Wayne Gretzky's No. 99 is retired throughout the NHL not only because he is considered the greatest player in League history, but because the number and his name are synonymous.
Though there is no debate over the best player to wear that number, there are 98 other numbers with more than one worthy candidate. That is where the "NHL's Who Wore It Best?" comes in.
NHL.com writers and editors have cast their votes, each selecting his or her top three for each number, with the top vote-getter receiving five points, second place getting three points and third place one point. Candidates will be debated, and the winners revealed in a weekly, five-part series first airing on Sportsnet, NHL.com and League platforms each Friday at 5 p.m. ET, and re-airing each Tuesday on NBCSN (5 p.m. ET) and NHL Network (6:30 p.m. ET). NHL.com will provide the list of winners each Friday at 5:30 p.m. ET, following the premiere of each episode.
Each Tuesday on NHL.com, selected writers will each make his or her case for which player in the history of the League wore a certain number best. Each Friday, in a companion piece, the debate will center on current players.
Today, the discussion focuses on the best player to wear No. 2.
[Who Wore It Best? | Nos. 99-81 | Nos. 80-61 | Nos. 60-46 | Nos. 45-31 | Nos. 30-21 | Nos. 20-11]
Sebastien Deschambault, managing editor, LNH.com
A Norris Trophy winner. A Conn Smythe winner. A Stanley Cup champion. A Hall of Fame player. One of the most offensively gifted defensemen in the history of the League. A great leader. When there is someone with this kind of resume, it should be an easy call to determine who is the best player to wear No. 2. But what if more than one player can claim such accolades? Then it becomes an incredibly tough decision. I went with Al MacInnis because I couldn't ignore the fact that he is third in NHL history among defensemen in goals (340), assists (934) and points (1,274), as well as second in power-play goals (166) and power-play points (722). No surprise his No. 2, for all but the first two seasons of his 23-season NHL career, has been either retired or honored by each of his teams, the St. Louis Blues and the Calgary Flames.
Video: Al MacInnis rode slap shot to Hall of Fame
David Satriano, staff writer
There's no denying MacInnis and Brian Leetch were great, but the only thing each has that Doug Harvey doesn't is a Conn Smythe Trophy. Harvey is a seven-time Norris winner (MacInnis and Leetch won it a combined three times), a six-time Stanley Cup champion (two total for MacInnis and Leetch) and an 11-time NHL First or Second All-Star Team selection (12 total for the other two). True, his offensive numbers weren't as good (540 points in 1,113 NHL games) as MacInnis or Leetch, but he scored 232 power-play points and was a big reason the NHL adapted a rule change for the 1956-57 season that only one power-play goal could be scored on each minor penalty. Not many players can say they had a rule created because of them.
Video: Doug Harvey led Canadiens' deadly power-play unit
Mike Zeisberger, staff writer
Leetch was much more than just the numbers or the hardware. When Leetch's No. 2 was retired by the New York Rangers on Jan. 24, 2008, longtime teammate Mark Messier called him the "greatest Ranger of all time." Heady praise indeed, especially considering the Rangers are an Original Six team and have been in existence since 1926. He won the Norris Trophy twice (1992, 1997) and the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year in 1989. But his highlight came in 1994, when he became the first United States-born player to win the Conn Smythe while helping the Rangers win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. He's one of five defensemen in NHL history to have a 100-point season (102 in 1991-92), joining MacInnis, Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey and Denis Potvin, and is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame (2009). He's facing some tough competition here against MacInnis and the legendary Harvey, but his accomplishments and the footprint he left on the sport, especially on young American players, is undeniable.
Video: Brian Leetch first American to win Conn Smythe
I won't argue that Leetch and MacInnis were two of the greatest defensemen of all time, but I take Harvey for the championships on his resume and his historical significance. Yes, there were far fewer teams in his era, but in his 14 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, he won the Stanley Cup six times and made the Final four other times, and this No. 2 was a big reason why. Harvey changed the way the position was played by controlling the puck rather than dumping it into the opposing zone and became one of the premier passers in the game. What puts him over the top for me is his individual achievements, as mentioned above, the seven Norris Trophy wins and 10 NHL First All-Star Team selections, each tied for second all time. Harvey, who wore No. 2 for 18 of his 19 seasons with the Canadiens, Rangers, Detroit Red Wings and the Blues, was also the first Montreal defenseman to have his number retired (Oct. 26, 1985).
Harvey was a pioneer, but keep this in mind: He won those seven Norris trophies during the era of the six-team NHL. That's not to say he isn't a legend. He is. But the number of players he was competing with for that award was far smaller than the field of competitors Leetch and MacInnis were going up against in the expanded NHL. In Leetch's case, the influence he had on both the Rangers and young American players is why I keep leaning his way in this debate.
I couldn't agree more with Mike about what Leetch meant to the Rangers and an entire generation of American players, and with David about how Harvey changed the way defensemen play the game. However, MacInnis has become somewhat of a mythic figure in hockey lore because of one particular skill that neither Leetch nor Harvey possessed: a booming slap shot. No one won the Hardest Shot competition at the NHL All-Star Game more than MacInnis (seven times), and if his best result was listed at 100.4 mph, you have to remember that he was using a wooden stick. He captivated a generation of fans with this attribute while striking fear among opposing defensemen and goalies every time he shot.