Monday September 27th, 2010

I've got to hand it to the folks at Entertainment Weekly. No one understands as well as those rabble rousers that lists are the greatest form of irritainment known to man. Doesn't matter the subject. It could be TV's Greatest Next Door Neighbors or Freddy Krueger's Smartest Victims or Best Use of the Wilhelm Scream. If there's an order and one item is ranked above or below another (or, heaven forfend, overlooked entirely) then blood pressures will surge and emails questioning the lineage of the authors will start piling up faster than red ink in Phoenix.

So when my editor asked for my take on a solid, but slightly outdated 2006 effort by Brian Cazeneuve to list the greatest hockey players to wear each and every jersey number, I gladly stapled a bull's eye to my forehead and set to it. Hey, I've always enjoyed grabbing a stick and whacking the hornets' nest.

It comes as no surprise that there were plenty of difficult choices and omissions, as in the original ranking. One stipulation I was given: great players could not be shoehorned onto the list with a number they wore only briefly. Thus, no Joe Sakic at 88 -- his rookie number in Quebec (he reportedly took it to raise the ire of Eric Lindros, who had refused to play for the Nordiques) before switching to his more familiar 19 and crafting a superior career.

Terry Sawchuk, who set the career shutout mark of 103 (since broken by Martin Brodeur), still ranks as our No. 1, which brings no shame to the reputations of Georges Vezina, Johnny Bower, Glenn Hall, Turk Broda and Bernie Parent in the process. Apologies to Maurice Richard, Bobby Hull and Johnny Bucyk, but there's only one choice for No. 9. And even with multiple numbers to choose from, there was no room to honor multi-option legends like Andy Bathgate (9, 14), Howie Morenz (7, 12), Jean Beliveau (4, 12) and Tim Horton (2, 3, 7).

Did your favorites make the cut? See for yourself...but before you do, take a deep breath and remember: it's only a list.

GALLERY: Greatest NHL Players by Number

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