If you have a William Nylander sweater – yes, it’s a sweater and not a jersey so fight me – you’ll be thrilled to learn that your favorite millionaire is willing to foot the bill for you to change the number on it from 29 to 88. At a cost of between $80 and $100 a pop, this is clearly going to set Nylander back a few dollars, maybe even a few hundred thousand. But don’t despair. He’s 23 years old and his employer cut him a check for a cool $8.3 million July 1.
Nylander announced on social media Monday that he plans to make the change to No. 88, the number he has worn with both Modo and the Swedish national team. He also graciously offered to pay the cost of having the previous digits removed and replaced with the new ones, provided it is done at the team’s official apparel retailer, thereby totally confirming the notion that even when Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment gives money away, it ends up coming right back to them.
Leaf fans are hoping the change of number signals a change in fortune for Nylander, who sat out until December in a contract dispute and struggled for much of the season to find his form. Leafs GM Kyle Dubas has vowed to keep his core together and not trade Nylander, so we’re going to go ahead and presume that Nylander has at least five more seasons to carve his niche with that number. Then again, things change quickly in this business and who knows? Nylander has 34 games to become the all-time leader in games played by a No. 88 for the Maple Leafs and maybe he doesn’t even get that far.
So how does Nylander stack up against other players who have worn the No. 88 over the years? Well, two of them are in the Hall of Fame and another one will be when Jarome Iginla gets inducted in 2020, and four whenever Patrick Kane retires. Twenty-five players in league history have worn 88, including Joe Sakic as a rookie with the Quebec Nordiques and Ken Hodge, who became the first player to wear it after being traded to the New York Rangers in 1977. (Neat fact: Sakic and Owen Nolan both wore 88 with the Quebec Nordiques and Lindros would have worn it too had he opted to report there after being drafted first overall in 1991.) Last season, a total of 11 players wore the number, at least three of whom are already more accomplished than Nylander. So the young man has some work to do to catch up to the likes of these five guys, all of whom wore No. 88 for the bulk of their careers:
Hands-down the best player to wear No. 88 of all-time. He was the best player in the world for a period of about three years and was one of the most breathtaking physical talents in the history of the game. It did not end well, but he was exceptional when he was in his prime.
The player to score the highest number of points while wearing the number, Kane will almost certainly hit the 1,000-point mark this season. He is one of the game’s all-time great playmakers and, one could argue, the best American-born player of all-time. If not, he will be by the time he retires.
The reigning Vezina Trophy winner still has a lot of time to forge his career accomplishments and, barring an unforeseen circumstance, will be doing it with a team that has a chance to be a league power for quite some time. The NHL’s wins leader last season is at an age where a lot of guys at his position are just starting to make their marks in the league and he already has 124 wins under his belt.
The San Jose Sharks’ hairy beast has a Norris Trophy to his credit and has established himself as one of the league’s pre-eminent offensive defensemen. Burns switched from No. 8 to 88 when he was dealt to the Sharks in 2011 and has 466 of his 649 career points wearing the number.
Another player who still has a long time to realize his legacy, Pastrnak is the right winger on the best line in the NHL. With back-to-back 80-point seasons to his credit, Pastrnak is quickly becoming one of the league’s more dangerous offensive players, with an ability to score and set up plays with equal aplomb.