This morning, the Pittsburgh Penguins quietly unveiled their new alternate uniform for the 2021-22 season. It’s a retro design inspired by a sweater the team wore for five seasons during the 1990s.
I say “quietly” because there was not a lot of fanfare surrounding the reveal. We got a handful of photos and a very short press release. Basically, it was the opposite of the Devils’ announcement last week.
Most notably, the design is the “reverse” of the Reverse Retro the Pens wore last season.
It was made famous by the likes of Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Ron Francis. It’s coincidental that this “Pittsburgh”-centric jersey was released only days after the franchise was sold to Fenway Sports Group. A jersey like this is typically in the works for at least 18 months to two years before being released. So the two events are unrelated.
The only significant change from the original 1992 design was present on the Reverse Retro—the shoulder patches.
Following their back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992, the Penguins changed their logo from the skating penguin they’d used for 25 years to a mark commonly nicknamed the “Robo-Penguin” due in part to its less-than-organic appearance.
That change has not been carried over to the new third jersey. Instead, the skating penguin from the Reverse Retro—and previous yellow third jersey crest—sits on the shoulders of this one. The difference between it and the team’s primary logo is the lack of the triangle background and a recolored hockey stick.
The Penguins also released a 12-game schedule for the new uniform—all at home. It will make its debut on Sat., Dec. 11 as the Pens host the Anaheim Ducks.
That’s all the facts out of the way. How about a bit of editorial to wrap things up?
This is a weird one. The jersey was not worn for very long within Pens history, nor was it really associated with a positive era in franchise history. The team switched to this design coming off their second straight Cup and began a slow descent in subsequent seasons. Of course I’m not blaming the jersey for any of that. Just saying it seems odd that it carries enough nostalgia among fans for the team to bring it back.
It existed for such a brief period of time and during a bout of mediocrity that it’s hard for me to think of it as a classic. But I’m not a Pens fan, and only they could really answer that question.
That said, it’s a design from the early ’90s and fans who were just discovering hockey as kids are now in their 30s and 40s—the age where you usually have some extra money to spend on hockey tickets and jerseys. And nostalgia is a strong force that often separates people from their pocketbooks.
So I do understand where this is coming from.
Setting fandom and local tastes aside for a moment, this jersey commits a couple of other design sins that have become all too common in the NHL lately. It’s black for black’s sake. They already wear black. And it relies on a wordmark across the chest instead of a simple symbol. If you read my take on the Devils jersey, you’ve heard all this before.
But that’s not all. I take issue with two other factors. First, it’s not a third color. Like I said, the Pens already wear a black home jersey. I do like the striping on this one, though. The angled design is cool, but overall the sweater is simply not different enough for me.
Second, it’s another direct throwback. I’m usually disappointed when teams go down that road for a third jersey. I want them to experiment more. Like Edmonton and Dallas. As far as I can tell, the NHL currently has no problem with teams having a fourth jersey in their arsenal—a “heritage” or retro design. We’re seeing them in St. Louis, Carolina and Toronto this season alone. Why not stick with a yellow third jersey and use this for one or two special throwback nights per season?
I can’t answer that, but I do get the sense this will be popular among the Pittsburgh fanbase just the same.
What’s your take?