Sports | May 13, 2021 5:15 am

Uni Watch: A Definitive Ranking of All 31 NHL Uniform Sets

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who dons the finest sweaters of them all?

Uni Watch: A Definitive Ranking of All 31 NHL Uniform Sets

The NHL’s annual Stanley Cup playoffs begin this week, which makes this a good time to do a ranking of how the teams look on the ice. From first to worst, we have the full listings for you.

Assessing NHL uniforms is always a hoot, because hockey has the sports world’s most interesting uniforms. Consider:

  • Hockey is the only major sport whose jerseys are designed to be worn untucked, which provides a larger design canvas.

  • It’s also the only sport that combines short pants with full-length stockings.

  • Unlike football and basketball, hockey doesn’t require teams to put a number on the front of the jersey, which further expands the design possibilities.

  • Except for the face, every part of a hockey player’s body is covered. Again, this serves to expand the design canvas.

It’s also worth mentioning that the NHL is a pretty good-looking league at the moment. There are only a couple of flat-out unattractive teams, and relatively few unattractive individual uniforms. But that could all go down the crapper if the league adds advertising patches to its jerseys in 2022, which is apparently a strong possibility. So let’s enjoy the league’s current aesthetic bull market while we can.

These rankings are based primarily on the teams’ standard home and road uniforms, with alternate and Reverse Retro (ЯR) designs considered mainly for bonus points and tiebreakers. Ready? Here we go.

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson #23 of the Boston Bruins skates against the New Jersey Devils at the TD Garden on March 28, 2021
A perfect 10.

1. Boston Bruins

If you looked up “hockey uniform” in the dictionary, this is pretty much what you’d find. The iconic crest, the contrasting shoulder yoke, the matching sleeve and sock stripes — first rate! The road whites are just as strong as the home design, and even the alternates and ЯRs look sharp. No matter which uni this team is suiting up in, you know they’re going to look good out there. Uni Watch’s highest rating.

Shea Weber #6 of the Montreal Canadiens skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period at the Scotiabank Arena on April 7, 2021
Perhaps the best use of red and blue in pro sports

2. Montreal Canadiens

Pro sports is loaded with waaaaay too many teams that wear some combination of red and blue. But few squads wear those colors as well as the Canadiens. And is there anything sweeter than that big, bold jersey crest? Plus you’ve gotta love the wraparound striping on the home reds, and even the ЯRs look surprisingly good. Vive les Habs!

Martin Jones #31 of the San Jose Sharks defends against Joel Eriksson Ek #14 of the Minnesota Wild during the game at the Xcel Energy Center on April 17, 2021
High marks for a relatively young team

3. Minnesota Wild

Green is criminally underrepresented in pro sports in general and the NHL in particular. Fortunately, the Wild have been repping the green to spectacular effect for 20 years now. The tan and red accents work perfectly, and the road whites are arguably even better than the home greens. Bonus points for the  magnificent North Stars-inspired ЯR design, which puts the biscuit in the basket and then some.

Libor Hajek #25 of the New York Rangers and Casey Mittelstadt #37 of the Buffalo Sabres follow the puck during an NHL game on April 3, 2021
Let them wear white at home!

4. New York Rangers

In 2003, after more than three decades of having home teams wear white, the NHL shifted to a “color at home, white on the road” format. No team’s fan base has suffered more from this policy than that of the Rangers, whose spectacular white uniform is the class of the league. The red and blue trim really pops against the white background, no? The team’s blue uni is no slouch either, but it can’t compete with its brilliant white counterpart. Please, NHL: Let home teams wear white again!

Mark Stone #61 of the Vegas Golden Knights skates during the first period against the Colorado Avalanche at T-Mobile Arena on April 28, 2021
Vegas’s first pro sports uniform is an instant classic

5. Vegas Golden Knights

Alright, so we said this list would be based primarily on the teams’ standard home and road uniforms, but an exception has to be made for the Golden Knights’ gold alternate design, which was introduced this season. Aside from being a obvious match for the team’s name (why didn’t they have a gold uni when the franchise launched in 2017?), it’s also a killer uniform that feels like an instant classic, with the red and white accents playing perfectly off the muted shade of gold. The team’s home and road designs are also winners (the home uni is the rare gray/charcoal uniform that actually works), but it’s the gold alternate that vaults Vegas into the No. 5 slot on this list. Here’s hoping they redesignate it as the home uni soon.

Torey Krug #47 of the St. Louis Blues in action against the Vegas Golden Knights on April 7, 2021
The rare instance of blue on blue actually working

6. St. Louis Blues

The Blues live up to their team name by mixing two shades of blue — royal and navy. That’s usually a uni no-no, but it works here because of the contrast provided by the white and yellow. Meanwhile, the road whites look sharp and the throwback alternate is a nice blast from the baby-blue past. Granted, the ЯR design is a stinker, but they wisely opted to wear it for only two games this season, so not much harm done there.

Jack Eichel #9 of the Buffalo Sabres skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on March 2, 2021
Back to the basics

7. Buffalo Sabres

Another team that looks better in white, although the home blues are nothing to complain about. Either way, after all the years of visually painful nonsense — the red design, the bison’s head, the front numbers and apron strings, and of course the buffaslug — it’s great to see the Sabres getting back to basics and reclaiming their position in the league’s top  10.

Jeff Carter #77 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the Boston Bruins at PPG PAINTS Arena on April 27, 2021
The next best thing to an actual tuxedo

8. Pittsburgh Penguins

Who doesn’t love a skating cartoon penguin? Answer: Nobody — nobody doesn’t love a skating cartoon penguin. Glad we cleared that up for you.

Mitchell Marner #16 and John Tavares #91 of the Toronto Maple Leafs hug after their team defeated the Vancouver Canucks at the Scotiabank Arena on April 29, 2021
The sweaters have often been the only thing worth celebrating in Toronto in recent years

9. Toronto Maple Leafs

A classic uniform, obviously. And the current iteration of the jersey crest is certainly better than its clunky predecessor

But when a team has only one color plus white, the visual effect feels a bit underwhelming. That goes double for the Leafs’ home uniform, which becomes a largely undifferentiated monochromatic blur. Which leads us to…

Richard Panik #24 of the Detroit Red Wings skates after a loose puck against the Chicago Blackhawks during an NHL game at Little Caesars Arena on April 17, 2021
This is about as high as “one color plus white” will get you on this list

10. Detroit Red Wings

Much like the Maple Leafs, the Red Wings are an Original Six franchise with a classic uniform that’s held back by the “one color plus white” factor. This uniform is so firmly etched in the NHL’s visual firmament that you can’t just add another color to it — but that means the team will always come up a bit short on this list (despite the bonus points for the vertically arched player names). A very good uniform set? Yes. A great one? Not quite.

Egor Zamula #54 of the Philadelphia Flyers takes the puck in the third period against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on April 27, 2021
A truly iconic jersey crest

11. Philadelphia Flyers

Another team that looks better in its white uniform, although the orange/black color scheme makes for a solid home design as well. The jersey crest, essentially unchanged after more than half a century, still feels fresh, and the contrast-colored nameplates have become a fun visual signature. Solid-looking team.

Yegor Sharangovich #17 of the New Jersey Devils skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Prudential Center on April 9, 2021
The devil-horned “NJ” is superb in any color

12. New Jersey Devils

After four decades of use, the Devils’ jersey crest deserves some credit as one of the NHL’s strongest logo designs. In fact, it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about the home reds, the road whites, the green-accented heritage uni or the more heavily green-centric ЯR design — what comes through each time is that bold, devil-horned “NJ.” It’s almost as though it doesn’t matter which colors or design details you put around it — the logo still dominates.

Noah Hanifin #55 of the Calgary Flames looks to pass the puck against against the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL game at the Bell Centre on April 16, 2021
Bring back the ’80s. The Flames certainly have.

13. Calgary Flames

Yet another team that looks better in white, and with good reason: The “new” uniform that the Flames began wearing this season is essentially a return to what the team wore in the early 1980s, when NHL teams still repped white at home. Too bad about the black-themed alternates (guys, you’re the Flames, not the Charred Ashes) and the laughably bad ЯR design, but the standard home and road sets are A-OK.

Ilya Sorokin #30 of the New York Islanders skates during warm-ups prior to the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Nassau Coliseum on February 28, 2021
A fine sweater.

14. New York Islanders

The Isles have been so bad for so long (only nine playoff appearances in the past 25 years, six of which saw them exiting in the first round) that it’s easy to overlook the fact that their uniforms are generally solid. They’ve made some missteps over the years with alternates, and of course there was the whole fish sticks fiasco, but their basic home and road looks are fine. Not outstanding, not upper-echelon, not elite — but fine.

Philip Broberg #86 of the Edmonton Oilers mans the point during first period of an exhibition game against the Calgary Flames prior to the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on July 28, 2020
Yet another argument for wearing white at home

15. Edmonton Oilers

Another team that looks bett— well, you get the idea by now. Not only do the Oilers look good in their white/navy road uni, but their white/orange ЯR design is arguably another step up. That said, the home uni feels a bit blah, the alternate design is saddled with vibrating colors and the longstanding jersey crest is starting to feel more dated than iconic.

Sam Bennett #9 of the Florida Panthers warms up on the ice prior to the start of the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at the BB&T Center on April 22
Panthers FC?

16. Florida Panthers

Few NHL uniform sets have been so vexing here at Uni Watch HQ as Florida’s. On the one hand, the color scheme is excellent and the overall composition of elements works really well. On the other hand, that jersey crest just doesn’t feel like a hockey logo. Soccer? Sure. Rugby? Maybe. But hockey? Not feelin’ it. The net result is a maddeningly unsatisfying uniform that doesn’t reach its full aesthetic potential.

Mikhail Grigorenko #25, far left, Emil Bemstrom #52, Jack Roslovic #96 and Seth Jones #3, all of the Columbus Blue Jackets celebrate Bemstrom's second goal of the third period against the Nashville Predators at Nationwide Arena on May 3, 2021
It’s all a bit much

17. Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets have a different uniform template than most other NHL teams. The lower jersey striping is right at the hemline instead of across the belly area, and the shoulder yoke striping extends all the way down the sleeves — which looks particularly good on, you guessed it, the white road jersey (are you sensing a pattern here?). That’s all to the good, and it’s cool that they’ve based their crest on the Ohio flag (America’s only non-rectangular state flag, don’tcha know), but the flag is too heavily stylized, plus it seems counterintuitive to have it facing to the left. Meanwhile, the rear uni numbers feel clunky, the alternate uni feels generic and the ЯR design is a stinker. Overall: Meh.

Mattias Ekholm #14 of the Nashville Predators skates against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on May 3, 2021
It was all yellow.

18. Nashville Predators

Another team that looks so much better in white. In fact, the road whites are among the better designs in the league. But the home design is burdened by way too much yellow. A navy shoulder yoke and/or navy helmet would help, as the very similar ЯR design makes clear.

Paul Stastny #25 of the Winnipeg Jets keeps an eye on the play during third period action against the Edmonton Oilers at Bell MTS Place on April 17, 2021
It’s a bird, it’s a plane … yeah, never mind, it’s just a plane.

19. Winnipeg Jets

The Jets get a lot of aesthetic mileage out of those double-striped sleeves and socks, plus the road whites hold their own quite nicely and the retro alternates are a hoot. So why aren’t they higher on this list? Because of the jersey crest. It’s nice that it’s based on the Canadian Air Force insignia (because the team is called the Jets, get it?), but it feels sooooo lackluster compared to what was worn by the NHL’s previous incarnation of the Jets (who then moved to Arizona and became the Coyotes). It’s fun that they’ve revived that old design for their ЯR uni, but they’ve done it a disservice by rendering it in charcoal and wearing it only twice this season.

Ilya Lyubushkin #46 of the Arizona Coyotes gets ready during a face off against the Vegas Golden Knights at Gila River Arena on April 30, 2021
All hail the Kachina

20. Arizona Coyotes

Lots of people, this columnist included, treated the Coyotes’ “Kachina” design as a joke  when it debuted in 1990s. A quarter-century later, it’s time to admit that this uniform has aged surprisingly well and now feels like the definitive look for a team that has gone through multiple design cycles, so it’s great that they’ve brought it back as their primary home look this season. Unfortunately, the road uni is a total snooze, the alternate uni is the same snooze in a different colorway and the ЯR uni is an eyesore.

Joe Pavelski #16 of the Dallas Stars celebrates with Roope Hintz #24 of the Dallas Stars, Jason Robertson #21 of the Dallas Stars, Miro Heiskanen #4 of the Dallas Stars and John Klingberg #3 of the Dallas Stars after scoring a goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning at American Airlines Center on March 25, 2021
A disservice to the color green

21. Dallas Stars

It’s always good to see a team wearing green. But the chest logo looks like something you’d see at Old Navy, the road uni would be better off with green pants instead of black, the neon-themed alternates are embarrassing and the ЯRs are illegible. The world’s greatest color deserves better.

Kevin Labanc #62, Brent Burns #88, Logan Couture #39, Mario Ferraro #38 and Evander Kane #9 of the San Jose Sharks celebrate scoring a goal against the Los Angeles Kings at SAP Center on April 9, 2021
Great logo. Dated everything else.

22. San Jose Sharks

The jersey crest, largely unchanged during the franchise’s 30-year history, is still a winner. Wish we could say the same for the color scheme, which now feels badly dated — few things scream 1990s like teal and black. The gray trim doesn’t help, but the Sharks would rank several slots higher if they brought back their old orange trim, a small but powerful design element that added some much-needed brightness to the proceedings.

Dougie Hamilton #19 of the Carolina Hurricanes scores a goal in overtime and celebrates with teammate Sebastian Aho #20 during an NHL game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on May 1, 2021
Pick a crest, any crest. As long as it’s just one.

23. Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes are in the odd and possibly unprecedented position of having four uniforms with four different jersey crests — not exactly the best way to build a coherent visual identity. The home reds and black alternates are solid enough, but the road design is cringe-worthy (memo to all other NHL teams: Leave the diagonal lettering to the Rangers), the ЯR Whalers throwback would look so much better in green or white instead of drab gray (plus it’s basically trolling the fans up in Hartford), and the overall inconsistency throughout the team’s uni program feels jarring.

Ross Colton #79 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates his goal with teammates Mathieu Joseph #7, Erik Cernak #81, and Ryan McDonagh #27 against the Dallas Stars during the third period at Amalie Arena on May 5, 2021
The Flash called, and wants his logo back

24. Tampa Bay Lightning

Much like the Maple Leafs and Red Wings, the Lightning are in the “one color plus white” bucket (no coincidence, since they adopted this uni design when former Wings great Steve Yzerman became their GM). But unlike the Leafs and Wings, the Lightning don’t have a century-long heritage to fall back on. There’s nothing terrible about their uniform set, but it feels rather rote and uninspired, especially for a young franchise. And it’s hard to get past how the jersey crest makes all the players look like the Flash.

Alexander Volkov #92 of the Anaheim Ducks skates against Vegas Golden Knights against the Vegas Golden Knights during the first period of the game at Honda Center on April 18, 2021
We all know what crest we wish were pictured here

25. Anaheim Ducks

Orange as an accent color is a wonderful thing. But the Ducks’ use of orange — especially the very bold, saturated shade that they use — goes beyond accenting and becomes garish. The sleeves, the socks, those godawful side panels — it’s too much. And speaking of garish, maybe it’s time to rethink that webfoot jersey crest.

Adam Gaudette #96 of the Vancouver Canucks scores the shootout winning goal against Filip Gustavsson #32 of the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on March 17, 2021
Go Centurions!

26. Ottawa Senators

Something about this team’s visual identity has always seemed a bit misbegotten. They don’t look terrible, but they never look special either. The problem is that Roman centurion crest mascot, which has always seemed like an odd fit for a Canadian hockey team (or any other hockey team, for that matter).

Nate Schmidt #88 of the Vancouver Canucks is congratulated by teammate J.T. Miller #9 after scoring during their NHL game against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Arena on May 4, 2021
A divisive crest

27. Vancouver Canucks

When it comes to the Canucks’ logo, there isn’t much middle ground: Either you really like the orca breaking through the “C” or you think it’s ridiculous. Here at Uni Watch HQ, we fall into the latter category. It’s long past time, people: Put Johnny Canuck on the jersey!

Lars Eller #20 of the Washington Capitals skates against the Philadelphia Flyers in the second period at Capital One Arena on April 13, 2021
A lot to look at. Not necessarily a lot to like.

28. Washington Capitals

The patriotic color scheme is fine, and so is the chest lettering. So what’s the problem? Ugh, those white stripes running down the sleeves and the navy side panels (and their counterparts on the road jersey) — getting rid of those would be a textbook case of addition by subtraction. Also, doesn’t it seem a bit cheesy that the Caps apply the jersey lettering and graphics as one giant patch, instead of sewing the letters on individually? Shouldn’t that be reserved for cheapo replica jerseys?

Devon Toews #7 of the Colorado Avalanche skates against the San Jose Sharks at Ball Arena on May 01, 2021
The Avs need to hit the boards. The drawing boards.

29. Colorado Avalanche

The Avs made some aesthetic headway this season by changing their pants, helmets and gloves from black to blue. But that’s too little, too late for a team that badly needs to go back to the drawing board. From the logo to the colors, the whole thing feels way too 1990s — time for a reboot. (A few bonus points for the vertically arched nameplate lettering, however.)

Andreas Athanasiou #22 of the Los Angeles Kings skates on the ice during the third period against the Arizona Coyotes at STAPLES Center on April 7, 2021
Where art thou, purple?

30. Los Angeles Kings

As many of you may be aware, your friendly uniform columnist dislikes — nay, loathes — the color purple. It’s the diva of colors, the Celine Dion of colors: loud, tacky, overbearing. So listen up, because you may never see these words emanating from Uni Watch HQ again: The Kings should go back to wearing purple. Why? Because for all of purple’s annoyances, it’s also the color of royalty, so it made sense when the Kings wore it back in the 1970s and ’80s. Silver and black? That’s cool if you’re playing in the NFL for the Raiders and a lame-o cliché for anyone else. The Kings took a step in the right direction with this season’s purple ЯR design, but they wore it only four times. Meanwhile, their primary crest looks like a bargain-basement knockoff design and their number font looks choppy and bloated. An overhaul — with or without purple — is long overdue.

Kirby Dach #77 of the Chicago Blackhawks skates for position on the ice during an NHL game against the Carolina Hurricanes on May 3, 2021
It’s time to bury a controversial logo

31. Chicago Blackhawks

Countless sports teams across North America, from top-level professional clubs to high schools, are stopping their use of Indigenous-based team names, logos and iconography. It’s time for the Blackhawks to join them. Until that happens, they’ll rank at the bottom of this list.

Incomplete Data: Seattle Kraken

Come this fall, the NHL will have a 32nd team, as the Seattle Kraken are set to make their debut in the 2021-22 season. Aside from a few Photoshop mock-ups, there are still no images of the full uniforms, so it’s not yet clear where the Kraken will slot into our rankings. But you can learn more about the team’s visual program here and here, with a full Uni Watch assessment here.

Paul Lukas will have uni rankings for NBA teams when their postseason starts later this month. If you like this article, you’ll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook, check out his podcast, and sign up for his mailing list so you won’t miss any of his future InsideHook columns. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, check out his Uni Watch merchandise, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.