Posted: Wednesday October 25, 2006 4:02PM; Updated: Thursday October 26, 2006 10:05AM
Believe it or not, neither Phil Esposito (7) nor Henri Richard (16) were the greatest players to wear their respective numbers.
Brian Cazeneuve will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
So Guillaume Latendresse is the missing piece of the puzzle. The rookie who will lead the Habs to the Promised Land? Well, maybe not. We're more interested in his jersey number.
Before Latendresse donned it on a regular basis after making Montreal's opening-night roster, 84 was the NHL's last unworn number. It got us to wondering: who are the greatest players ever to wear each number -- from double zero to 99?
Thus, we present a non-scientific list with several rules. First, no player may appear more than once, even if he wore two numbers with distinction. Ray Bourque, for example, is listed under No. 77 rather than 7. Second, we are only considering the numbers that players wore on a regular basis. We don't include anyone based on a something he wore for one game because someone misplaced the luggage.
Because very few players have worn certain numbers, the list gets less impressive as the digits increase, until, of course, we reach 99. That means fans in Montreal may cringe at the exclusion of Jean Beliveau (4) and Rocket Richard (9), and the inclusion of Latendresse and Jonathan Ferland (86).
Any Mel Angelstad fans out there? He wore No. 69 for the Capitals for two games during the 2003-04 season, and that was enough. Two Prongers and two Hunters made the list but, alas, no Richards.
Finally, discourse is encouraged. Feel free to email your disagreements and absurdities or to use my list as wallpaper, a bird cage liner or humble fish wrap.
Not all of these choices are as obvious as No. 99. In choosing Terry Sawchuk as our No. 1, we left out Georges Vezina, Johnny Bower, Turk Broda, and Bernie Parent. Sorry to Brad Park and Brian Leetch (2), but Doug Harvey was the game's best defensive defenseman.
Phil Esposito, Ted Lindsay or Rod Gilbert are all great picks for No. 7, but Howie Morenz, a three-time Hart Trophy winner, was the game's first true superstar. Bobby Hull (9) is edged by Gordie Howe. Any argument?
Ron Francis (10), Gilbert Perreault (11), Yvon Cournoyer and Sid Abel (12) were worthy, but not worthy enough.
At No. 16, a Hall of Famer's 731 goals and rank among the top four all-time scorers meant we had to leave off Henri Richard, who won as many Stanley Cups as Bobby Clarke has teeth in a cup. Hull would have been our pick for 16 had he worn it for his entire career. At No. 18, stylish Denis lost out to solid Serge in the battle of Savards. Bryan Trottier and Joe Sakic wore 19 with great distinction, but Detroit's longtime captain got the final nod.
At No. 20, we chose Luc Robitaille, the game's top goal-scorer among left wings over Ed Belfour, who stands second all-time in wins until Martin Brodeur passes him. Bernie Federko and Terry O'Reilly almost made the cut at No. 24, especially since Chris Chelios spent much of his prime wearing No. 7. Darryl Sittler (27) and Billy Smith (31) will be controversial omissions, but Grant Fuhr was more often the only line of defense for the Oilers than Smith was for the Islanders, who had Denis Potvin (5) on the backline.
Further down the line, Paul Coffey missed out because he was the No. 77 who didn't play defense. Pavel Bure too briefly wore 96 for us to consider him at anything other than 10.