One of the NHL’s last third jersey holdouts finally joined the fray as the New Jersey Devils officially unveiled an alternate uniform after it leaked last week.
Before I share my take—and it’s a hot one, admittedly—let’s first take a good, unbiased look at the new sweater.
The Devils tell us this jersey is all about history and tradition. Inspired by a sweater worn by one of the Garden State’s earliest hockey clubs, the Newark Bulldogs, the design was influenced by former Devils superstar goalie Martin Brodeur.
It marks the first time Devils players will don a black uniform and the first time the crest has been anything but the team’s primary logo, introduced in 1982. The shorthand “Jersey” was given a script treatment and applied to the chest. It has a thin red drop shadow to give the whole look a modern touch.
The five-stripe motif seen across the uniform honors the five former Devils who have had their numbers retired. The 21 white stripes represent the 21 counties in the state of New Jersey. A hanger effect design commemorates the team’s three Stanley Cup wins in 1995, 2000 and 2003.
And the jersey will be worn 13 times during the 2021-22 season as a nod to 22-year-old captain Nico Hischier.
I’m laughing to myself now because I’m not sure I’ve ever written such a load of utter garbage. I’ll explain in a moment, but first let’s get to the schedule.
The Devils revealed today that the new uniform will make its debut on Wed., Dec. 8 when they host the Philadelphia Flyers. They said the remaining 12 games will be announced this Friday—I guess because it’s “Black Friday” and the jersey is black?
However, I’ve been able to confirm 11 of those additional home dates already. [Edit: I’ve updated this list with all 13 dates, as announced by the Devils.]
- Wed., Dec. 8 vs Philadelphia Flyers
- Sat., Dec. 18 at Detroit Red Wings
- Thu., Dec. 23 vs Montreal Canadiens
- Thu., Jan. 6 vs Columbus Blue Jackets
- Mon., Jan. 10 vs Tampa Bay Lightning
- Wed., Jan. 19 vs Arizona Coyotes
- Tue., Jan. 25 vs Dallas Stars
- Thu., Feb. 24 vs Pittsburgh Penguins
- Sat., Mar. 12 vs Anaheim Ducks
- Tue., Mar. 22 vs New York Rangers
- Sun., Apr. 3 vs New York Islanders
- Tue., Apr. 5 vs New York Rangers
- Fri., Apr. 29 vs Detroit Red Wings
Now, if you’re just here for the facts of the new uniform and nothing more, we’re all set in that regard. If you want to go beyond the Devils’ dubious press release, however, please do continue reading. And settle in.
Let me start by pointing out I like hockey jerseys. I like liking them. Even when others poke a lot of holes in new designs, I can usually find something to like. A reason to believe.
Friends, that is not happening here. Not today. This jersey is an abomination in every way.
First of all, I’m not even mad that it’s a jersey that just says “Jersey” on the front of it. That was the subject of a lot of mockery today. My headline was fun to write, of course, and even the Devils poked a little fun at themselves by tweeting a photo of a hat with the word “Hat” Photoshopped onto it.
I understand why it just says “Jersey.” It’s a local thing. Same as I understood why the Lightning wore those “Bolts” third jerseys for so long. I didn’t love it personally, but I got it. These designs are made with the local fans in mind. As a fan of any other team, your input and mine are irrelevant as far as that goes.
What bugs me goes beyond that. This whole story is fake. I’ll get to that in a moment.
One thing that gets me is the continued trend of teams putting text on the front of hockey sweaters at all. It’s the only sport that can splash a big, bold symbol across the players’ chests. Why do we keep resorting to scripts? The Jets, Sabres, Flames, Hurricanes, Wild, Islanders, Senators, Penguins, Ducks, Lightning, and Avalanche are all guilty of this madness in recent years and I simply do not get it. (Even the Capitals and Predators have done it for outdoor games.)
I don’t want to read your jersey. No one does.
The Rangers are the exception. It’s literally their history. I can be swayed on this point, but the for the most part it should remain unique to them.
All right, that’s the crest. Let’s take a wider view on the jersey. You’ve undoubtedly seen plenty of tweets today pointing out the similarity to the Chicago Blackhawks 2019 Winter Classic jersey. The Devils claim it’s a nod to a long gone predecessor in the Garden State—the Newark Bulldogs.
They played one 40-game season in a minor league in 1928. And the Bulldogs got their sweater from the Chicago Blackhawks, who began wearing it a year earlier in the NHL. Oh, and the same design was picked up by the River Vale Skeeters about a decade later in the Eastern Hockey League.
The uniform is not Jersey’s roots. It’s Chicago’s!
If you’re going to go the “tradition” route, you’d be wise to hang your hat on something that’s original in your history rather than something taken from someone else’s.
There’s just no getting around the fact that this is a Blackhawks sweater that’s only loosely connected to New Jersey.
I’m not going to comment on Brodeur’s role in the design process though I’m somewhat skeptical. I’m sure he weighed in a few times along the way during the three-year design process, but it seems a little like they’re trying to convince us it’s good because a Hall of Famer said so.
By the way, three years and nobody said, “hey, this jersey is starting to look familiar” or anything?
The business about five stripes having to do with five retired jerseys, the 21 stripes representing 21 counties, and 13 games relating to Hischier’s jersey number all rings a bit fake to me. Like they backed into it. If they were borrowing the Bulldogs/Blackhawks jerseys, it had the number of stripes it had. It feels more to me like they counted them up and went, “hey some of these numbers are awfully convenient to our brand narrative.” Or, “how can we shoehorn in a brand narrative?”
And then we have the actual numbers.
I don’t want to say the Rangers own drop shadow numbers, but they kind of do in the NHL. And if they’re your chief regional rival, maybe just steer clear of the comparison entirely.
And why, oh why, did it have to be black?
I get it, the Devils have never worn a black jersey but it’s been one of their primary colors for 30 years. But why only black? Why not a little more of the color that’s made them who they are for the last 40 years? Why not more than a “touch of red”?
But folks, if you want to really talk about tradition and your roots and all that, it was right there in your Reverse Retro last year. Green and red are this team’s legacy colors. Not black and white.
Black is that third jersey color that teams just can’t seem to move on from. Black for black’s sake is a common refrain among sports design enthusiasts. The Hurricanes, the Islanders, the Flyers, the Lightning, the Sharks. In 2013 at their rebrand event, Dallas Stars owner Tom Gaglardi said he didn’t want his team to wear black anymore. So after years in a gorgeous Kelly green, they go back to a black third jersey in 2020. Okay.
Yes, there’s something to be said for attracting a younger fanbase with an edgier look. But is that really achieved by taking your cues from something that’s almost a century old and lacks any edge whatsoever?
At this point, I doubt anyone is left reading. I’m just writing into the void so I’ll come in for a landing and offer a closing thought for people who skipped to the end.
My point is this: I commend the Devils marketing and branding team for what they said they wanted to achieve. Tradition. Roots. History. Fused with a fresh new look for a young team with budding stars, on the rise and exciting to watch. They have all the right ideas here. I can get behind all of that.
But none of their design decisions align with those stated goals. Whoever wrote the creative brief got completely railroaded. Not their tradition. Not their history. Not a new look. Nothing exciting about it in any way.
Wonderful direction. Dreadful execution.
Jersey deserves a better jersey.