Morenz, Esposito among NHL legends who wore No. 7
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.
The case for No. 7:
Seven has always been a special number (Lucky 7; seventh son, etc.) to a lot of people. That's been as true in hockey as anywhere else.
Some of the game's greatest stars, going all the way back to players like Howie Morenz, Frank Boucher and Nels Stewart in the NHL's early years, have been honored by being given No. 7. Most of those wearing No. 7 have been forwards, though Tim Horton (in Toronto), Paul Coffey (in Edmonton) and Chris Chelios (in Chicago) have been defensemen. Hall of Famer Ray Bourque also wore No. 7 for his first nine seasons with Boston before switching to No. 77).
More than a dozen players in the Hockey Hall of Fame (and Chelios, who figures to join them in the near future) wore No. 7, as have dozens of players who've had excellent careers that were not quite Hall-worthy. Nine of the NHL's 30 teams have retired No. 7 (Toronto lists it as an "honored number," as it does with several others), cutting down on the number of future greats who'll get to wear it.
Here are some of the players who've made No. 7 so special:
Howie Morenz (wore No. 7 with Montreal) -- Morenz was one of the NHL's first great stars, with a resume that included seven 20-goal seasons, 40 goals in 44 games in 1929-30, three MVP awards, two scoring titles and the title of Canada's Outstanding Hockey Player of the Half Century. He died on March 8, 1937, about six weeks after breaking his leg during a game. More than 10,000 people turned out for his funeral and thousands more lined the streets to pay their respects. His No. 7 jersey was the first to be retired by any team, and he was one of the first 12 players selected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Frank Boucher (wore No. 7 with the New York Rangers) -- After Lester Patrick, who built the franchise, there are few more important names in Ranger history than Boucher, who centered for the Cook brothers on "The Bread Line," one of the most potent trios the NHL had ever seen. Boucher scored seven times in the Rangers' first Cup victory in 1928 (including both goals in the series-clinching victory), was a three-time First Team All-Star and won the Lady Byng Trophy so often (seven times in eight years) that the NHL finally gave him the trophy and another one was struck. He later coached the Rangers to the 1940 Cup, their last for 54 years.
Tim Horton (wore No. 7 with Toronto) -- He was listed at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, but for much of the 1960s, Horton was regarded as the strongest man in the NHL -- and was a big contributor to the Leafs' dynasty in the early 1960s. He was a First-Team All-Star three times in a six-year span in the 1960s -- the last time in 1968-69 at age 39. Horton was still an effective player for Buffalo at age 44 when he died in an auto accident on Feb. 21, 1974. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame three years later. The Leafs list his No. 7 as one of their honored numbers; the Sabres, for whom he played only two seasons, have retired No. 2, the number he wore in Buffalo.
Phil Esposito (wore No. 7 with Chicago and Boston) -- Esposito was a big, talented center who was just coming into his own with Chicago when the Blackhawks traded him to Boston in what turned out to be one of the most lopsided deals in NHL history. He went from 61 points in his last season with the Hawks to 84 in his debut in Boston, set a League record with 126 points the following season and shattered scoring marks with 76 goals and 152 points in 1970-71, the first of five consecutive seasons in which he had at least 55 goals and 127 points. He finished his career with six seasons in New York after a November 1975 trade to the Rangers, ending with 717 goals and 1,590 points. Bourque wore his No. 7 until December 1987, when he famously peeled it off and handed it to Esposito while opting for No. 77.
Paul Coffey (wore No. 7 with Edmonton) -- Coffey wore No. 7 for all seven of his seasons in Edmonton, during which he became the game's most feared scorer among defensemen and was part of three Stanley Cup winners. His 48 goals in 1985-86 are still the most by defenseman, and his 138 points that season are one shy of Bobby Orr's single-season mark. He wore No. 77 after being dealt to Pittsburgh in 1987 and kept it for most of his career, which included stops in eight more cities and a fourth Cup (with Pittsburgh in 1991), but his biggest seasons came while he wore No. 7 in blue and orange. Coffey donned No. 74 as a member of the Bruins.