It’s September, and you’ll really feel the hockey world slowly springing again to life. The rumor mill is heating up, followers are beginning to refocus, and the insiders are coming back from the cottage. Within a couple of weeks, gamers might be reporting to coaching camp in the perfect form of their lives, and we’ll be churning out previews, making predictions and dusting off the bizarro-meter. We’re nearly there.

That means we’ve received one final probability for a goofy offseason time-waster.

Let’s try this at the moment, with a easy query: Which NHL crew can construct the perfect all-time beginning lineup of gamers whose jersey numbers solely use two totally different digits?

Look, I mentioned it was goofy. Get on board or don’t, however we’re doing this.

To be clear: We want six gamers utilizing solely two digits, which implies if our numbers are X and Y, we’d like a roster of X, Y, XX, YY, XY and YX. This seems to be like algebra and I’m already apprehensive, however I imagine in us.

But first, a couple of floor guidelines™:

• As all the time, a beginning lineup means six gamers: One goalie, two defensemen and three forwards. Beyond that, we don’t care about place or handedness or that form of factor.

• We can’t repeat a quantity on the identical crew. You want to make use of all six of the distinct digit mixtures.

• You get credit score for no matter a participant did whereas he performed to your crew. In the case of gamers who wore multiple quantity, you solely get credit score for what he did whereas sporting the quantity you select, which means you possibly can’t sneak a famous person onto a lineup with a bizarre quantity he wore for one recreation as a rookie call-up.

One commentary immediately is that zero is out of the working as a result of gamers can’t put on that as a standalone quantity anymore. The single numbers must be fairly simple for many groups, whereas the double numbers might be key. I don’t suppose we’re going to have the ability to make any rosters of six studs, however we should always be capable of construct some good ones.

Let’s begin with the primary crew that got here to thoughts for me, and possibly for you too.

Pittsburgh Penguins

We mentioned that double numbers could be key, so clearly we begin with Mario Lemieux’s 66. In principle, that additionally provides us entry to Jaromir Jagr’s 68, so we’re off to a flying begin.

Or are we? We can discover some respectable 6s and 8s in Penguins historical past, like John Marino or Mark Recchi. But the Penguins have by no means had an 88, so we’re caught. That means Jagr is out, and so is Sidney Crosby’s 87.

So we head again to Mario, and attempt to construct one thing else round him. But that’s difficult too, as a result of we’d like another person with a quantity within the 60s, and apart from Jagr the Pittsburgh choices are guys like Carl Hagelin and Ron Hainsey. And that’s earlier than we attempt to discover a goalie; I’m unsure there could be one.

In different phrases, that is going to be one more a kind of puzzles that appears easy however finally ends up being tougher than you’d anticipate, i.e. the perfect type. I don’t suppose we will construct round Mario in any respect, so in the long run, I made a tough flip and switched to one thing utilizing Evgeni Malkin and Paul Coffey.

Forwards: Evgeni Malkin (71), Rich Kehoe (17), Joey Mullen (7)

Defense: Paul Coffey (77), Darius Kasparaitis (11)

Goalie: Denis Herron (1)

All issues thought of, that’s a reasonably strong lineup. We’ve received three Hall of Famers, and Herron’s the one man that almost all of you could have most likely by no means heard of. It’s disappointing given all of the generational expertise the Penguins must work with, however beneath the circumstances, we’ll take it.

Since we whiffed on Mario, let’s attempt historical past’s different most well-known double-digit …

Evgeni Malkin. (Raj Mehta / USA Today)

Edmonton Oilers

OK, now we’re onto one thing. We begin with Wayne Gretzky’s 99, then bounce to Connor McDavid’s 97. With two of the best gamers to ever grace the ice, we simply want Paul Coffey’s 7 and Oscar Klefbom’s 77 on the blue line after which two scrubs to fill out the remainder of the lineup and we’ve received a contender.

But we will’t. If we use McDavid then we’d like a 79, and whereas the Oilers do provide Nathan Walker up entrance, that would go away us in search of a goaltender who wore the quantity 9, and we all know that’s not taking place. As tempting as it will be to strap a pair of pads on Ralph Intranuovo and push him on the market, we have now to play by the foundations.

So McDavid gained’t work. Neither will Ryan Smyth or Jesse Puljujarvi. We may use one 12 months of Evander Kane at 91, since we all know that 1 is a typical goalie quantity. But I believe our greatest wager is to go to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and hope we will discover a goalie who wore 33 or 39. Luckily, we will.

Forwards: Wayne Gretzky (99), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93), Glenn Anderson (9)

Defense: Marty McSorley (33), Al Hamilton (3)

Goalie: Anders Nilsson (39)

The lack of a 39 possibility on the blue line means we have now to snub strong 33s like Cam Talbot and Pokey Reddick and use a half-season of Nilsson in internet as a substitute, which isn’t superb. Of course, we’re caught with one 12 months of Hamilton on the blue line as a result of the Oilers needed to be weird about retired numbers. Still, this roster has the perfect participant ever and a few legit supporting expertise, so we must be OK.

Let’s attempt a crew I actually need to do …

Philadelphia Flyers

Real ones know. Before John LeClair arrived and teamed up with Eric Lindros to present us the immortal Legion of Doom, the Flyers had a line known as The Crazy 8s primarily based on their jersey numbers. Surely we will make one thing occur with that.

We begin with Lindros and his 88, and provides him Mark Recchi’s 8 on the wing. The third member of the road was Brent Fedyk, who wore 18, however that’s an issue — it will imply we’d want an 81, and the one one in Flyers historical past is latest depth piece Carsen Twarynski. In addition to not being particularly good, he’s a ahead, so we will’t match him together with all three Crazy 8s.

Still, I wished to make this work round Lindros and Recchi. I attempted sending Fedyk packing and switching our different quantity to a 3. That opens the door to some respectable goalie choices at 33, however we’d want an 83, and the Flyers have by no means had one. A two would give us entry to Claude Giroux at 28, however then we will’t discover a goalie in any respect.

In the tip, I simply don’t see a means to do that whereas conserving Recchi, as a result of we’d like that ahead spot for the upper numbers whereas reserving his single 8 for the blue line. We can get to a lineup, but it surely’s not a terrific one, and it’s not the Crazy 8s tribute I hoped for.

Forwards: Eric Lindros (88), Mike Richards (18), Carsen Twarynski (81)

Defense: Brad Marsh (8), Jiri Latal (11)

Goalie: Bernie Parent (1)

Three groups into this, let’s make a couple of observations.

First, the double-number stars will most likely be key to a very nice lineup, however they’re extraordinarily limiting. Next, the dearth of 99 choices across the league signifies that nearly everybody can’t use 9 or 19 or 91, which takes an enormous variety of stars off the desk. (Sorry, Red Wings followers.) And lastly, the goalies are going to be completely essential, and would possibly pressure us to make use of a 1 or a 3 in nearly each lineup except we will discover a couple of goalies who put on weirdo numbers.

On that word, our subsequent crew will get off to a promising begin.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Good previous Andrei Vasilevskiy and his 88 might be our basis right here. Unfortunately, we will’t pair him with both Nikita Kucherov’s 86 or Victor Hedman’s 77, as a result of the Lightning have by no means had a participant who wore 68 or 87.

Still, we must be in fine condition, he mentioned, forgetting how this stuff all the time go. We simply have to discover a strong Lightning participant who wore a quantity within the 80s, and the remaining ought to fall into place. And we don’t even have to look that far, since Erik Cernak wears 81 for them proper now. But that finally ends up flipping the script on our goaltending drawback — we’d like a single-digit 1, these guys are solely ever goalies, and we have already got ours. So Cernak and 81 can’t work.

The Lightning have by no means had an 83 or an 84, we already coated 86 and 87, and whereas 89 would give us Cory Conacher and Mikhail Sergachev’s 98, we run into the 99 drawback and may’t go any additional. In the tip, it comes all the way down to utilizing 82 or 85, and since I don’t even need to know why ahead Bruce Gardiner wore the quantity 5 for this crew for a couple of video games, I went with the previous.

Forwards: Vincent Lecavalier (8), Marc Bureau (28), Gabriel Fortier (82)

Defense: Dan Boyle (22), Eric Brewer (2)

Goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy (88)

Oof. That’s not nice at first look, and it’s even worse than it seems to be as a result of we solely get Lecavalier’s lackluster rookie season, earlier than he switched to 4. It seems that having a unicorn to your goalie quantity doesn’t essentially assist as a lot as you’d suppose.

Toronto Maple Leafs

I’m going to want a 1 or a 3 to get a goalie right here, however that’s high-quality, as a result of it retains most of our greatest choices on the desk. I may do one thing with Doug Gilmour’s 93, because the Leafs are one of many few groups which have a 99 to work with because of Wilf Paiement. I may go together with Mats Sundin’s 13, though that causes some issues as a result of we’d have to fill a 1 and 31, and people are each goalie numbers. Or I may construct round Wendel Clark’s 17, which might imply an invitation for Mike Foligno at 71. That could be high-quality, so long as neither man invited their much less profitable 71-wearing Maple Leaf sons, Nick and David.

Tempting as all that is likely to be, the Leafs find yourself being a reasonably simple crew to construct, and a rattling good one.

Forwards: Auston Matthews (34), Red Kelly (4), Nazem Kadri (43)

Defense: Morgan Reilly (44), Marcel Pronovost (3)

Goalie: Doug Favell (33)

Kelly’s the important thing to the entire thing right here, as he began his profession on protection and took a blueliner’s quantity, which he saved though he was largely a ahead by the point he arrived in Toronto. Favell is the weak spot, with our solely different possibility in purpose being Don Beaupre, however that is our first crew that provides the Oilers a run for his or her cash.

Let’s attempt one other Original Six entry …

Montreal Canadiens

The Habs have by no means had a 99, so immediately they lose Rocket Richard, Larry Robinson and Ken Dryden. But I’m unsure that’s an issue, as a result of Montreal historical past is so full of superstars sporting conventional numbers that we must be high-quality if we keep down low. In reality, let’s do this with the bottom numbers we will use …

Forwards: Steve Shutt (22), Yvan Cournoyer (12), Saku Koivu (11)

Defense: Doug Harvey (2), Bud MacPherson (21)

Goalie: Jacques Plante (1)

Yep, I’d say that labored out. The solely difficult piece was the second blue line spot — MacPherson was a strong contributor within the 50s however not a star — however in any other case, we’ve received 4 Hall of Famers and a beloved trendy captain. Pretty fairly good.

Let’s attempt a couple of newer groups.

AP090213046577 scaled

Saku Koivu with the Canadiens in 2009. (AP Photo / David Zalubowski)

Nashville Predators

I’m feeling somewhat little bit of guilt over how simple the Habs have been, so let’s crank up the diploma of issue a number of notches with a crew that’s solely ever had like 4 nice gamers, they usually have been all defensemen. Also, they’ve by no means had a 99 or a 66, which means we will’t use Roman Josi or Shea Weber, and Ryan Suter’s quantity had a zero. We’re screwed, let’s do that.

Forwards: Cliff Ronning (7), Alexander Radulov (47), Kole Sherwood (77)

Defense: Kimmo Timonen (44), Ryan Ellis (4)

Goalie: Juuse Saros (74)

That’s … that’s not unhealthy, proper? Sure, we have now Kole Sherwood, who’s by no means scored a purpose in 4 NHL seasons. But the remainder of the lineup is positively feisty, with an excellent again finish. I like this one. Thank you, weirdo goalie quantity.

Let’s keep out west …

Los Angeles Kings

The Kings are a weirdly difficult crew. They can draw on MVP seasons from Gretzky, which opens up the 9 that so many different groups can’t use. But in contrast to most groups, the Kings don’t have a slam dunk famous person who wore that quantity; the perfect we will do is Bernie Nicholls. We can’t use Luc Robitaille or Rogie Vachon, as a result of they’d a 0, and we will’t use Marcel Dionne’s 16 as a result of the Kings have by no means had a 66. And we run into an issue in purpose, as a result of the Kings have been round for 50-plus years and Vachon and Jonathan Quick are the one two respectable goalies who’ve caught round for any size of time.

In the tip, I most likely may have completed one thing higher with Quick’s 34, however I couldn’t deliver myself to chop Gretzky. So we get this bizarre mishmash:

Forwards: Wayne Gretzky (99), Anze Kopitar (11), Carl Grundstrom (91)

Defense: Larry Robinson (19), Al Hangsleben (9)

Goalie: Mario Lessard (1)

Why sure, that’s 18 video games of any person named Al Hangsleben at 9 as a substitute of Nicholls’ 70-goal season, thanks for noticing. I don’t know what to let you know, we wanted a second defenseman and the one different possibility was a couple of video games of Mattias Norstrom sporting 11, which might price us Kopitar. The key level is we have now a really previous Larry Robinson and modern-day Carl Grundstrom, so we must be high-quality. Let’s by no means communicate of this once more.

Vancouver Canucks

We can’t use Pavel Bure or Elias Pettersson due to a 0, Markus Naslund due to a 9, or Trevor Linden due to a 6. (A rookie Gino Odjick did briefly turn out to be considered one of historical past’s only a few 66s and I’d completely use him, however the 61 choices will not be nice.) And whereas it’s very tempting to do one thing with a 1 simply so I pressure the Canucks to recollect their historical past of the quantity 11, I’m not selecting violence at the moment.

Instead, let’s keep in mind that generally, the plain path remains to be the proper one.

Forwards: Henrik Sedin (33), Daniel Sedin (22), Martin Gelinas (23)

Defense: Mattias Ohlund (2), Kevin Bieksa (3)

Goalie: Arturs Irbe (32)

That works. Sure, it’s just one season of Irbe, however a) he dominated, and b) there’s solely a lot I can do with the Canucks’ goaltending historical past, particularly if we’re not utilizing Roberto Luongo’s 1. I like this lineup.

Let’s dip again into the Original Six for one final go …

Boston Bruins

First issues first: I’m not utilizing Bobby Orr as a result of that might imply I’d want a Bruin who wore 44 and Glenn Murray and Nick Boynton know what they did.

Still, the Bruins begin off robust, with the opposite two greatest gamers in franchise historical past masking off our 7s in Ray Bourque and Phil Esposito. We simply have to determine which quantity to make use of with them, and discovering one other participant within the 70s gained’t be too robust as a result of the Bruins love handing out weirdo numbers.

In reality, they’ve received a pair of 70s stars on their roster proper now. The greatest is Charlie McAvoy at 73, which would appear like a slam dunk as a result of it additionally will get us Patrice Bergeron at 37. But that causes a bizarre logjam on the blue line as a result of then we’d need to use Zdeno Chara at 33 and we have now too many defensemen even earlier than we attempt to discover somebody who wears 3. We may drop Chara and save 33 for a goalie, however as greatest I can inform the one possibility could be one single recreation of Jim Stewart, during which he gave up five goals on nine shots to turn out to be the one goalie within the historical past of the NHL to file a minimum of one save however nonetheless have a career save percentage under 50 percent. Uh, cross.

So as a substitute, let’s use Taylor Hall’s 71, which supplies us entry to goalies like Reggie Lemelin, Eddie Johnston, or a Vezina 12 months from Pete Peeters.

Forwards: Phil Esposito (7), Taylor Hall (71), Milan Lucic (17)

Defense: Ray Bourque (77), Bill Quackenbush (11)

Goalie: Pete Peeters (1)

That’s a powerful roster. Does it beat the Habs, Leafs or Oilers? Let me know within the feedback, and let me see what lineups you possibly can provide you with for the opposite groups.

(Top photograph of Auston Matthews and Morgan Rielly: Jerome Miron / USA Today)

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