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, beginning this week.
Today, we look at Nos. 45-31:
No. 45 — Sami Vatanen
Seasons worn: Anaheim Ducks 2013-17; New Jersey Devils 2017-20; Carolina Hurricanes 2020
Career stats: 194 points (45 goals, 149 assists) in 434 games
Voting points: 37 (9-5-0)
The skinny: Vatanen was tied for 11th among NHL defensemen with 12 goals in 67 games in 2014-15, and during the playoffs that season, he had 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in 16 games to help Anaheim advance to the Western Conference Final. Vatanen, who had 68 points (12 goals, 56 assists) in 154 games with the Devils, has been hampered by injuries the past two seasons and was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 24. He has yet to play a game with them.
Fun fact: Vatanen wore No. 44 with JYP in Liiga, Finland’s top professional league, and No. 9 with Norfolk of the American Hockey League, but neither was available with Anaheim when he was called up, so he was assigned No. 45.
Others receiving votes: Jonathan Bernier, 28 (4-6-4); Arron Asham, 17 (4-2-1); Dmitri Kalinin, 11 (0-3-5); Jody Shelley, 8 (1-1-3); Brenden Morrow, 3 (1-0-0); Donald Audette, 2 (0-1-0); Mark Stuart, 1 (0-0-1); Brad Ference, 1 (0-0-1).
Analysis: “It’s impossible not to recognize Sami Vatanen in his No. 45 as he skates up and down the ice or walks the blue line, helping to run a power play in his own unique and effective way during the past eight NHL seasons.” — Shawn P. Roarke, NHL.com Senior Director of Editorial
No. 44 — Chris Pronger
Seasons worn: Hartford Whalers 1993-95; St. Louis Blues 1995-2004; Edmonton Oilers 2005-06
Career stats: 698 points (157 goals, 541 assists) in 1,167 games
Voting points: 54 (18-0-0)
The skinny: Pronger won the Hart Trophy as NHL most valuable player and the Norris Trophy as the top defenseman in 1999-2000, when he had a career-high 62 points (14 goals, 48 assists) in 79 games and led the League with a plus-52 rating. After falling short in his first trip to the Stanley Cup Final with the Oilers in 2006, his 12th season in the League, Pronger was able to break through and win the Cup the following season with the Ducks (while wearing No. 25). He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015.
Fun fact: Pronger switched to No. 25 after the Ducks acquired him in a trade on July 3, 2006, because No. 44 was already being worn by forward Rob Niedermayer. When he was again traded to the Philadelphia Flyers on June 26, 2009, he opted to wear No. 20 with Nos. 25 (Matt Carle) and 44 (Kimmo Timonen) taken. The Blues will retire No. 44 in his honor at some point next season.
Others receiving votes: Stephane Richer, 23 (1-9-2); Kimmo Timonen, 13 (0-5-3); Dave Babych, 7 (0-2-3); Rob Niedermayer, 4 (0-1-2); Marc-Edouard Vlasic, 4 (0-0-4); Roman Hamrlik, 2 (0-0-2); Todd Bertuzzi, 2 (0-0-2); Vincent Lecavalier, 2 (0-1-0); Brooks Orpik, 2 (0-1-0); Morgan Rielly, 1 (0-0-1)
Analysis: “His physicality combined with an elite puck moving ability as a defenseman made him the best to wear No. 44.” — Rob Reese, NHL.com fantasy editor
No. 43 — Martin Biron
Seasons worn: Buffalo Sabres 1998-2007; Philadelphia Flyers 2007-09; New York Islanders 2009-10; New York Rangers 2010-13
Career stats: 230-191-27 with 25 ties, 2.61 GAA, .910 save percentage in 508 games
Voting points: 50 (15-2-1)
The skinny: Biron played in an NHL career-high 72 games for Buffalo in 2001-02, which ranked second in the League, and among goalies to make at least 30 starts that season, he was tied for ninth with a 2.22 GAA and tied for eighth with a .915 save percentage. He continued to play well after being traded to the Flyers on Feb. 27, 2007, going 30-20-9 with a 2.59 GAA, .918 save percentage and five shutouts in 2007-08, when he helped them advance to the Eastern Conference Final as the No. 6 seed.
Fun fact: Biron wore No. 00 during his three-game stint with Buffalo in 1995-96. However, the NHL had limited numbers to 1-99 (the League’s computer system didn’t recognize No. 00) by the time he was recalled in 1998-99, so he switched to No. 43 and wore it for the remainder of his career.
Others receiving votes: Nazem Kadri, 24 (1-8-5); Patrice Brisebois, 20 (2-5-4); Tom Wilson, 8 (1-1-3); Darren Helm, 5 (0-1-3); Philippe Boucher, 5 (0-1-3); Quinn Hughes, 2 (0-1-0)
Analysis: “Biron enjoyed success as a starter with the Sabres and Flyers, but he was also effective when he was relegated to a backup role later in his career.” — David Satriano, NHL.com staff writer
No. 42 — David Backes
Seasons worn: St. Louis Blues 2006-16; Boston Bruins 2016-20
Career stats: 557 points (245 goals, 312 assists) in 950 games
Voting points: 48 (13-4-1)
The skinny: Backes scored at least 20 goals in six seasons with the Blues, including an NHL career-high 31 in 2008-09 and 2010-11. He was the runner-up for the Selke Trophy, which is awarded to the best defensive forward in the League, in 2011-12.
Fun fact: Backes played his entire NHL career wearing No. 42 until he was acquired by the Anaheim Ducks in a trade with the Bruins on Feb. 21, 2020. With his old number currently being worn by defenseman Josh Manson, Backes instead opted to wear No. 21.
Others receiving votes: Sergei Makarov, 37 (5-9-4); Tyler Bozak, 12 (0-3-6); Richard Smehlik, 6 (1-1-1); Artem Anisimov, 2 (0-1-0); Robert Esche, 2 (0-0-2); Bob Sweeney, 1 (0-0-1); Bernie Federko, 1 (0-0-1)
Analysis: “I was debating between Makarov and Backes, but decided on the latter because of his longevity wearing the number and productivity with the Blues and Bruins.” — Mike G. Morreale, NHL.com staff writer
No. 41 — Jaroslav Halak
Seasons worn: Montreal Canadiens 2007-10; St. Louis Blues 2010-14; Washington Capitals 2014; New York Islanders 2014-18; Boston Bruins 2018-present
Career stats: 272-167-58, 2.48 GAA, .916 save percentage in 520 games
Voting points: 40 (10-4-2)
The skinny: Halak shared the William M. Jennings Trophy, presented “to the goalkeeper(s) having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals scored against it,” with Blues teammate Brian Elliott in 2011-12, when he went 26-12-7 with a 1.97 GAA, .926 save percentage and six shutouts. Three seasons later, he set Islanders records for most consecutive wins (11) and most victories (38) in a season. However, Halak is perhaps best known for his performance in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he helped Montreal rally past the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals by allowing three goals on 134 shots to win Games 5-7 before defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins to advance to the conference finals as the No. 8 seed.
Fun fact: Halak wore Nos. 29 and 30 with Hamilton of the American Hockey League. However, when he was called up, goalie David Aebischer was wearing No. 30, and No. 29 had already been retired by Montreal in honor of goalie Ken Dryden, so Halak switched to No. 41.
Others receiving votes: Jason Allison, 26 (3-7-3); Mike Smith, 19 (1-4-8); Craig Anderson, 17 (3-3-2); Jocelyn Thibault, 6 (1-0-3); Stu Barnes, 3 (1-0-0); Brent Gilchrist, 2 (0-1-0); Ray Whitney, 1 (0-0-1)
Analysis: “Halak has proven to be a dependable starter and backup in the NHL, and he’s still going strong for the Bruins in his 14th season at the age of 35.” — Jon Lane, NHL.com staff writer
No. 40 — Henrik Zetterberg
Seasons worn: Detroit Red Wings 2002-18
Career stats: 960 points (337 goals, 623 assists) in 1,082 games
Voting points: 57 (All 19 first-place votes)
The skinny: Zetterberg had an NHL career-high 92 points (43 goals, 49 assists) in 75 regular-season games in 2007-08, then followed it up by winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the playoffs after scoring 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists) in 22 games to help Detroit win the Stanley Cup. He also led Detroit with 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in 23 playoff games the following year, but the Red Wings lost in a rematch to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Cup Final.
Fun fact: Zetterberg was the fifth Red Wings player to wear No. 40, but the only one to do so for more than one season.
Others receiving votes: Tuukka Rask, 36 (2-13-4); Alex Tanguay, 17 (0-4-9); Devan Dubnyk, 4 (0-0-4); Robin Lehner, 2 (0-0-2).
Analysis: “I loved watching him play. He was obviously an extremely gifted player. Had an outstanding ability to push his level of work as a game moved along. He never appeared to get tired and if he did he worked through it.” — Keith Jones, NBCSN analyst
No. 39 — Dominik Hasek
Seasons worn: Buffalo Sabres 1992-2001; Detroit Red Wings 2001-04, 2006-08; Ottawa Senators 2005-06
Career stats: 389-223-13 with 82 ties, 2.20 GAA, .922 save percentage in 735 games
Voting points: 57 (All 19 first-place votes)
The skinny: Hasek won the Vezina Trophy as the League’s top goaltender six times (1993-94, 1994-95, 1996-97, 1997-98, 1998-99, 2000-01), tied for the second most in NHL history with Bill Durnan (Jacques Plante is first with seven). He also won the Hart Trophy as NHL most valuable player and the Ted Lindsay Award, given annually to the most outstanding player in the League as voted by members of the NHL Players’ Association, in back-to-back seasons in 1996-97 and 1997-98. Hasek won the Stanley Cup as the Red Wings starter in 2002, and again as their backup to Chris Osgood in 2008, and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014.
Fun fact: Hasek wore Nos. 31 and 34 with the Chicago Blackhawks in his first two NHL seasons. The Sabres retired his No. 39 on Jan. 13, 2015.
Others receiving votes: Doug Weight, 26 (0-10-6); Logan Couture, 20 (0-6-8); Doug Gilmour, 7 (0-3-1); Travis Green, 3 (0-0-3); Clark Gillies, 1 (0-0-1)
Analysis: “Hasek dominated by doing things his own way. That included wearing an unusual number for a goalie. The other top candidates were forwards, all of whom would have struggled to score on him.” — Nicholas J. Cotsonika, NHL.com columnist
No. 38 — Pavol Demitra
Seasons worn: St. Louis Blues 1997-2004; Los Angeles Kings 2005-06; Minnesota Wild 2006-08; Vancouver Canucks 2008-10
Career stats: 768 points (304 goals, 464 assists) in 847 games
Voting points: 56 (18-1-0)
The skinny: Demitra scored at least 20 goals in nine straight seasons from 1997-2007, including three with at least 35. He scored an NHL career-high 37 goals in 1998-99, had a career-high 93 points (36 goals, 57 assists) in 2002-03, and won the Lady Byng Trophy as the player voted to best combine sportsmanship, gentlemanly conduct and ability in 1999-2000. Demitra died on Sept. 7, 2011, at the age of 36 when the plane he was on with his team, Yaroslavl Lokomotiv of the Kontinental Hockey League, crashed shortly after takeoff.
Fun fact: Demitra began his NHL career with the Ottawa Senators wearing No. 78, becoming the first player in their history to do so. However, he switched after being traded to the Blues on Nov. 27, 1996, and wore No. 38 for the remainder of his NHL career.
Others receiving votes: Vladimir Malakhov, 18 (0-9-0); Dave Scatchard, 10 (0-4-2); Boone Jenner, 6 (0-1-4); Dave Andreychuk, 5 (1-0-2); Jan Hrdina, 5 (0-0-5); Vernon Fiddler, 4 (0-1-2); Jiri Hrdina, 2 (0-1-0); Cristobal Huet, 2 (0-1-0); Ryan Hartman, 1 (0-0-1); Chris Kunitz, 1 (0-0-1); Vladimir Ruzicka, 1 (0-0-1).
Analysis: “The late forward put together a great NHL career and was at his best with St. Louis, where he scored at least 35 goals in three seasons.” — Tracey Myers, NHL.com staff writer
No. 37 — Patrice Bergeron
Seasons worn: Boston Bruins 2003-present
Career stats: 869 points (352 goals, 517 assists) in 1,089 games
Voting points: 57 (All 19 first-place votes)
The skinny: Bergeron has won the Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in the NHL four times (2011-12, 2013-14, 2014-15, 2016-17) and helped the Bruins win the Stanley Cup in 2011, when he had 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 23 playoff games. Since entering the League in 2003-04, he has won 57.2 percent of his face-offs, which ranks second in the NHL among players who have taken at least 10,000 draws behind Manny Malhotra (58.4).
Fun fact: Bergeron wore No. 37 with Acadie-Bathurst of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and he was able to keep it when he made the Bruins as 18-year-old center after Lee Goren, who had worn it previously, signed as a free agent with the Florida Panthers following the 2002-03 season.
Others receiving votes: Olie Kolzig, 35 (0-17-1); Eric Desjardins, 15 (0-2-11); Connor Hellebuyck, 4 (0-0-4); Trevor Kidd, 1 (0-0-1); Ryan O’Reilly, 1 (0-0-1); Curtis Brown, 1 (0-0-1)
Analysis: “He’s the perfect hockey player. What more do you really need to say?” — Amalie Benjamin, NHL.com staff writer
No. 36 — Mats Zuccarello
Seasons worn: New York Rangers 2010-19; Dallas Stars 2019; Minnesota Wild 2019-present
Career stats: 392 points (129 goals, 263 assists) in 576 games
Voting points: 37 (5-10-2)
The skinny: Zuccarello led New York in scoring with 318 points (102 goals, 216 assists) in 442 games from the start of the 2013-14 season, his first full season in the NHL, up to when he was traded to the Stars on Feb. 23, 2019.
Fun fact: He went by Mats Zuccarello Aasen and wore No. 48 for Norway at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Others receiving votes: John Gibson, 33 (6-6-3); Jussi Jokinen, 21 (4-2-5); Matthew Barnaby, 13 (3-0-4); Glenn Anderson, 3 (1-0-0); Alexei Zhamnov, 2 (0-1-0); Dmitry Yushkevich, 2 (0-0-2); Dave Bolland, 1 (0-0-1); Bobby Clarke, 1 (0-0-1)
Analysis: “I picked Zuccarello because he’s a little guy (5-foot-8, 178 pounds) who puts up big numbers, and he did it on one of hockey’s biggest stages — Madison Square Garden — for most of his career.” — William Douglas, NHL.com staff writer
No. 35 — Tony Esposito
Seasons worn: Chicago Black Hawks 1969-84
Career stats: 423-306 with 152 ties, 2.93 GAA, .906 save percentage in 886 games
Voting points: 57 (All 19 first-place votes)
The skinny: Esposito is eighth in NHL history in starts (874), ninth in games played, 10th in wins and tied for 10th in shutouts (76). After winning the Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens in 1968-69, he was selected by the Black Hawks in 1969 Intraleague Draft and went on to win the Calder Trophy as the League’s best rookie in 1969-70, and the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender three times (1969-70, 1971-72 and 1973-74).
Fun fact: Esposito wore Nos. 1 and 29 with the Canadiens. He is the only player in Chicago to history to wear No. 35, which was retired on Nov. 20, 1988.
Others receiving votes: Mike Richter, 28 (0-12-4); Tom Barrasso, 12 (0-3-6); Pekka Rinne, 9 (0-2-5); Andy Moog, 6 (0-2-2); Nikolai Khabibulin, 1 (0-0-1); Marty Turco, 1 (0-0-1)
Analysis: “Tony Esposito was way ahead of his time, introducing the League to the now-popular butterfly style of goaltending. He’s universally regarded as one of the all-time greats at the position.” — Pete Jensen, NHL.com senior fantasy editor
No. 34 — Miikka Kiprusoff
Seasons worn: San Jose Sharks 2000-02; Calgary Flames 2003-13
Career stats: 319-213-64 with seven ties, 2.49 GAA, .912 save percentage in 623 games
Voting points: 44 (9-7-3)
The skinny: Among goalies to play at least 30 games, Kiprusoff is first in Flames history in almost every statistical category, including games played (576), wins (305), shutouts (41), save percentage (.913) and GAA (2.46). He won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender in 2005-06, when he went 42-20-11 with a 2.07 GAA, .923 save percentage and 10 shutouts. The previous season, Kiprusoff went 15-11 with a 1.85 GAA, .928 save percentage and five shutouts in 26 Stanley Cup Playoff games to help Calgary make a run to the 2004 Cup Final before losing in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Fun fact: Kiprusoff began his NHL career wearing No. 34 with the Sharks in 2000-01 before switching to No. 37 for the next two seasons. However, when the Sharks traded him to the Flames on Nov. 16, 2003, he switched back to No. 34 and wore it for the rest of his NHL career.
Others receiving votes: John Vanbiesbrouck, 36 (6-6-6); Auston Matthews, 27 (4-6-3); Al Iafrate, 5 (0-0-5); Jamie Macoun, 2 (0-0-2)
Analysis: “Kiprusoff was among the League’s best goalies from 2003-12. He won the Vezina Trophy in 2005-06 and started more than 70 games and won at least 35 games in seven consecutive seasons during that span.” — David Satriano, NHL.com staff writer
No. 33 — Patrick Roy
Seasons worn: Montreal Canadiens 1985-95; Colorado Avalanche 1995-2003
Career stats: 551-315 with 131 ties, 2.54 GAA, .910 save percentage in 1,029 games
Voting points: 57 (All 19 first-place votes)
The skinny: Regarded by some as the best goaltender in NHL history, Roy won the Stanley Cup four times, twice each with Montreal (1986, 1993) and Colorado (1996, 2001), and the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the playoffs three times (1986, 1993 and 2001). He also won the Vezina Trophy as the League’s top goaltender three times (1988-89, 1989-90 and 1991-92) and ranks second in NHL history in wins behind Martin Brodeur (691). Roy was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006.
Fun fact: Roy wore No 30 with Granby of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, but he was assigned No. 33 when he made his debut with the Canadiens on Feb. 23, 1985, and kept it for the rest of his NHL career. The Avalanche retired his number on Oct. 28, 2003, followed by the Canadiens on Nov. 22, 2008.
Others receiving votes: Zdeno Chara, 29 (0-11-7); Henrik Sedin, 27 (0-8-11); Benoit Hogue, 1 (0-0-1).
Analysis: “The stats are the stats, but it’s Roy’s reputation as a winner — along with his confidence and internal fire — that elevates him to the top of the list for me.” — Tim Campbell, NHL.com staff writer
No. 32 — Dale Hunter
Seasons worn: Quebec Nordiques 1980-87; Washington Capitals 1987-99; Colorado Avalanche 1999
Career stats: 1,020 points (323 goals, 697 assists) in 1,407 games
Voting points: 49 (12-5-3)
The skinny: Hunter is one of four players in NHL history to have at least 1,000 points, 2,000 penalty minutes and have played at least 1,000 games, joining Brendan Shanahan, Pat Verbeek and Keith Tkachuk.
Fun fact: Hunter wore No. 32 with Quebec and was able to keep it when he was traded to the Capitals after fellow forward Lou Franceschetti agreed to switch to No. 25. The Capitals retired it on March 11, 2000.
Others receiving votes: Jonathan Quick, 27 (4-5-5); Claude Lemieux, 27 (3-7-4); Steve Thomas, 8 (0-2-4); Kelly Hrudey, 2 (0-0-2); Murray Craven, 1 (0-0-1)
Analysis: “He is an absolute winner that did not have the good fortune of having great teams around him to get him over the top. When the game was played with an edge, and the game needed a momentum change, Dale Hunter provided that.” — Keith Jones, NBCSN analyst
No. 31 — Grant Fuhr
Seasons worn: Edmonton Oilers 1982-91; Toronto Maple Leafs 1991-93; Buffalo Sabres 1993-95; Los Angeles Kings 1995; St. Louis Blues 1995-99; Calgary Flames 1999-2000
Career stats: 403-295 with 114 ties, 3.38 GAA, .887 save percentage in 868 games
Voting points: 46 (10-7-2)
The skinny: Fuhr won the Stanley Cup with the Oilers five times (1984, 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1990), including the first four as the starter. He also won the Vezina Trophy in 1987-88, when he went 40-24 with 9 ties, and had a 3.43 GAA and .881 save percentage. Fuhr was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003, becoming the first black player in NHL history to do so.
Fun fact: Fuhr wore No. 1 during his rookie season with the Oilers in 1981-82, but switched to No. 31 (his number in junior with Victoria of the Western Hockey League) the following season and wore it for the remainder of his career. The Oilers retired his number on Oct. 9, 2003.
Others receiving votes: Billy Smith, 44 (8-10-0); Carey Price, 19 (1-1-14); Curtis Joseph, 5 (0-1-3)
Analysis: “The Oilers teams were pretty darn good as well, and Grant Fuhr had a lot to do with their success. The ability to play no matter what the score was, being mentally ready for the next save — a lot of goaltenders in today’s game talk about the mental side of things — nobody did it better than Grant Fuhr, and nobody was tested as much as Grant Fuhr was.” — Keith Jones, NBCSN analyst