The NHL season is now upon us and as mandated by my Canadian passport, I’m obligated to make some sort of hockey-related post. In a former life, I used to work at a store that sold jerseys, with NHL jerseys being our most popular sellers, so this is a subject near and dear to my heart. Of the four major North American sports leagues (we here in Canada still like to think of the NHL as being part of the four major North American sports leagues, and in fact aren’t so sure if the other three measure up), I’d say that hockey lends itself best to providing really ugly jerseys. Most of this has to do with the simple fact that hockey jerseys (or sweaters as traditionalists like to call them, even though they stopped being sweaters sometime around the advent of colour TVs) are the biggest jerseys, and thus provide a bigger canvass for people with no taste to mess with. It doesn’t help that NHL teams aren’t exactly run by the savviest of marketers (when much of the talent and front office personal in a sport come from backwater Saskatchewan and the like, fashion sense isn’t an overly valued commodity).
So while baseball has its basic button up shirt designs, football has its basic colours and big numbers design, and basketball has the smallest canvass to work with, hockey jerseys are neck to thigh, full sleeved chances to throw in far too much colour, piping, or horrible logo choices. The flip side to this is that when a jersey is done right, it can be amongst the best looking jerseys in all of sport. But that’s not the case with these abominations.
#10. Atlanta Thrashers 2008-09 Third Jersey – We’ll start with the inspiration for this list, the brand new third jersey for the Atlanta Thrashers. When they unveiled this bad boy, I had to wonder if it was indeed the ugliest hockey jersey I’ve ever seen. Then I remembered some of the ones ahead of it on the list and decided that it probably isn’t, but it’s close. The big number on the front makes it look like a basketball jersey, while the big shoulder logos look like they’re stolen from the San Diego Chargers jerseys. The only reason why it’s not higher on the list is because I haven’t seen it on the ice yet.
#9. Ottawa Senators 1930-34 Jersey – Both the early Senators and early Chicago Blackhawks had similar barber-shop pole-type horizontal stripes looks so gaudy, fans could be happy that they were still decades away from colour printing, much less television (the Blackhawks brought theirs back as throwbacks in the 1993-94 season). I decided to go with Ottawa over Chicago for this one in part because the “O” logo is really uninspired, but mostly to point out one of pet peeves: the entire idea of the “Original” six. The Original Six is the term given to the six NHL teams that existed in the NHL for 25 seasons prior to the 1967 expansion (the teams are the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, and Detroit Red Wings). Well, take a look at the date of this jersey. 1930. Which my calendar says comes before 1967, and 1942. My dictionary also says that the word “original” means “belonging or pertaining to the origin or beginning of something, or to a thing at its beginning”. But if the Ottawa Senators existed in 1930, and aren’t one of the “Original Six”, then what the heck is going on? What’s going on is that hockey people seem to not have a very good grasp of what “original” means, and the whole concept of the “Original Six” is fake. /rant
PS- Who were the actual original teams of the NHL? The Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators, and a Toronto team that didn’t quite have a name, but is mostly known as the Arenas, who were an early precursor to the Maple Leafs. So of the “Original” Six, only two of them have a claim at being original members of the NHL.
#8. The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim 1997-99 Alternate Road Jersey – When you name your team after a lame Disney movie franchise, you’re already not setting yourself up for attractive merchandise. The team has never had a good looking jersey, not even now that they’ve disassociated themselves with Disney and dropped the “Mighty” from their name. But when it came time to create a new third jersey (after their initial foray into the third jersey business to be discussed later), they really outdid themselves in the ugly department, creating not one, but two third jerseys (so technically one was a “fourth” jersey, which is why it’s probably better just to refer to them as alternate home or road jerseys). Of the two, the road jersey was easily the ugliest, with shiny satin shoulders and arms of grape purple and silver set off with yellow piping on top of a jade jersey. Silver, purple AND teal, way to go Disney! (By comparison, the white home alternate isn’t so bad). To be fair, Mighty Ducks merchandise did consistently sell well to kids, so maybe they knew what they were doing, but I suspect kids would have also bought non-ugly jerseys just as quickly. On the flip side, we often didn’t even bother stocking Mighty Ducks jerseys in adult sizes, and didn’t get many requests to either.
#7. Calgary Flames 1998-2006 Third/Road Jersey – Not that the jerseys these eventually replaced were much better, but what the hell was Calgary thinking with the Flaming Horse Head? This jersey is an excellent example of all the problems I discussed in the introductory paragraph, chosen by the good old boys that make up the Flames organization who were easily sold a bill of goods by some opportunistic marketing company. Everything about it suggests lame adherence to market research. The kids like black jerseys? Then let’s get one. The kids like animal mascots? Let’s get one of those too, even if it has literally NOTHING to do with our team name. While you’re at it, can you make sure the animal logo and colour scheme completely undoes any of the cool points we could score by having a black jersey? Maybe even make the logo asymmetrical. Excellent. Throw in an ugly number font and we have a deal.
As I mentioned earlier, I worked at a jersey store while these abominations were around. Well, that store was in Calgary, and even there, these weren’t big sellers. Granted, this was before the Flames Stanley Cup Finals run of 2004, when everyone in town broke their shoulders trying to jump on the bandwagon they now pretend they were always a part of. Luckily for them, by then the Flames added new home and road jerseys that pushed the horse to the shoulders, allowing them to buy merchandise that represented their weeks-long love affair with the team that wasn’t quite so ugly.
#6. Vancouver Canucks 1985-89 Home and Road Jerseys – The putrid yellow in place of the traditional home white, set off by orange and black is ugly enough to speak for itself. What makes this jersey worse is the logo, a stylized hockey skate… that points downwards. I realize that coming up with a logo for a team name that is slang for the country it represents isn’t easy (although, not impossible), but a downward pointing skate? That’s not a logo, it’s a metaphor for the team and its long history of futility. What’s sad is that as bad as these jerseys were, they still were a massive improvement over what came before them (more on that later).
#5. California Golden Seals 1974-76 Home and Road Jerseys – Hockey jerseys? Or Roller Derby warm-ups? What’s odd is that these abominations came AFTER flamboyant owner Charlie O. Finley gave up the team (but before he had installed these list-worthy creations as uniforms to match his all-time ugly Oakland A’s jerseys). The NHL took over the Golden Seals in February of 1974, which I guess means the league is responsible for unleashing these things. Another odd thing? When Finley applied to buy the team, he had to outbid Jerry Seltzer… the second and final owner of the original Roller Derby league.
#4. Tampa Bay Lightning 1996-99 Third Jersey – Attention NHL: just because you have room for several different designs and colours, doesn’t mean you should use it. This thing looks like a 12-year-old’s doodle pad, complete with a goofy jagged number font. This jersey is probably the biggest example of a late 90s trend that I hope never returns: silk-screened designs. In order to get all that business going on the jersey, it had to made out of cheaper material and silk screened the images unto the fabric. Here’s a tip: if you can’t make your design work with different fabrics, embroidery, or piping, then its not a design worth having.
#3. New York Islanders 1995-97 Home and Road Jerseys – Ahoy ye mateys, here be the dreaded Captain Highliner jersey, a scurvy dog of a uniform that brought down a once proud franchise with its ridiculous wavy lines (brought to you through silk-screening), and possibly the worst logo in the history of hockey (perhaps a list for another day). Here’s an interesting read about the Isles fisherman logo from a guy who was a PR director for the team at the time. It sounds like everyone knew it sucked then too.
#2. Vancouver Canucks 1978-85 Home and Road Jerseys – How could a sixth ugliest jersey of all-time rank as an improvement? When those jerseys replaced these abominations, the ugliest regular jerseys in NHL history, the Flying Vees. V is for Vancouver, V is for Victory, V is for Valour, and with these logoless Halloween outfits, V is for Vhat the fuck were they thinking?!? Basically, the Vancouver Canucks are like the San Diego Padres, in that for most of their existence, their outfits were butt ugly.
#1. 1996 Third Jerseys (Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vancouver Canucks) – On January 27, 1996, five teams introduced special jerseys to be worn either on Saturdays or on special occasions, thus introducing the concept of the third jersey to the NHL. And they were horrific. Okay, Pittsburgh’s robo-penguin jerseys weren’t bad (other than the colour-gradient-necessitated silk screening), and were an improvement over their rather dull road jerseys of the time, so they get a pass (other than guilt by association). But the rest are dreadful, forcing me into this four-way tie cop-out for first place; otherwise, these jerseys would have dominated the list. And, hey look, it’s our old friend Vancouver again, with a jersey that probably worked great for road crew safety, but not so much for a major league sports franchise (tough call to say which is uglier, this or the flying V). The Boston Bruins stuck with their sad pooh bear jerseys for far too long (the jerseys survived until 2006, making them the longest tenured third jersey in NHL history), despite the fact that it was the least fearsome bear logo in the history of sports. But the worst of the worst came out of California, with the Los Angeles “Burger” Kings and those god-damned Mighty Ducks again. There’s really nothing more that needs to be said to explain why these are the absolute worst jerseys in the history of the NHL, perhaps of any sport ever. And to think, it could have been worse. There was one more team that was supposed to debut a third jersey that night, the St. Louis Blues. But, in possibly the last good decision he ever made, then-coach Mike Keenan refused to allow his team to hit the ice in the jerseys that easily would have been the worst of all-time, for all-time.
Dishonourable Mentions: Dallas Stars 2003-06 Third Jerseys, Phoenix Coyotes 1998-2003 Third Jerseys, Nashville Predators 2001-07 Third Jerseys, St. Louis Blues 1995-98 Road Jerseys, New York Islanders 2002-06 Third Jerseys
A special thanks goes to NHLUniforms.com for their excellent research that helped me put this list together. Go there to see images of every jersey ever worn in NHL history.