There were 15 NHL players to wear the number nine this past season, but if Wayne Gretzky gets his wish, they will be the last to do so.

Hockey great Gretzky has called for the NHL to retire the number made famous by the late Gordie Howe, who died last Friday at the age of 88.

"I'm pretty biased," Gretzky told ESPN during the public visitation for Howe at Joe Louis Arena. "If I had my way, I would do it.

"But that's for the league. I'm not involved with the league right now. But listen, whatever they choose to do is going to be very special because Gordie deserves something really special and unique.

"I don't think anybody helped promote, support the game, the sport or our country better than Gordie Howe. He was proud to be a Canadian, proud to be from Saskatchewan.

"And I don't think the NHL is going to overlook the fact of how important he was to the game, so I'm sure they are going to do something real special for him."

Howe spent 25 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, who retired his number in 1972. The Hartford Whalers, where Howe played his final NHL season in 1979-80, also retired his number in 1981.

"He was everything to me," Gretzky told reporters on Tuesday. "He was a second father. He was a mentor. We played golf together. We did commercials together. We had a lot of time for each other doing things together.

"Now, had we played a lot against each other in the 1960s, we would have battled each other until the end. But I was lucky enough to be part of it today, and it was something that I'll never forget."