Aesthetics matter in hockey.
The player with the wooliest thicket of playoff beard competes with the might of King Leonidas of Sparta. The team that gets the spiffy state-of-the-art arena stands just a bit taller in its skates. I think the New York Islanders are a playoff team this season not because they have coach Barry Trotz’s goal-repellant defensive system, but because they’re going to play 41 games at UBS Arena, which has as many player-friendly amenities as Nassau Coliseum had “Danger, Asbestos, Do Not Enter” signs.
Aesthetics matter most in hockey uniforms. The New Jersey Devils didn’t start winning Stanley Cups until they stopped looking like they should be hung next to a strand of garland on a Douglas Fir. The Pittsburgh Penguins adopted their throwback alternates as their primary jerseys in the 2016-17 season and won two straight Stanley Cups. The Buffalo Sabres went back to their classic logo in 2010 and … well, every rule has its exceptions.
As proclaimed in “Hamlet,” “apparel oft proclaims the man.” That was one of the motivations for the Arizona Coyotes making the Kachina jersey their primary one, beginning this season. The Kachina logo is cool. The Coyotes … less so. I asked defenseman Jakob Chychrun if looking good meant playing good for Arizona.
“They’re better looking [uniforms]. Maybe it brings out something better in the guys, too,” he said.
They’re not the only NHL team that’s in need of a uniform refresh. We’ve targeted six sweaters that are in dire need of a makeover. Some have worn out their welcome. Some have never really been welcome.
But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As a check and balance on our fashion critiques, we’ve enlisted the help of an expert: Chris Smith, founder and editor of the hockey uniform news and analysis site Icethetics.com. (Which, hopefully, you’re already reading.)
Please join us as we channel our inner Miranda Priestly, curl our lip and demand a new fall collection for …
When the Coyotes announced their Kachina jerseys, my mentions were filled with Ducks fans asking, “Anaheim, when?” The Ducks have had the webbed “D” as their primary jersey since the 2014-15 season, teasing fans with an orange alternate jersey that features the previously mocked, now-iconic Mighty Ducks logo.
The Disney+ reboot of “The Mighty Ducks” flipped the script and made them the baddies, thus making the world safe for Anaheim to reclaim its mighty roots without having the rest of the NHL making “knuckle puck” references. Keep the colors, drop the “D” and fly together again.
Icethetics’ take: Agree. Black jerseys are starting to become too prevalent again in hockey. Plus, who doesn’t love the old Mighty Ducks logo? I’m up for seeing it come back, maybe with a few modern design touches. And keep the current colors. That orange third jersey always looks great on the ice. Save the eggplant and jade color palette for special occasions and level out those angular stripes.
The Hurricanes have always had a bit of a defiant streak: Please recall the guttural grumbling of hockey traditionalists when Carolina celebrated victories with on-ice games of “Duck, Duck, Goose.” That they’ve kept the “Toilet Flush” logo in circulation since relocating to Raleigh in 1997 is certainly of a piece with that streak.
Owner Tom Dundon has relegated that logo to the team’s home jerseys, opting for a diagonal “CANES” on the road. It’s a team that could use an overhaul, and one you could imagine attaining a new level of success with fresh threads. The pedestrian nature of the Hurricanes’ logo is underscored when they wear their Hartford Whalers heritage throwbacks, aka one of the greatest insignias in sports history.
Icethetics’ take: On the fence. Four jerseys. Four separate layouts. Four different crests. It is hard to justify the lack of uniformity in their uniforms. But the real offender here is the white jersey. Text is bad. An abbreviated nickname is worse. But this team has always broken with hockey tradition, so you have to admire its ability to stay on brand.
I recognize that the Avalanche have some tradition tied into this logo, the one worn by Joe Sakic as he raised two Stanley Cups for Colorado. But it’s bad. And it has always been bad: My friend Paul Lukas ranked them 29th in the NHL back in 2013.
At best, the Avalanche logo looks like something out of an illustrated children’s book about the alphabet. At worst, it looks like an alpine-themed log flume. The colors are great. But every season, this team is like someone vacationing in Aspen who never hits the slopes. Embrace the Yeti!
Icethetics’ take: Disagree. I’m on board with the slow elimination of black from the Avalanche’s uniforms. I admit it’s a bit visually startling to see them finally make this change with the gear and now the numbers, but the blue and burgundy is such a unique color combination in the league. Colorado should lean into it more, just like they’re doing. People will get used to it … the same way they got used to that out-of-place black gear for so long.
The Kings have had some majestic jerseys through the years — the “Triple Crown” purple and gold and the Wayne Gretzky-era silver and black remain iconic. L.A. has had this black-and-white pencil-point logo since 2011, and it’s … fine? But after seeing the Kings’ Reverse Retro jerseys, that married the 1980s Lakers-adjacent colors with the Gretzky-era logo, there’s no going back. It’s like eating sushi at a tucked-away counter in Tokyo and then going back to having California rolls at a mall food court.
Icethetics’ take: Agree. It’s been 10 years since the Kings eliminated any color from their style guide, and they’ve been worse off for it ever since. I wouldn’t advocate going back to the “Forum blue and gold” look, but some brighter purple accents amid all that black and silver would probably go a long way. The logo on the other hand? Let’s go back to the drawing board and get something fresh. This one’s just too dull.
The angry orca breaking out of the frozen “C” has been the Canucks’ primary logo since 1997. To timestamp it: The logo has been on the front of their sweaters from Mark Messier playing in Vancouver to Mark Messier talking about Vancouver as an ESPN analyst. (Plug!)
Let it be said that the Canucks’ color scheme is ideal, but the team has had so many other awesome logos — the hockey stick, the “Flying V” and most of all the “electric skate” — that this whale has paled in comparison. Can we finally get a Johnny Canuck jersey?
Icethetics’ take: Agree. I know a lot of people my age are partial to the “spaghetti skate” throwback, but those colors never really felt like Vancouver to me. And that crest was too detailed. The orca is far from perfect, but it’s probably the best logo the team has worn. The problem is it was designed for a completely different color scheme. The blue and green are great, so maybe it’s time for a rethink on the logo? Something that really says “Canucks.”
I appreciate that the Capitals won their only Stanley Cup in these threads, a millennial upgrade of the sweaters they wore for the first two decades of their existence. I also appreciate that other Capitals jerseys are significantly worse than these: Witness their Stadium Series “W” and Capitol Dome jerseys. But what was cutting edge in 2007 looks dated now. This is the Windows Vista of NHL sweaters.
Icethetics’ take: Agree. Wordmarks have no place on a hockey uniform. Your symbol should tell us who you are. No need to spell it out. (I’m not even sure the Rangers should get a pass when they have Lady Liberty waiting in the wings. I know, sacrilege. But this isn’t about them.) Where’s the Weagle? The shoulder patch is easily the Capitals’ best logo, yet it’s never appeared on the front of a sweater. And I don’t understand why.
1. I got a glimpse of the five-episode Amazon Studios docuseries on the 2020-21 Toronto Maple Leafs season, and it’s really terrific. (The series will premiere exclusively in North America on Prime Video on Friday.)
Having a few months to craft a narrative, rather than editing each episode week-to-week like other reality shows, really sets it apart. The legend of Joe Thornton grows. The inner workings of the Maple Leafs, from Kyle Dubas to the “core four,” are laid bare. We even meet the team barber to find out more about Jack Campbell‘s flow.
My favorite innovation: Having actor Will Arnett narrate the show, not as some omnipotent voice (or Lego Batman) but as a lifelong Maple Leafs fan. He uses “we” to describe the team, and in the process, brings us all a little closer to it.
2. If you recall the fate of the Leafs last season, then there’s obviously one incident you want to see covered in an all-access manner: the injury to John Tavares in Game 1 against Montreal that ended the Leafs captain’s playoffs. The episode lulls you in with scenes of Tavares and his family, and with hype for the postseason series between rivals.
And then wham, Corey Perry‘s inadvertent knee to Tavares’ head transforms the tone of the show in an instant. The conversations at the Leafs bench as Tavares is loaded onto a stretcher and the aftermath in the GM’s office with a team doctor … it’s all powerful stuff.
3. My favorite scene: The Leafs coaches are chatting after a second consecutive overtime loss to Montreal erased a 3-1 series lead and forced Game 7. Assistant coach Paul MacLean plays the role of that old sage who has seen some things, man, and breaks down the mental state of the players.
“They got demons in their heads. They got them in their car. They got them under their beds. Everywhere they turn, there’s a demon,” he said, sounding like a world-weary priest in a horror film. “The biggest obstacle this team has right now is itself.” Touché.
Winners and losers of the week
Winner: Jalen Smereck
The victim of a revolting racist taunt from HC Kremenchuk forward Andrei Deniskin in the Ukrainian Hockey League, Smereck has handled this difficult situation with the proper notes of grace and rightful outrage. My heart went out to him when we spoke this week, when he told me how he’s faced incidents of racism at every level of hockey in which he’s competed — and how hearing a slur is different than having a racist taunt directed at him caught on video.
“With words, not everyone hears them. You hear it, maybe a couple of other people. So you can kind of avoid it. It was a lot easier to get through those. But my phone’s going off every 20 seconds. It’s kind of hard to get away from it. You try to not think about it, but then five minutes later you’re thinking about it again. It’s a tough situation,” he said.
Banner week for the Ukrainian Hockey League. The UHL miscommunicated the details of Deniskin’s suspension — he has to serve the full 13 games, and can’t pay a fine to get out of 10 games of the ban, which was the initial report. Even Smereck was under the impression that Deniskin would only serve three games.
The UHL also admitted that 10 games was the most it could hand out for an act like this, which seems ridiculous. The league will review the rule in the offseason.
Winner: Pressure points
The NHL will have around 99% of its players vaccinated as the season starts on Oct. 12. Some of this is a byproduct of Hockey Culture. The same “logo on the front, not the name on the back” mindset that can make the NHL too exclusive and myopic has compelled vaccine-hesitant players to conform, and get the shot(s) that their teammates have.
But some of that high vaccination rate comes from the NHL’s decision to not seek the same kind of Canadian travel exemption for players that the NBA did. Combine that with other protocols that make life unpalatable for unvaccinated players, and the pressure points were potent.
New Jersey Devils goalie Mackenzie Blackwood didn’t get into his reasons for choosing not to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, and that’s his right. But when he said “I care about every single person in that dressing room and I would never want to put them in a situation where I make their job on the ice harder or put them in a position to lose” while taking himself out of a minimum of nine games and countless team activities … that’s hard to square.
Winner: Jack Johnson
The 34-year-old veteran defenseman is in Colorado Avalanche camp on a professional tryout contract, and had a goal and an assist in his preseason debut. “If I have a chance to help this team win a Stanley Cup then I’m absolutely thrilled about it,” he said. “I’m at that point in my career where winning is … you don’t have that many chances left. This team I believe has as good of a chance as any.”
Loser: Evander Kane
Sportsnet reports that after the gambling investigation and during the investigation into “serious accusations relating to his past behavior” toward his wife, Anna Kane, the NHL is also looking into “allegations of inappropriate behavior potentially jeopardizing the health and safety of Club members.” In other words, a potential violation of COVID-19 protocols. The Sharks aren’t commenting.
Winners: Chris Johnston and Alison Lukan
Congratulations to two of the hardest-working and kindest-hearted people in the hockey media. After parting ways with Sportsnet, Johnston got a personal dream gig writing for the Toronto Star, a new podcast on the burgeoning Steve Dangle Network and then joined the elite collection of insiders at TSN. Well played.
Meanwhile, Lukan made her debut as a TV analyst for the Seattle Kraken. She’s been one of the leading voices in the hockey analytics community for years, someone with the unique ability to take data-driven concepts and spin them into easily digestible narratives. And now she gets to show and tell. We like it when good things happen to good people.
To repeat, and scream it louder for the hockey snobs in the back: There is absolutely nothing wrong with a rules primer for fans in a new hockey market, like this one in the Seattle Times. We want more people at the party. They’re going to find their way there if you give them some directions.
Good piece on Brian Boyle pushing for a job with the Pittsburgh Penguins. “There’s things that I can still do,” Boyle said. “If I get an opportunity, I’m going to try to do it. There’s not going to be any regrets at the end of it, no matter what.”
I still don’t know how I feel about an evening Winter Classic in Minnesota. Although, anything to get out of having to write another story about sun glare …
Down Goes Brown identifies 22 intriguing names to watch this season. On Avalanche GM Joe Sakic: “We talk about GMs being on the hot seat in terms of job security, and that’s certainly not the case in Colorado. But that doesn’t mean Sakic won’t be under all sorts of pressure as the season plays out.”
This is a little late, but I really enjoyed this roundtable on the NWHL’s rebranding.
A look at the first Kraken game in Spokane. “Winning is nice, but the launch of the Kraken experience felt bigger. The wait was over, and instead of debating about arena sites and parking, we can now talk about the Kraken forecheck that pinned Vancouver in its own zone for most of the night.”
Idaho Falls is getting a new hockey team. Fans can name it. One of the suggestions is the “Idaho Falls Tater Skaters.” I believe the competition is over.
From your friends at ESPN
The 2021-22 NHL goalie tandem rankings stirred much debate and outrage — some of it outside of Montreal!