June 10, 2008

Logos: Battle of the NHL Rebrands

The Reebok hockey revolution has, for many, been another disappointing foray into the homogenization of rebranding. Gone are the days of smaller specialist manufacturers like Koho, CCM or Bauer adorning shirts, now just one text-speak abbreviation of an multi national conglomerate, encapsulating all that has been wrong with the leagues marketing plan in the last two decades, sits on the new "streamlined" and characterless game day and replica jerseys.
It’s true to say the theme of modernization has once again swept through North America's most rebranded professional sport. Kick started by the NHL's post millennium push for increased television revenues and game attendances, many franchises felt that "2K" would be a time to revamp their teams facade for a new age. Forget tradition; logos, arenas and jersey designs were all for the chop as teams looked for a savvier, sophisticated and "re-modified" image. But to what end and with what level of success?

Logos are by far and a way the most recognizable image and trademark with which every team is identified. It's on the jerseys, the centre ice, the dancing scoreboard displays, the commemorative pucks and zambonis, the corporate letterheads and little plastic cups from which you drink your beverages at the arena. It's how you recognize in an instant which team you will be playing as when you let your XBOX randomize the matchup and it does all this whilst transcending and identifying the heritage and traditions of a franchise and a city. On those terms rebranding should not be a simple boardroom decision followed by cake. Nevertheless, this is the NHL and tradition is a bygone word cast back to the nostalgia of the original six. With the big money contracts and sponsorship deals, the TV licensing and the "new fan" attract-ability scale; the last decade has not been shy to re-imagining and other such suit and tie terms. Yes RBK's foray into destroying the games traditions is a glaring light in recent times but the shift to the "new" NHL is not the product of one sponsorship contract but a rapid ascent from small time tradition to big time multi-media entertainment.
So who wins out in the modern NHL in the logo stakes? Seven franchises have rebranded their logos and jerseys considerably in the past decade whilst San Jose, Tampa, St. Louis and Calgary have modernized old designs. Furthermore five teams have been using a second or alternative logo with confusing frequency, are any of these superior to the traditional designs?

Major Rebrands
Buffalo Sabres

Technically the first image here was a 1996 rebrand from the Sabres’ original, popular, expansion logo that has made it's way back as an team alternative; the sabre's crossed beneath a buffalo. This quintessentially literal take on the team name was followed up by the considerably more ferocious buffalo head you see here. It's white, silver, red and black design was formed to fit in with the teams redefined jersey colors in their inaugural season in the Marine Midland Arena, a season that saw them win their first divisional title in 16 years and then the madness of Ted Nolan and Dominik Hasek in the playoffs. Nonetheless, having failed to make the playoffs the season before the rebrand, Buffalo went on to make five consecutive post seasons including a run to their second finals in 98-99 losing out to the Dallas Stars in 6.
However the Hasek anchored team began to fail following his trade to Detroit in 2001 and the side endured three poor playoff-free seasons as management struggled to lock up contracts. Following the lockout, Buffalo persevered with the "Goat Head," as it had become popularly known, for one final year, making the conference finals and losing in a narrow seven game series against Cam Wards’ eventual cup winning 'Canes. Generally derided and never fanatically adopted, the Sabres fans were led to believe that the return to the yellow and blue days would see a return to the traditional logo. However, if the "Goat-Head" was disliked, the new logo was going to underline awful branding.
Nicknamed the "Sluggalo" or the "Buffaslug," the new logo managed to overshadow the much-applauded return to blue and yellow with one of the most hideous re-imaging’s in NHL history. An online petition to ditch the leaping, gordy yellow buffalo was instantly underway; reaching numbers doubling a full capacity at the HSBC Arena. Despite this resistance, the new color scheme allowed the franchise to congratulate the new image coming top in the NHL merchandise league. In spite of the general brand discontent, the maiden season for the yellow buffalo saw the team claim their first Presidents trophy, the rebrand working the same as it had a decade previous. A failed regular season this term however will do little for the slugs appeal.

I personally liked the "Goat-Head," nicely drawn and detailed; it was modern but fierce years before the Nashville Predator came into being. Despite my reasoning the fans yearned for the old logo and never truly took to the “head”.
Unpopular as the “Goat-Head” was however, the "Slug," is down right abysmal and easily one of the leagues worst logos, an atrocity and a footnote to modern business' inability to listen to its customers: the fans. For me the "Goat-Head" wins out in this battle but the fans want the original logo back on their jerseys and with the increasing appearance of the crossed sabres as an alternative, you feel there is some stealth compromising occurring on the part of the Sabres franchise.

Columbus Blue Jackets
Perennial strugglers from their inception, there has been signs of life in recent times for the Blue Jackets, but with an up to now fairly incompetent general management and marketing department, progress has been slow visually on and off the ice.
Conceived with one of the dullest uniforms in NHL history, the original logo seemed to pose more questions than answers, especially given that the 13 stars adorned on the cheap looking "CB" was four short of those on the Ohio state flag, the situation was made worse by the amateur cartoon insect alternative that was adopted in the seasons leading up to the lockout. A continued lack of success thereafter was at least supported by the consignment of the "Blue Jacket bug" to the NHL history bin. With the team starting to look competitive in recent years, the RBK revolution was the turning point for the Jackets new look. Sponsored by Reebok, the team was rebranded and the new logos and jerseys were unveiled.
Well technically, the new logo was actually the replacement alternative for the bug, but nevertheless a much improved look brandishing a stylized rendition of the Ohio flag, albeit still three stars short; with a fairly indistinct C formed from the tail. Despite its shortcomings, the new design has proved considerably more popular with fans.

I hate to say it but Reebok and the Jackets got it right here, the original looked like a pee-wee teams badge owing to it’s amateur hour design and gordy fluorescent “stick J,” whilst the new logo is a neat example of simple-intricacy and style. The whole team image has been tightened and shows a renewed focus on making the team a success; given a year or two the sweeping flag may see more than 82 games and the new logo may herald a successful age for the fledgling franchise.

Los Angeles Kings
Perhaps indicative of Tinsel Town, the Kings have seen five distinctive logo overhauls in their forty one year history. From the classy yellow and purple originals that sat on the considerably less classy yellow, white and blue jerseys, to the ugly grey and black "Chevrolet" logo of the slightly improved uniform. However the contestants in the LA category for best rebrand consist of the two primary designs in the purple and black compromise-look era of Phillip Anschutz; the “Shield” and the “Purple Crown.”
Hockey mad billionaire Anschutz bought the Kings out of bankruptcy in 1995 and rebranded the team in 1998 in time for the Kings post-Gretzky rebuilding era and the teams’ Staples Centre relocation to downtown LA. Having lost the final in '93 five seasons after hockey’s most notorious blockbuster trade in '88; the arrival of Gretzky and the grey and black, LA had been in rapid decline with a talent pool of just two players. Keen to build from the ground up, Anschutz allowed an ageing Gretzky to be traded away to St. Louis before bringing in Dave Taylor as GM. Under Taylor the Kings continued to struggle as the side developed, however the season before the Black and Purple came in, the Kings finally snapped a four year playoff hiatus. Another season outside of the playoffs greeted the new Kings “Shield” before two consecutive appearances encompassing a memorable 2-0 series turn around against the Red Wings dropping them in 6. However this would prove to be the sole playoff victory for the “Shield” and after another first series defeat to the Avs' and another season outside of the playoffs the new “Crown” was adopted in 2002. Nevertheless the “Crown” has seen even less of the playoffs than the “Shield” managed, to be precise none, as the Kings seem to be in a terminal process of rebuilding with a trigger happy management ethos.
Many fans called for a return to the “Shield” or the older “Crowns” of the 60's and 70's in the new Reebok age, but like the stagnant performances on the ice, off it, LA have failed to heed the calls of the fans.

LA's badge is one of the more amateurish and dull the league has to offer. True, the old “Shield” featured a lion wearing sunglasses, but it was undoubtedly one of the more unique offerings and a considerable deal more successful than the new “Crown.” The loss of the colored stripe at the bottom of the new RBK jerseys has further diluted a once bold NHL brand and it can only be a matter of time before the team name is scrubbed off, not only is the hockey going down the plug hole but so is the teams flamboyant brand.

Ottawa Senators
It’s hard to believe that the Senators name in this form was only conceived in 1992. As natural a representation of the much storied Senators of 1883-1934 as can be managed in modern franchised professional sport, the contemporary Senators level of success has been modest in comparison to their namesake, but from an horrific first four years, the team has built to be one of the most consistently successful teams in the NHL. A claim supported by ten consecutive playoff berths, a finals appearance where they were beaten in 5 by the Ducks and the 2004 Presidents Trophy. Deciding upon a more literal approach to the term "Senators" than the single "O" bearing hooped jerseys of the "original" Sens’, the new team donned a simple yet classy centurion figure in profile, replete with team colors that served the Sens’ well throughout the years without any discontent from fans.
It was with some surprise that the Senators chose to jump on the RBK rebranding bandwagon and rework what had quickly become a modern classic in the field of NHL logos, what was worse; whilst many other teams had grown up and created more sophisticated renditions of their logos, the Senators had dumbed down the imagery and created a new more cartoony centurion in full 3D. Whilst the reintroduction of the traditional “O” as a shoulder patch has been well received, the new centurion has met with mixed opinion. The Senators had built a good reputation of their old logo and the newer version saw its maiden season go from excellent to awful. Nonetheless outcry has been kept to a minimum, a comparative success for the RBK age in that respect.

I liked the old profile logo; it was arguably one of the leagues most sophisticated images. To devolve into cartoony town seems a little contrived in the new NHL market whilst the jerseys have taken a trip towards tedium all too familiar with the Erbik (RBK) brand. It’s a shame that the Senators felt the need to rebrand the franchise off the back of successive successful years but that appears to be the NHL way these days.

Phoenix Coyotes
With the escalating costs of running a franchise mixed with the increasingly devalued Canadian Dollar, Winnipeg knew the game was up when the Quebec Nordiques up’ d sticks and moved south of the border. However, whilst Colorado seemed a perfect place to establish a hockey market, the arrival of the Coyotes in the middle of the desert was perhaps a little more surprising. Even more eye catching than the teams move from the cold Canadian climbs however, was the unusual marketing effort that followed.
Perhaps becoming the most unique looking team to ever skate on NHL ice, at least since the California Golden Seals, the Coyotes were awash with some fantastically original imagery. From the cubist-come-native art Coyote, to the busy Indian style bordered jerseys, the Coyotes were celebrated and derided with equal ferocity throughout the NHL. Nevertheless, on the ice the transition from Winnipeg to Phoenix saw a new age of consistency continuing on from the Jets swansong playoff performance. Being able to hold onto stars like Tkachuk, Doan, Tverdovsky and Khabibulin whilst adding Roenick and Tocchet to the mix; the Coyotes were reliable performers making four consecutive playoffs appearances with five in six seasons. However under the “native coyote,” Phoenix never progressed beyond a conference quarterfinal and worse was to follow.
With an increasingly unworkable lease with the owners of the America West Arena the Coyotes began bleeding finances and the team was sold to a consortium investment including Wayne Gretzky. Legend had it that Gretzky’s arrival in LA was aided by an agreement to renew the teams brand from the painful yellow, white and purple to grey and black and rumor speaks of a similar agreement regarding the Coyotes. On these terms it is worth noting that the original “native coyote” and Indian jerseys were dropped in 2003 in favor of the new, simplified “howling coyote” and minimalist rust colored uniform style just two seasons after the Ellman construction consortium, for whom Gretzky was a part, took financial control.
Conspiracy aside, the new brand was adopted for the sides opening season in the new Jobing.com Arena but the teams’ fortunes had been clipped by the financial dilemmas of the two previous seasons. Being forced to build from youth, waivers and free agents the Coyotes, coached from 2005 by Gretzky, made unspectacular progress, but with an increasingly talented crop of high end draftees, the new look Coyotes are beginning to look the business both on and off the ice.

I really wanted to hate the makeover the Coyotes received in 2003 because I was one of the few who loved their original logo and jerseys. However in this new age of bland, the Coyotes still stand out as one of the most sophisticatedly presented teams, with a thoughtful minimalist look and crafted logo. Despite this, the old logo still wins hands down as the best NHL logo of all time along with the finest shirts, at least in my maligned opinion.

Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh is a rarity in the modern millennia, a franchise that reverted to an original design at the behest of a die hard core of fans.
Returning to the second variant of the “skating penguin”, the first wore a scarf and looked a little tubby, the return of the post-expansion logo was borne out of Pens’ legend Mario Lemieux’ purchase of the team from a bankruptcy court.
Lemieux, a fan of the “skating penguin” as a cup winner under that logo, quickly sought to right the wrongs that the “Flying Pigeon” had installed in its 8 year tenure, albeit a tenure that wielded 8 playoff appearances and a Presidents Trophy in the “Pigeons” first year 1992-93.
The choice to rebrand in ’92 seemed a peculiar one in itself; having won two consecutive cups with the wonder team that contained Lemieux, Jagr, Recchi, Coffey and Stevens, Pittsburgh hoisted two “Skating Penguins” cup winning banners into the heavens at the Mellon in ‘91 and ’92, only to rebrand and wipe the heritage slate clean. Although the new image was more mature and concise, its design was one destined to date and struggle against the history of its skating counterpart. Furthermore, the reworked jerseys, whilst sophisticated, seemed in opposition to the teams previous on ice success.
The return of the “skating penguin” however was at a much decreased time of celebration for Pittsburgh, after it’s first season in the playoffs, the teams need to cut costs saw a period of rebuilding that would result in the Pens posting the third worst record in the NHL in 01-02 and then a continued slide into the lockout with failing attendances.
Nevertheless winning the draft lottery and the acquisition of Sidney Crosby of the back of the draw combined with other teams’ shedding of players to free agency under the new salary cap, meant the Pens’ were back in contention and secure in Pittsburgh with the new-old logo in tow. Despite one further season of rebuilding off the back of injury related retirements to Palffy and Lemieux, the next two seasons would see a renewed playoff push culminating in this season’s appearance in the finals.
With a talented crop of youngsters, the Pens look set to return to the winning ways under which the “Skating Penguin” exited and draw a line under one of the most poorly timed rebrands in professional sports history, so much so in fact, that under the RBK revolution, the “Flying Pigeon” emblem that had sat as a shoulder patch since it’s demotion from primary logo, was canned for good.

It is clear I am not in league with the Pens’ fans because I actually prefer the sophisticated look of the “Flying Pigeon” to the cartoony simplicity and anatomically incorrect look of the skating penguin, yet if I am going to harp on about heritage, history and tradition, I am technically bound to disliking the lukewarmly received “Flying” pen’. That said I am a hypocrite, ignoring my own instincts, the heritage free “Flying Pigeon” wins the bout of Pittsburgh for me especially in regards to the dull as dishwater RBK jersey that now bares the image.

Washington Capitals
Pittsburgh is not the only team to return to tradition in recent rebrands; Washington’s new logo is very much of the same ilk as the initial word mark logo that donned jerseys for the franchises first two decades. Unlike the Penguins however, Washington’s new logo was unveiled on the back of an entirely reworked franchise brand, returning not only to a redesigned original logo but a color scheme that was borne out of the teams’ formation. Subsequently the black, gold and blue was returned to a simple red and white design with blue trim and thankfully this meant a scrapping of the two logo system that had been technically in and out of effect from 1995, the Caps’ seemingly incapable of deciding between the “Capitol Dome” or the “Swooping Eagle.”
One of the worst expansion franchises in history with thanks to the World Hockey Association siphoning talent, it took 8 playoff missing seasons and that dreadful 8-67-5 maiden season for Washington to open their account as a credible NHL side. Having taken their bumps however, the Caps went on to record 14 consecutive playoff appearances without ever making it beyond the second round. In the final year of this run, the Caps completed their first rebrand bringing in the “swooping eagle” as their first logo and the “Capitol dome” as their alternative whilst changing the teams’ colors. Within a season of their new look, the Caps snapped their successful streak and missed the playoffs altogether.
However if the new logo was being branded as a bad omen it took only a year to dispel the curse. With the sophomore ”Eagle”, the Capitals posted the eighth best record in the NHL in 97-98 and drew the ninth best in the first round of the playoffs.
With three overtime victories the Caps bested the Bruins in a close six game series and then flattened Ottawa in five, outscoring the Sens’ 18-7. In round 3 the Caps found themselves up against the, also overachieving, Buffalo Sabres. It took another three overtime victories in another close six game series to make it to the finals where they faced third seed defending champions Detroit. Although squashed in a sweep, Washington looked a franchise ready to ride the crest of a successful playoff run, but success and consistency dwindled on the back of some disappointing trades and the new image was beginning to signify a team that had high wages, poor management and no substance.
Entering into a period of rebuilding, the two concurrent logos switched with the “Capitol Dome” becoming the primary logo and the “eagle” demoted to alternative.
Offloading of the high priced talent in 2003 resulted in three poor seasons either side of the lockout but also heralded the arrival of Alex Ovechkin in 2005 and last season, the RBK sponsored return to red and white saw the team make it to the Playoffs for the first time since 2003 as a renewed franchise.

Whilst the new uniforms and logo beget the concept of beauty in simplicity and provide a powerful brand image, I miss the bombastically over worked “Capitol Dome” that worked on the same levels as the Los Angeles “Shield,” especially when set upon the peculiarly angular blue, black and gold jerseys. I didn’t feel the same verve for the eagle however, as a good concept was fluffed in execution. I say the “Capitol Dome” wins this battle but the new look is a grower.

Alternative Logos
A more insidious form of marketing and rebranding was created when the NHL opened the floor to the third jersey “program.” Clearly another stab at rebranding and merchandising to rope obsessive fans into buying the alternative jerseys, a market already successfully tapped in sports such as soccer, the program was introduced in the 1995-96 season, four years after original six teams had adopted the vintage jersey drive. Where some remarketing schemes were minimalist or conservative, the alternative jerseys were a design template for the more off the wall, experimental or concept design work that in most cases would have been best kept in the landfill of history.
Often teams used the third jerseys as an opportunity to move away from hockey tradition and in the same vein create a new alternative logo or use existing trademarks that’s usage had been second to none. Nevertheless some of the alternative jerseys found new life when the NHL decided to can the third jersey drive in time for the streamlined RBK templates whilst others were shoehorned into the two jersey setup with differing home and away logos, a particular pet hate of mine. In this section I will look at some of the most memorable alternative logos and see which were the most successful and which were the more ill-advised.

Atlanta Thrashers
If there was an award for the most indecisive team when it comes to logos, well that would have to be Columbus, but talking jerseys, the Thrashers are the itchy marketing team of the NHL. Sure they have only had three jerseys, often running a three jersey set in the alternative jersey program, but the farcical way in which the franchise has interchanged colors, designs and logos is a true benchmark of the new NHL’s incapacity for tradition.
Presumably marked down to being a new entity, the Thrashers opened business with one logo for both home and away jerseys, but within a season had replaced the stick holding thrasher, for a “T shaped” overhead view on their road uniforms. At this point the home jerseys were white with navy blue and claret trim whilst the road jerseys were navy blue with claret and gold trim, however in 2003 the jerseys changed priority as the NHL moved away from predominantly white home uniforms and the Thrashers introduced their third baby blue and navy jersey. The logos remained with the hockey stick thrasher on the home and alternative whilst the “T” shaped thrasher sat on the now white road shirts whilst both logos served as secondary’s shoulder patches. To complete the confusion, the Thrashers canned the original navy road uniforms a season before RBK’s dull two set jersey templates in 2006, the same year the alternative jersey became the priority uniform and the “T” shaped logo, that had sat on the road jerseys from the teams inception in 1999, was serving its swansong, becoming just a shoulder patch on the now standardized home and away jerseys.

Opinions are very much split on the asymmetry and coloring of the new home jersey that was borne out of the alternative craze, I am personally not a fan. That said I do prefer the adoption of one logo for both jerseys and they clearly chose the better and always preferred image of the hockey stick holding thrasher to brand their franchise.

Boston Bruins
To risk tampering with the imagery related to an original six team would have been pure blasphemy in a sport often blighted by an extroverted identity crisis. For the Bruins the challenge was softened by seasons of mediocrity and a marketing department that understood the concept of subtlety. Subsequently when the opening of the alternative jersey program became available the Bruins pounced on the chance to use the brown bear or “bruin” that had served as its alternative shoulder patch logos in two separate guises from 1976 on jerseys that were just an design expansion on the theme of the teams primary colors.
Still the grand departure from their ultra traditional look was greeted with mixed applause. Whilst many Boston fans saw the new jerseys and logos as fun, the dubbing of the ├╝ber cute bear as “Paddington” did little to support the franchises subdued efforts to rebrand a team that exuded history. Consequently whilst the bear survived as a primary logo on jerseys for eleven inconsistent seasons it was quietly culled in the RBK revolution in place of a reworked “original” logo on the shoulder patches.

The Boston Bruins uniforms are one of the few unmitigated success stories of the Reebok Edge templates, mostly due to the minimal deranging Reebok were seemingly allowed to make. The Bear that was introduced as a shoulder patch for two consecutive finals appearances in ‘77 and ’78 was never primary logo material and floundered against one of hockey’s most instantly recognizable trademarks. Nevertheless “Paddington,” on his swansong, had become the longest serving alternative jersey. Despite this it was clear that the minor levels of bantering embarrassment “Paddington” provided were to be quietly swept under the carpet at the first opportunity. This one is a no contest.

Calgary Flames
Calgary introduced their inaugural third jersey in 1998 but unlike most other teams that prioritized existing minor trademarks, Calgary came up with a whole new logo to market their third jerseys.
The “Flaming Horse” was something of a departure from the iconic flaming “C” that had proved enduringly popular, but the jerseys were distinguished as a best seller in third jersey terms with the bold logo and black coloring at times upstaging the then overly busy diagonal stripe jerseys that were the priorities in the Calgary set. So popular were the jerseys in fact, that following their sophomore season they were promoted above the old red jerseys as the primary Flames dark uniform with the “Flaming Horse” serving as a primary logo on the road and a secondary patch at home creating yet another “two logo” franchise.
The Flames persevered with this look until 2003, where the logo and jersey were relegated to an alternative for the cup finals year and then ditched altogether following the lockout with the “Flaming Horse” suffering a similar fate.
Nonetheless the third jerseys left an indelible imprint on the future Calgary design with the convex striping that would only be extinguished when RBK flattened the templates.

I would argue the black coloring was a suitable alternative opposed to the rather washed out red that became popular in the nineties; subsequently the after effects the divergence from tradition provided were tactfully adopted into the teams’ image. The “Flaming Horse” or dragon as it was often confused with met with lesser success, rather than produce a reaction, the imagery was a wash with apathy and mild banter that failed to serve the purpose of its bold design. Another alternative totally eradicated under Reebok, the “Flaming C” is a far timelier trademark that shows the power of simplicity over over-production.

Dallas Stars
As a franchise, the Stars are something of a unique entity. Unlike other franchises that were forced to relocate, the Dallas Stars, that started life as the Minnesota North Stars, chose to maintain the original brand identity keeping the North Stars colors and logo template. Perhaps this can be attributed to the high regard that the Minnesota franchise was held in by the NHL that would eventually be repaid with the foundation of the Wild. Whatever the reason, the founders of the Dallas Stars were reluctant to carve their own identity on the side.
Having subsequently adopted the old Minnesota images and traditions that preceded the Dallas Stars existence by 26 seasons, it was surprising that Dallas showed little interest in initially expanding into the alternative jersey market. However in 1997, the Stars would branch into a design template that would come to represent the Dallas brand uniquely as its own franchise for the next decade and become one of the most popular and identifiable jerseys in the leagues history.
The “star” jersey began life as the 97-98 Stars alternative, albeit replete with original logo, the tremendous sales success of the “star” design jersey, which was promptly promoted to the teams priority uniform set alongside a similarly star shaped road jersey, was an example of how the third jerseys were an excellent chance to road test new brand ideas.
However if the Stars first alternative was an unprecedented success in rebranding, Dallas second alternative jersey was an example of why most are best forgotten.
Where the original star jersey acted as a catalyst for the Stars own identity development, the new design was completely removed from all the Dallas Stars had worked to create in the six previous years. Built upon an entirely new logo in the same manor Calgary had done in 1998, The Dallas Stars second alternative was another meander from the traditions of the NHL and in that respect a usual suspect in the third jersey brigade. The new logo was a green bull formed from a constellation; busy, over worked and totally irrelevant, the new design earned the finest nickname of any new logo, “Mooterus,” owing to its similarities with a cow and a uterus. Universally derided with a general disregard for the navy and green combination of the jerseys, sales were abysmal, usage was minimal and after two season either side of the lockout both logo and jersey were dropped from existence.

Call it mad, but I liked “Mooterus,” it was unusual and I always liked NHL divergences from the norm, just look at my love for the early Phoenix brand. Still it was an undoubted example of how great remarketing can go wrong. On purely aesthetic terms, the general kitsch value of “Mooterus” cannot be underestimated in the face of Dallas’ classic logo however the truly irrelevant nature of the bull imagery means that “Mooterus” is edged out in this battle. For me a victory for tradition over the abnormal.

Edmonton Oilers
The Reebok hockey revolution has not been kind on the Edmonton Oilers, one of the NHL’s classic uniforms owing in part to its great cup pedigree of the early 80’s from which the designs barely diverged, the RBK Oilers jerseys were regarded as one of the poorest converts to the Edge system owing to the incredible blandness of the new template and the forced look of the piping. Sure the orange was converted to copper before Reebok got their hands on it, but this seasons jerseys have been one of the most instantly forgettable with the character of the signature horizontal bars removed from the final cut. What made things even worse for Edmonton fans was the NHL’s decision to put a stop to the alternative jersey market.
Where the dreaded third jerseys were often greeted with turned up noses, the Edmonton Oilers third jersey, introduced in 2001 complete with an original logo designed by Canadian comic book artist and Oilers co-owner Todd McFarlane, were regarded with the same kind of love dolled out to traditional jerseys and were especially surprising when taking into account the tremendous history of the franchise. Nevertheless few franchises can claim to have one of Canada’s most respected comic artists in their marketing branch and furthermore the clear role which was set out for the black jerseys made them all the more acceptable, after all there was never any doubt that the “Streaking Oil drop and sprocket” would ever vie for priority jersey against the classic white blue and orange (copper).
Upon release, the black “oil drop” jerseys became the NHL’s best sellers easily outstripping any other alternative jersey for sales with the new logo being roundly applauded by the non-traditionalists. For six seasons the jerseys were successful sellers and the “oil drop” was even promoted as a shoulder patch on the priority uniforms. However with the NHL deciding to end the almost universally, outside of Edmonton, disliked third jersey program, the black jersey and “oil drop” logo were ditched for 2007-08 with the “oil drop” being scrubbed form the patch-less shoulders to the dismay of some Oilers fans.
Still conventional wisdom suggests that a limited run of third jerseys may return in 08-09’ and many would favor a comeback for the black “oil drop,” at the very least expect to see the alternative logo return to the shoulder patches in the next few years.

A theme is becoming clear; any logo universally derided by fans stands out as a personal favorite of mine whilst any alternative that was actually well received is generally disliked. I hated the “oil drop,” I felt it was one of the ugliest logos in the NHL due to its angular design and unsympathetic, yet unthreatening appearance, not to mention the dull color scheme that it ushered in. Clearly leagues behind the simple iconoclastic Oilers badge, the old badge wins.

Nashville Predators
For some the Predators came into the league with one of the sharpest brands and finest jerseys. Stepping bravely away from tradition like the Coyotes did two seasons previous, the Nashville saber-tooth was perhaps the leagues best realized logo, at least out of the nineties expansion, whilst the jerseys were well formed and featured a superbly selected color palette that owed well to their surrounding. Nevertheless the untraditional approach to NHL branding was almost collectively hated by the rest of the leagues fan base who accused the Predator brand of being garish and flamboyant.
However if the Predators were trying to appease the leagues luddites when they adopted a third jersey in 2001 the remarketing scheme backfired. Creating a new logo that was supposed to be a simplified version of the rapidly dating Predator; the new logo was poorly designed and stood out as one of the one of the leagues ugliest, a reference that would be kind to the mustard color jerseys with which they were adjoined.
Whilst the mustard alternatives and childlike reworking of the original logo managed to plod on for five seasons before being canned at the NHL’s behest at the completion of the third jersey program, the other alternative logo shown above, has only ever served as a shoulder patch since 2002 and remains beyond the RBK revolution.
Now considered one of the most underused alternative logos in the league, the “skull saber-tooth” has been receiving increased calls to be promoted up to priority logo as the team endures tentative stability in the music city whilst the original logo is being increasingly described as “dated.”

I was not amongst the rabid NHL fan base that derided the original Preds’ brand; in fact the only game jersey I own is an original Predators navy and silver jersey as I felt it was a standout by a franchise that didn’t have to conform to tradition as a new entity. Whilst I thought the original logo was neat, the “skull” that came about in 2002 is increasingly earning kudos as a fine alternative logo. I feel it’s a matter of time before the skull precedes the old Predator logo to become the figure head for the company as the original is starting to feel “of its time” to be euphemistic. “Skull” wins out in a good battle of unusual logos.

New York Rangers
The Rangers could arguably be dubbed the showiest team of the original six, subsequently their sortie into the alternative jersey market was nigh on inevitable. What was surprising was that it was by far and away the most successful remarketing of a traditional North American sports team.
Derived from the goalie mask of US born and career Ranger Mike Richter, the New York Rangers unveiled their “lady liberty” jersey in 1996 and garnered an alien amount of league-wide praise for a third jersey. Maintaining the team colors of blue, red and white, the sheer simplicity of the design, in conjunction with one of the most relevant and perfect logos the league had ever seen, meant the Rangers used their alternatives with startling frequency incurring fine after fine from the NHL for overuse of an alternative jersey.
So popular proved the design that at times the real conundrum for the franchise was to stick with tradition or revamp the brand with their new unique logo. Where this would be sacrosanct for any other original six team, the Rangers genuinely toyed with the idea whilst continuing to be financially punished. Off course the high rolling Rangers were all to happy to absorb fines when the merchandising was running so smoothly and the “Liberty” shirts sold successfully for eleven season, including the 98-99 season when the Rangers tried to push for an second set (both home and away alternatives) in the Gretzky era, the league said no.
Nevertheless when the league forced their hand and capped the third jersey program, New York chose to stick with tradition and the rolling text frontage was finally assured.
Still, a reintroduction of alternatives will almost certainly see a return of the “Liberty” shirts and regular league fining for overuse.

It has to be a mark of respect for the “Lady Liberty” logo when many lifelong Rangers fans were calling for a rebrand away from 80 years of history. There is little doubting that the “liberty” design was the finest of the leagues alternative sweaters and in that same respect I felt the Rangers would change their logo and their jerseys in time for the RBK redesign. No doubting who wins this one, and for many it’s a surprise, but the “Liberty” design is the winner over tradition, its simple, it’s well realized and it is perfectly fitting for the franchise, too Bad the Rangers decided to stick with the shield.

Toronto Maple Leafs
A history of conservative design suggested the Leafs would not stray to far from tradition when they unveiled a third jersey and secondary logo in 1998. That it was an exact replica of an old logo was not a surprise and if were being honest, the choice of the 35 point blue leaf with classic font, wasn’t either.
First emblazoned on the Stanley Cup finalist’s team of 1939, the “veined leaf” remained a priority logo for 28 years encompassing ten cups, the last of which being the 1967 Stanley Cup, Toronto’s last Stanley Cup and the final year of the 35 point leaf.
Brought back with fanatical applause on and off from 1991 when Original six teams were allowed to don vintage uniforms for special occasions by the league, the traditionally designed jerseys (bar modern player name font) were the only vintage outfit with an old logo to be truly adopted as an alternative following the 95-96’ third jersey program. However it took three years before the Leafs jumped on the bandwagon, then the shirts lasted a season as if a special offer, only to return after a season hiatus by popular demand in 2000-01 through to the RBK adaption.
Enormously admired due to the intricate design that livens up a historically plain uniform as well as the tremendous heritage behind the logo, many Leafs fans believed the RBK edge age would see a forward to the past resurrection of the “veined leaf.” But as so often proved the case the RBK templates not only featured the plain “11 point leaf” introduced in 1982 but also scrubbed the 35 point leaf from the template altogether.
A shoe-in for any further league expansion into vintage uniforms, many Leafs fans still call for an overhaul of the franchises extremely bland image with the introduction of the classic logo.

The 35 Point Leaf was the seminal logo by which the franchise was defined; that the management stoically hold onto a much duller, less historical logo is a unique situation for any of the original six teams and an indication of the backwards thinking that permeates throughout the Toronto leadership. Constantly mishandled in recent years, the team cannot get its act together visually, let alone on the ice. With so many fans calling for a permanent, priority return for the classic leaf, surely someone will eventually address the situation, soon, seeing as they are not addressing the hockey. Classic “Veined Leaf” wins by a wide margin, one of the leagues seminal logos and brands.

Vancouver Canucks
Certainly no strangers to the third jersey program, Vancouver fashioned three separate designs all bearing differing current or classic logos whilst redefining the tacky fabric gradient trend that had been demonstrated so abysmally by Los Angeles original “burger king” jersey.
Initially the Canucks introduced the navy and orange alternative jersey that featured the, aforementioned fabric gradient in the horizontal bars, in 1996. With yellow numbers that were positioned over the orange fade to navy fabric; the jersey was a true alternative disaster that was branded with the black red and gold skate logo of the Canucks. This jersey lasted a single season before being canned by the franchise whilst the sixteen year old logo was also dropped as the franchise completely rebranded with new colors and new “orca whale” logo. However during the run of Vancouver’s second alternative, a read and navy “orca” logo fabric gradient jersey, worn between 2001 and 2006, Vancouver became the first team outside of the Original Six to be granted permission to wear a vintage uniform.
The return of the classic blue and green Canucks jerseys, worn between 1972 and 1978, were an unexpected blast from the past that proved popular with fans that had been dazzled by some of the leagues worst third jersey designs. Complete with original “hockey stick C” logo that branded the team from its foundation in 1970 through its first decade; fans voted with their wallets and extinguished the Canucks run on terrible fabric gradient alternatives with vintage jersey sales making the 1978 jersey the Canucks official third jersey of 2006-07.
Quickly becoming a best seller amongst fans, rumor had it that the Canucks were preparing to rebrand the whole side under the RBK revolution; colors, logos and all. However like so many rumors that sprung up around alternative jerseys in the final pre-Edge season, they proved unfounded, or at least half unfounded, as Canucks fans found the team had rebranded the colors under a return to the traditional royal blue and green but had deigned to keep the “Orca Whale” logo, albeit with white ice, providing an unusual contrast between dark logo and royal color.

The Canucks are one of those franchises with a penchant for bad taste, the peculiar choice to marry modern logo with old design is not one that works easily on the eye but then again neither did the original logo. Clearly as tepid as old hockey design came, the dull “hockey stick C” was devoid of the kind of charm a new franchise needs and like anything that was dated in the late 70’s, its resurrection in the new millennia is perhaps best left as a footnote. The “Orca whale” logo wins in a battle of the leagues ugly logos collection and would do to convert to more fitting colors in future renditions.

Naturally, when all is said and done, this is just for fun and my views often differ from fans of their own teams, I can only speak as a Leafs fan and fervent NHL follower. However there is a serious side to this matter. When we all invest so much time to this passion, we deserve a say in the identity of our teams, after all, the fans are as much the identity of the team as the brand itself. Sometimes it feels forgotten that the fans identify themselves by the logo on the front just the same as the company identifies itself with the image on the corporate letterhead; only more so and more significantly.
When franchises transcend from the fans and become their own entity it feels insulting, especially when something good is taken away in the place of something bad; just look at the dreadful remarketing of the Islanders between 1995 and 1997, many fans were humiliated and the Long Island team has struggled ever since with poor crowds.
The RBK Edge transition has been widely derided and rightly so, never in the history of NHL rebranding has one company had such a vastly disrespectful effect on the identity of every single team. Many of the logo changes above were the catalyst of some other event, be it a new dawn from financial difficulties, or simply the freshening of a brand, and not all have been universally detrimental by account of the fans. Conversely calls for a change in logo have often been left unheeded, just look at Toronto, Vancouver and Buffalo all yearning for a return to history and heritage.
Maybe the franchises will wake up from the anesthetic rebrand enforced by the Reebok uniform system and be allowed to show some individuality in future seasons, the touted return of the alternative jersey could prove a step forward or backward in equal measures, or perhaps it is time for the NHL to freeze teams continued change of logos and jerseys, to stop the disregard for their own heritage that so many franchises bounce about with a self harming reckless abandon.
Whose to say, as a matter of consistency the NHL’s shoot first ask questions latter rebranding is one of the reasons people are not always able to take it seriously.

This huge, time consuming blog was made possible by these superb websites:
Chris Creamer’s Sportslogos.net (www.sportslogos.net)
NHL Tournament of Logos (http://nhllogos.blogspot.com/)
Hockey Widgets: Regarding Third Jerseys (http://www.hockeywidgets.com/newblog/2007/12/regarding-3rd-jerseys-part-1.html)

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