New York Islanders prospect Josh Ho-Sang wore No. 66 in his NHL debut on Thursday, and this is a problem for some people.
For others, it’s a problem that it’s a problem to wear a number that hasn’t been officially retired. While many teams have their own personal list of retired sweaters, only Wayne Gretzky’s 99 has been hung up for good throughout the NHL*.
Ignoring which side of the debate you fall in, if the league were to expand its selection of retired numbers, which ones would be chosen?
Here’s a rundown of some candidates.
*Technically, the league also retired 0, and 00 from use. John Davidson (1978) and Martin Biron (1996) wore 00, while Neil Sheehy in 1988 is the only player to wear 0.
Mario Lemieux was as talented as any player to ever play. His size and skill made him a force on the ice, and he might be the only person to have ever had a shot at Gretzky’s career totals, but a bout with Hodgkin’s lymphoma robbed him of some of his prime seasons.
His number is distinctive enough to where Lemieux is one of only six NHLers to ever wear it, and the only one to use it in more than one season. Ho-Sang and T.J. Brodie are the only players to have worn it since Lemieux retired for good in 2006.
Jaromir Jagr is a surefire Hall of Famer, who’s second on the NHL’s all-time points list. He’s also third in goals, trailing Gordie Howe by 40.
No. 68 is quite unique around the league, currently only Ottawa’s Mike Hoffman and San Jose’s Melker Karlsson wear it in addition to Jagr, and just 13 others throughout history.
Then again, if the player himself refuses to retire, why give up his number?
Willie O’Ree broke the NHL’s colour barrier as the first black NHLer.
Major League Baseball has retired Jackie Robinson’s 42 from circulation, save for one day a year where everyone wears it in his honour.
Nineteen players have worn 22 this season, so almost two-thirds of the teams in the league would have to make an adjustment.
O’Ree’s story isn’t nearly as famous as Robinson’s though awareness seems to be growing; the 2016 documentary Soul On Ice tells his story in greater detail.
Sportsnet’s Luke Fox spoke with O’Ree, and asked him why he thought he wasn’t in the Hall of Fame back in 2012.
Many greats have worn No. 4, but no one has his name as closely attached to it as Bobby Orr.
Orr, in addition to his glowing stats, changed the way people thought of defencemen. He’s still the only blueliner to win the Art Ross Trophy, having done so twice, and to many is still considered the greatest to ever play.
Like Lemieux, Orr’s career was shortened by injuries.
Fourteen players have worn No. 4 this season, all of whom are defencemen.
Maurice Richard and Gordie Howe both have a claim to retiring this number on their own.
Richard not only retired as the NHL’s all-time leader in goals (he currently sits 29th), but the Rocket was an important figure in French Canadian culture.
Howe was Mr. Hockey, breaking Richard’s goal totals, and leading the NHL in points until Gretzky came along.
Twelve current NHLers wear No. 9, which has also been worn by many Hall of Famers throughout history.
Sidney Crosby is the best player of his generation.
He’ll never be able to match the totals of Gretzky, but era-adjusted, he’s right up there with just about anyone.
Not only that, but Crosby has made 87 his own. It represents his date of birth (08/07/87), his salary ($8.7 million), and elsewhere only Washington’s Liam O’Brien (of one game played) has worn it this season.
That could change if Russia’s Vadim Shipachyov ever decides to come over, but for now 87 is Crosby’s.
To be continued.