Jarome Iginla is set to wear No. 88 with the Los Angeles Kings to close out the campaign. He’s only the latest in a long line of notable players to have jarring number changes, though.
Jarome Iginla makes his debut as a Los Angeles King on Thursday night, but fans seeking to watch the winger, who was added at the deadline on Wednesday, might need to take a moment to adjust their eyes. When Iginla lines up with the Kings, he won’t be wearing his familiar No. 12. Instead, Iginla will be donning No. 88 for the first time in his career.
It’s a bizarre switch for Iginla, and one that comes on account of Marian Gaborik. Since he arrived in Los Angeles in the 2013-14 campaign, he’s worn No. 12, changing himself from his own familiar No. 10. And while Iginla probably could have asked Gaborik to switch digits in order for the right to the No. 12 jersey — and one would guess Gaborik would acquiesce to the request of a surefire Hall of Famer — Iginla decided against it, saying he “wouldn’t even want to ask,” per NHL.com.
That doesn’t make the decision to wear No. 88 any less bizarre, however. Generally, in a situation such as Iginla’s, what a player will do is invert their number or come up with a combination that’s similar. For instance, many players who’ve worn 19 have switched to 91 if their preferred number was taken. There are also those who switch to a jersey number that’s somewhat close or has a look similar to their former number. Take Keith Yandle, who went from No. 3 for most of his career to No. 93 upon being traded to the Rangers. Not the same, but similar.
Incredibly, Iginla’s choice of 88 isn’t without reason. Per NHL.com, Iginla said one of the first jerseys he ever bought as a kid was a Kings jersey back when Wayne Gretzky was shipped to Los Angeles. “I bought a Kings jersey and put on No. 88 and I put my name on the back,” Iginla said. “I was about 10 years old.”
Regardless, it’s going to be strange to see Iginla wearing 88. He’s not the only notable player to have an odd number change during the course of their career, though.
5. Esa Tikkanen, No. 97, Florida Panthers
During the Oilers’ heyday, all you needed to see was No. 10 in blue and orange to know Tikkanen was on the ice. The same went for everywhere he went after Edmonton, and there were a handful of other locales throughout his career. All told, Tikkanen would wear No. 10 with the Rangers, Blues, Devils and Canucks before he switched his digit out of nowhere ahead of the 1997-98 campaign.
It’s not as if he stayed close to No. 10, either. When the 1997-98 campaign kicked off, Tikkanen was wearing No. 97 and he stuck with the number for the duration of the campaign. That may seem obvious, but it’s actually somewhat puzzling, because the door was open for Tikkanen to switch back to his familiar No. 10 by early November. Dave Lowry, who had been wearing the number when Tikkanen came in, had been traded. Tikkanen stuck by No. 97, though, up until the time he was traded to the Washington Capitals in March. At that point, he changed it up to No. 11.
4. Paul Coffey, No. 74, Boston Bruins
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the reason for Coffey’s switch from his usual No. 77. Even though Ray Bourque was plying his trade over in Colorado at that time, he was one of the game’s all-time great rearguards and a surefire Hall of Famer. Boston probably vetoed any use of No. 77 as they had plans to retire it as soon as Bourque called it a career, which is exactly what they did.
Of all numbers, though, Coffey went with 74?
At the time the only other number Coffey had worn was 7, and that was off the table in Boston, retired for Phil Esposito. Still, Coffey could have convinced Shawn Bates to give up No. 17 and gone with that instead. Maybe even something like 27, worn at the time by Sammy Pahlsson, or 37, worn by Lee Goren, would have worked. But 74 doesn’t scream Coffey. At the time, he was only the fourth player in league history to don the number.
3. Keith Tkachuk, No. 8, Atlanta Thrashers
OK. It’s not a massive departure from wearing No. 7. We’ll give you that much. But when a player wears one number for the 950-plus games of his career and abruptly changes, it’s tough to really adjust the eyes to it. Tkachuk’s number change falls somewhat in line with Iginla’s in Los Angeles, but the Coffey argument also applies here. Which is to say that with Atlanta having No. 27 and other 7-suffixed digits available, it’s strange that Tkachuk decided that No. 8 was for him.
However, it wouldn’t have been easy for Tkachuk to get his own No. 7, nor was it going to be a given he could get 17 or 77. Greg de Vries, a veteran like Tkachuk, wasn’t about to give up No. 7 after wearing it all season, Ilya Kovalchuk wouldn’t have undergone a jersey change and Alexei Zhitnik’s No. 77 was there to stay.
Tkachuk’s No. 8 Thrashers sweater could be a collectible someday, though, because he played 22 games in Atlanta. That’s total, regular season and playoffs. That could be exactly what happens with Iginla’s No. 88, too.
2. Chris Pronger, No. 25, Anaheim Ducks; No. 20, Philadelphia Flyers
At the time Pronger debuted in the NHL, the No. 44 wasn’t all that common. But at the time Pronger came into the league, so did Rob Niedermayer and come 2006-07, that caused a problem. Niedermayer had spent the past two seasons with the Ducks, and when Pronger showed up via a trade with the Edmonton Oilers, one or the other had to budge.
This is the part where one might think the former Hart Trophy winner and perennial Norris Trophy contender would get the number. That wasn’t the case. Niedermayer remained No. 44 while Pronger switched to No. 25. Pronger would remain No. 25 his entire stay in Anaheim, and when he was later shipped to the Philadelphia Flyers, he switched again to No. 20. At the time, Matt Carle was wearing No. 25 for the Flyers and Kimmo Timmonen was No. 44. We’ll take the second switch to mean Pronger didn’t really care what number he wore.
As luck would have it, Niedermayer would end up relinquishing No. 44 by 2009-10 when he signed in New Jersey. He switched to No. 21 — no Devils player had a number above 32 — and when he moved to Buffalo the next season, he went with No. 20, with Andrej Sekera wearing No. 44 and Drew Stafford sporting No. 21.
1. Brett Hull, No. 22, Dallas Stars
When Hull arrived in Dallas ahead of the 1998-99 season, he was coming in as one of the greatest pure goal scorers the league had ever seen. He was a massive acquisition for the Stars and a piece that promised to, and eventually did, put them over the top in their hunt for a Stanley Cup. Matter of fact, he was the one who scored the Cup-winning goal. Obviously, the most notable thing about that goal is the foot-in-the-crease controversy, but there’s something else jarring about it: Hull wearing No. 22 instead of the No. 16 he wore throughout his career.
There’s a reason for that, and his name is Pat Verbeek. At the time, Verbeek was entering his third season with the Stars and he, like Hull, had worn 16 throughout his career. So, when Hull showed up, Verbeek held the number. Even knowing the reason why, though, doesn’t it make it look any more natural to see Hull wearing No. 22. He would get his No. 16 back by the 1999-00 season, however, as Verbeek headed to the Detroit Red Wings.
Hull continued to produce some strange jerseys over the rest of his career, though. When he himself landed in Detroit in 2001-02, Hull donned No. 17. (Coincidentally, it was worn by Verbeek the year prior.) Then when Hull went to the Phoenix Coyotes to close out his career, he wore No. 16 for a short period before the organization pulled No. 9 down from the rafters, retired for his father, Bobby, in honor of his time with the Winnipeg Jets. That wouldn’t last long, however. Five games into the season, Hull retired. But he retired wearing No. 9.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.