Worst to First Jerseys: Tampa Bay Lightning

In Featured
Nov 25th, 2019

As we go through the 2019-20 season, we’ll be updating all of the Worst to First Jersey posts every Monday, as almost all the teams in the league have unveiled new jerseys since their original posts. We’ll start with the ones most needing updating and work our way through the league. Today, it’s time for the Tampa Bay Lightning to get updated.

Also, a huge thanks to SportsLogos.net and NHLUniforms.com for most of the jersey images and references. 

Although being one of the younger franchises in the NHL, the Tampa Bay Lightning have had their fair share of branding changes over the almost 30 years of their existence. Some are good, some are bad, and some are just downright ugly.

Here’s how this works: I’ll count down, from worst to first, all the jerseys the Lightning have ever worn. Homes and aways will be lumped into the same category (so, more of a jersey “era”) and I won’t worry about small changes (like slightly changed positions of piping for example). Third jerseys will stand on their own. And I’m focusing on the jerseys only, not the entire uniform. For the Bolts, there’s seven different jerseys/eras. And we’ll start with the worst one.

Bonus Jersey

But first! Here’s a Tampa Bay Lightning jersey you may not know about…one that got manufactured but never made its way onto the ice. Finding these are pretty rare as there’s usually not very made on these kind of prototypes – jerseys that got produced but never got any further.

It is loud. It is crazy. It is very ’90s hockey design: erratic, busy, incohesive, slightly nauseating, using the then-new sublimation techniques because it could, and not because it was wise.

As the story goes (as outlined by the Blue Jackets fan and owner of said jersey), this was one of two initial concepts for a Lightning third jersey. Both jerseys got produced to pick a winner. This one lost. “For good reason,” you might think. But we haven’t gotten to the one that won…

7. 1996–99 Third Jerseys

Yup, this one won. As epileptic-inducing as the other ones are, they’re definitely better than this monstrosity.

And you knew this was coming right? I don’t know if you can even place these in the “so bad it’s awesome” category. It’s currently in the lead for the most bizarre, off-the-wall and randomly designed jersey to ever play an NHL game. Where do we even start?

Yes, the reference of the jersey’s concept is obvious. The team is called the Lightning, it’s played in Tampa, situated on a bay off the Gulf of Mexico, so having rainstorm/lightning/waves makes sense…but it’s pretty literal, right? The Bruins don’t have a forest motif full of bears jersey. The Oilers don’t have a dramatic oil rig landscape jersey. The Penguins don’t have an Antarctic-scape jersey. But it’s the execution of the jersey that makes it feel like a joke.

First off, rectangular rain? Maybe jersey production methods back then were not what they where back then, but these solid blocks or grey and black raindrops are ridiculous. Most 8-bit video games have better rain design than these jerseys. The other elements – lightning bolts and waves – at least have some depth to them, and look like what they’re supposed to look like.

Then there’s the way the colours are completely blocked off on this jersey. Grey shoulder yokes (why?), black sleeves (why??), and the actual storm takes over only the torso of the jersey. The result: a weirdly chunky and disjointed hot mess. If you’re going for a dramatic lightning storm theme, why not just cover the jersey in it and remove the blocks of color that serve no purpose other than to distract from the original concept. GAH! SO BAD!

Then there’s the numbers on the sleeves and back, which are incredibly zig-zaggy and very oddly-textured because…dramatic! It’s a storm! Get it? GET IT?!?!

Yeah buddy, we got it. We also got that you couldn’t design your way out of a wet paper bag. You’re the only one laughing about this joke Esposito.

Jersey Recommendation: #22 Ciccarelli. All this being said, I’d still love to own one of these jersey, because they’re so ridiculous. And why Ciccarelli? Why not? It’s kind of hilarious and most people forget the Hall-of-Famer even played for the Lightning.

6. 2018–present Third Jerseys

The best and only design feature of the jersey is the sublimated gradient on the sleeves and numbers that give a pixelated fade effect from black to grey, but unfortunately it’s so subtle that the impact of this design feature is nearly impossible to see…especially when viewing on a TV broadcast or any arena seats that aren’t right on the glass.

• More: HbD Breakdown: Tampa Bay Lightning Third Jerseys

This could have been an opportunity to utilize a transition from black into white and then blue in order to take full advantage of the unique pixelated fade. It’s a missed opportunity. 

Overall the new Lightning 3rd jersey leaves you wanting it to be just a little bit more than what it is. It hits the mark for out-of-the-box thinking, but ultimately falls flat. There are some elements of the tone-on-tone look that work, primarily the shoulder patch, but even a slight pop of color could have salvaged the overall execution.

But the reality is that it’s purpose is to give their fans something different and to ultimately sell more jerseys. This jersey is successful in that regard. The Lightning actively seeked out the counsel of their fanbase via a survey that was distributed across several digital channels. The fans spoke, and they wanted another black jersey and they wanted it to be different and non-traditional. 

“We wanted to create a third jersey for 13 to 25 year olds. We want kids to wear this jersey. We want kids to think this is the coolest jersey. Furthermore, if you’re over 25, we’re actually okay if you don’t like it. Because if you don’t like it, we’ve got a blue and a white one for you.”

Fair enough. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good design and doesn’t get it any further up this ranking.

Jersey Recommendation: #21 Point. This is not meant as any disrespect to Point at all. It’s a new jersey, and he’s the new young gun on the team, and a dark horse candidate for the best player on the team. Dark horse. Get it?

5. 2014–17 Third Jerseys

This jersey, which I affectionately like to call Lightning’s emo jersey, and while ahead of the previous jerseys, it’s still not very good.

• More: HbD News: New Lightning Third Jerseys Announced

First issue: they’re a rip-off of the Kings’ jerseys. Straight-up. There’s no arguing it. If you remove the Kings’ sleeve stripes, the design is almost identical. Change silver to blue in a few places and you’ve got the same jersey.

Second: for a team that ditched black from their brand in 2011, they sure jumped back into it in a big way. Regular readers know how I feel about black jerseys, which fail to capitalize on hockey’s advantage of having a blank canvas of white ice to have a visually interesting game. With these being worn, it’s black jerseys versus white jerseys on white ice. Monochromatic and boring. Think Sharks/Kings, then think 2014 Winter Classic. And didn’t black jerseys die with the ’90s/’00s?

Third: Bolts. Really? Yes, I get it, “bolts of lightning.” But that’s not your team name. Ever seen a Montreal Canadiens jersey with “Habs” written on it? A Washington Capitals jersey with “Caps”? (Oops.) Senators with “Sens”? (Oh, wait.) The point is, it’s doesn’t scream “professional hockey franchise” to slap a nickname on the front of your jersey to replace your team crest.

I like the minimalist and modern concept in the design, but everything else just kind of ruined it for me. It ends being flat, boring and oddly off-brand.

Jersey Recommendation: #51 Filppula. Valtteri Filppula was with the Bolts almost exclusively during this jersey’s existence. Seems like a natural selection to me.

4. 2008–2014 Third Jerseys

You can start to tell I’m not big on the Bolts’ third jerseys by now. These ones are placed ahead of the current thirds because at least they’re not completely black. Royal blue is the dominant colour, with the addition of some grey in there too, making it a little more visually interesting. But that doesn’t mean they’re that good yet.

There’s still the “Bolts” across the front. And then there’s the “Tampa Bay” which covers the players’ asses on the bottom of the back of the jerseys. The reasoning for this was to be a helpful reminder for opposing teams who are back-checking Lightning players as to which city they are currently in.

“Where am I? And who does this ‘Stamkos’ guy play for? He’s pretty fast. Oh yeah, Tampa Bay! Thanks, jersey designer, for putting that on there for me!”

Seriously, that’s the only reason I can come up with. Otherwise, there’s absolutely no reason why that would be there. I’ve seen some teams play with city names on the front in the striping, but on the back? First time, I believe. If I’m wrong, feel free to correct me in the comments below.

The other negative, the pit stains. No idea why teams do this, but there’s a few who do. And I’m not crazy about the pinstripe white stripes on the front and back of the jersey. Feels totally unnecessary and just makes the jersey look more cluttered.

Otherwise, it’s a step in the right direction for this list. The striping is relatively consistent and the grey adds some diversity and contrast to the jersey. If you have to have black on a jersey, limiting it to the cuffs and stripes is a great way to include it, as the main color (blue) still is the dominant one.

Jersey Recommendation: #26 St Louis. One of the best players to put on a Lightning jersey, and the man of iron thighs. I hate to saddle him on a third jersey, but at least it’s the best third jersey Tampa’s ever created.

3. 1992–2007 Home & Away Jerseys

Step by step, the jerseys are improving, with these original Lightning jerseys being a perfect example of classic jersey design. They’re not overly innovative or interesting in their concept, but there’s a simple strength to them: thick lines, no frills, strong colours.

But they’re actually very innovative in their use of typography. The jerseys pictured here were worn were the 2001–07 versions, but these same jersey designs actually had 4 different uses of typography: the originals from 1992–93 (with the Rangers-esque drop shadow), 1993–94 (with an italicized Rangers-esque drop shadow), 1995–2001 (with the erratic script font), and 2001–07 (pictured here). Personally, I like the 1993–94 version the best.

What makes them innovative is that they were the first team since Pittsburgh in 1967–68 to use a typeface different from the generic one that every other team used (and most still use it). The 1993–94 jerseys shown above still have the blocked-off corners, but they were the first to italicize the font. And the typeface for the names were stylized as well (and they were for the inaugural 1992–93 season also).

The NHL were the first to use a completely new font on jerseys for the 1992–93 All-Star GameBut, the next season (1994–95), the Lightning became the first franchise the next season to ever use a custom typeface, or something other than the generic typeface (again, other than the aforementioned Penguins), with their erratic script font. That same 1994–95 season, the Calgary Flames copied the previous season’s Tampa Bay jerseys and italicized their numbers/nameplates.

Today, just under half of the NHL teams have used different typefaces for their jerseys (or third jerseys) than the generic one. Ironically, Tampa Bay isn’t one of them anymore, but they were the original trendsetters and broke a mould with these jerseys.

Other than that, again, they’re simple, strong and minimal. A classic hockey jersey and, if anything, it’s almost bordering on boring. But with the typography, there’s at least a little bit of innovation thrown in.

It still would have been a better choice to have a blue jersey instead of a black one, for reasons already stated. Just not digging the black. And the grey lettering on the black jerseys don’t have the same impact white numbers/letters would have had. But, it’s still a simple, classic jersey. Oh, and it’s raised a Cup, which always looks good.

Jersey Recommendation: #17 Fedotenko. He’s maybe not the most well-known player to wear the Lightning jersey, but he scored Tampa’s only 2 goals in Game 7 against the Flames in 2004. If you want to celebrate the Cup win with this jersey, there’s no better choice. Get it in the blacks.

2. 2007–11 Home & Away Jerseys

These jerseys, released after the full-scale re-design of the jerseys in the league with the Reebok Edge jerseys, originally took top spot. It was extremely close back then, because there’s issues with this one as well, and I’ve changed my mind.

The most obvious issue: the numbers on the front. I’ve never been a big fan of these, as they don’t really serve a purpose other than to reinforce hockey’s inferiority complex in North America and mimic footballbasketball (and sometimes baseball) which all have numbers on the front. The big, bold placement of the team logo on the front of the jersey (which no other major sport has) is what makes hockey jerseys so great. Just leave the number off the front, they’re already on the sleeves. On the plus side, the rest of the front of the jerseys are incredibly simple, so at least the numbers aren’t making it overly busy.

Of course, the other issue, is the black jerseys. But, I don’t mind black jerseys if they have a lot of colour of them to balance it out, and there’s a good amount of blue on the sleeves here. They’re mostly on the bottom of the sleeves, but they’re still there.

One of the biggest plusses about these jerseys are that they still have an elegant simplicity to them (and removing all grey from the jersey was a good idea too), but they’re not generic at all. In fact, they’re slightly innovative being one of the few teams to introduce a completely different take on the traditional hockey stripes with the new Reebok Edge jerseys. Teams like Pittsburgh and Ottawa did similar things, but they took it just a step too far. Tampa showed some restraint. I guess that’s what those horrible 1996–99 third jerseys can do for you: teach you restraint. Or, too much restraint.

This jersey didn’t win a Cup, it didn’t have an incredibly exciting new roster full of young talent, and that Barry Melrose season was rough, but these jerseys still balance that fine line between simplicity and innovation that make it one of the better Lightning jerseys.

Jersey Recommendation: #4 Lecavalier. Yeah, his time with Tampa Bay didn’t end that gloriously, being bought out after the 2012–13 season, but he is still the longest serving Tampa Bay Lightning and was a major factor in their Cup win, including going toe-to-toe with Jerome Iginla. In his prime, he was a dominant player and a leader on the team. Get it in the whites.

1. 2011–present Home & Away Jerseys

For a few blissful years, from 2011–14, Tampa Bay didn’t have a black jersey. Their third jersey was predominantly blue, and this sharp-looking home and road set was released in 2011, which they still wear today. And they’re fantastic jerseys with nothing to complain about.

Well, okay, maybe. There’s always something.

But first, what works: there’s an incredible amount of restraint in the design of these jerseys. Extremely simple, with only one colour and only a single stripe on both the sleeves and bottoms of the jerseys. The only other teams to have shown that amount of restraint is maybe Detroit, who’ve been wearing their iconic jersey set for over 80 years now. Even Toronto, which many accused these jerseys of copying, has two stripes on their jerseys. And it’s a good reflection of the new logo featured on these jerseys: simplified, iconic, stripped down to its essentials.

The blue is great, the laces on the collars are great, the elegant simplicity of them is great.

But all that being said, it’s been scaled back a little bit too much. I had the same complaint about the logo where it looks too generic and bland, and devoid of any risk-taking.

• More: BTLNHL #22: Tampa Bay Lightning

Sure, maybe the risks they took with their jerseys didn’t always work out, but they did change the league with their use of typography originally, and something innovative here – anything at all – would have created something more interesting and maybe pushed jersey design further into the 21st century. Borrowing aesthetics legacies from the likes of the Wings and Leafs have don’t automatically give a young franchise the same historicity and credibility, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to model yourself after them.

That being said, these are really beautiful jerseys and worthy of being named the best jersey the Lightning have ever worn.

Jersey Recommendation: #91 Stamkos is a natural choice, as he’s been the leader of the team since they started wearing these jerseys. An #86 Kucherov would totally be understandable too. Either way, get it in the blues.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram!

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