By Egan J. Chernoff
With 67,000 possible line combinations based on numbers, the stars must align – figuratively and literally – to create a recipe worthy of numeric nickname status.
Hockey line nicknames based on jersey numbers, or “numberlines,” are a rare occurrence in the NHL. The most recent popular combination was coined during the 2014 playoffs, when the Los Angeles Kings put Jeff Carter (No. 77) between Tanner Pearson (No. 70) and Tyler Toffoli (No. 73) to create ‘That ’70s Line.’ The name was inspired by the sitcom 'That ’70s Show,' which aired on Fox from 1998 to 2006. While the line didn’t last (Pearson broke an ankle midway through last season), the nickname evolved as Dwight King and his No. 74 took his place, creating ‘That ’70s Line 2.0.’
And do you remember 2002’s 'That ’80s Show'? Not many do, which may be why a mix of Chicago’s Patrick Kane (No. 88), Marian Hossa (No. 81), Antoine Vermette (No. 80) and Teuvo Teravainen (No. 86) never caught on as ‘That ’80s Line.’
There have been only a few other witty and fitting numberlines in NHL history:
‘The Deuces Wild Line’ of Simon Gagne (No. 12), Peter Forsberg (No. 21) and Mike Knuble (No. 22), who toiled together with the Philadelphia Flyers from 2005 to 2007. Each sported No. 2 as part of his jersey number.
‘The Crazy Eights Line’ of Eric Lindros (No. 88), Mark Recchi (No. 8) and Brent Fedyk (No. 18) who played for the Philadelphia Flyers in the early 1990s. It referred to the card game with the same name and also that the wingers “crazily” played on their off wings.
‘The Lucky 7s Line’ of Shawn Bates (No. 17), Michael Peca (No. 27) and Mark Parrish (No. 37) who played for the New York Islanders in the early 2000s. Their jerseys all ended with a 7, forming 777.
‘The 7-8-9 Line’ of the early-1980s Quebec Nordiques, where Robbie Ftorek, Marc Tardif and Real Cloutier wore jerseys Nos. 7, 8 and 9. (Perhaps they should have been called ‘The 6 Afraid of 7 Line’ because, of course, 7-ate-9.)
We’re just a coaching decision away from the next great numberline. If a No. 65 lines up with a No. 72 and a No. 97, we could have ‘The Pythagorean Line,’ since 65, 72 and 97 make up a Pythagorean Triple. Or, if a No. 52 teams with a No. 88 and a No. 96, ‘The Untouchable Line’ will be born, because 52, 88 and 96 are untouchable numbers. With so many possible number combinations and many interesting names associated with particular numbers (Aliquot, Frobenius, Frugal, McNugget, Narcissistic, Superperfect, Powerful and others), coining the next numberline is a matter of time…and mathematics.
Egan J. Chernoff (@MatthewMaddux) is an associate professor of mathematics education at the University of Saskatchewan.