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Defensive dynamos lead great No. 2-wearing group

Saturday, 09.03.2011 / 12:09 PM / History

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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Defensive dynamos lead great No. 2-wearing group
What number has been worn by the best collection of players in NHL history? Legends like Shore, Harvey and Leetch help No. 2 stake a claim.
Last year, NHL.com offered its list of the greatest players in League history, according to uniform number -- 00-33, 34-66 and 67-99.

Now we're going to take a look at uniform numbers from a different angle: Which one has had the greatest collection of talent. It's a difficult choice, because players from different positions traditionally were assigned certain numbers.


Read the cases: No. 1 | No. 7 | No. 9

The case for No. 2:

HISTORY

Greatest Numbers

Greatness by the numbers

John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist
Who's the best player to wear No. 1? 4? 9? NHL.com takes a look at hockey's greatest players by the numbers they wore.
Hockey is a numbers game, and what No. 1 is to goaltenders, No. 2 is to defensemen -- finding a forward who wears it is difficult, if not impossible. Practically the only time people will see a player wearing No. 2 up front is when a coach decides to give one of his defensemen a turn on the wing.

Of all numbers that don't belong strictly to goaltenders, there are more Hall of Fame members who wore No. 2 than any other number. That's largely because it's traditionally a number that's been given to one of a team's best defensemen -- if not the best one.

Like No. 1, the number of Hall of Fame entrants wearing No. 2 has declined somewhat because it's not in universal circulation. Six teams, including three of the Original Six clubs, have retired it, and the cachet of wearing No. 2 isn't what it was in previous generations.

Here are five of the players who make the case for No. 2 as the greatest of all time:

Eddie Shore (wore No. 2 with Boston) -- The first great offensive defenseman in NHL history, and arguably the best defenseman in the pre-World War II era. Shore defied the conventional logic that said defensemen were there only to keep the puck out of their own net. He had five consecutive double-digit seasons in goals (when seasons were no longer than 44 games), was a First-Team All-Star seven times and captured the Hart Trophy as League MVP four times with Boston in a six-year period from 1932-38.

Doug Harvey (wore No. 2 with Montreal, New York Rangers and St. Louis) --
Harvey is regarded by many as the best defenseman of the Original Six era. Though he didn't post the kind of big scoring numbers that defensemen like Bobby Orr rang up in the 1970s and '80s, Harvey was a master of tempo -- speeding things up or slowing them down as needed. He won the Norris Trophy at age 37 and was still contributing in St. Louis after turning 44.

Brian Leetch (wore No. 2 for the New York Rangers and Toronto) -- It's impossible to have a conversation about the best American-born player in NHL history without mentioning Leetch. He's still the only American to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, won the Norris Trophy twice and is one of only eight defensemen to reach 1,000 points in his career -- and one of just four to score 100 points in a season and 1,000 in his career.

Al MacInnis (wore No. 2 for Calgary and St. Louis) -- MacInnis entered the NHL known mostly as the owner of hockey's most feared slap shot. But he became a lot more, winning a Norris Trophy, the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1989 and making the first All-Star team four times -- the last one just before his 40th birthday in 2002-03. He's third all-time among defensemen with 1,274 points and, along with Leetch, is one of four defensemen with 1,000 career points and a 100-point season.

Viacheslav Fetisov -- The best defenseman in the world in the 1980s was probably Fetisov, who spent the decade leading the Soviet Union to international dominance. The breakup of the USSR gave him a chance to come to the NHL at age 31, and though he wasn't the player he had been in his youth, Fetisov was still an effective force on the blue line -- first with New Jersey and then with Detroit, where he played  on Stanley Cup winners in 1997 and '98 as part of the famed "Russian Five."

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