Wayne Gretzky‘s No. 99 is retired throughout the NHL not only because he is considered the greatest player in League history, but because the number and his name are synonymous.
Though there is no debate over who the best player to wear that number is, there are 98 other numbers with more than one worthy candidate. That is where the “NHL’s Who Wore It Best?” comes in.
NHL.com writers and editors have cast their votes, each selecting his or her top three for each number, with the top vote-getter receiving three points, second place receiving two points and third place receiving one point.
Candidates will be debated, and the winners revealed, in a weekly, five-part series first airing on Sportsnet, NHL.com and League platforms each Friday at 5 p.m. ET, and re-airing each Tuesday on NBCSN (5 p.m. ET) and NHL Network (6:30 p.m. ET). NHL.com will provide the list of winners each Friday at 5:30 p.m ET following the premiere of each episode.
Today, we look at Nos. 10-1:
No. 10 — Guy Lafleur
Seasons worn: Montreal Canadiens 1971-84; New York Rangers 1988-89; Quebec Nordiques 1989-91
Career stats: 1,353 points (560 goals, 793 assists) in 1,126 games
Voting points: 53 (15-4-0)
The skinny: Lafleur ranks first in Canadiens history in assists (728) and points (1,246), and is second in goals (518) behind Maurice Richard (544). He won the Stanley Cup five times with the Canadiens (1973, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979), including winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the playoffs in 1977, the Hart Trophy as MVP of the League twice (1977, 1978), and the Art Ross Trophy as the League’s leading scorer and the Ted Lindsay Award, given annually to the most outstanding player in the NHL as voted by members of the NHL Players’ Association, in three consecutive seasons (1976, 1977, 1978). Lafleur was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988.
Fun fact: Lafleur wore No. 4 with Quebec in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, but he arrived the season after Jean Beliveau retired, and although club executives wanted him to wear 4 to signal the arrival of the new Beliveau — even Beliveau was in favor of letting “The Flower” wear his number — Lafleur declined. Instead, he wore No. 10 throughout his time in Montreal, and the Canadiens retired it on Feb. 16, 1985. However, when Lafleur returned to the NHL with the Rangers in 1988, he wore No. 44 during the preseason before switching to his familiar No. 10, which he kept with the Nordiques during his final two seasons.
Others receiving votes: Ron Francis, 29 (3-8-4); Pavel Bure, 16 (1-4-5); Dale Hawerchuk, 8 (0-1-6); Alex Delvecchio, 4 (0-1-2); George Armstrong, 3 (0-1-1); Syl Apps, 1 (0-0-1)
Analysis: “Was there a more recognizable player in the League than Guy Lafleur, the original ‘Flower?’ I can close my eyes right now and see Lafleur’s mane blowing in the breeze as he skated down the wing before unleashing his world-class shot. He is No. 10 in my mind.” — Shawn P. Roarke, NHL.com Senior Director of Editorial
No. 9 — Gordie Howe
Seasons worn: Detroit Red Wings 1947-71, Hartford Whalers 1979-80
Career stats: 1,850 points (801 goals, 1,049 assists) in 1,767 games
Voting points: 57 (all 19 first-place votes)
The skinny: Howe is considered the greatest player in NHL history by Wayne Gretzky, the only player to score more goals than Howe (894). He won the Stanley Cup four times with Detroit (1950, 1952, 1954, 1955), the Hart Trophy as most valuable player in the League six times (1952, 1953, 1957, 1958, 1960, 1963), and the Art Ross Trophy as the League’s leading scorer six times (1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1957, 1963). Howe, who is the Red Wings’ leader in games played (1,687), goals (786) and points (1,809), was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972.
Fun fact: Howe wore No. 17 when he entered the NHL in 1946, but he took No. 9 after Roy Conacher, who had been wearing it, was traded to the Chicago Black Hawks in November 1947 because it meant he’d get a lower berth on the sleeper train the team used in those days.
Others receiving votes: Maurice Richard, 32 (0-15-2); Bobby Hull, 20 (0-4-12); Johnny Bucyk, 2 (0-0-2); Mike Modano, 2 (0-0-2); Paul Kariya, 1 (0-0-1)
Analysis: “This guy was a great player, longevity, put up numbers, won titles, won trophies. … He was a great man, a great ambassador for the game. This is the best No. 9 that ever played in the NHL.” — Brian Burke, Sportsnet analyst
No. 8 — Alex Ovechkin
Seasons worn: Washington Capitals 2005-present
Career stats: 1,278 points (706 goals, 572 assists) in 1,152 games
Voting points: 53 (17-1-0)
The skinny: Ovechkin is eighth in NHL history in goals, he has won the Maurice Richard Trophy as the League’s leading goal-scorer nine times, and his eight seasons with at least 50 goals is second in NHL history behind Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy, who each had nine. He won the Calder Trophy as the League’s top rookie in 2005-06, the Hart Trophy as most valuable player three times (2007-08, 2008-09, 2012-13), and the Art Ross Trophy as the leading scorer once (2007-08). Ovechkin finally won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 2018, when he also won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs.
Fun fact: Ovechkin’s athleticism comes from his mom, as does his number. Tatyana Ovechkin was a superb point guard for the Soviet Union at the 1976 and 1980 Summer Olympics.
Others receiving votes: Teemu Selanne, 39 (2-16-1); Cam Neely, 13 (0-1-11); Drew Doughty, 6 (0-1-4); Igor Larionov, 2 (0-0-2); Mark Recchi, 1 (0-0-1)
Analysis: “Who else at No. 8 than the Great 8? He’s the greatest goal-scorer of his generation and arguably in NHL history.” — Nicholas J. Cotsonika, NHL.com columnist
No. 7 — Phil Esposito
Seasons worn: Chicago Black Hawks 1964-67; Boston Bruins 1967-75
Career stats: 1,590 points (717 goals, 873 assists) in 1,282 games
Voting points: 54 (16-3-0)
The skinny: Esposito is sixth in goals and 10th in points in NHL history. He won the Stanley Cup twice with Boston (1970, 1972), the Art Ross Trophy as League’s leading scorer five times (1969, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974), and the Hart Trophy as most valuable player twice (1969, 1974). Esposito, who is second in Bruins history in goals (459) and third in points (1,012) despite being 26th in games played (625), was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1984.
Fun fact: No. 7 was available to Esposito when he made his NHL debut with Chicago midway through the 1963-64 season because Bobby Hull, who had worn No. 7 the previous two seasons, had switched to No. 9. Esposito wore Nos. 12 (briefly) and No. 77 after being traded to the New York Rangers on Nov. 7, 1975, because No. 7 belonged to another future Hall of Famer, Rod Gilbert. Boston retired No. 7 in his honor on Dec. 3, 1987, when defenseman Ray Bourque, who had been wearing No. 7, famously peeled off his sweater and handed it to Esposito, revealing No. 77 as his new number.
Others receiving votes: Ted Lindsay, 20 (1-6-5); Paul Coffey, 13 (1-3-4); Howie Morenz, 10 (1-2-3); Rod Gilbert, 7 (0-1-5); Tim Horton, 4 (0-2-0); Ray Bourque, 3 (0-1-1); Joe Mullen, 2 (0-1-0); Bill Barber, 1 (0-0-1)
Analysis: “I loved the way Phil Esposito played the game. … All he did was produce. He was an extremely productive goal-scorer and he had a great personality.” — Keith Jones, NBCSN analyst
No. 6 — Phil Housley
Seasons worn: Buffalo Sabres 1992-90; Winnipeg Jets 1990-93; St. Louis Blues 1993-94; Calgary Flames 1994-96, 1998-2001; New Jersey Devils 1996; Chicago Blackhawks 2001-03
Career stats: 1,232 points (338 goals, 894 assists) in 1,495 games
Voting points: 47 (12-5-1)
The skinny: Housley ranks fourth in goals and points, and fifth in assists among defensemen in NHL history. He also held the record for most points by an U.S.-born player until Mike Modano passed him on Nov. 7, 2007. Although Housley never won the Stanley Cup or a major NHL award, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015.
Fun fact: The Sabres gave Housley No. 6 after selecting him with the No. 6 pick in the 1982 NHL Draft. He wore the number throughout his NHL career, with the exception of wearing No. 96 with the Washington Capitals from 1996-98 (fellow defenseman Calle Johansen wore No. 6), and in his final four games (one in the regular season, three in the Stanley Cup Playoffs) with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2003 (No. 6 had been retired in honor of Ace Bailey).
Others receiving votes: Toe Blake, 40 (7-9-1); Shea Weber, 19 (0-3-13); Ace Bailey, 4 (0-2-0); Ken Morrow, 2 (0-0-2); Jimmy Roberts, 1 (0-0-1); Ralph Backstrom, 1 (0-0-1)
Analysis: “Some of these have been easy. This one wasn’t. But I think the scale tilts in favor of the dynamic Housley and his 1,232 points, the fourth-most for a defenseman and the most for an American defenseman.” — Amalie Benjamin, NHL.com staff writer
No. 5 — Nicklas Lidstrom
Seasons worn: Detroit Red Wings 1991-2012
Career stats: 1,142 points (264 goals, 878 assists) in 1,564 games
Voting points: 55 (17-2-0)
The skinny: Dubbed “The Perfect Human” by his Red Wings teammates because of his flawless play, Lidstrom won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman seven times (2000-03, 2005-08, 2010-11), tying Doug Harvey for second most behind Bobby Orr’s eight. The 2015 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee helped Detroit win the Stanley Cup four times (1997, 1998, 2002, 2008) during his 20 NHL seasons, won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2002, and was the first European captain to win the Cup in 2008.
Fun fact: Lidstrom wore No. 9 with Vasteras in the Swedish Elite League and asked to wear it when he joined the Red Wings in the fall of 1990, not knowing that it had long since been retired in honor of Gordie Howe. He had to settle for No. 5 and wore it for the next 20 seasons. The Red Wings retired No. 5 in Lidstrom’s honor on March 6, 2014.
Others receiving votes: Denis Potvin, 37 (2-14-3); Bernie Geoffrion, 17 (0-3-11); Guy Lapointe, 3 (0-0-3); Rod Langway, 1 (0-0-1)
Analysis: “It’s fitting that No. 5 follows No. 4 numerically, because when I rank defensemen in NHL history, the only one Lidstrom follows is Bobby Orr.” –Nicholas J. Cotsonika, NHL.com columnist
No. 4 — Bobby Orr
Seasons worn: Boston Bruins 1966-76; Chicago Black Hawks 1976-77, 1978
Career stats: 915 points (270 goals, 645 assists) in 657 games
Voting points: 56 (18-1-0)
The skinny: Orr redefined the defenseman position and won the Norris Trophy a record eight times (1967-75) during his 12 NHL seasons. The 1979 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee became the first defenseman to lead the NHL in points with 120 (33 goals, 87 assists) in 1969-70, and he did it again with 135 (46 goals, 89 assists) in 1974-75. His 139 points (37 goals, 102 assists) in 1970-71 remain the NHL record for defenseman, and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP each time when Boston won the Stanley Cup in 1970 and 1972.
Fun fact: Orr wore No. 27 at training camp in 1966 but chose No. 4, which was worn by defenseman Al Langlois during the 1965-66 season. He wanted No. 2, but that number was retired in 1947 in honor of Hockey Hall of Famer Eddie Shore. Orr’s No. 4 was retired by the Bruins on Jan. 9, 1979.
Others receiving votes: Jean Beliveau, 39 (1-18-0); Scott Stevens, 10 (0-0-10); Red Kelly, 6 (0-0-6); Vincent Lecavalier, 2 (0-0-2); Rob Blake, 1 (0-0-1)
Analysis: “Jean Beliveau was certainly no slouch, but Bobby Orr might just be the best defenseman to ever play the game, an iconic player with an iconic moment in an iconic number. That’s more than enough to get my vote.” — Amalie Benjamin, NHL.com staff writer
No. 3 — Pierre Pilote
Seasons worn: Chicago Black Hawks 1957-68
Career stats: 498 points (80 goals, 418 assists) in 890 games
Voting points: 42 (10-5-2)
The skinny: The run of great defensemen continues with Pilote, a 1975 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee who won the Norris Trophy in three straight seasons (1962-65) and was second in the Norris voting three other times during his 14 NHL seasons. Pilote had 15 points (three goals, 12 assists) in 12 Stanley Cup Playoff games to tie Gordie Howe of the Detroit Red Wings for the League lead when he helped Chicago win the Stanley Cup in 1961.
Fun fact: Pilote wore Nos. 22 and 21 during his first two seasons with Chicago, then switched to No. 3 in the fall of 1957 and wore it for the next 11 seasons. He wore No. 2 with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1968-69, his final NHL season, because Marcel Pronovost was wearing No. 3. Chicago retired No. 3 in honor of Pilote and defenseman Keith Magnuson on Nov. 12, 2008.
Others receiving votes: Harry Howell, 28 (4-3-10); Marcel Pronovost, 27 (2-9-3); Scott Stevens, 9 (3-0-0); Tomas Jonsson, 2 (0-1-0); Ken Daneyko, 2 (0-1-0); Butch Bouchard, 1 (0-0-1); Seth Jones, 1 (0-0-1); James Patrick, 1 (0-0-1); J.C. Tremblay, 1 (0-0-1)
Analysis: “[Pilote] won three Norris trophies while playing defense for the Chicago Black Hawks, he was a runner-up three times as well, he won a Stanley Cup in 1961 … He was a very good National Hockey League defenseman.” — Keith Jones, NBCSN analyst
No. 2 — Doug Harvey
Seasons worn: Montreal Canadiens 1947-61; New York Rangers 1961-64; St. Louis Blues 1968-69
Career stats: 540 points (88 goals, 452 assists) in 1,113 games
Voting points: 46 (13-3-1)
The skinny: After Red Kelly of the Detroit Red Wings won the Norris Trophy when it was awarded for the first time in 1954, Harvey won it seven of the next eight seasons. The quarterback of Montreal’s lethal power play, Harvey helped the Canadiens win the Stanley Cup six times, including their record run of five straight seasons from 1956-60. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1973.
Fun fact: No. 2 was traditionally given to a team’s best defenseman, so it’s no surprise that Harvey wore it for all but one of his 19 NHL seasons. The exception was 1966-67, when he wore No. 5 during two games with the Detroit Red Wings (Gary Bergman wore No. 2). Montreal retired No. 2 in Harvey’s honor on Oct. 26, 1985.
Others receiving votes: Brian Leetch, 31 (5-6-4); Al MacInnis, 18 (1-5-5); Eddie Shore, 10 (0-3-4); Mark Howe, 4 (0-0-4); Viacheslav Fetisov, 2 (0-1-0); Brad Park, 2 (0-1-0); Duncan Keith, 1 (0-0-1)
Analysis: “In his autobiography, Jean Beliveau said that Doug Harvey was the best defenseman of his day and in his view, the best in NHL history. And Jean Beliveau also saw Bobby Orr play.” — Dave Stubbs, NHL.com columnist
No. 1 — Jacques Plante
Seasons worn: Montreal Canadiens 1952-63; New York Rangers 1963-65; Toronto Maple Leafs 1970-73
Career stats: 437-246 with 145 ties, 2.38 GAA in 837 games
Voting points: 41 (10-5-1)
The skinny: Plante is remembered for being the first goalie to regularly wear a mask, but he was much more than that. The 1978 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee ranks ninth in NHL history in wins and fifth in shutouts (82). A six-time Stanley Cup champion with Montreal (1953, 1956-60), Plante was selected to the NHL First All-Star Team three times and to the NHL Second All-Star Team four times, including in 1970-71 with Toronto, when, at the age of 42, he led the League with a 1.89 goals-against average and .944 save percentage. He also won the Vezina Trophy as the League’s top goalie a record seven times.
Fun fact: Starting goalies traditionally wore No. 1, and it’s been retired by five of the Original Six teams (the Boston Bruins being the exception). Plante wore it for three of those teams but had to switch to No. 30 with the St. Louis Blues from 1968-70 (Glenn Hall wore No. 1) and No. 31 with the Bruins in 1973 (Ed Johnston wore No. 1). The Canadiens retired No. 1 in Plante’s honor on Oct. 7, 1995.
Others receiving votes: Terry Sawchuk, 28 (4-6-4); Johnny Bower, 17 (2-5-1); Glenn Hall, 13 (2-2-3); Roberto Luongo, 8 (1-0-5); Georges Vezina, 3 (0-0-3); Bernie Parent, 2 (0-0-2); George Hainsworth, 2 (0-1-0)
Analysis: “Six Cups, five of them consecutive, seven Vezinas and he revolutionized the game; he was the first goaltender that handled the puck effectively…and he was the first goaltender to wear a mask on a routine basis. … Best goalie that ever played in the game that wore that number.” — Brian Burke, Sportsnet analyst