The day before the Boston Bruins retired Ray Bourque’s No. 77, October 3, 2001, Paul Coffey, also No. 77, officially retired. In a twist of fate, the final NHL team Coffey played for was the Bruins. He chose not to wear No. 77 out of respect for Bourque, who had been traded to the Avalanche just four months before Coffey signed with the Bruins. Instead, Coffey would end his career wearing No. 74.
Coffey and Bourque practically followed parallel careers as defensemen. The Edmonton Oilers drafted Coffey (as the sixth pick) in 1980, the year after Bourque joined the Bruins and Gretzky the Oilers. Coffey and Bourque both wore No. 7 until 1987 and then No. 77 thereafter. That was the year, after seven season with them, that Coffey left the Oilers for the Pittsburg Penguins. He had won three Stanley Cup championships with Edmonton and then, in 1991, helped Pittsburg earn their first.
The two men sporting 7 and 77 vied for highest-scoring defenseman. Coffey took the lead early on. His 48 goals in the 1985-1986 season surpassed Bruins Bobby Orr’s record of 46 goals in one season. That record still stands for NHL defensemen, and Coffey remains the only defenseman to top 40 goals in more than one season. On October 17, 1991, Coffey broke Denis Potvin’s defenseman records for career assists (742) and points (1,052). Coffey finished his career with 396 goals and 1531 points (in 1409 games), coming in second to Bourque.
Both Coffey and Bourque retired in 2001, after 21 and 22 seasons, respectively. They were inducted together into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004. On October 19, 2005, the Oilers hoisted Coffey’s No. 7 to the rafters.