Worst to First Jerseys: Edmonton Oilers

By JVDW
In Featured
Dec 22nd, 2019
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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 Edmonton Oilers to get updated.

Also, a huge thanks to SportsLogos.net for the images (unless otherwise noted) and NHLUniforms.com for the jersey references. 

The Oilers are the epitome are consistency in a league that tends to treat design like a revolving door: easy come, easy go. Aside from the Original 6 teams, only Philadelphia and St. Louis have kept essentially the same logo since the Oilers joined the league in 1979. (Pittsburgh, Buffalo and the NY Islanders have all gone back to their circa 1979 logos, but not before dabbling with other atrocities.)

The jerseys, on the other hand, have been very interesting in recent years. If there’s ever been a team that has struggled to deal with the visual branding of the past successes, it’s the Oilers. From one of the league’s greatest dynasties to its biggest laughingstocks, it’s been interesting to see how they’ve dealt with it from a branding perspective.

Here’s how this works: I’ll count down, from worst to first, all the jerseys the Oilers 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 Oilers, there’s seven different jerseys/eras. And we’ll start with the worst one:

7. 2001–07 Third Jerseys

I respect Todd McFarlane. I really do. He’s an accomplished artist, cartoonist, writer and business person, achieving more than I probably ever well. But of all the things he is, one of them is not a graphic designer, and while his alternate logo that graced the Oilers’ third jerseys is well-constructed, it’s such a departure from the legacy of the Oilers that it’s hard not to say it pales in comparison.

More: BTLNHL #11: Edmonton Oilers

I know their legacy is built into this logo with the 5 gears representing the 5 Cups they’ve won, but you’ve basically got to re-design this logo whenever the team wins another Stanley Cup. To me, it says, “Well, we’re not winning another one anytime soon, so we’re safe to keep this logo going.” The Islanders do a similar thing, but the integration is much simpler and subtle and not as integral to the overall design. This post, though, isn’t about logos. It’s about jerseys and I have no idea how much input McFarlane had in the design of this one.

I’ve stated numerous times on my blog how difficult it can be to disconnect legacy and heritage from a cold analysis of the design of a logo or jersey, and this is one of those instances. In the mid-’80s, Glen Sather assembled what is arguably the best teams to have ever existed in the NHL, winning 5 Stanley Cups with 6 of the players from those teams sitting in the Hall of Fame. So, that logo, that jersey, that era, is almost holy. And this third jersey threw that all away.

That being said, outside of that context, these are not bad jerseys, and a valiant effort to forge a new identity for the Oilers that, at the point these jerseys were worn, were over a decade removed from those glory days. True, they had a run in 2005, but nobody except for the most delirious Edmonton homers will tell you that such a run was completely expected.

The best thing about this jersey is the simplicity and minimalism of it. The piping is simple but strong, complementing the jersey and the logo rather than overtaking it. I’ve always been a fan of including lacing at the collar, giving it a instant sense of history and legacy.

But the biggest complains about this jersey comes down to a pet peeve of mine, a blue so dark that it becomes almost black, which then begs the question, why even bother? I’m not against using a dark blue, but just lighten it up enough that it’s obvious that it’s a dark blue.

What the dark blue also does is make these jerseys a combination of almost-black/grey/white, lacking any sort of visual punch anywhere. I’ve never liked that about the LA Kings, and I don’t like it here either, especially when you have such an awesome blank canvas like a white sheet of ice to work with. Colours work so great with hockey that it doesn’t make sense to essentially not include any.

This is also the first and only time the Oilers played with using a font on their jerseys other than the angled-off block font that’s a sports staple. I commend the effort in trying something different and wish more teams would play around with this, but it’s a bit of a miss, looking more like a oddly squished Game of Thrones-esque font. Meh.

Jersey Recommendation: #83 Hemsky. A great player with lots of skill, but either because of injuries or other issues, has never really lived up to expectations. Kind of like McFarlane and this logo/jersey.

6. 1996–2007 Home & Away Jerseys

This jersey represents what was the first re-branding in the Oilers’ history in the NHL. And the re-branding was very slight. The royal blue became a darker midnight blue, the orange became copper and a little touch of red accent was added. Otherwise, everything remained almost exactly the same from the jerseys that preceded it.

I think the copper was a great choice and works well with the name. I’m not sure how much copper has to do with oil drilling, but there’s an industrial metaphor that works there. And it’s a unique color within the design world of the NHL. But, you can probably guess by now how I feel about the midnight blue.

Like a badly-lit photograph, it’s too dark. When on the ice, it’s almost completely black and is not taking full advantage of the aesthetics of hockey. Like Charlie Brown, it needs to brighten up.

As for the red, I don’t think its inclusion is totally necessary and I’m not crazy about its use on the numbers/name plates. It’s not horrible, and works better on the dark blue jerseys because it’s fairly subdued against the blue, but it’s less successful on the white jerseys.

The piping along the bottom and sleeves on these jerseys are exactly the same as during the Oilers’ dynasty days and are classic hockey jersey piping. Nothing wrong with a solid design that works like that. They’re simple and off-set the logo just fine. Maybe they’re a little bit too dominant on the jersey, and again, the additional red stripes on the copper stripe is totally unnecessary.

In the first year of these jerseys, that had additional blue shoulder yokes on the home jersey. Thankfully, that only lasted one season.

Jersey Recommendation: #94 Smyth. Nobody personifies the Oilers more during this particular era than Smyth, the heart and soul and undisputed leader of the Oilers during these years and its 2005 Cup run. Get it in the whites.

5. 2007–11 Home & Away Jerseys, 2011–12 Third Jerseys

For these jerseys, you can pretty much re-read what I wrote about the previous jersey regarding the colours, so I won’t bother talking about that again in this section. To sum up: cooper = Great!, blue = Too dark!, red = Meh.

But the piping design of these jerseys is totally different from anything else the Oilers have had, the main reason for this being that they went for a re-design when the NHL introduced the Reebok Edge jerseys in 2007. At that point, some teams just kept the same design and made it work with the new shape, some teams took the opportunity to redeisgn their jerseys to complement the new shape, and some teams decided to radically change the traditional idea of hockey jersey piping and trace the new contours of the jersey with colour. The Oilers fell into that last category, and for the most part, they did so successfully.

A few teams went for the vertical piping from the base of the jersey to the collar, tracing a contour of the new jersey’s design. I like the contemporary minimalism of it, like the hockey jersey suddenly got all refined and grownup. And it’s much better than what the Oilers’ hockey cousins to the south did with theirs, making it look like a barely-cooked spaghetti strand.

But the piping on the sleeves bug me. I don’t mind the actual structure of the piping, with the thin white stripes and thicker copper stripe (but the red is still unnecessary), but I have no idea why they didn’t just wrap it around the entire arm or why they gave it that wave-like thing, going thicker and thinner in different parts. That’s a bit of a miss.

That being said, it’s a more minimalist and contemporary take on a hockey jersey. And one of the very few that made those Reebok stripes look not that bad.

Jersey Recommendation: #10 Horcoff. Sean Horcoff was the captain of the Oilers during this era, as well as being one of the consistent leading scorers. Get it in the (too dark) blues.

4. 2019–present Third Jerseys

From a branding perspective, these jerseys are really interesting. For a franchise that thought a new golden era was about to be bestowed upon it (circa 2011, with Hall, Eberle, et al) and brought back their classic jerseys, to see that never happen, to another golden era (circa 2015 with McDavid), and again not come to fruition, they seemed to give up on trying to fulfill some sort of manifest destiny with their original jerseys, and let the old things die.

This jersey is the best representation of that, and in some ways, it works really well. It forges a new path for the Oilers from a visual branding perspective. It’s bold, unique, and definitely more urban/street than anything they’ve had in the past (or has ever been in the league).

More: HbD Breakdown: Edmonton Oilers Third Jersey

But it’s also visually flat, lacking contrast and any meaningful or symbolical elements. It’s a jersey meant to look cool. And it does look cool. But cool for cool’s-sake in design means it won’t last long because it’s anchored to an aesthetic era. Which, for a third jersey, maybe that’s just fine. At the very least it’s interesting, so I gotta give it that.

Jersey Recommendation: #29 Draisaitl. The big German scoring machine seems to personify these jerseys the best: a new and relatively unexpected development to complement McDavid and help him shoulder the expectations for the franchise.

3. 2017–present Home & Away Jerseys

When Adidas unveiled the Adizero jerseys for the league in 2017, the Oilers took the opportunity to make some tweaks to what was their classic jersey. There were leaks that the blue would be going in the navy direction, but we didn’t know the orange was being de-intensified to more of a peach colour.

• More: HbD Breakdown: Adidas Adizero Jerseys

And we didn’t know that they were bringing over essentially the same design from their blue jerseys rather than their previous orange alternate, with three stripes kept separated rather than connected.

It all makes for a lesser jersey than either their classic blue homes or orange thirds from last year (more on both of those coming up). I’m all for orange jerseys, but the subtle change of colours makes them both look drab, taking all the potential energy and intensity out of them. The white stripes mixed with the darker navy blue also creates way too much contrast, drawing the eye right to the bottom of the jersey, especially with two white stripes and one blue. The numbers are also moved from the shoulders to the sleeves.

That all being said, the fabric of the classic Oilers jersey is there, especially in the road whites with the tri-stripes on the sleeves and bottoms. I’m not a fan of the move to navy blue instead of a richer royal blue, but again, this was a franchise looking for a new visual direction for their jerseys, of shedding (but still alluding to) their historical greatness.

They’re also one of the few jerseys that have made the awkward Adizero collars work quite nicely, so there’s that too.

Jersey Recommendation: #93 Nugent-Hopkins. Amid the McDavid/Draisaitl craze, I have a soft spot for the Nuge, a high-quality depth player who will be just as important to the Oilers’ success as the two big guns.

2. 2015–17 Third Jerseys

It’s hard to do orange jerseys well. The only team that has consistently had success with it is Philadelphia, mostly because they’ve always kept their designs incredibly simple in both design and colour palette (orange, black, white and nothing else). Others have tried and failed. Sometimes quite spectacularly. But here, the Oilers manage to pull it off relatively successfully.

These jerseys were announced, without a leak to really speak of, at the 2015 Draft and caught everyone off-guard when they put it over Connor McJesusDavid’s head. Some raved for it, some against, but there’s a few different things that these jerseys have going for it.

For one, it’s got obvious historical relevance, being an almost exact replica of their old WHA origins (complete with numbers on the shoulders instead of the sleeves). Second, it’s still completely unique to the franchise (post-WHA of course), so it represents a fresh introduction to the team’s branding. And third, this thing’s unique within the NHL. Sure, there’s a couple orange jerseys out there, but none with this much blue – or any other colour – to make things more interesting. It’s bright, colourful, and unique.

And it also has something that helps the Flyers’ pull off the orange jersey: simplicity. For dealing with something so relatively bizarre and aggressive as this jersey looks, they kept a very simple and straight-forward aesthetic. Solid and consistent striping patterns throughout the jersey, on both the arms and sleeves as well as the shoulder yokes. It also fit perfectly within their set of jerseys. It belonged in the set, while still being unique and impactful.

And for a franchise in desperate need of a refresh, they also had a new GM (which didn’t go so well), new coach (ditto), a new franchise centre (“Save us McJesus!”) and a new jersey to give a visual representation to all that change. It didn’t last long, but it was an interesting step for a franchise burdened by their visual branding history.

 Jersey Recommendation: #97 McDavid. He’s the first player to ever publicly wear the jersey, and the face of a franchise desperately need of a re-birth. This jersey is the perfect metaphor for him.

1. 1979-96 Home & Away Jerseys, 2003 Heritage Classic Jersey, 2008-11 Third Jerseys, 2011-17 Home & Away Jerseys

Remember what I was saying earlier about separating legacy and history from the cold analysis of a design? Well, the difficulty of doing such a thing may have influenced the decision to place these at #1. But it’s easy, as a fan of any hockey team, to see the intrinsic value of a jersey that raised not just 1 Stanley Cup in, but 5. These jerseys are pretty abrasive and even gaudy, but there’s a reason the Oilers’ organization have kept coming back to them: it’s a symbol of success, and seeing all those #1 picks that the Oilers received in recent years skating around in these jerseys made you believe that success was again right around the corner. It’s wasn’t, which has caused a branding crisis of sorts for the Oilers since 2015.

This royal blue is a hundred times better, because it actually looks like blue as opposed to light-blackish blue. It automatically makes the jersey bolder and more aggressive on the ice. The orange is, for those who know a little colour theory, the complementary colour to blue, so they highlight each other well. But too much of each colour, and they’ll start competing against each other instead. In the case of these jerseys, they’re well balanced though.

The piping is solid classic hockey jersey piping, but it comes across as pretty aggressive here because the orange stands out. That’s good and bad, as the piping becomes pretty dominant on these jerseys (and like a a little gaudy) and could be pulled back just a little bit by either making the stripes slightly narrow, or have less of a gap between the stripes, or both. Primarily, you want the jersey to really compliment the logo, and it’s starting to take over the logo a bit in this case.

Part of the problem too are the colour bars on the shoulders, which also compete with the logo. They’re really unnecessary and could be removed, as they did with the 1996–2007 jerseys.

There’s serious complementing (not complimenting) that needs to happen in a jersey, and this jersey has just enough of that. However, once you factor in the history and legacy attached to this jersey, it’s just too much to not place it in first place.

Jersey Recommendation: You could put the names of the entire rosters from the ’80s teams (Gretzky, Fuhr, Messier, Anderson) and the more recent rosters (McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins) and make an argument for getting a jersey with their name and number on it. Some of the most iconic players to ever play the game wore this jersey, as well as some upcoming superstars. Me? I’d rock out the #17 Kurri, in what was the home whites at the time.

Which jersey in your collection is your favorite? Let us know comments or join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram!

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