William Nylander recently announced that he will be changing his jersey number from 29 to 88. While the announcement has caused some controversy, it has given us the chance to reflect on previous times that Toronto Maple Leafs players have changed their numbers.
Here are ten players who changed their numbers while wearing a Maple Leafs uniform. Preseason numbers have not been included and switching numbers on signing with the team also doesn’t count. It has to be a switch involving the player wearing both numbers with the Maple Leafs.
Before his name became synonymous with Canadian coffee, Tim Horton was a star defenceman for the Maple Leafs. Horton began his career with Toronto in 1949-50 but it wasn’t until 1952-53 that he became a staple of the organization. During his early seasons with the team, he wore number 16 before changing to his more recognizable number 7 for the 1953-54 season.
Horton wore number 7 for the remainder of his time with the Maple Leafs, becoming the best player to ever wear the number for the team. He was traded to the New York Rangers during the 1969-70 season. Following his death in 1974, Toronto honoured his number 7 in a ceremony on Nov. 21, 1995. The number was later officially retired by the team in 2016.
Kasperi Kapanen has used three different numbers during his tenure with Toronto. It took several seasons for him to earn an everyday role on the Maple Leafs roster and each of his first three seasons saw him wear a different number.
The speedy winger began his career wearing number 37, albeit only for nine games in 2015-2016. The following season, his number was changed to 28. While he only managed to play eight games during the regular season, he did score the game-winning-goal in Game 2 against the Washington Capitals in the playoffs. Finally, Kapanen changed to number 24 for the 2017-18 season.
He has worn the number since, at last securing a full-time roster spot in 2018-19. He scored a career high 20 goals and 24 assists, leading to a three-year contract extension this offseason.
Connor Brown was one of many players to have their rookie seasons in 2016-17. He made an impact, scoring 20 goals, which remains his career high. During his rookie season, Brown wore number 12 but this changed when the Leafs signed Patrick Marleau on July 1, 2017.
Marleau had worn number 12 since the 2001-02 season and Brown relinquished the number to the veteran upon his arrival in Toronto. He switched to the now-available number 28. Brown’s production took a hit in the following two seasons, eventually leading to his departure from Toronto in July 2019. He was traded to the Ottawa Senators along with Nikita Zaitsev for defenseman Cody Ceci.
Long-time Maple Leaf Nik Antropov was another player who went through multiple number changes. He made his debut in 1999-2000 wearing number 9. He was a solid contributor, scoring a combined 47 points in a pair of shortened seasons.
He changed his number to 11 for the 2001-02 season, before changing it again to 80 upon the arrival of Owen Nolan in 2003. Antropov went on to score a total of 291 points with the Maple Leafs before being dealt to the Rangers in 2009.
Nylander may be in the news for changing his number this summer, but it is not the first time he has done it. He began his career with the Maple Leafs during the 2015-16 season wearing number 39. He played about a quarter of the season, totaling 22 games while the team finished in last place. The following season, he changed his number to 29 where it would stay until this upcoming season.
Nylander got plenty of grief from fans when he held out until Dec. 2, 2018 to sign his contract extension. Much of that grief has carried over, with some now criticizing him for switching to number 88. The number was worn by Eric Lindros during the “Big E’s” brief time with the Maple Leafs which is enough to anger the anti-Nylander crowd. Lindros has gone out of his way to wish Nylander luck with his old number, meaning it probably is not that big a deal.
Wilf Paiement owns the dubious distinction of being one of only three players to ever wear the number 99 in the NHL. He began his stint with the Maple Leafs in 1979-80 and wore number 14. After his first season, he changed to number 99. Paiement is the only Maple Leafs player to ever wear the number.
He put up solid numbers in his relatively short time in Toronto. During the 1980-81 season, Paiement scored 97 points, a career high. After playing 69 games of the 1981-82 season with the Maple Leafs, he was traded to the Quebec Nordiques, which was also the end of his days wearing number 99.
You know what’s happened to that number since then.
The former Maple Leafs captain is best known for wearing number 10 but that is not the number that he wore when his career began. George Armstrong made his NHL debut in 1949-50 when he played only two games. Until 1955-56, Armstrong wore either number 20 or number 15 before finally settling on his iconic 10.
Armstrong served as Maple Leafs captain from 1958-69 before retiring after the 1970-71 season, with 713 points. Armstrong’s number 10 was honoured by the organization on Feb. 28, 1998 before being officially retired in 2016. He retired as a four-time Stanley Cup champion and remains the all-time leader in games played by a Maple Leaf.
Pavel Kubina wore a different number in each of his three seasons as a Toronto Maple Leaf. The former All-Star signed a four-year deal with Toronto in 2006. That season, he scored a disappointing 21 points in 61 games while wearing the number 73. He bounced back the next season, scoring 40 points while donning the number 31.
Finally, Kubina changed his number once again for the 2008-09 season, settling on number 77. He managed to duplicate his results from the previous season, scoring 40 points in 82 games. That offseason he was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers where he continued to don the number 77.
Ted Kennedy is known for two numbers. He grew up wearing number 9 in honour of his ideol, Maple Leaf Charlie Conacher. Upon his NHL debut, Kennedy was presented with the number 9 from Conacher but because the number was being worn by Lorne Carr he went with number 10 instead.
Kennedy wore number 10 for 12 seasons. He won five Stanley Cups with the team and became just the second Maple Leaf ever to win the Hart Trophy as league MVP. For his final season in the NHL, Kennedy switched his number to number 9. He ended his career wearing the number he had worn in junior hockey and Toronto retired his number 9 in 2016.
James van Riemsdyk
James van Riemsdyk joined the Maple Leafs for the lockout-shortened 2013 season. He was a reliable winger and he proved to be a decent goal-scorer during his time in Toronto. When he arrived, he wore the number 21. For each of his first four seasons he wore that number before it was retired at the beginning of the 2016-17 season.
The number was retired in honour of Borje Salming and van Riemsdyk was forced to change his number to 25. During the next two seasons, JVR excelled as a goal-scorer, with 29 goals in 2016-17 and a career-high 36 goals in 2017-18. After the 2017-18 season, he returned to the Philadelphia Flyers, ending his six-season tenure as a Maple Leaf.
Maple Leafs legend Frank Mahovlich is best known for wearing number 27. He spent 11 seasons wearing the number with the team but at the very beginning of his career he wore another number. During the 1956-57 season, Mahovlich played in three games with Toronto when he wore number 26.
Mahovlich would make Toronto’s roster the following season, now wearing his classic number 27. He went on to score 36 points in 67 games to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie. In March of 1968, Toronto traded Mahovlich to the Detroit Red Wings, ending his time with the Maple Leafs.
The team elected to honour Mahovlich and his number 27 in a ceremony on Oct. 3, 2001. Just over 15 years later, his number was permanently retired by the team in 2016. He is still considered one of the best Maple Leafs ever.
Brian Joyce is a graduate of Ryerson University’s Sport Media program. For better or worse, Brian is a lifelong Toronto Maple Leafs fan. In addition to hockey, Brian also enjoys watching baseball, basketball, football, lacrosse and pro wrestling. Brian also works as an editor for WrestleTalk.com and as a digital content producer for Chikara Pro Wrestling.