NHL plans new, streamlined uniforms next season

NEW YORK -- The NHL will break with tradition next season by ushering in a new, streamlined uniform that blends fashion with functionality, commissioner Gary Bettman said Wednesday.

Bettman said the new-look uniforms, designed over the past two years, will be unveiled at the All-Star Game in January.

In an interview with Reuters at the NHL's headquarters in New York, Bettman said the players who have tested it so far "have been thrilled."

While the new tapered uniforms are fashionable, Bettman said they were designed with players in mind.

"The new uniform takes advantage of developments in new fabrics," he said. "But the change was done not for the stylistic. It was done for performance and safety. It was time. Our basic uniforms haven't changed in 40 years."

NHL teams have worn basically the same outfit, with big, square shirts, bulky pads and wide socks with horizontal stripes since the 1940s.

The new leg pads are designed to stay in place when a player moves and not ride up toward the waist.

"The players will have the ability to have their joints flex and be able to move their arms and legs better than ever before," Bettman said.

In a wide-ranging interview, Bettman said attendance during the first two months of the season is down about one percent from last year's record-setting campaign.

"In terms of the vital signs, last season was strong," the commissioner said. "This season remains strong."

The league is having attendance problems in some of its bigger markets, such as New Jersey and Chicago, but some of the franchises in non-traditional hockey areas such as Raleigh, N.C., and Nashville, Tenn., are solid.

"Last year, we set an all-time attendance record," Bettman said.

"Part of that record was the strongest October we had ever seen. ... If you take away last October, we would have set an attendance record for October this year."

Despite sagging attendance in some markets and low television ratings, Bettman said he was thrilled with the way the league has rebounded from the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season.

"I think 25 teams last year either made the playoffs or were within 10 points of making the playoffs," Bettman said. "And I think we're doing better than that this year. So almost everybody is competitive and is in the hunt."

Bettman said the NHL was committed to boosting its television ratings but added he has secured deals with Internet video firms to reach younger fans.

"The challenge moving forward with the foundation we have is, 'How do we grow new fans? How do we take casual sports fans and turn them into hockey fans?' That's what we're working on," he said.

"No one can question that this is a solid business, a strong league with an unbelievably strong brand. What other brand could shut down for a year and not lose its customers?

"Hockey fans are the most loyal fans in sports, and for that we are so grateful."