John Van Der Woude is a B.C.-based graphic designer whose work is familiar to you, whether you know it or not. He’s the architect of the much-needed Pass it to Bulis site redesign that occurred midway through last year. (Do you remember what this place used to look like? We’ve blocked it out.)
John is also the man behind the excellent hockey blog, Hockey By Design, which breaks down the aesthetic appeal of hockey equipment and apparel from a designer’s perspective. He’s kindly agreed to bring his discerning eye to Pass it to Bulis today in order to give us his opinions on the Canucks’ vast jersey history (and finally tell us what font the Canucks’ current jersey employs! Yay!).
This installment of the Worst to First Jerseys features the Vancouver Canucks, and much thanks to Harrison and Daniel at the Canucks’ blog Pass It To Bulis for letting me guest post on their blog. On my own blog, I talk about about graphic design in hockey and I’ll be doing the rest of the league over time, so come by Hockey By Design to check it out.
Ah, my beloved Canucks. Any reader of my blog knows that I’m a die-hard Canucks fan. After 41 years and counting of Stanley Cup futility, they haven’t always been the easiest team to cheer for, and the same goes from a jersey perspective. There’s some pretty horrid jerseys that they’ve played in, and have generally been reviled as having one of the worst jerseys to ever grace the ice, but I love them anyway.
Here’s how this works: I’ll count down, from worst to first, all the jerseys the Canucks 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. The jersey images are compliments of the fine people over at nhluniforms.com. For the Canucks, there’s 8 different jerseys/eras. And we’ll start with the worst one:
I’m guessing some will disagree with me on this, as you were probably expecting the ’80s-era “Flying V” jersey was going to be at the bottom. And most people who do the “worst jerseys of all time” blog posts list that one near the top. But those people are lazy – falling back on the general opinions of others who have no design expertise, and don’t bother to actually research their own opinions. That jersey does not compare with the horridness of this one.
The Canucks were one of the first teams to be part of the first NHL third jersey program, and almost every single jersey that came from that first batch were pretty awful. It’s the worst jersey the Canucks have ever come up with, but it wasn’t even close to being the worst one of that initial third jersey program. Thankfully, third jerseys have gotten better. Kind of.
Back to the Canucks, what makes this jersey so bad? It’s a combo of the logo and the jersey. The skate blade logo at the time is one of the most complex and detailed logos in the history of the league. I counted 18 separate and distinct lines going in the exact same direction. Some window blinds have less uni-directional lines. It’s extremely excessive and obnoxious. So, the obvious thing to do is throw in a couple more lines on the jersey, amirite?
I’m assuming that the shape of the lines on the jersey is meant to both “accentuate” the lines on the logo and, given the shape of a V, give homage to the old Flying V jersey. But, that homage is not incredibly obvious. If you’re going to do a giant V on a jersey, don’t pull a Mason Raymond and go around and around the zone. Be Todd Bertuzzi* and charge for the net.
*Punching people in the back of the head and pushing them to the ice not recommended.
But part of the problem is also the placement. Putting those extra black and yellow lines right underneath the logo makes an already confusing logo even more visually complicated. The uniform also removes some of the things that make hockey jerseys distinctive and great, like the piping on the sleeves, shoulder and the bottom of the jersey.
And giving the lines a gradient fading out on both sides is, well, pretty ’90s and there’s a reason why it’s rarely seen in sports uniforms. It’s ugly. Fugly even. Which is real ugly. Very, very ugly. The gradient lines look weak, awful on the back, and just awkward on the sleeve. I could go on, but I’ll stop there, because this jersey is just awful.
Jersey Recommendation: #89 Mogilny – Like the jersey, he wasn’t with the team for very long, and always kind of felt out of place.
Speaking of gradients, here’s another jersey that featured one. In a non-dramatic twist of non-irony, it’s the second worst jersey in the Canucks history. The gradient is treated slightly better than in the previous jersey, as it’s more of a background feature than being more integral to the overall design. But it’s still a gradient of red to blue, and it looks like one of those fake electric fireplaces. It’s like their shirts are on fire, but really, don’t worry, there’s no rush.
The gradient also dates the jersey badly. It should have died with the lockout…the previous one. No, not this one. Sigh.
The bigger problem, though, is that the lighter blue on the logo (theoretically, the primary colour of the Canucks logo scheme) is featured nowhere on the jersey, so the logo suddenly looks awkward and out-of-place, like wearing the wrong thing at a wedding.
A few other things: The dark blue is too dark, and watching it live makes it look more like black than a real colour. Also, like the previous jersey, a V is incorporated into the design, this time on the sleeves. It’s pretty half-assed again (go Bertuzzi, not Raymond), and it makes the sleeve numbers slide way too far down, like they just enjoyed the Insano waterslide.
Jersey Recommendation: #55 Jovanovski – Offensive defenceman for an offensive jersey.
I like the black road jerseys. I like them a lot. It’s got thick red and gold stripes that add a lot of brightness to a black jersey (which is the only way that black jerseys really work well). But they’re not perfect. The shoulder piping is awful (again a V!) as it doesn’t fit with the rest of the jersey and makes things overly complex. The V in there is still drawing on the jerseys immediately preceding these ones, the (in)famous Flying Vs, but on this jersey, they basically clipped its wings and made it look awkward and out-of-place.
But otherwise, it’s a pretty solid jersey, doing what it can overly aggressive colours and with (as previously talked about) a mediocre and complicated logo.
But the golden home jerseys. Yikes. So much of that golden colour makes it look more like a mustard yellow. Without enough black or (any) white on the jersey, there’s nothing to break up the aggressive gold and red colours and it becomes a jersey worthy of Woodstock – a muddy mess. Just ask the Steamer. He just saw his reflection in the glass in this photo.
So, half of this era would work pretty good with some modifications. The other half is awful. Making a Jeckyl-Hyde reference would be too obvious, so I’ll make a more contemporary obvious reference.
One thing I’ve never understood about the use of this logo on the jerseys is the space inside the “C” and between all the letters in “Canucks”. On the home jersey, it’s filled in with the same mustard yellow colour, but on the road jerseys, it’s left white. Weird.
Jersey Recommendation: #9 Tanti – Arguably the best player on the team during this era. And that’s just pretty sad. And get the home jersey. If you’re gonna be bad, just go all out.
We’re getting into the middle of the pack, so there’s good and bad things to talk about. A couple of the things that I mentioned about the third jersey during this era holds true for these jerseys. Mainly, that the navy blue on the home (dark) jerseys are so dark that it looks black during the games. If you’re going to have a colour, make sure it can be seen as a proper colour. The Canucks are not the only ones guilty of this. The Blues, the Sabres, the Jets, and many others have done the same thing, so it’s not exactly a new problem. Or maybe it’s just a pet peeve of mine.
I’ve never liked this iteration of the logo either, or more specifically, it’s colour scheme. The darker blue is too dark (or just make it black if you want to put an orca on there), the lighter blue is too placid and needs to be more aggressive. The grey is, meh, well, grey. But the red just never made sense to me. For one, it’s more of a calming maroon colour when matched with the blues. In the ’80s, it was a super-fiery orange-red. In the ’90s, it was more of a deep blood red. In this logo/jersey, it’s a bluish-maroon red. Doesn’t have the same impact.
For two, what’s with the orca’s bleeding gums?
The colours come across as too soothing and not being aggressive enough, and that carries over into the jerseys of course, because having a jersey that’s different colours than the logo is just crazy. Aside from what I mentioned about the home (dark) jersey being too dark of a blue, the road (white) jersey looks pretty sharp. The contrast of the white against the darker colours makes everything jump out a little more.
For both jerseys, the piping is a little strange, using different widths of stripes and being a little stripe-heavy (seriously, 4 stripes, do you need that many?) but way more refined than some of the predecessors on this list so far. It’s like this jersey continuously brings back books late to the library.
Fined over and over. Re-fined. Get it? Ba-dum-ching.
Jersey Recommendation: #19 Naslund – This was his team while they wore this sweater and the West Coast Express was dominant at the time. Wear it with pride in the road whites. Or get a #11 Messier if you feel like getting beat up.
Everything bad that I had mentioned about the 1985-89 jerseys previous pretty much got fixed with these jerseys. The V-shaped piping is taken off the shoulders, the mustard yellow is removed from the home jerseys and replace with a crisp white that really makes the logo stand out a lot better.
Other things: the piping is refined slightly, with the different widths of coloured stripes so it’s not quite as aggressive. Halfway through this era they also changed the red from an orangey-red to a deeper blood red, which works really well. The jersey isn’t as bold as the previous version, but it’s still got the bright dominant colours to be an eye-catching jersey.
They still kept the white colour in the “Canucks” on the logo on the road (black) jerseys, which makes me think that it probably doesn’t look very good. So I photoshopped it into a jersey to see what it looks like. I think it looks great personally. It simplifies and opens up the logo a little more and actually makes the word a little more legible on the jersey. But refinement and minimalism was not exactly a trademark of the ’80s and ’90s.
Otherwise, these are awesome jerseys and you should be proud to go out and buy one. The logos on them still have the same design issues that I pointed out earlier, but hey, they’re not using the logo anymore, so now we can wear it ironically.
Jersey Recommendation: #16 Linden – Get it in the home white and sprinkle some blood on it. Then go hug a goalie and recreate this iconic picture. You should hug goalies regardless. They need their proverbial tires pumped sometimes. Or get the #10 Bure in road black and recreate this moment over and over and over again.
I lumped all of these together into the same grouping because aside from some slight colour switches and piping changes, they’re essentially the same jersey. And finally, you have a jersey with colours that aren’t too dark and/or too soothing – like during the late ’90s and early ’00s – but still bold and aggressive without being incredibly intense – like during the ’80s and early-’90s. Plus, the colours actually make sense with the location of the team (blue ocean and green trees) and they look great on a jersey. What’s not to like?
Well, let me tell you. For one, and I realize I may be in the minority in this, I don’t like the logo. Or, at least, I don’t like the logo as much as some other people like the logo. Sure, I like the extreme simplicity of it, and the clever use of the stink/rink to make a C, but if you have read my discussion of logos over at my blog (Read it! It’s awesome! Reading it will help stop Winter from Coming! I promise!), you’ll know that a hockey logo needs movement and aggressiveness to it, as those are key attributes to the game of hockey. This logo is seriously lacking in both of those aspects. The third jersey that the team wears now has a slightly altered version of the logo, with the hockey stick adjusted to give a little more movement, but it’s still a pretty static logo.
But seriously, that’s pretty much my only beef with this jersey. The blue is rich and gorgeous, and the amount of green on there balances it out perfectly. The piping is well designed, especially on the home whites. The road jerseys have a bold colour (instead of something like black, which isn’t nearly as interesting). I’m not crazy about the reversed out logo in this case, as it’s too dominantly white, but again, that’s more a beef with the logo than the jersey.
Jersey Recommendation: #7 Boudrais – The first offensive star that Canucks had, as well as being a defensive specialist. He was the Canucks’ Bob Gainey and Guy Lafleur rolled into one. I’d get it in the home whites, but the road blues would look good too. And don’t put the name on there, as those weren’t included until 1977, after he had left the team.
Wait, what? The Flying Vs in second? I’m sure I’ll get some disagreement on this one, but there has arguably never been a more distinctive and unique jersey in all of hockey as this one. There are two people wearing this jersey in this photo of the crowd at Rogers Arena. My guess is you can find both of them within about 8 seconds. Yes, it’s garish and sticks out and is totally weird, but that’s what makes it absolutely great.
For the home jerseys, I hated on the mustard yellow jersey from the era immediately after this one, but it works better on this jersey because it’s broken up by the massive black and red V on the front. That being said, I still like the road jerseys better, as the contrast of the black makes the massive gold and red V come out and visually punch you in the face.
From a graphic design standpoint, the simplicity of it is really stunning. You have strength, you have movement, you have aggressiveness. There’s even a certain gracefulness to it and its incredibly distinctive. The lack of piping along the bottom of the jersey doesn’t bug me at all, as it would just take away from the awesome simplicity of the V. It’s the greatest thing going for this jersey.
And it’s incredibly unique. Not many teams – before or after – moved their main logo to the arms to make way for what’s essentially a design element. I would’ve loved to be in those meetings between the designers that created it and the team, because they must have done an incredible Don Draper style selling job on it. Getting teams (or any company for that matter) to break the mold and try something completely new is not an easy task. I’ve heard the design firm said the V stood for Victory, not Vancouver. Obviously, they weren’t familiar with the Canucks at all, that they were from a place called Vancouver and that by 1978 they hadn’t really been Victorious in much of anything.
In the last couple years they used these jerseys, they moved the numbers that were at the very bottom on the sleeves (near the wrists) to the top (near the shoulders) which was definitely a good move. And personally, I’d get rid of the V on the arms altogether. Just have the giant V on the front, with the main logo and numbers on the sleeves. Done. Simple, distinctive and in-your-face. If they ever play in a Winter or Heritage Classic, they damn well better wear these jerseys.
You can now roast me in the comments section below.
Jersey Recommendation: #12 Smyl – The Steamer was the heart and soul of the team during this era, and any guy nicknamed Steamer would suit this locomotion of a jersey well. Get the black jersey though. The gold is still a little gross.
The best jersey the Canucks have ever worn is their current one. I wouldn’t call it the best jersey in the league right now, but it took all the right elements from their historic 1970s jersey and mixed it with the current logo. And the logo’s colours were simplified and refined, getting rid of that sleepy red colour and deepening the lighter blue colour (You can read my critique of the logo here on my blog). The whole jersey also still balances the blue and the green perfectly.
And I finally get to talk a bit about typography! All of their previous jerseys (and the jerseys of every single other team) followed the generic rule of having an angled-off square font for the numbers and names on the back. It wasn’t until the 1993-94 season that a team finally tried something new. The Tampa Bay Lightning italicized the font that year, but it was the NHL itself who first introduced a rounded sans-serif font into hockey jerseys, with the 1994 All-Star Game jerseys. The next season, the Lightning were the first team to use a completely different font on their jerseys. It’s an awful font, but they were still the trailblazers. The next season, Washington, Colorado, Anaheim, LA and the Islanders all tried out new fonts, and finally hockey joined the typographic conversation.
The Canucks took until 2007, but they picked a great font called Agency, a font professionally created, versatile and well-suited to the constraints of a hockey jersey (i.e. – it’s narrow), so that if this Swedish prospect ever joins the Canucks, they’ll have a Saviiahti-Nagander jersey ready.
Typography aside, it’s an awesome jersey. I wasn’t sold on the inclusion of “Vancouver” above the logo, until I realized that it’s an homage to the Canucks’ WHL jerseys. It’s a nice touch and doesn’t bother me at all any more. It’s a great jersey. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Jersey Recommendation: #33 H. Sedin or #22 D. Sedin – These guys are phenoms, and probably the best players to ever wear any Canucks’ jersey. So wear the best ever Canucks player’s number on the best ever Canucks jersey.