What’s the Greatest Jersey Number in NHL History?

In the NHL, there are some numbers that have been worn by a list of legends. I was listening to NHL Network Radio this weekend and they mentioned Washington Capitals’ icon Nicklas Bäckström stepping away from the game and questioned if this is it for the great center. And, of course, it was mentioned that his No. 19 will eventually hang from the rafters in DC.

Which made me ponder something that led to this article: what number has the greatest collection of players to have worn it in NHL history?

What goes into making a number special?

Major League Baseball has universally retired No. 42 for Jackie Robinson. Many believe they should follow suit with 21 for Roberto Clemente. In basketball, 23 will forever be associate with Michael Jordan — no matter if LeBron decides to change his mind and wear it.

In the NFL, there are a few numbers that are widely considered to have been worn by the best. Quarterbacks who wear No. 12 and running backs who wear No. 34 come to mind.

In hockey, there’s one number that has been retired by the entire league: 99 for Wayne Gretzky. Many will forever associate other numbers with specific players: 66 for Mario Lemieux. 4 for Bobby Orr. 87 for Sidney Crosby. 88 for Patrick Kane. Mark Messier has had his No. 11 retired by both the Rangers and Oilers. Someday soon, fans might associate 98 with Connor Bedard the way 97 is affiliated with Connor McDavid.

Which brings me back to Bäckström and his number — 19. Obviously the first other great center I think of immediately when that number arrives is Jonathan Toews, though I’m also mindful of Troy Murray being excellent in his own right while wearing the number. The more I thought about it, 19 might have the greatest collection of players to have ever worn it.

There’s an incredibly strong case to be made for No. 9, which has been retired by 14 different NHL teams — including the Blackhawks for Bobby Hull. Gordie Howe is the most recognizable player widely associated with 9, though Maurice Richard is on that Mount Rushmore as well. All six of the Original Six franchises has retired 9. Lanny McDonald and Mike Modano are also among the great players who wore 9.

To this point, No. 19 has been retired by eight NHL clubs. Here’s the list:

  • Steve Yzerman, Detroit
  • Joe Sakic, Colorado
  • Brian Trottier, New York Islanders
  • Larry Robinson, Montreal
  • Bill Masterton, Dallas
  • Shane Doan, Arizona
  • Markus Naslund, Vancouver
  • Jean Ratelle, New York Rangers
  • There are more 19s coming to rafters around the NHL, though. Notably, Toews in Chicago, Bäckström in Washington and Joe Thornton will eventually be celebrated. And a great case can be made that the Devils will eventually retire it for Travis Zajac, who wore it in New Jersey from 2007 to 2021.

    Those four would make it 12 teams that have taken 19 out of circulation. Jay Bouwmeester and Rod Brind’Amour both wore it well in St. Louis. Butch Goring wore it for a decade in Los Angeles, as did Jim Fox — who wore it for a ten years and has been their television voice for three decades. And Doug Mohns wore 19 in Boston for a decade.

    What do you think? What’s number has the greatest collection of players to wear it in the history of the NHL? Let me know in the comments!

    written by

    Tab Bamford has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks for almost two decades. He joined Bleacher Nation as the lead Blackhawks writer in May 2022. Tab is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and is the author of two books about the Blackhawks: "100 Things Blackhawks Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die" (Triumph Books) and "Chicago Blackhawks: An Illustrated Timeline" (Reedy Press, 2021). Find him on Twitter/X/Instagram/Threads at @The1Tab

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