From the second the Red Wings started courting Mike Modano, much was made over what number he would wear for Detroit if he ended up playing for his hometown team. He had worn No. 9 for almost all of his career, but since that is retired in Detroit and Modano wasn't about to ask Gordie Howe to use it, he had to consider other options.
With No. 9 out of the question, Modano turned his sights to No. 6 when he signed with the Red Wings.
“I wanted No. 6, but they told me about Larry Aurie,” said Modano, referring to Aurie, who played between 1927-39, and had his number retired by former Wings owner James Norris.
“I thought it would be easy to just flip 9 to 6,” Modano said. “I would have loved 6, but maybe 90.”
Aurie's No. 6 doesn't hang from the rafters of Joe Louis Arena with the other retired numbers because Mike Ilitch never recognized it when each of the previously-retired numbers were honored. In fact, Ilitch had Aurie's No. 6 taken off the list of retired numbers in the NHL Guide back in 2000. The reason behind Ilitch never recognizing the No. 6 with the other retired numbers is apparently because Aurie is not a member of the Hall of Fame, but even so, the number is kept out of circulation (Vladimir Konstantinov's No. 16 is also kept out of circulation).
So, with Modano unable to just flip his No. 9 into a No. 6, he ultimately decided to add a zero to the number, making it a 90. That is how he landed on the number he will wear for the Red Wings, and he is only the fifth player in the history of the franchise to wear a number in the 90s. He is the first to wear his new number, as the other numbers in the 90s worn so far are 91 (Sergei Fedorov), 93 (Johan Franzen), 95 (Danny Markov) and 96 (Tomas Holmstrom).