With the dust now settled, fanbases have surely come to terms with how they feel about their team’s new Reverse Retro jerseys. What’s also become clear is that while select organizations took advantage of this opportunity to be expressive, others failed to speak up at all. And the majority of these designs share a middle ground of mediocrity, at best, in their rebranding efforts. Indisputable winners and losers have emerged.
Some clubs played it safe by modernizing an already familiar look and others took the chance they were granted to be more adventurous. It should come as no surprise that those with a bold approach stand out amongst the crowd, as the ones with fewer revisions can be easy to miss.
As subjective as judging jersey designs can already be, it seemed far too arbitrary to fixate on the more minor differences to justify which earns 10th place and the one that lands in 25th. Instead of attempting to rank all 31 designs from worst to first, I’ll highlight the handful that either rose to the top of the pile or await a wrinkled fate at the bottom.
Flat Out Failures
Alongside the anticipation that the league built up prior to launching the full set of Reverse Retro jerseys, came the crashing down of expectations across a number of fanbases. Despite varying durations of franchise history, each had an equal opportunity to give their supporters something unique to be excited about at a time when hockey hasn’t been able to do much of that. Unfortunately, these teams flat out failed to do so.
Bad: New York Islanders
As the New York Islanders attempted to revisit their dynasty of the 1980s, reimagining stars like Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier hoisting four Stanley Cups in a row, this jersey does little to tantalize. What we see is a basic change, at best. Essentially, this is a revival of their Cup-winning home jersey but coloured in with a tone of blue already familiar to the franchise.
It would seem as though the Islanders misunderstood the goal at hand with this project. What they created looks like the same thing I remember watching them wear before it even existed. For a supposedly new design, how is that possible? This team has a rich history and an uprise in present-day potential, with far more to pull from than what they put together. New York really missed the boat on this one.
Worse: Boston Bruins
For an Original Six franchise, it was somewhat surprising that the Boston Bruins looked to the 1990s for inspiration. Yes, greats like Ray Bourque and Cam Neely both wore the Boston sweater with pride, but the 90s weren’t an era defined by winning for the city. Plus, adding a bear crest that’s outdated enough you can’t help but notice yet not so old that it comes across as classic didn’t really clear things up.
When your branding is already amongst the most boring in the league, an open landscape to infuse more personality into your look should not be taken lightly. And making it brighter doesn’t mean it’ll be highlighted for the right reasons. Unfortunately, the bite from this one just doesn’t match that typical Boston bark.
Worst: Detroit Red Wings
Sticking with the theme of disappointment from out of the foundation of the league is the Detroit Red Wings. Although they began their existence back in 1926, they chose to honour a look reminiscent of their 1998 Stanley Cup. An understandable nod to current general manager and former captain Steve Yzerman, but a disregard for a fanbase desperate for something more to celebrate.
No, adding a grey stripe to remind the city of their involvement in the NHL Centennial Classic in 2017 isn’t reason enough to cheer, especially given that the Red Wings lost that game. Their recent on-ice struggles would suggest there is more work to be done, so perhaps sporting a jersey in regular gameplay that mirrors what they’d wear at practice was their goal all along. I can’t see why this one would fly off the shelves.
Best of the Bunch
When it comes to finding a commonality amongst the Reverse Retro jerseys that stand out for all the right reasons, they all share in their success of effectively blending what was and what is. These teams dominated this challenge, creating ways to combine a respect for their past with modern appeal perfect for today’s game.
Great: Los Angeles Kings
Having had the greatest player of all time suit up for their franchise, it only made sense that the Los Angeles Kings somehow reflected Wayne Gretzky in their design. They did just that by including their crest from the 1990s, which was the same one Gretzky wore when he became the league’s all-time leading scorer in 1989. A suitable and subtle tribute that didn’t go unnoticed.
Where the Kings really earned their crown is in the design’s representation that not only spans decades, but the city as a whole. Encapsulating a logo from the 90s alongside colours that scream the 60s and 70s, while spanning the Los Angeles sports scene with how it all came together, created a piece of art fit for royalty.
Better: Carolina Hurricanes
Ever since their relocation to Raleigh in 1997, the hockey world’s collective fondness towards the Hartford Whalers has only grown. And the Carolina Hurricanes are comfortable enough in their own skin to recognize and respect that, so much so that they went back to where it all began and designed this new jersey based on what the Whalers wore during their inaugural season in 1979.
What could come across as dull to the naive onlooker, diligent decision making justifies why this jersey is predominantly grey. That is the only colour shared between the branding for both the Hurricanes and Whalers. Using it here ties them even closer together. Grey looks good on you, Carolina. And finding room to fit the vintage whale logo creates waves between this jersey and its competition.
Best: Colorado Avalanche
We no longer have to travel back in time to 1995 to relive the days when the Quebec Nordiques were still in the league, with the Colorado Avalanche’s visual resurrection of the franchise that preceded them. Stretching the reflection further, this design ties in Quebec’s inaugural look from 1979 while reminding us that it was worn by Hall of Famers Michel Goulet, Peter Forsberg, and Joe Sakic.
Yes, NHL, this is the best Reverse Retro jersey. It somehow transcends the idea of being iconic. This special design simultaneously surprises and pleases the eyes in a way only the Avalanche were able to achieve. Whether you’re focused on the fleurs-de-lis that represent Quebec’s French culture or imagining that igloo on ice once again, the colour scheme makes it clear that you’re still cheering for Colorado.
Bringing this branding to even greater heights is the jersey’s snowy white background, which connects a commonality in northern traits amongst Colorado and Quebec. The Nordiques for their Canadian location relative to the rest of the league and the Avalanche for the snow often found at the elevation of their city. With the synergy Colorado was able to create, they can confidently hoist their Reverse Retro design higher than the rest.
Fans Come First
While the Islanders, Bruins, and Red Wings seemingly put forth a last-minute effort as though this was a project they never wanted to take on in the first place, we can be grateful that the Kings, Hurricanes, and Avalanche stepped in to pick up the slack.
Beyond our personal favourites or backing the teams we support most, respect is due to the organizations that did this the right way. These Reverse Retro designs infused some timely excitement back into the game and that’s something all hockey fans can get behind and support, collectively.
Design details courtesy of: Press release from the NHL and Adidas.
Freelance thinker, paying too much attention to digital aesthetic. Oxford comma enthusiast. Spider-Man supporter. Sports fan, with two favourite hockey teams. If the Blackhawks and Maple Leafs ever meet in the Stanley Cup Final, you can find me wherever they’re playing that night.
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