Our beloved site founder Robert Lefebvre had it right last summer... it's time for regular players for the Habs to ditch their rookie camp assigned high numbers and choose the lower numbers that actually are still available for the Habs. So with that in mind, it's nice to hear that David Desharnais was given the option to switch his number, and did so, upon receiving his first one-way NHL contract. Desharnais is currently pencilled in as one of the bottom two centres on the team for next season, likely the #3 to start the season as Lars Eller recovers from offseason shoulder surgery.
What spoiled the news? The young man chose the number 51. I'm pretty sure he was the first in the history of the sport to choose such an odd number. The number is best remembered in Habs history as being worn by 5'8" defenseman Francis Bouillon, so perhaps it was an ode to diminutive Francophones. As nice of an excuse as that might have been, the truth is way more boring:
"I wore No.15 as a kid until I started playing pro," explained Desharnais, who recently signed a two-year deal with the Canadiens. "That was taken so I went with No.51. I’m pretty happy to have a number that really feels like mine."
Desharnais was given #51 by the esteemed Cincinatti Cyclones of the ECHL. That's right, the esteemed history of the Montreal Canadiens is now being influenced by the fact that #15 was taken by a man named Avery Wilson, who scored all of one goal the previous season and only dressed for 32 games in a league 2 levels below the NHL. Desharnais is now so comfortable with this number that he CHOSE IT OVER HIS FAVOURITE NUMBER GROWING UP. That's right, #15 is available: Jeff Halpern wore it last year, and he has since moved back to his own roots, returning to his hometown Washington Capitals.
I admit to having a soft spot for #15, for the same reasons Desharnais had, as I wore that number playing youth hockey, soccer, and basketball. Sergei Samsonov nearly ruined the number for me as a Habs fan, but Glen Metropolit and Halpern have made it respectable again. Perhaps Desharnais was scared by the fact that a fellow pint sized offensive forward in Samsonov had such bad luck with the number, while Bouillon gave #51 a good run. Hockey players are a superstitious lot, anything is possible.
But come on, David. High numbers are for the rookies, which is why you got it in Cincinatti and Hamilton. #15 is for established players LIKE YOU. Just so you know, you lost a potential jersey sale with this choice.
If pattern holds, several players will be up for potential jersey switches this season. Max Pacioretty has established himself as a bonafide NHL player, and can choose to ditch the #67. Ditto for Yannick Weber and #68, Ryan White and #53, P.K. Subban and #76, and Lars Eller's #81. It's bad enough that the team has two veteran defensemen wearing #75 and #79... it might get worse if some of these rookies don't choose a good number, as newcomer Alexei Yemelin has been known to wear #74 in Russia. Weber once wore #77 during the 2010 Olympics... we could have five D with numbers in the 70's, which would be really tough to watch.
I'm not in the business of choosing new numbers for these players. Obviously, Erik Cole should get first choice, and his #26 that he's worn with distinction with Carolina is currently taken by veteran defenseman Josh Gorges. Peter Budaj will likely get a typical goalie number (30, 34, 35), but his #31 from Colorado isn't available. While these veterans deserve their choice of digits, hopefully the youngsters see the light and choose something that isn't an eyesore.
The number of retired sweaters by the Habs definitely plays a role in this... a lot of players can't use the number they grew up with. Lars Eller wore #16 as a young pro in Sweden, and on Denmark's national team. Yannick Weber wore #77 at the Olympics, but wore #7 for Switzerland at the World Juniors and #5 for the Kitchener Rangers. Pacioretty wore #23 in the USHL and for the Hamilton Bulldogs (he wore #39 with Michigan). #23, oddly enough, was also the preferred number of Andrei Kostitsyn, who wears #46 in Montreal as a result (23 times 2). Both Pacioretty and Kostitsyn were drafted by Bob Gainey, the reason that number is out of circulation. Mathieu Darche wore #12 for McGill, which is also retired. Andrei Markov never made the switch from #79 to the #25 he wore for Dynamo Moscow, even though it has come available. Hal Gill similarly avoided the #25 of his younger NHL days for some reason, choosing #75 instead. Their choices could be Ryan White's gain: he wore #25 for the Calgary Hitmen, as well as for the Bulldogs.
Subban might be waiting a year to get the #6 he wore in the OHL (currently worn by Jaroslav Spacek), so if he returns next year with 76 I'll grant him some slack. Tomas Plekanec similarly had to wait for his #14 to become available. The others have a choice to make, and there are some good numbers still available! And if you should choose #15, you'd get to become one of my favourites. Unless your last name is Samsonov, that is.
Available Jerseys Under #30: 8, 15, 17, 20, 22, 24, 25, 27, 28.