Commentary

What makes a great NHL uniform?

Originally Published: August 22, 2012
By Doug McIntyre | ESPN The Magazine

Willie MitchellJeff Vinnick/NHLI/Getty ImagesWillie Mitchell and the Kings won the Stanley Cup as soon as they dropped purple from their uniforms.

Simplicity and continuity are staples of the best NHL uniforms, a group dominated -- not surprisingly -- by the league's Original Six clubs.

It's difficult to argue with the iconic looks of the two-color Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. As far as logos go, the spoked B of the Boston Bruins, the tricolor CH that is ubiquitous in Montreal and the diagonal lettering that instantly identifies the New York Rangers have remained mostly unchanged for decades. The Chicago Blackhawks? Their red away jersey is routinely lauded as among the best in sports.

Of course, NHL lore extends beyond its oldest franchises.

[+] EnlargeJonas Gustavsson, Todd Bertuzzi
Graig Abel/Getty ImagesThe Maple Leafs and Red Wings proudly wear two
of the most esteemed uniform sets in the NHL.

Hockey fans are often praised for their loyalty -- just watch them come back in droves, even if a fourth work stoppage in the past 20 years eats into the beginning of the 2012-13 season. So it makes sense that old-school aesthetics are all the rage across the league right now.

The Philadelphia Flyers' current duds are cleaner than the version they wore just a few years ago.

Last summer, longtime fans of the Los Angeles Kings were delighted when the club dropped purple from its jerseys on the eve of what became a Stanley Cup-winning season. The Kings had tried to straddle history with a nod to both their Lakers-inspired roots and the Wayne Gretzky era of the 1990s. In June, the modern uni that captain Dustin Brown wore when hoisting the Cup still offered a wink to a classic, and it allowed L.A. to go all-in on purple and gold alternates.

The recent proliferation of third jerseys has led to other daring designs. Like the Kings, the Pittsburgh Penguins use completely different colors on their thirds than they do for their primary outfits. Others, like the Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks simply honor the past, even if the new kits aren't necessarily identical to the old.

But all third jerseys aren't created equal. The New York Islanders, who like the Edmonton Oilers finally appeased their long-suffering fans by permanently adopting their 1980s dynasty classics, introduced one so vile that Uni Watch wondered if it was the worst hockey jersey ever.

[+] EnlargeMarty Reasoner, Taylor Hall
Christopher Pasatieri/Getty ImagesThe Islanders and Oilers listened to fans by bringing back the uniforms worn by their 1980s dynasties.

What about teams short on tradition?

With expansion and relocation rampant over the last quarter-century, it's understandable that some of the worst uniforms in the NHL belong to younger teams. At least what the Anaheim Ducks were wearing before 2006 was fun. The Carolina Hurricanes left one of the best brands in the sport behind when they ditched Hartford 15 years ago, and the Cup they won six years ago (a year before the Ducks won theirs) couldn't make their crest any less nondescript.

Other relative newbies have attempted to right early wrongs by embracing simplicity. In the seven weeks since the Minnesota Wild introduced marquee signings Ryan Suter and Zach Parise wearing this gem, it's become the NHL's top seller.

The St. Louis Blues have been around since 1967, long enough to know that their current jerseys are too busy. That said, it is possible to go too simple. Wings legend and current Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman was reportedly behind the Lightning's blue-and-white rebrand. But after nearly 20 years in mostly black, the very blue Bolts just didn't look right, and they've already begun reintroducing their trademark color.

Even Original Six teams can go overboard searching for a simpler look. When Reebok introduced its EDGE uniform system in 2007, the white stripes near the bottom of the Leafs' shirts were gone. Critics said it looked like a practice jersey. By 2010, the stripes were back. The message was clear: When designing a great hockey jersey, tradition is what matters most.

Pretty simple, isn't it?

Doug McIntyre covers the NHL and soccer for ESPN The Magazine

Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has covered American and international soccer since 2002.

ALSO SEE