the most numbers by far. But can you imagine if for some crazy reason four wasn't retired there? Fans would run him out of town if he tried to put it on, I can promise you. So dear Vincent - please go to Montreal so you are forced to wear a reasonable number because you really aren't that special.