Worst to First Jerseys: The Edmonton Oilers

This installment of the Worst to First Jerseys features the Edmonton Oilers, and much thanks to Oilers Nation for letting me guest post on their blog. On my own blog, I talk about about graphic design in hockey and I’ll be doing the rest of the league over time, so come by Hockey By Design to check it out.

By John van der Woude

The Oilers are the epitome are consistency in a league that tends to treat design like a revolving door: easy come, easy go. Aside from the Original 6 teams, only Philadelphia and St. Louis have kept essentially the same logo since the Oilers joined the league in 1979. (Pittsburgh, Buffalo and the NY Islanders have all gone back to their circa 1979 logos, but not before dabbling with other atrocities.) And the Oilers’ jerseys have remained admirably consistent as well.

Here’s how this works: I’ll count down, from worst to first, all the jerseys the Oilers have ever worn. Homes and aways will be lumped into the same category (so, more of a jersey "era") and I won’t worry about small changes (like slightly changed positions of piping for example). Third jerseys will stand on their own. And I’m focusing on the jerseys only, not the entire uniform. The jersey images are compliments of the fine people over at nhluniforms.com. For the Oilers, there’s 4 different jerseys/eras. And we’ll start with the worst one:

4. 2001–2007 Third Jerseys

I respect Todd McFarlane. I really do. He’s an accomplished artist, cartoonist, writer and business person, achieving more than I probably ever well. But of all the things he is, one of them is not a graphic designer, and while his alternate logo that graced the Oilers’ third jerseys is well-constructed, it’s such a departure from the legacy of the Oilers that it’s hard to not say it pales in comparison (I ranked the Oilers at #11 for the best team logos in the NHL, which you can read about here).

I know the legacy is built into this logo with the 5 gears representing the 5 Cups they’ve won, but you’ve basically got to re-design this logo whenever the team wins another Stanley Cup. To me, it says, "Well, we’re not winning another one anytime soon, so we’re safe to keep this logo going." The Islanders do a similar thing, but the integration is much simpler and subtle and not as integral to the overall design. This post, though, isn’t about logos, but about jerseys and I have no idea how much input McFarlane had in the design of this one.

I’ve stated numerous times on my blog how difficult it can be to disconnect legacy and heritage from a cold analysis of the design of a logo or jersey, and this is one of those instances. In the mid-’80s, Glen Sather assembled what is arguably the best teams to have ever existed in the NHL, winning 5 Stanley Cups with 6 of the players from those teams sitting in the Hall of Fame. So, that logo, that jersey, that era, is almost holy. And this third jersey threw that all away.

That being said, outside of that context, these are not bad jerseys, and a valiant effort to forge a new identity for the Oilers that, at the point these jerseys were worn, were over a decade removed from those glory days. True, they had a run in 2006, but anybody except for the most delirious Edmonton homers who tell you that such a run was completely expected should be psychologically evaluated. If you ignore all history of the dynasty years, these jerseys are pretty solid but not without some things to complain about.

The best thing about this jersey is the simplicity and minimalism of it. The piping is simple but strong, complementing the jersey and the logo rather than overtaking it. I’ve always been a fan of including lacing at the collar, giving it a instant sense of history and legacy.

But the biggest complains about this jersey comes down to a pet peeve of mine, a blue so dark that it becomes almost black, which then begs the question, why even bother? The Oilers are by no means the only team guilty of this, with Buffalo, Columbus, Florida, St. Louis and Winnipeg all doing the same thing in this past season alone. I’m not against using a dark blue, but just lighten it up enough that it’s obvious that it’s a dark blue.

What the dark blue also does is also make these jerseys a combination of almost-black/grey/white, lacking in any sort of visual punch anywhere. I’ve never liked that on the LA Kings, and I don’t like it here either, especially when you have such an awesome blank canvas like a white sheet of ice to work with. Colours work so great with hockey that it doesn’t make sense to essentially not include any.

This is also the first and only time the Oilers played with using a font on their jerseys other than the angled-off block font that’s a sports staple. I commend the effort in trying something different and wish more teams would play around with this, but it’s a bit of a miss, looking more like a oddly squished Game of Thrones-esque font. Meh.

Jersey Recommendation: #83 Hemsky – A great player with lots of skill, but either because of injuries or other issues, has never really lived up to expectations. Kind of like McFarlane and this logo/jersey.  

3. 1996–2007 Home and Away Jerseys

As I mentioned earlier, there’s a large amount of consistency with the Oilers’ jerseys, so the rest of this post will be nit-picking about details. But, as they say, the devil is in the details. And I think Todd McFarlane would agree with me.

To be honest, I could rank the previous jersey as #2, and the rest as #1a, 1b and 1c as there’s good and bad things about all of them, but nobody likes a tie game anymore.

This jersey represents what was the first re-branding in the Oilers’ history in the NHL. And the re-branding was very slight. The royal blue became a darker midnight blue, the orange became copper and a little touch of red accent was added. Otherwise, everything remained almost exactly the same from the jerseys that preceded it. I think the copper was a great choice and works well with the name. I’m not sure how much copper has to do with oil drilling, but there’s an industrial metaphor that works there. And it’s a unique color within the design world of the NHL. But, you can probably guess by now how I feel about the midnight blue.

Like a badly-lit photograph, it’s too dark. When on the ice, it’s almost completely black and is not taking full advantage of the aesthetics of hockey. Like Charlie Brown, it needs to brighten up.

As for the red, I don’t think its inclusion is totally necessary and I’m not crazy about its use on the numbers/name plates. It’s not horrible, and works better on the dark blue jerseys because it’s fairly subdued against the blue, but it’s less successful on the white jerseys.

The piping along the bottom and sleeves on these jerseys are exactly the same as during the Oilers’ dynasty days and are classic hockey jersey piping. Nothing wrong with a solid design that works like that. They’re simple and off-set the logo just fine. Maybe they’re a little bit too dominant on the jersey, and again, the additional red stripes on the copper stripe is totally unnecessary.

In the first year of these jerseys, that had additional blue shoulder yokes on the home jersey. Thankfully, that only lasted one season.

Jersey Recommendation: #94 Smyth – The heart and soul of the Oilers during these years, and the undisputed leader of the team during its 2006 Cup run.  

2. 2007-2011 Home and Away Jerseys, 2011-present Third Jerseys

For these jerseys, you can pretty much re-read what I wrote about the previous jersey regarding the colours, so I won’t bother talking about that again in this section. To sum up: cooper = Great!, blue = Too dark!, red = Meh.

But the piping design of these jerseys is totally different from anything else the Oilers have had, the main reason for this being that they went for a re-design when the NHL introduced the Reebok Edge jerseys in 2007. At that point, some teams just kept the same design and made it work with the new shape, some teams took the opportunity to redeisgn their jerseys to complement the new shape, and some teams decided to radically change the traditional idea of hockey jersey piping and trace the new contours of the jersey with colour. The Oilers fell into that last category, and for the most part, they did so successfully.

A few teams went for the vertical piping from the base of the jersey to the collar, tracing a contour of the new jersey’s design. I like the contemporary minimalism of it, like the hockey jersey suddenly got all refined and grownup – like the opposite of BizNasty. And it’s much better than what the Oilers’ hockey cousins to the south did with theirs, making it look like a barley-cooked spaghetti strand.

But the piping on the sleeves bug me. I don’t mind the actual structure of the piping, with the thin white stripes and thicker copper stripe (but the red is still unnecessary), but I have no idea why they didn’t just wrap it around the entire arm or why they gave it that wave-like thing, going thicker and thinner in different parts. That’s a bit of a miss.

That being said, it’s a great-looking, contemporary hockey jersey. Wear it with pride.

Jersey Recommendation: With the new era of Oilers hockey about to get going, you’ve got a whole list of people you put on this jersey. A #4 Hall? Yes. A #93 Nugent-Hopkins? Sure. A #14 Eberle? Why not. A #64 Yakupov? Go for it, but make sure that will be his actual number with the Oilers first. But since they’re moving away from these jerseys (except as thirds), might be better to go for a #10 Horcoff?  

1. 1979-1996 Home and Away Jerseys, 2003 Heritage Classic Jersey, 2008-2011 Third Jerseys, 2011-present Home and Away Jerseys

Remember what I was saying earlier about separating legacy and history from the cold analysis of a design? Well, the difficulty of doing such a thing may have influenced the decision to place these at #1. But it’s easy, as a fan of any hockey team, to see the intrinsic value of a jersey that raised not just 1 Stanley Cup in, but 5. These jerseys are pretty abrasive and even gaudy, but there’s a reason the Oilers’ organization keeps coming back to them: It’s a symbol of success, and seeing all those #1 picks that the Oilers have gotten in recent years skating around in these jerseys makes you believe that success is again right around the corner.

And this royal blue is a hundred times better, because it actually looks like blue as opposed to light-blackish blue. It automatically makes the jersey bolder and more aggressive on the ice. The orange is, for those who know a little colour theory, the complementary colour to blue, so they highlight each other well. But too much of each colour, and they’ll start competing against each other instead. In the case of these jerseys, they’re well balanced though.

The piping is, like I said about the #3 ranked jersey, are solid classic hockey jersey piping. Unlike those jerseys though, it comes across as much more aggressive here because the orange (as opposed to the copper) stands out much more. That’s good and bad, as the piping becomes pretty dominant on these jerseys (and like a a little gaudy) and could be pulled back just a little bit by either making the stripes slightly narrow, or have less of a gap between the stripes, or both. Primarily, you want the jersey to really compliment the logo, and it’s starting to take over the logo a bit in this case.

Part of the problem too are the colour bars on the shoulders, which also compete with the logo. They’re really unnecessary and could be removed, as they did with the 1996-2007 jerseys.

There’s serious complementing (not complimenting) that needs to happen in a jersey, and this jersey has just enough of that. However, once you factor in the history and legacy attached to this jersey, it’s just too much to not place (barely) in first place over all the previous jerseys.

Jersey Recommendation: You could put the names of the entire rosters from the ’80s teams and the most current rosters and make an argument for getting a jersey with their name and number on it (well, almost everyone). Some of the most iconic players to ever play the game wore this jersey, as well as some serious upcoming superstars. Me? I’d rock out the #17 Kurri, in what was the home whites at the time.

Editor’s note: John van der Woude previously wrote a similar piece at Flames Nation featuring Calgary’s best and worst jerseys – JW.

  • Gerald R. Ford

    I love the 96-07 copper and blues. They’re the simplest, most elegant design, and just plain look good. The vintage blue and orange, I love for what it stands for, but it really looks garish and dated now, in my opinion. I don’t hate them, but, boy, they haven’t aged well, and I think it was a mistake to drag them back into service.

  • How in the hell could you put the reebok piping jerseys #2? Those were ugly practice jerseys, and the shortest lived style. It was the only uniform that looked silly without having full cresting on it.

    There’s a reason they got rid of it as soon as they could! I mean who else loves having vertical lines going through the captains As and Cs.

    • Snowdropper

      I read that and for a moment thought we were in the middle of a regular hockey season…then I realized the lockout is still on

      *sob*

      I was always a fan of the 96-07 jerseys because of the copper aspect of the jerseys, but I still like the retro/classic ones the best. The colours combination at the time was pretty unique (Islanders not withstanding), and even today, it’s a rare combination to see.

      • SUUUUUUUUUUCKER!!!

        Muah-hahahaha!

        [NOTE] God I miss NHL hockey. Next thing you know I’ll be refreshing like a madman and battling for first-post honors with the “F!ST!” guys just to get some internet self-validation.

  • #1 definitely. I don’t care about the retro aspect, they just plain look better. In contrast, those Reebok jerseys are a bloody design travesty and look like pajama tops. They should forever be stripped from the Oilers jersey lexicon. *spits*

  • A-Mc

    I play shinny with my 2007-2011 white jersey (love it), but the definite favorite is the blue Present/classic jersey.

    I love the feeling of the 2007-2011 jerseys, the material is something totally different than the other jersey’s I’ve owned. I’m not sure if the present day ones have the same material or not – but they likely do.

    Also, i take pride in the fact that our logo is more or less the same… always. The cog/gear was stupid imo (even though i own one of those jerseys), i’m glad the original logo has been maintained.

    Ugliest jersey EVER has to be that blue Pittsburgh one. My god, my eyes bleed every time i look at it!

  • Spydyr

    An enjoyable read through and through but I have to be “that” guy – a couple times in there, you say 2005 cup run. It’s 2006 you want! I’m not normally picky over typos but that one stuck out for me.

  • 2. 2007-2011 HOME AND AWAY JERSEYS, 2011-PRESENT THIRD JERSEYS

    These jerseys would have been so much better if they had the arm band wrap all the way around.

    I really like the current ‘retro’ jerseys.

  • I say, screw the logo. It’s terrible. Boring, unimaginative, and lauded because of its association with a team that is long since gone. The third jersey was much, much better, and frankly, if I had any say, I would have seen it outright replace the current jersey.

    Frankly, I am sick of the organization’s constant need to look back. There’s an entire generation of fans about my age (I had yet to turn three when the Oilers won their last cup) who have no emotional connection with Gretzky, Kurri, Messier, Fuhr or Coffey. Our memories are of the 2006 run, or maybe the 1997 and 1998 first round upsets. All the talk of the glory years does is serve to remind those of us in our teens or twenties that we were born in the wrong decade.

    The jerseys aren’t interesting or good because they were associated with the 80s Oilers. This new generation of players is not, even if they succeed past everyone’s expectations, a return to the glory years. The championship Oilers are dead, and I’m sick of this nostalgia over its fetid, rotting corpse. Those days are dead. If these Oilers come to prominence in the NHL, their comparable is the modern Blackhawks.

    Frankly, I don’t care anymore. I want to see good hockey in the here and now. That’s it.

    Rant over.

  • Aitch

    Flip #2 & #4 and you might have something. You do realize that those third jerseys were rated by NHL fans as the nicest of all third jerseys in the league a few years ago? They should still be the third jersey as far as I’m concerned. It only looks black if you have a crappy Television.

  • Puritania

    Gotta disagree with this one. The ’07-’11 practice jerseys are atrocious. My ranking is as follows.

    4. Gross ’07-’11 jerseys.
    3. Neat ’01-’07 thirds.
    2. Retros jerseys.
    1. ’06 beauties.

    I know I’m in the minority on liking the ’06 over the retro/classic jerseys, but damn they were just incredible jerseys. I wish they still used them and had the retros as thirds.

  • Czar

    I prefer the 1996-2007 home and away over the present day third jersey,Spydyr’s right about the PJ comment.The Mcfarlane jersey is the only one I don’t own but definately last on the list.The Canucks have had some ugly jerseys and how about the flaming horse in Calgary?

  • PrimeBane

    Completely disagree… the EDGE jerseys are by far the worst. The bitching and moaning about those was pretty epic at the time.

    The McFarlane was the best selling 3rd in NHL history at the time (may still be). This was an love it or hate it jersey where clearly most fans loved it.

    Personally, I love the darker blue. I was a huge fan when the new style was revealed in 96. 🙂

    • I loved the darker blue too. The 1996-2007 are my personal faves. While I liked the retro one at the time, I’m not a big fan of them now.

      Use something like that for a one off game on vintage night or something but I really don’t like seeing them all the time.

      I’ve always been kind of meh with the McFarlane jerseys however the laces around the collar are great.