WWYDW: Jersey Numbers

Nikita Gusev, arguably the best player playing outside of the NHL the past few seasons, is finally coming to North America. The Vegas Golden Knights couldn’t fit him under the cap so they sent him to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for a couple of draft picks.

It was announced a couple of weeks ago Nikita Gusev had signed a two-year deal with the New Jersey Devils, everyone nodded and figured “huh, good gamble for the Devils,” and then carried on with their lives. Well, until this happened.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The Devils tweeted out that Gusev would wear No. 97 next season, which rubbed some fans the wrong way. Many suggested that No. 97 should be worn by Connor McDavid only, akin to a Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, or Sidney Crosby jersey number situation. Of course, the only one of those aforementioned jerseys that are actually retired by the league is Gretzky’s No. 99, while Lemieux’s No. 66 and Crosby’s No. 87 are technically up for grabs.

That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday question. Should any jersey numbers beyond No. 99 be off-side for players to wear? Has McDavid earned the kind of clout that warrants him having a monopoly over No. 97? Or is this just a bunch of mid-summer nonsense where people badly need to go outside and take a deep breath?

This situation isn’t isolated to Gusev wearing No. 97. People got angry when rookie Josh Ho-Sang wore No. 66 for the New York Islanders, stating it was disrespectful to Lemieux. Some fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs got upset when William Nylander switched from No. 29 to No. 88 because it was disrespectful to *checks notes* Leafs legend Eric Lindros, despite the fact nobody even remembers Lindros playing in Toronto. A Boston Bruins broadcaster was bothered about Dougie Hamilton wearing No. 19, which was worn by Hartford Whalers legend John McKenzie.

The Nation pays a visit to the first ever Nation Donair championship winner, Famous Donair

As I said earlier, the only jersey actually retired in the NHL is Gretzky’s No. 99. But still, even when Gretzky was in the league, multiple players wore the number. Rick Dudley wore it for the Winnipeg Jets in 1981 and Wilf Paiement wore it with the Leafs from 1980 to 1982.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

In my opinion, no numbers are off-limits unless they’re retired by the team or the league. If the league doesn’t want Josh Ho-Sang wearing No. 66, retire Lemieux’s number league-wide. If the Leafs don’t want anybody tarnishing Lindros’ legacy, retire No. 88. If the Hurricanes care about their Whalers history, they can retire No. 19. If it isn’t retired, it’s up for grabs.

Maybe one day McDavid will earn a league-wide retirement of No. 97. But if Donald Brashear, David Musil, and Liam O’Brien can wear No. 87 while Sidney Crosby is in the league, Nikita Gusev is allowed to wear No. 97.

What say you, Nation? Should any numbers beyond No. 99 be off-limits for NHL players? Is it weird for somebody to come into the league and take McDavid’s number? 

  • Hockeysense9393

    HAha that’s pretty awesome!

    Personally I think that the player should have to earn it completely? Look at all the 88’s in the league now. That number was considered untouchable at one time??

    Time will tell of course, but I would think that he needs to be miles better then anybody else…
    …for years…

    Can he do that with the Oilers?
    It does look better this year then last year, so hopefully now he can start “truly” earning it.

  • Oilerz4life

    It’s not a rule, it’s an unwritten rule. 97 is McDavid’s number. McDavid is one of a kind, that’s why. It’s unlucky to take number 97. Like Yak, what number was he, 64? Unlucky thing to do. He’ll clinch his stick, be a little tighter, bad puck luck. Not a smooth move at all.

    • Hockeysense9393

      McDavid isn’t one-of-a-kind. He wasn’t the top scorer last season (and by a pretty good margin). He’s a good player for sure, but THAT good? You people need to keep drinking the koolaid.

      • Rob...

        It’s got to be tough cheering for a team where there’s never been a player worthy of having their number retired on their team, never mind throughout the league. With that said, I do think it’s way to early to think the number 97 should be off limits.

        • Oilerz4life

          It doesn’t really bother me, I’m just superstitious and think it’s unlucky. Like number 64 on the Oilers, it’s unlucky. Not that I care, but Gusev choosing 97 is unlucky. Also, if you don’t think McD is one of a kind you must be hard on the crack pipe, for real.

  • serlio

    Rubs me the wrong way a tad but i dont think its worth actually worth caring much about. By wearing 97 he does invite the comparison though. I for one would rather not be known as that one dude who also wore 97 but was nowhere close to as good as mcd

  • wiseguy

    Of course anyone can use the number. The question may be why would you want to when you will hear comments on the ice like “Connor, you’re looking a little slow today” or “McDavid would’ve scored on that play”. It’s the comparison that using the number draws that puts extra pressure on you. This is only an issue because it’s a rare number. If McDavid wore a number like 22, would anyone be talking about this?

    • Abagofpucks

      Mcdavid may not have earned exclusivity yet but there isn’t a kid in canada in the US that plays hockey that doesn’t want to be like him. Is this a new thing for kids to want to be like a great player in the league no, it’s happened thru out the history of hockey. What will be different will be how kids all over the hockey world will train to try to be like him, or better. Mcdavid has set the new bar for what we all consider a great player will be in the future. My guess is all hockey training programs, have all kinds of video of Mcdavids skills, so they can put together new training programs on how future players will train to be like same or better.The great thing is oiler fans have him and its awsome.

  • Spaceman Spiff

    It is interesting that this article mentions the fact that Rick Dudley and Wilf Paiement both wore 99. Take a closer look at when they stopped wearing them. Dudley stopped wearing his 99 in 1981 – right after Gretzky’s second season (when he won his first Art Ross and second Hart). Paiement wore his until 1982 – when Gretzky had his monster third season (92 goals, 212 points, 50 goals in 39 games, etc.). In other words, both guys saw the writing on the wall and recognized that they couldn’t wear that number with any sort of credibility. They were right to do so.

    Fast-forward to now, however, and the days of jersey-number exclusivity are behind us. I think that’s mostly because “non-traditional” numbers (i.e. numbers 1-35, say) are far more the norm than they were back when Gretz or Mario (or even Lindros) wore theirs. NHL rosters don’t quite look like NFL rosters in terms of the numbers on the players’ backs but they’re getting there and it really exploded in the 1990s. Lots of jersey numbers in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. They’re the norm. That’s OK.

    So … no, I’m not particularly insulted if this year’s Russian Novelty Act from the KHL wants to give 97 a go. He can have it. In a year or two, he’ll either have earned it, normalized it … or learned the lesson Dudley and Paiement learned 40 years ago. Same thing with anyone who dares to wear 66. If you put that on your back, you essentially create your own weather … and the NHL code among players is to never do that.

    Another way to look at it? Think way back to the Original Six. Back then, No. 9 was (usually) reserved for the team’s star player. Gordie Howe, Maurice Richard and Bobby Hull (who switched to 9 from 16) are the most famous “9’s” from the Original Six era. Different time, obviously, but I don’t think anyone cared that Toronto and Boston also had players who also wore 9 at the same time.

    Maybe “97” is the new “9.”