New York Islanders’ Joshua Ho-Sang has been the subject of some criticism recently. The rookie forward chose #66 as his number in honour of Penguins legend Mario Lemieux. This has attracted some negative comments and has become a distraction for Ho-Sang.
Now Lemieux himself has weighed in on the debate, telling the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that “I’m fine with it… it’s just a number”.
Well, that’s that. Lemieux of course played his whole NHL career with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and scored 1,723 points. His number was retired by the Penguins in 1997. Lemieux then goes on the make the point that the number hasn’t been retired league-wide, so anyone can wear it.
There have been calls for #66 to be retired league-wide in recognition of Lemieux’s contribution. This idea is terrible. Taking nothing away from what Super Mario achieved, no number should be retired league-wide. Wayne Gretzky’s number #99 was retired by the NHL in 2000, and Gretzky himself has called for #9 to get the same treatment in honour of Gordie Howe.
It’s time to stop this, choosing a number that’s been worn previously by a big name brings with it its own pressures. Ho-Sang knows this and is embracing it. Leave the lad alone.
Numbers shouldn’t be retired league-wide. Especially not Lemieux’s. This isn’t because he wasn’t a great player, but because he only played for one team. Gretzky played for four NHL teams, mostly, and his level of production will likely never be matched. But why retire his number for the teams he didn’t play for? The same goes for Lemieux or Howe. Their numbers hang in the rafters of the houses they should be in, but not elsewhere.
There’s a debate about retiring numbers, not just league-wide, but at all. Some teams are more prolific than others, the Maple Leafs have retired 19 numbers. At this rate rookies won’t have many left to choose from.
When players take a number that’s been associated with legendary players, there’s an additional pressure that comes with that number, in certain markets anyway. That also rings true for sports other than hockey where numbers have more significance to a specific role of position. Soccer or rugby for example. Manchester United’s number #7 jersey is a famous example. Players don’t want it because of the history and pressure it brings (Antonio Valencia gave it back after one season wearing it).
Nobody can wear #99, a number that Gretzky chose because he wanted #9 but it wasn’t available. Everyone knows the story that he wanted #9 because his hero Gordie Howe wore it, but teammate Brian Gualazzi was already wearing it so he took #99 instead.
The choice to wear the number of someone you admire should be applauded. Every player in the NHL grew up watching, and wanting to emulate someone else. If they want to honour them this way, they should be allowed to. Retiring numbers league-wide is a bad idea. As Mario says: it’s just a number.
What do you think? Let us know below.
Should Jersey Numbers be retired across the whole league?
— The 4th Line Podcast (@4thLinePodcast) March 25, 2017