A couple years back Pro Football Reference compiled a list of the best players to ever wear every jersey number, based on an objective measure they cooked up, the Approximate Value.
It yields an interesting and highly debatable list. I like the fact that these lists often skew young, ignoring older stars in favour of some we've actually seen play. Their AV compares players from the 1950 season on, which we can peg as the start of the modern era in the NFL.
TSN has tried the same exercise with this list/graphic. One of the things which jumps out at a reader is how beyond the number 30, and especially once you wade into the 40's and 50's, it becomes an arbitrary list, with some truly marginal players making it on the basis of very few players ever having worn that particular number.
Again, this list skews toward the younger players, those from the seventies and beyond, and probably ignores some Hall of Famers from the Original Six era.
Here are some of my observations on some of the arguable choices:
#9: Gordie Howe. Yeah, but no.
#12: Jarome Iginla over Yvan Cournoyer? Come on… Then I dive deeper, and find that Jarome has amassed 589 goals so far in his career. I give, I give. I knew Jarome was great, but didn't realize how great.
#16: Brett Hull over Henri Richard I can be talked into, I guess… Um, maybe not. Captain of the Canadiens and winner of 16 Stanley Cups trumps an 86-goal season and 741-goal career. Doesn't it?
#19: Steve Yzerman wasn’t bad at all, but that’s Larry’s number.
#28: Steve Larmer over Pierre Larouche? Lucky Pete scored way more, on and off the ice.
#32 is an absolute crying shame. I’d give it to Travis Moen over that guy.
#44: Glad he got it, but I’m surprised Stéphane Richer got this one, I thought there would be a newer player who wore this and had success, it’s kind of a glitzy sexy number.
#45: Aaron Asham. I guess at these higher numbers we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel, beyond the obvious 66, 77, 88, and 99.
#59: Clutching at straws. Roman Josi’s been in the league three years.
#67: A few more seasons and maybe Max makes this a famous number.
#75, 76, 79: Good that those numbers are represented by the titans of defence for the Canadiens, Andrei Markov, P.K. Subban and Hal Gill.
#98: Brian Lawton, the ‘Can’t Miss Kid’ as christened by Sports Illustrated. He was drafted 1st overall, chose his jersey number. SI commented: “Nice touch, kid.” A few years later, when things weren’t going his way, he quietly changed to a nondescript 25 or something like that. Maybe Lou Lamoriello has a point when he forbids vanity numbers, why add pressure on yourself when you’re starting in the league.