A Different Kind Of Numbers Problem

Jeff Veillette (Jeffler)
July 13 2013 09:10AM

 

Before I get into this post, let me start with one thing - if you're looking for a critical post about David Clarkson as a player for the Devils, or a potential player for the Leafs, this isn't it. If you're looking for somebody to break down how crazy the contract is, you'll want to read literally every other post written on a Maple Leafs site for the past week instead. 

Now, carrying on - David Clarkson is going to wear #71 with the Toronto Maple Leafs and that's really silly.

As anybody who's familiar with me probably knows, I'm not a huge fan of the idea of retired numbers, or putting special stock into them. I came to Nicklas Backstrom's defence when he wore #99 in the KHL (one of the dumbest controversies of our time). I recently pointed out how stupid the Matt Cooke / Derek Boogaard number issue was. Bluntly, I think that players should absolutely be honoured by teams for what they contribute to the franchise, but a number is an identification device that should only mean something to the player. The player, who may come into a team wearing a number his entire life, only to be told "you can't have this because we don't think there's any way you'll be better than this other guy".

That's why I'm a huge fan of the Leafs' method. In theory. For those who don't know, the Leafs have only retired the numbers of Bill Barilko (who died in a plane crash shortly after scoring the Stanley Cup Winning Goal in 1951), and Ace Bailey (who suffered a career-ending head injury at the age of 30). Beyond that, there are 16 other players in the rafters, whos numbers are free to be used again. In theory.

In practice, the modern additions may take a while to join active circulation:

# Player(s) Honoured Last Worn Player
1 Broda / Bower 1995 2009 Pogge
4 Day / Kelly 2006 2013 Franson
7 Clancy / Horton 1995 2010 Exelby
9 Kennedy / Conacher 1993/1998 2012 Armstrong
10 Apps / Armstrong 1993/1998 2009 May
13 Sundin 2012 2008 Sundin
17 Clark 2008 2000 Clark
21 Salming 2006 2013 van Riemsdyk
27 Mahovlich / Sittler 2001/2003 2007 Peca
93 Gilmour 2009 2003 Gilmour

As you can see, nobody has really attempted to wear Clark, Sundin, or Gilmour's numbers since they left. Clark's 17 in particular has been dormant for 13 years. When David Clarkson came into town and preached about being a fan of his growing up, I thought that he would end that trend. He is, after all, pretty much the only acceptable style of player to wear the number to the average fan, and even has a close enough name. Yet here we are, about to watch him wear #71 as a tribute but not quite effort.

It's crazy. Clark was no doubt a major part of keeping Leafs fans sane in the 80's and 90's as they (very) slowly inched away from turmoil. He was a rather good player, but also the least qualified honouree of the bunch, being the only one who won't get into the Hockey Hall of Fame. But even if he wasn't, Clarkson isn't fooling anybody by swapping the numbers around. If you're going to use your jersey to say "I really want to be like Wendel to you all" (minus the sharp decline at what would be midway through his contract), take advantage of the team's policy and wear 17. 

Worried about fan pressure? You've already created it by bringing up that you were a fan of his, by allowing the "Wendel Clarkson" jokes, by showing up to Leafs events with Wendel within days of signing, and by having a number that even hints at it. You accepted the fans breathing on you the second your contract in Toronto. It's inevitable. Media pressure? Well, that's a lost cause; this is a city that freaked out about Nazem Kadri wearing 13 on the AHL affiliate (despite their high number policy not allowing his junior-preferred 91 or NHL 43). This is a city where Mark Bell felt the need to ask Tie Domi for permission to wear 28

If Clarkson was in any way concerned with reactions, his #23 from New Jersey was open for the picking. He could have even made us forget that Ryan O'Byrne existed. Instead, we have a tribute where the only difference from going all-in is that we now have a number that isn't retired essentially deemed untouchable.

It's silly. It's just a number. But, all the same, you can counterpoint this entire post with "it's just a number".

I guess it is a touchy subject after all.

7cb905bdffc4d09e93770ff4a1889462
I bring news about the Toronto Marlies, opinions about the Toronto Maple Leafs, and a bunch of ridiculous thoughts about everything else.
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#1 Irony
July 13 2013, 09:48AM
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What is silly is the fact that you've taken this silly number situation seriously enough to write an article about it. It's pretty understandable that Clarkson would want to create an "untouchable" number of his own while still paying tribute to his childhood hero. Like you're trying to say, it's not a big deal. Can you just focus back on obsessing over stats, for those of us who don't have the time?

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#2 firenonis
July 13 2013, 09:51AM
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Clarkson is an important test case for the leafs and how they are able to attract UFA talent. He may become a fan favourite and celebrity OR he will terrible disappoint and be run out of town.

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#3 Cam Charron
July 13 2013, 10:58AM
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He should wear double-zero!

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#4 gretzkyfresco
July 13 2013, 11:12AM
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how're you going to write an article about how silly it is to put so much emphasis on player number usage by putting emphasis on clarkson's number usage? o_0

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#5 Phrankie
July 13 2013, 12:00PM
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These are the dog days of summer and a slow time for hockey news. People should be happy there is anything to read.

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#6 SkinnyFish
July 13 2013, 12:14PM
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You're missing a critical piece of information: Wendel wore #71 in his brief stint with Detroit.

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#7 stormshadow
July 13 2013, 12:33PM
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I hope he asked Mike Foligno first!

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#8 jasken
July 13 2013, 03:03PM
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It was his childhood hero, didn't want pressure of it. The number 17 really didn't go well for him, as he went undrafted with Kitcherner Rangers. For him maybe leaving the number back in junior days is wear it belongs.

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#9 stormshadow
July 13 2013, 08:17PM
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Hockey Inside Out site calls the Clarkson signing the Worstfree agency move so far. My wish is for a topline center.

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#10 SkinnyFish
July 13 2013, 08:19PM
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That was Not my comment at 12;14PM

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#11 Phrankie
July 13 2013, 09:46PM
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Will the real SkinnyFish please stand up

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#12 SkinnyFish
July 13 2013, 09:51PM
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Right here.

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#13 SkinnyFish
July 14 2013, 03:19PM
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Someone is trolling here. Anyways, there is talk of a three way deal with the (yuk) Habs, Oilers and Sabres involved. According to my friend that knows somwbody in the league, Vanek and Ryan Miller are on their way to Montreal, with the Oilers getting Carey Price and a second rounder while the Sabres obtain Gionta, Habs pick McCrossen, Eberle and a first rounder from Montreal.

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#14 SkinnyFish
July 14 2013, 05:32PM
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Anyone see the Joffrey Lupul nude layout on the ESPN Body Issue?? He really is tight and right.

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#15 Justin Fisher
July 15 2013, 07:56AM
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Irony wrote:

What is silly is the fact that you've taken this silly number situation seriously enough to write an article about it. It's pretty understandable that Clarkson would want to create an "untouchable" number of his own while still paying tribute to his childhood hero. Like you're trying to say, it's not a big deal. Can you just focus back on obsessing over stats, for those of us who don't have the time?

You have time to write up silly comments, so...

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