(Author’s Note: this article was originally published with three players wearing number 39 instead of four. A very observant reader brought this error to our attention, and it has been corrected. We apologize for the omission!)
Today’s installment of our “Who Wore It Best?” series takes a look at the number 39, a number which has received very little exposure during its time with the Avalanche. Four players have worn the number since the franchise arrived in Denver, but which one of them wore the number best?
Maybe the term, “best” is a term that can be used somewhat loosely regarding a couple of the upcoming representatives of number 39, but the final say lies with you, dear reader!
Ville Niemenen (2000-2002)
We start our retrospective on number 39 with Colorado’s third round selection in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft (77th overall), Ville Niemenen. The Tampere, Finland native signed a three year contract with the Avalanche on July 23, 1997, but would not make his debut with the team for over two and a half years. Finally, on January 29, 2000, Niemenen would get his chance, skating in his first career game against the St. Louis Blues. He logged 10:12 in ice time on seventeen shifts, but both he and the rest of his Avalanche teammates would be held off the scoresheet, as the Blues would win by a decisive 4-0 margin.
Niemenen would sign a two year contract with the Avalanche on August 02, 2000. During his first call-up of the 2000-2001 season, he would record his first NHL point on November 16, 2000, earning the primary assist on a Scott Parker goal in the Avalanche’s 6-3 loss to the then-Phoenix Coyotes. He would score his first NHL goal two nights later (with Parker earning the primary assist on his tally), in a 6-4 loss to the Los Angeles Kings.
Niemenen would be returned to Hershey twice more before finally becoming a fixture on the roster in January 2001. He would establish a career high in goals (14) while appearing in 50 regular season games with the Avalanche. During the 2001 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Niemenen played in every single game, becoming an instrumental cog on the fourth line. He recorded his first postseason goal in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Vancouver Canucks–a 2-1 Avalanche victory–on April 14, 2001. Niemenen would record ten points in the postseason (4G/6A), tying him with Ray Bourque for seventh place in points among all Avalanche skaters as they would lay claim to their second Stanley Cup championship.
At the beginning of the 2001-2002 season, Niemenen would switch to number 10, but it wouldn’t stay vacant for long. Niemenen would play in 53 regular season games wearing his new number, recording 24 points (10G/14A) before being traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins along with defenseman Rick Berry on March 19, 2002, in exchange for Darius Kasparaitis.
Jeff Paul (2001-2003)
Our next player didn’t have to wait long to claim number 39 upon his arrival in Denver.
Jeff Paul, the second round selection of the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft (42nd overall), signed to a two year contract with the Avalanche on August 08, 2001. The defenseman made his debut on October 09, 2002, against the Dallas Stars during the Avalanche’s 2002-2003 season opener at Pepsi Center, averaging 3:29 on four shifts of ice time and recording zero points. Paul was one of several players on both sides that didn’t register on the scoresheet as both teams skated to a 1-1 draw, an end result which probably sent the 18,007 fans in attendance to an early bedtime. Any team would want to avoid such a lackluster outcome, especially for a season-opening game at home.
Paul would attempt to rebound in his next appearance for the Avalanche on October 14, 2002, against the Boston Bruins. He would average 3:34 minutes of ice time on three shifts, again recording zero points, but also wound up leading the Avs in penalty minutes with a total of seven (one unsportsmanlike conduct minor, followed by a five minute fighting major later in the game). Fun fact: Peter Forsberg had the second-highest number of penalty minutes (six) in this game (one high sticking minor along with one unsportsmanlike conduct minor and an interference minor- both would be served as a double-minor). Somehow, the Avalanche nearly skated themselves into another 1-1 draw despite the eight minor penalties taken throughout this contest, but a literal last-second power play goal (courtesy of a Milan Hejduk tripping minor) gave the Bruins the 2-1 victory.
Paul was scratched from the Avalanche lineup until he was returned to the Hershey Bears (AHL) on November 04, 2002. He became an unrestricted free agent on July 01, 2003.
The number 39 would take a long, soul-piercing look in the mirror, and exactly three years later, it would see another pair of eyes staring deep into its soul.
(Yeah, you know what’s coming next.)
Tyler Arnason (2006-2009)
Tyler Arnason would be the second player in Avalanche history to shoulder number 39. The former seventh round pick by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft (183rd overall) signed a one year contract with the Avalanche on July 01, 2006. He would make his Avalanche debut on October 04, 2006, in the 2006-2007 season opener against the Dallas Stars at Pepsi Center. Arnason was held off the scoresheet, but was on the ice when Stars forward Darryl Sydor scored the game-winning goal against Jose Theodore in overtime in a 3-2 losing effort for the Avalanche. He would record his first point wearing burgundy and blue (which also was his first Avalanche goal) on October 14, 2006, in a 4-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers.
Arnason would play all 82 games of the 2006-2007 season, tallying 49 points (16G/33A) along with 26 penalty minutes, the first season the Avalanche would miss the playoffs since relocating to Denver from Quebec City. On June 22, 2007, the Oklahoma City native would sign a two year contract with the Avalanche.
Arnason’s production tumbled in his second season in Colorado, skating in 70 regular season contests and recording 31 points (10G/21A), along with 16 penalty minutes, during the regular season. Those totals were good(?) enough to place him ninth among all Avalanche skaters. The Avalanche would qualify for the playoffs that season, with Arnason scoring 5 postseason points (2G/3A) in 10 games. That would be the only postseason appearance for Arnason while playing in Denver: the Avs would miss the playoffs in the 2008-2009 season, with Arnason scoring a paltry 22 points (5G/17A) in 71 regular season games during the campaign. Over his three seasons in burgundy and blue, the one-time top line center skated in 223 regular season games for the Avs, scoring 102 points (31G/71A) and 56 penalty minutes.
Arnason and the Avs would part ways after the 2008-2009 season, but the number 39 wouldn’t have long to wait until it was called back into service once more.
T.J. Galiardi (2009-2012)
Colorado’s second round pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft (55th overall), T.J. Galiardi would take over number 39 on October 01, 2009, at Pepsi Center during the 2009-2010 season opener. Galiardi played 11 games with the Avs the previous season, but spent those games wearing the number 43. He quickly snatched up the vacant number once it became available and spent the remainder of his Avalanche tenure representing it. In his first full season in the NHL, Galiardi would establish career highs in games played (70), goals (15), assists (24) and points (39). He also had a highlight night on February 02, 2010, notching four assists in the Avalanche’s 5-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Galiardi made his first career postseason appearance with the Avalanche in the 2010 Western Conference Quarterfinals against the San Jose Sharks, collecting a pair of assists in the six-game series. He was limited to 35 games in the 2010-2011 season, scoring 15 points (7G/8A) in those contests.
Galiardi signed a one year contract to remain with the Avs on July 12, 2011. That season would be his last in Denver, as the team embarked on what ultimately became a lackluster regular season campaign. As the disappointing season progressed, Galiardi would play in 55 games, scoring 14 points (8G/6A), and set a career high in penalty minutes (47). Upon learning that fellow teammate Dan Winnik was about to be traded as the trade deadline loomed, Galiardi reportedly commented, “Take me with you.” As luck would have it, the hockey gods would grant Galiardi his wish: both players were dealt to San Jose on February 27, 2012, along with a 2013 seventh round pick, in exchange for Jamie McGinn, Mike Connolly, and Michael Sgarbossa.
Galiardi, in three-plus seasons with the Avalanche, would skate in 171 regular season games, scoring 72 points (33G/39A), and adding 93 penalty minutes. By way of comparison, he added 33 points over parts of four NHL seasons playing for San Jose, the Calgary Flames, and Winnipeg Jets combined.
The moral of the T.J. Galiardi story? Be careful what you wish for.
Who wore this number best?[qsm quiz=70]
Thanks for reading!
(Thank you to eliteprospects.com and avalanchedb.com for providing statistics, drafting information, game notes, and contract details used in this article!)