Fashionable forwards

The Rangers lettering is unique in sports -- the drop-shadows align to the left rather than to the right. Scott Levy/NHLI/Getty Images

As every fan knows, a hockey team's captain wears a "C." But what if a team doesn't have a captain?

That has been the situation with the New York Rangers since March 5, when GM Glen Sather traded captain Ryan Callahan to the Lightning for Martin St. Louis. The Rangers never named a new captain and have simply played without one over the ensuing three months. With the Rangers and Kings poised to begin the Stanley Cup finals Wednesday night, the Blueshirts will become the first "C"-less team to compete for the Cup since the early 1970s, when the Bruins (1970 and '72) and Blackhawks ('71) made it to the final round without a captain.

Going "C"-free is one of several small but telling quirks about the Rangers' uniforms, which are more unusual than they may initially appear. With the team set to play in the finals for the first time in 20 years, here's a look at some other details about their uniforms:

1. Get it off your chest. The Rangers' basic uniform look has been around so long and become so familiar that it's easy to overlook how unusual it is. While most hockey teams wear a logo or crest on their chests, the Rangers simply wear the letters that spell out their team name (or, in the case of their alternate jersey, their city name). Only one other NHL team uses nothing but lettering on its jerseys: the Capitals, and their lettering is much more stylized and logo-like than the Rangers' lettering.

2. Shouldering the load. Teams competing in the Stanley Cup finals usually wear a commemorative patch on the chest, but the Rangers will be wearing it on the shoulder. They did the same thing 20 years ago. In fact, the Rangers have used shoulder positioning for most of their patches over the past two decades -- it's their preferred placement for number-retirement patches, team anniversary patches, season-opening patches, Winter Classic and Stadium Classic patches, you name it.

There have been a handful of exceptions however, including the NHL millennium patch in 2000; the Sept. 11 ribbon patch on the Lady Liberty alternate jerseys in 2001-02 (the home and road jerseys had the ribbon on the shoulder); the Katrina Relief Fund patch, worn for one period in 2005; and the Teammates for Kids patch, worn for one game in 2007. Interestingly, most of those patches had a horizontal design and would have been awkward to place across the shoulder, so that's probably why they ended up on the chest.

3. Game of shadows. Lots of past and current uniform designs throughout the sports world have used drop shadows -- a shadow layer extending or floating beneath the letters and numbers. If you look at the designs in that last photo link, you'll see they have one thing in common: The shadows extend down and to the right from the base layer. It's always that way, down and to the right, extending roughly toward a five o'clock position. Call it the five o'clock shadow. Designers say there's no real reason for it, although it appears to follow our natural inclination to read from left to right.

But the Rangers' drop shadow, which was introduced in 1942, goes down and to the left. There's nothing else like it in the world of contemporary sports design. (In fact, there may never have been anything like it, although research into that point is still ongoing.) It's not wrong, mind you -- just different.

4. Arch madness. When it comes to players' names on the back of their jerseys, there are two ways the letters can be arched -- vertically or radially. Vertical arching looks super-cool, because each letter is custom-slanted depending on its place within the name, but it has fallen out of favor throughout the sports world in recent years, mainly because it's more of a hassle to create. The Rangers are one of few pro sports teams that still use it. Their vertical arching isn't as steep as it used to be, but it's still plenty pleasing to the eye.

5. Chasing their own tails. NHL jerseys underwent a significant overhaul in 2007, when the league introduced the Reebok Edge template. One of the biggest changes was at the bottom of each jersey, where the straight hemline was replaced by a scoop-shaped shirttail. Many fans (including this one) didn't care for the change, and apparently the Rangers didn't like it either, because they modified their jerseys so the scoop shirttail was sewn underneath the bottom of the jersey. Unfortunately, they soon stopped doing this and now wear the standard Edge scoop shirttail.

6. A tale of two cities. Quick quiz: What do former MLB player Daryl Boston and former NBA player Kermit Washington have in common? Answer: They're among the relatively few professional athletes who've worn two different city names on the front and back of their uniforms. St. Louis joined this exclusive club March 9, when the team wore its "New York" alternate jersey. (Yes, St. Louis wore "Tampa Bay" on his chest when he was with the Lightning, but Tampa Bay is not a city -- Tampa is. Doesn't count!)

7. Check your head. Remember when the Rangers wore the Liberty/"NYR" alternate jerseys? They haven't worn that design in seven seasons, but the "NYR" lettering still appears on their helmets, which makes no sense, because that font no longer appears anywhere else in the team's visual program. They'd be better of replacing it with something else.

8. A for effort. What's this -- goalie Henrik Lundqvist wearing the alternate captain's "A"? Goalies aren't usually allowed to do that, so what gives? That shot is from an exhibition game that the Rangers played against Frölunda Gothenburg on Sept. 30, 2011, as part of the NHL Premiere Series. The game took place in Lundqvist's native Sweden, so coach John Tortorella had him wear the "A" for the occasion -- a classy move, even if the game didn't count in the standings. Too bad goalies aren't allowed to wear the "C." After all, the Rangers have a vacancy in that area.

(Special thanks to Adrian Acosta, Trevor Alexander and Alan Kreit for their research assistance.)

Paul Lukas grew up falling asleep to Rangers games on the radio when he was a little boy. If you liked 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, 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.