For some odd reason, there’s a little controversy brewing out of Edmonton Oilers camp, as it’s been learned that returning forward Jesse Puljujarvi has switched his jersey number from No. 98, to No. 13. No, the controversy isn’t with Puljujarvi himself or his desire to want to take a new number, it’s more about a debate from some local media, one in particular, that he never should have had it.
Puljujarvi has decided to shed the No. 98, which he chose because it was the year he was born. Instead, he’ll go with the No. 13. Head coach Dave Tippett said, “Players have different thoughts on those things I don’t mind that he changed the number. I think it’s good that he’s got a fresh start.” He added that Puljujarvi is not the same person he was the last time he was an Oiler. This is just a new beginning, and in every aspect.
Others have determined that maybe the number change is less about a fresh start and more about a realization that having a number so close to the NHL retired 99 that belonged to former NHL great Wayne Gretzky was disrespectful. For example, Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal writes:
No it is not OK for a player to wear 98 in the city where 99 was made famous. Don’t care if it year Jesse was born. It is a bad look. just acknowledge there are lots of other numbers and he has taken 13. Good for him in his new start.
For some reason, Matheson believes that taking the number next to 99 is a bad idea. When he was lambasted for his take on social media, Matheson stuck to his guns and followed up with, “Again 98 is closest to 99 which is why only three players in history have worn it.”
Is This Actually Disrespectful?
To us, there’s a reason the NHL chooses to retire “a” number. When they hang a jersey from the rafters — or in this case, the NHL chooses to so no one else can wear it — they hang only that number. The league didn’t hang up the #98, they hung up the #99.
At what point does the idea of retiring a number not take on any meaning, if the insinuation is that because one number is hung up, that the numbers beside it are off limits too? Remember, this is a team where Connor McDavid wears the No. 97. Is that not too close? Or, is this different because it’s McDavid?
A Few Important Things to Remember Here
First, this is not on Jesse Puljujarvi. Before anyone goes and says something to effect, ‘This is why players hate it in Edmonton. The media makes something out of nothing and players feel attacked.’… we’re not saying that, and we hope Matheson isn’t saying it either.
It’s completely natural for Puljujarvi to want to wear the number on his jersey for the year he was born. There is a huge contingent of NHLers who do so.
Second, it’s key to remember that Matheson’s heyday as a reporter for the Oilers was at a time that Gretzky was an absolute legend. If there’s a bias there, it’s understandable. Whether he feels as though he’s defending The Great One’s honor or not, his being a bit touchy regarding the subject may be outdated thinking. Still, he’s not alone.
At the end of the day, our money would be on the fact that it would have never even occurred to Gretzky himself that a number he never wore should be respected in his honor. He probably doesn’t give two sh-ts about the fact that the No. 98 isn’t being worn or that players and media around the city are trying to defend the idea that it’s off limits. If he doesn’t care, why should anyone else?
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