Sweater numbers are synonymous with players. Most hockey fans can instantly tell you a great player by the number they wear on their back. There are many different stories about how players became associated with the famous numbers. Many odd and interesting facts surround these numbers as well. As we count down the start of the 2023-24 NHL season, we take a look at the story behind the numbers. Today we continue with sweater number 7. Keep up to date with the series everyday until the start of the 2023-24 NHL season.
Behind the Sweater Number: 7
According to Hockey Reference, 340 players have worn sweater number 7 since since jersey records were kept in the 1950-51 season. However, it does not list any players before then that may have taken the number. Hockey Reference lists five of the Original Six with at least one player wearing that number. Only the Montreal Canadiens did not have a number seven due it being retired for the late Howie Morenz. The famed number seven died in March 1937 died from a coronary embolism caused by blood clots from his damaged leg. Morenz’s jersey was the first to be retired in North America.
However, there were some Hall of Fame number sevens in the 1950-51 season. Detroit Red Wings forward Ted Lindsay scored 24 goals while Max Bentley netted 21 for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The number has been worn by a mix of forwards and defencemen. There are a number of Hall of Fame players that have donned the number seven.
There are always a number of players that wore sweater number 7 that would go onto have decent to good careers. However, these were with other numbers. Hall of Famer Dick Duff had the number for two seasons with the Los Angeles Kings. Martin Gelinas wore seven with the Edmonton Oilers in his final season there. Another Hall of Fame player in Bobby Hull had seven with the Chicago Black Hawks.
Eddie Olczyk had the number for one season with the Kings. French Connection member Rene Robert donned the digits with the Buffalo Sabres. Todd Bertuzzi had the number for a season with the Calgary Flames. Hall of Fame players like Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey all started off with the number seven, but would move onto number 77.
The great Phil Esposito is one of the greatest players to wear sweater number 7. He was a 20-goal scorer with Chicago, but career really took off with the Boston Bruins. Esposito would score 76 goals in the 1970-71 season with the Bruins. The Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario native would win two Stanley Cups, two Hart Trophies, five Art Ross Trophies and go into the Hall of Fame in 1984.
Esposito actually finished his career in 77 after the blockbuster trade sent him to the New York Rangers. Fellow Hall of Famer Rod Gilbert had the number seven with the Blueshirts, so Esposito wore five, 12 and 77 on Broadway.
Other 7s and the Future
There have been plenty of great number sevens in NHL history and we’ve mentioned a few of them already. Greats like Bill Barber, Doug Bentley, Neal Broten, Chris Chelios and Tim Horton had long careers with sweater number 7. Igor Larionov, Joe Malone, Lanny McDonald, Joe Mullen, Brent Seabrook, Keith Tkachuk and Norm Ullman also had great runs with the number.
Main photo by: Frank Lennon/Toronto Star via Getty Images