By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

For the past several weeks, the player names on the backs of the Red Wings' jerseys have been rendered in straight block lettering. But for the better part of the next year, they'll use vertically arched lettering. And you know what that means.

Uni Watch is referring, naturally, to the start of the NHL's regular season, which gets underway tonight. The Red Wings are one of several teams that mark the occasion by switching to their standard nameplate style after using a simpler format in the preseason. Another example: The Rangers, who've been using cheapo shiny, screened-on lettering in the preseason but will now switch to sewn-on lettering. It's basically the NHL version of how the Steelers don't wear front helmet numbers in the preseason but then add the numbers once the games count.

Uni Watch loves to obsess over such typographic minutiae but admits, grudgingly, that there are some bigger uni issues hovering over the NHL, most notably Reebok's long-rumored slim-fit unis, which could revolutionize how the game looks. The new template was originally supposed to be rolled out last season, but GMs reportedly balked over the tucked-in jerseys, so it was back to the drawing board. The plan now is to roll out the new look next season, although Uni Watch has been unable to confirm any details.

Meanwhile, several teams have new looks this season. Here's the scoop:

• The Ducks (no longer "Mighty," thanks to Disney's divestiture) have completely new home and road unis. Uni Watch likes the new color scheme, especially the thin lines of orange (here's how they're used on the home uni), which are nicely echoed on gloves and goalie gear. But while the new wordmark isn't bad on its own, it looks badly adrift amidst all that space on the jersey. And besides, everyone knows hockey jerseys are better off with logos, not wordmarks. (Yes, there's the occasional exception, but you get the idea.) As someone on Chris Creamer's message board pointed out a while back, it's too bad nobody had the stones to do something like this.

Other problems: That bronze trim looks a bit too shiny, no? And what's with the trim's swurvy-wurvy angle? It not only looks like amateur hour (especially from the side and back) but also invites inevitable comparisons with such all-time disasters as this and this (just a sec while Uni Watch reaches for the Dramamine).

All in all: Middling. But in the larger universe of Ducks uniforms, it could've been a lot worse.

• The Sabres have new home and road attire too (plus a new mask for Ryan Miller). The welcome return to blue and gold is somewhat undercut by the much-maligned "Buffaslug" logo, which pretty much deserves all the abuse it's taken (and, as reader Jake Deppen points out, appears to owe a sizable aesthetic debt to the Kent State Golden Flashes), but Uni Watch actually counts it as an upgrade over the team's previous logo (but not, of course, over the one before that, which is now being revived as a throwback alternate).

Uni Watch doesn't mind the front uni numbers, although they create an unfortunate bookend effect when paired with a captain's "C." And no problems with swurvy hemline trim here, although for the wrong reason: The lower jerseys are trim-free -- a near-heretical development in a sport known for its hemline stripes and patterns. Uni Watch counts this as a big negative. (Note to conspiracy theorists: The blank hemline may also be a harbinger of tucked-in jerseys.)

Bigger negatives: All busy nonsense in the underarm area, and those crummy side panels (which are supposed to line up with the stripes on the shorts, but that's clearly wishful thinking).

The revised color scheme alone makes this an upgrade over the previous design. Still, Uni Watch sees this as a major missed opportunity.

• Over in Atlanta, the Thrashers have eliminated their original home jersey and replaced it with this, which used to be the team's alt uni but will now be its primary. (The road jersey is unchanged.) The ever-so-slight problem with the newly promoted design, of course, is that it has -- ahem -- really stupid type down one sleeve, which looks even worse because the other sleeve is blank. In the interests of symmetry, Uni Watch humbly suggests putting some text on the right sleeve -- "CLUELESS," say, or "NIMRODS."

• The Bruins have ditched their Pooh Bear alternate jersey and replaced it with a Bobby Orr-era retro alternate. Uni Watch confesses a certain fondness for the ursine logo and feels it was never showcased properly. The florid trim, the stupid shoulder wordmarks -- poor fella never had a chance. Could've been a classic if handled better, and maybe one day it'll get the more tasteful treatment it deserves. The throwback design is an excellent placeholder until that happens.

• Speaking of retro, Vancouver's original "stick and rink" design, which the Canucks wore last season as part of the league's Vintage program, is now the team's official third jersey (the "V" patch will no longer be used). Those who've never liked this design can move on to the next paragraph. But those who enjoy the logo's deceptively simple charms -- a group that includes Uni Watch -- will want to check out the the story of the logo's creation, available here and here.

• The Stars have eliminated their alternate jersey (which means no more fallopian tube jokes -- dang), and are also wearing an All-Star Game patch, which looks pretty sharp. And here's another tidbit for conspiracy theorists: Word on the street is that the Stars will get a design overhaul next season, because their star-based jersey design doesn't fit with Reebok's forthcoming slim-fit template.

• One other team will have a patch: The Coyotes, who are marking the 10th anniversary of their move to Phoenix. Uni Watch likes how this patch avoids the numerical format found in most anniversary patches, employing "Decade" instead of "10" or "X." A nice change of pace.

One final item of note: With Tie Domi -- that skilled craftsman -- having retired a few weeks ago, we'll probably see fewer blood-stained jerseys this season. Uni Watch encourages all teams to adjust their laundry budgets accordingly.

Ballpark Recap
It's been Uni Watch's most satisfying year ever on the baseball diamond, with a huge range of oddities documented for posterity, from Manny Ramirez wearing a little cherub stick-pin back in April to Cliff Floyd's major jersey snafu just a few days ago. (And there's even an NHL connection: Check out the Vancouver Canucks undershirt that Justin Morneau was wearing during the Twins' clubhouse celebration last Sunday.) For an extensive rundown of the season's more unusual uni-related highlights, look here.

Meanwhile, several readers have noted an intriguing postseason possibility: If the Yankees and Dodgers both make it to the World Series, it'll mark the first time in over four decades that both Fall Classic teams will be going without player names on their jerseys. The last time this happened was in 1965, when the Dodgers and Twins both went nameless.

Follow-Up Roundup
Last column's examination of bat boy uniforms prompted many good reader responses, including one from Wendy Gomez, who answered the burning question of what uni number the Mets' bat boys wore in 1999. As you'll recall, the Mets use a calendar-based numbering system, so their bat boys have worn No. 86 in 1986, No. 00 in 2000, and No. 06 this season -- but it wasn't clear what the bat boys wore in 1999, because Turk Wendell was already wearing No. 99 that season. Gomez provided the answer: "My boyfriend, David Berni, was a Mets bat boy in '99, and I can tell you that he wore double-zero. Then they wore double-zero again in 2000."

Turns out the Mets wouldn't have had this problem if they'd used the numbering system employed by their top farm team, as reported by reader John O'Neil: "When I was growing up in Virginia Beach in the 1980s, I often attended Tidewater (now Norfolk) Tides baseball games. Their bat boys had fractions for jersey numbers, such as 1/2, 3/8, and 2/5. I've never seen that anywhere else [and neither has Uni Watch, unless you count Eddie Gaedel, whose jersey looked like this]. The last home Tides game I attended was 1993, and I believe they still wore them at that time. I don't have any photographs, but I'm sure somebody out there does." Anyone care to confirm O'Neil's faith in the Uni Watch readership?

Meanwhile, just when you thought we'd gone as far as we could go with the topic of schools that wear their team names on their nameplates, Casey Hart checks in with this sub-subtlety: "The Carolina men's soccer team wears nameplates with the wrong team name on them: 'Tarheels,' instead of the proper 'Tar Heels.'" Yowza -- that's no small thing to get wrong! Further details here.

Paul Lukas thinks the only thing worse than referring to "Tar Heels" as "Tarheels" is when people refer to "Uni Watch" as "Uniwatch" (or UniWatch, or Uni-watch, or Uni-Watch). His Uni Watch blog, which is updated daily, is here, his answers to Frequently Asked Questions are here, and archives of his columns are available here, here, and here. Got feedback for him, or want to be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted? Contact him here.