The End of ‘Birth Year Numbers’ is Here

..and for that I am glad.

The trend of birth year jersey numbers in the NHL will go away this season. What I am referring to is when a player elects to wear a number on his jersey that the same number as the year of his birth. Sidney Crosby popularized this trend when he decided to wear 87 because he was born in 1987. 

This continued for more than a decade, but it will finally come to an end. 


What was maybe a novel concept of an NHL player wearing the year of his birth on his back has long wore out its welcome, becoming as lame as adding “er” or “ie” to make a nickname, i.e. “Kaner” or “Sharpie.”

Just look at the following examples of Millennial creativity at work: 

Patrick Kane wears 88 because he was born in 1988.

Sam Gagner wears 89 because he was born in 1989.

Marcus Johanseen wears 90 because he was born in 1990 — although, for all I know, 90 could be a lucky number that means “eternal life” or something in Sweden. 

Vladamir Tarasekno wears 91 because he was born in 1991.

Gabriel Landeskog and several others wear 92, probably because they were born in 1992.

I could go on and on, but the horse is already dead. Every number between 87 and 98 is worn by at least one player in the NHL this season. 

Why does Vladimir Tarasenko wear 91? The answer won’t surprise you. [Photo by Michael Miller]
Now compare this to some of the reasons other players, past and present, picked their jersey numbers. 

Gordie Howe switched from 17 to 9 to get a lower berth when traveling by train. Seriously — he wore 9 so he could get a better night’s sleep.

Maurice “The Rocket” Richard switched from number 15 to his familiar number 9 because his daughter weighted 9 lbs. when she was born. 

Peter Klima wore 85 because he defected from Czechoslovakia in 1985. Not his “birth year,” but the start of a new life.

Same for Alexander Mogilny, who wore 89 because he defected from the Soviet Union in 1989. 

Kevyn Adams wore 42 in Toronto because he loves “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” and 42 is a number referenced in that book. 

Jordan Tootoo wore 22 because when your last name is “Tootoo,” that just makes too much sense. 

Alexander Ovechkin wears 8 because his mother wore 8 when she played for the Russian Olympic basketball team in 1976 and 1980. 

When Phil Esposito was traded from the Bruins to the Rangers, number 7 was taken, so after wearing 12 for a bit he switched to 77. 

That inspired Wayne Gretzky, who wanted to wear 9 in junior, but it was taken. Since a pro like Espo was willing to wear a double-digit, Gretzky felt more comfortable following suit and wore 99. 

Speaking of Gretzky, he is the reason that players born in 1999 cannot wear 99; the number is retied league-wide in his honor. Sorry, Nico Hischier, and other guys born in ’99. Time to get creative with the digits that you don. 

Sorry, kids. Number 99 is spoken for — forever! [Photo by Håkan Dahlström]
Plus, it would be presumptuous for anyone else to wear 99, considering that it was last worn by the NHL’s all-time leading scorer. 

(As a side note, I wish beer league hockey players were also prohibited from wearing 99, because it’s beer league hockey.)

Future NHLers who were born in 2000 aren’t going to wear 0, because that’s the number the NHL uses to assign bench minor penalties, and nothing says “I suck” more than having a giant zero plastered to your back. 

And 2001? Other than maybe a goalie, no one wants to wear el numero uno because perhaps the only thing worse than saying you are a zero is saying you are number one…even though that would technically be better.

Then there are numbers 2 through 9. Good luck getting one of those numbers if you end up on an Original Six team like the Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins or Toronto Maple Leafs, where at least half of the numbers 2 through 9 are retired on those teams. 

Even still, those are numbers that are heavily used by most NHL teams, so a future NHL player born in 2002 might have a harder time getting 2 if a long-tenured veteran is already given that number. Try telling Duncan Keith that some draft pick born in 2002 wants to wear 2 and see if he’ll give it up. Yeah, not happening. 

Hockey needs more cool number stories — players having real reasons for selecting a number, other than it was the year that they happened to be born. Fortunately, that has come to its end.

Now if we could just get players to come up with better nicknames for each other. ■

Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk


Author: Sal Barry

Sal Barry is the editor and webmaster of Puck Junk. He is a freelance hockey writer, college professor and terrible hockey player. Follow him on Twitter @puckjunk

4 thoughts on “The End of ‘Birth Year Numbers’ is Here”

  1. Been thinking about this too, as a future problem in some of the major pro sports. What happens when they run out of numbers in the distant future? Will/can NHL’ers star putting “0 (ZERO)” in front of single numbers? Will initials be used? Roman numerals? Un-retire retired numbers? Twill be interesting to see what happens. Would also love to see NHL nicknames on backs of hockey jerseys like MLB did earlier one weekend earlier this season. Add some more fan fun in the game and let the TV/arena/radio announcers have fun also with the play-by-play. I’m still waiting for a certain Russian player with “ov” at the end of his last name, but with “FU@@” or “PIST” as the start of hit. That would be a hoot!!

  2. I would be thrilled if beer league teams would also just say no to 69 on a jersey as a played out sex reference. I can let it ride if you were born in 69. None of the guys wearing 69 have been hot, either.

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