Perhaps one of the perpetual cycles that NHL teams struggle most with is alternate jersey designs. Even when a team has a great one, something seems to crop up that causes them to change their threads.
As you may or may not remember, the third jersey craze really heated up in the 1995-96 season and has since skyrocketed to a perpetual cycle for most of the teams throughout the league. Not every team has a third jersey in active service, but most teams utilize some option as an alternate or for special occasions.
I base my preference of third jerseys off a handful of criteria which I have used to make a definitive ranking of the NHL’s alternate uniforms. A third jersey should offer a few specifics. First, proper use of the team’s color palette is a must. I prefer taking a complimentary color and using it as the jersey’s base. Second, using a different pattern than the primary uniforms is always nice. There isn’t much point in adding another traditional looking jersey to a pair that looks almost identical to it. Preferably a team with a more modern jersey set would go with a traditional design whereas a team with a traditional design would go in the other direction. The lone exception here is if a team goes with a full throwback style, typically those fit in well regardless of the team’s typical look. Finally, I like having the primary crest as a secondary and using a secondary crest as the primary. After all, most shoulder patches are a team’s alternate logo. Using the primary works just fine, but well done alternate logos are high on my list. What tends to happen is that some alternate crests don’t translate on a larger scale, which detracts from the jersey’s overall look.
Using my very particular tastes, I’ve taken the 19 teams with third jerseys and ordered them from best to worst. Here are my rankings:
- St. Louis Blues: A perfectly executed alternate jersey. This takes a complimentary color and uses it as a primary, it gives a traditional take to a team with a more modern design standard and the circular crest is awesome. Full marks.
- Ottawa Senators: Like the Blues jersey, this offers a different, more traditional design standard when compared to the regular home and away jerseys. The crest couldn’t be any better and the whole jersey looks terrific.
- San Jose Sharks: The black and teal work too well together for this not to rank high on the list. A great, understated jersey that fits perfectly within the team’s identity; another important factor to consider with a third jersey.
- Vancouver Canucks: The first retro jersey on the countdown, Vancouver went with a complimentary design as opposed to one that stands out from their traditional jerseys. For a team that has so widely embraced that M.O., this jersey fits perfectly with their uniforms.
- Washington Capitals: Slotting in at five thanks to the nostalgia factor, these duds are a great throwback jersey that holds steady with the team’s current standard while taking everyone back by a few decades.
- New York Rangers: The New York vintage third jersey looks great. The traditional striping pattern works well with the team’s design standards. While the Lady Liberty jerseys will always be my favorite, these still look great. The vintage white does it for me.
- Los Angeles Kings: The Kings may deserve an asterisk here since they seem to be slowly doing away with their alternate jerseys. While this doesn’t meet many of the rules I set for proper third jersey design, the traditional throwback is a clear exception to the rule. Turning back the clock (like the Flames previous thirds) is an auto win for me because there is no way to screw them up.
- Minnesota Wild: The best overall set of uniforms in the league boasts one of the best third jerseys. While I think the crest leaves something to be desired, the overall design here looks awesome.
- Toronto Maple Leafs: Not much to see here, a throwback inspired jersey that looks great. It also looks a hell of a lot like their homes, so there isn’t much to judge.
- Phoenix Coyotes: Perhaps a surprise this high on the list, I love Coyotes alternates. The sand colored numbers, leaping Coyote and alternative striping pattern all work very well together. It offers a different look than the primary design even with a change in the crest, which can be a no-no.
- Colorado Avalanche: A blue version of their ultra-classy burgundy thirds from the early 2000s. While these certainly look nice, I’m not all that taken with them.
- Carolina Hurricanes: Alternate logos can be tricky if they’re overdone, but Carolina (and Phoenix for that matter) do a great job with theirs. The black-on-black shoulder patch and storm flag waist stripe are a little over the top in my opinion.
- Anaheim Ducks: What I like about this jersey is that they use the webbed-D as opposed to the out-of-place Ducks wordmark. What I don’t like it how the orange is incorporated. They get credit for not going orange with these – it just would’ve been too much to handle – but the way they incorporated it just doesn’t work for me. Not an appealing look.
- Boston Bruins: Holy vanilla, Batman. I don’t think the Bruins jerseys could get more boring than they currently are. I was a huge fan of the Pooh Bear thirds from the 90s and these are just so plain. No waist stripes hurt and I’m not sold on this particular alternate logo as a crest.
- Calgary Flames: The shoulder patch on these jerseys is so awesome. But the rest is just bad. It reminds me of a beer league softball jersey. Their throwback alternates were so perfect that these really pale in comparison.
- Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts wordmark really hurts these jerseys. I like the change in the design standard and the blue base looks cool. But the crest is out of place.
- Columbus Blue Jackets: The color scheme looks amateurish to me. I think they went overboard with the off-white everywhere and it doesn’t translate well to the design. The pattern would be cool, but the color choices and that horrible crest really set this uniform back.
- Buffalo Sabres: This abomination has earned plenty of enemies in Buffalo since it was unveiled. Blame the cape-effect you get from the two-toned pattern. Don’t forget the grey number (why?) and oddly placed silver accents. They were on the right track with yellow, everything else is a miss.
- New York Islanders: Amazingly I still slot the Isles jerseys behind Buffalo’s new alternates. There is no black in the Isles color scheme. The baseball-style team name looks bad and the number actually overpowers it on the front of the jersey. Add in the odd choice of grey and this thing is a train wreck.