There has been some debate over whether the Toronto Maple Leafs fourth overall pick should be allowed to keep the number he wore throughout his junior career
Toronto Maple Leafs players will tell you a jersey number is a special bond they hold deep to them. For most players, it is a number they wore when they laced up their skates for the time.
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Others wear a particular number in honour of someone dear to them. Some of you may have heard the story of Brian Boyle from the Tampa Bay Lightning, who changed his number to 11 as a tribute to his friend Corey Griffin, the co-founder of the ALS ice bucket challenge who passed away last year.
Toronto’s 2015 fourth overall pick Mitch Marner wore number 93 as a member of the London Knights. However, there is the small matter of whether he will wear it when he puts on a Leafs jersey during training camp, preseason and eventually the regular season?
As many people know, number 93 means a great deal to Leafs fans, as it was the number Doug Gilmour wore during his time in Toronto. Before coming to Toronto, Gilmour wore number 39 and nine with the Calgary Flames and the St. Louis Blues respectively, so it was not a number he associated himself with his whole career.
Gilmour was assigned number 14 when he first arrived to Toronto, because coach Tom Watt did not want players wearing high numbers. However Gilmour did not want to wear 14, because it was a sacred number to Leafs legend Dave Keon.
Also, because the Leafs do not retire numbers, Gilmour did not want to bring along the burden of wearing that number. He wore the number as a child, but he did the smart thing in taking a new number and made it his own.
Could the same thing happen with Marner? While Gilmour decided to keep the number 14 sacred to Keon, former Leafs Matt Stajan wore the number during his time in Toronto, but as a tribute to his uncle who passed away from cancer, so there are exceptions to the rule.
What Marner could end up doing is wearing a different number and make it his own so that he does not have to live with the expectations that come with wearing number 93. A lot of people have already made those comparisons, because of Marner’s size and strong two-way game.
When asked about the possibility of not wearing number 93 Marner, did not seem to worried about it:
Feb 21, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Former Toronto Maple Leafs playerRon Ellis
(6) during a pre-game ceremony honoring alumni players asRed Kelly
(4) andWendel Clark
(17) andRick Vaive
(22) applaud before the start of the game against the Winnipeg Jets at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Jets 4-3 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
There will be Leafs fans quick to say that Marner should not touch the number 93 because of what Gilmour did as a member of the Leafs, much like Wendel Clark‘s number 17 and Mats Sundin‘s number 13. However the Leafs organization’s decision not to retire a player’s number has made it a free for all with any number.
There have been players who wore number 27 after Darryl Sittler did, and he scored 10 points in a game for the Leafs and was among their best players of all time. So unless the Leafs decide to change their ways when it comes to retiring numbers, any jersey is technically up for grabs.
Another thing to consider is that Leafs rookies generally do not wear high numbers, normally picking 90 and up. When Nazem Kadri played in the OHL he wore number 91, but when he came to the Leafs he changed to number 43.
He wore number 13 while with the Toronto Marlies, but the team assigned him 43 when he played for the big club. Why not let Kadri wear number 13?
Is the team now deciding that some jersey numbers should be left untouched, something Damien Cox once wrote about. If a player wants to wear a number that was worn by one of the Leafs great players he should earn it.
However, to say the number should be kept sacred while the club is unwilling to do so by retiring it, makes no sense. I would rather the Leafs retire the numbers like 13, 14, 17,and 27 because the best Leafs legends wore them.
Everyone associates those numbers with the player that wore them. It should stay that way, otherwise other players will see it as their opportunity to wear it as well.
While taking his picture for his rookie card, Marner was in a blank Leafs jersey, which started this whole debate about wearing number 93. This is what he had to say about it to James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail.
"Marner? He is awaiting an assignment at camp, not turning down No. 93 but also not being so bold as to assume it – no Leaf has worn it since Gilmour.“Obviously he wore that number,” Marner said. “It’s a great number. He represents everything in Toronto well. Whatever number they give me I’ll be happy with.”"
It will be interesting to see how the Leafs organization proceeds with this. However, the question will not get an answer until the Leafs rookie camp gets underway.
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