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From Vezina to Parent, No. 1 a mark of greatness

by John Kreiser
Last year, 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. 2 | No. 7 | No. 9

The case for No. 1:


Greatest Numbers

Greatness by the numbers

John Kreiser - Columnist
Who's the best player to wear No. 1? 4? 9? takes a look at hockey's greatest players by the numbers they wore.
No. 1 has been owned by goaltenders for decades. Two Montreal Canadiens -- defensemen Herb Gardiner (1926-29) and Babe Siebert (1936-39) -- are the non-goaltenders in the Hockey Hall of Fame to wear No. 1 for any length of time.

For decades, No. 1 was worn by a team's starting goaltender -- especially in the Original Six era, when most teams often carried only one goaltender. Five teams have retired No. 1, while the Toronto Maple Leafs list it as an "honored number" in recognition of Turk Broda and Johnny Bower, both members of the Hall of Fame.

Because it's a specialized number that normally was given to the best player at one position, the list of HOF guys who wore No. 1 is longer than for any other number. Georges Vezina, for whom the trophy given to the top goaltender each season is named, wore No. 1. So did a slew of Hall of Fame players in the 1930s and '40s, as well as the 1950s and '60s Hall of Fame troika of Jacques Plante, Glenn Hall and Terry Sawchuk, plus post-expansion stars like Ed Giacomin and Bernie Parent.

The last 40 years has seen the growth of the multi-goalie system -- and, combined with the five teams that have taken No. 1 out of circulation -- fewer goaltenders have worn it. Parent, who led Philadelphia to back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974 and '75, is the most recent Hall of Fame entrant to wear No. 1, and he retired in 1979. Of the players wearing No. 1 today, the one with the best chance of joining that group is Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo, who at age 32 has 308 career victories, and his 55 shutouts are second among active goaltenders.

Wearing No. 1 may not be the badge of honor it was to goaltenders of a previous generation, but it has the longest list of owners in the Hall of Famer. Here are five players who make the case that No. 1 is the greatest ever:

Georges Vezina (wore No. 1 for Montreal) -- Vezina, one of the first 12 members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, was an elite goaltender during Montreal's time in the National Hockey Association, the predecessor to today's NHL, and remained that way after the League was officially formed in 1917. He popularized the stand-up style of goaltending that dominated hockey for decades and played 325 consecutive games before being forced to retire in November 1925 due to advanced tuberculosis, which worsened until he died March 26, 1926.

Bill Durnan (wore No. 1 for Montreal) -- Like Ken Dryden in the 1970s, Durnan made the most of a short career. He didn't arrive in the NHL until he was 27 and played just seven seasons, but was a First-Team All-Star in six of them and won 208 of his 383 career appearances while leading the Canadiens to their only two Stanley Cup championships between 1931 and 1953.

Terry Sawchuk (wore No. 1 for Detroit and Boston) -- Sawchuk held the NHL record for wins and shutouts until the modern generation of goaltenders like Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur came along. He's arguably the greatest goaltender of the Original Six era, winning 447 games with 103 shutouts, as well as the Stanley Cup four times.

Jacques Plante (wore No. 1 for Montreal, N.Y. Rangers and Toronto) -- If Sawchuk wasn't the greatest goaltender of the 1950s, then Plante was. He led the Canadiens to a the Stanley Cup a record five consecutive times from 1956-60. He finished his career 10 wins and 21 shutouts short of Sawchuk during the regular season, and also went 71-36 in postseason play, with a 2.14 goals-against average and 12 shutouts. 

Glenn Hall (wore No. 1 for Detroit, Chicago and St. Louis) -- Hall played two seasons in Detroit after the Red Wings traded Sawchuk, then was dealt to Chicago in 1957 when they brought Sawchuk back to Detroit. By then, Hall already was well into his famed streak of 502 consecutive complete games in goal, a record that almost certainly never will be broken. He finished with 407 regular-season wins, 84 shutouts and the only Stanley Cup won by a Chicago goaltender in the 72 years from 1938 to 2010.

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