When a team unveils a new uniform, it's easy enough to get your arms around it and assess it. But when an entire league gets new uniforms -- 31 of them, in the case of Tuesday night's unveiling of the NHL's new Adidas-made unis -- that's a huge amount of data to process.
Assessing the full impact of the NHL's changeover to Adidas will no doubt be impossible until we see the new uniforms on the ice this fall. But with two days' hindsight, here are some early takeaways, based on personal observations and interviews with multiple NHL and Adidas executives who attended the unveiling event:
1. Nobody was looking to reinvent the wheel. If a casual hockey fan watches a game next season, they probably won't notice anything different about the uniforms. And for many of the teams, even a more serious fan might have a hard time spotting any differences.
That isn't really so surprising. Despite all the hype that typically surrounds a league's changeover from one uniform outfitter to another, the design alterations tend to be evolutionary, not revolutionary. Remember when Nike took over the NFL's uniforms in 2012? Many fans expected a wholesale makeover of the league's look, but most teams' changes turned out to be somewhere between incremental and nonexistent. That's also the case with the NHL and Adidas.
And that leads us to ...
2. Teams called the shots. Fans often mistakenly believe that uniform outfitters control a team's uni design, but it rarely works that way. Adidas and NHL executives at the unveiling event all confirmed that any design changes were made at the initiative of the individual teams, not Adidas. The New Jersey Devils, for example, have made significant changes to their jersey striping, and some unhappy fans on social media have blamed this move on Adidas, but it was actually the team's decision.
For the most part, Adidas executives at the unveiling event weren't even all that interested in talking about the various team designs. They were much more interested in discussing the performance aspects of the new uniforms -- the lighter fabric, the more durable tailoring, and so on.
Teams also had the ability to resist certain uniform changes. For example, Adidas is introducing more lightweight materials for jersey crests, but the Chicago Blackhawks decided not to go that route. They wanted to stay with their old-school chain-stitched embroidery, which they see as a crucial part of their heritage, even if it means that their jerseys will be a bit stiffer and heavier than everyone else's as a result.
3. Collar my world. The most noticeable league-wide change is the new collar construction, which includes a five-sided fabric inlay that showcases the NHL logo at the base of each jersey neckline. Adidas says the collars are designed to lay flatter against the players' shoulder pads, which is fine. But in many cases, the pentagon of fabric sharply contrasts with the color of the rest of the jersey, so it sticks out like a sore thumb.
This development is another echo of the NFL's changeover to Nike in 2012, when the most visible uniform change for many teams was the introduction of Nike's awful-looking Flywire collar. Five years later, the NFL is finally leaving that unfortunate era behind (most teams are upgrading to a new Nike jersey template that is, thankfully, Flywire-free). Let's hope it doesn't take that long for the NHL to scrap the pentagon collar.
4. It's all about the jersey. A hockey uniform includes a lot of elements: helmet, jersey, pants, socks and gloves. But the promotional images from Adidas, the NHL and the teams have focused almost exclusively on the jerseys. Case in point: The Boston Bruins have changed their home socks from yellow to black -- a move that will significantly change the look of every Bruins home game -- but as of this writing, the team's Twitter feed has not shown or even mentioned this change. The only thing mentioned is the new jersey.
Bruins now going with black socks, instead of yellow, for home uni. pic.twitter.com/ZpqGNhjy6A— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) June 21, 2017
There's a simple reason for this, of course: Fans buy jerseys; they don't buy pants, socks, helmets, or gloves. But fans definitely care about those other uniform elements, and it would be nice if the messaging from teams and leagues paid more attention to the full package, not just the jersey.
5. Ad-free zone. Some conspiracy theorists have interpreted various aspects of the new Adidas template as laying the groundwork for advertising patches appearing on NHL uniforms in the near future. I asked NHL executive Brian Jennings about that, and he stated flatly that ads on NHL jerseys are not on the table. And to be clear, he didn't use slippery language that left him with a loophole, like, "We have no current plans for that, but we like to keep all our options open." He looked me in the eye and stated flat out that it is not happening.
Things could always change, of course. But for those who fear the worst regarding NHL uni ads, you can breathe easy, at least for now.
Paul Lukas refers to hockey jerseys as jerseys but doesn't mind when other people call them sweaters. If you like this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, check out his Uni Watch merchandise, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.