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Nov 19, 2020 • • 5 minute read
Another off-season (hardly a typical one, mind you), another alternate jersey.
Whenever the 2020-21 National Hockey League season begins, the Edmonton Oilers will have another uniform in their stalls: A ‘Reverse Retro’ fourth jersey, which is sort-of a contrast to the old royal blue with orange shoulders version — sort of, as really, the old white version was more of a true ‘reverse.’
Regardless, the new retro jersey does conjure up memories of the shirts of lore, specifically the ones from the World Hockey Association days.
The upcoming season will be the third in a row the Oilers have rolled out an alternate to their orange home and white road togs.
David Staples asked me to write this up after I emailed him about the history of Oilers wear; I’ve been a jersey nerd since I was a child who dreamed of donning his own Sandow SK one day. I had watched a recent Cult video in which he and Bruce McCurdy talk about the Reverse Retro version, and it seemed to me they weren’t totally certain of when styles changed.
A history lesson is below, followed by a poll asking you which Oilers jersey style is your favourite of all-time.
The Oilers wore the original orange w/ blue-and-white trim sweaters on the road and white with orange-and-blue trim at home their first two seasons in the WHA.
They’re modelled after the powerhouse junior Oil Kings jerseys of the early/mid-1960s, when they were busy beating Bobby Orr & Co. and others in Memorial Cups. It’s the same style today’s WHL Oil Kings wear.
Cue the contrast
The Oilers changed their jersey design when they moved to the Coliseum in 1974, the one they adopted for the following 20-plus years, although they sported contrasting crests. They wore these for the rest of their WHA tenure, through 1978-79.
Before we saw the Reverse Retro style unveiled earlier this week, I half-expected it to sport the contrasting crest you see here on Al Hamilton’s white sweater from 1976-77, or maybe even the orange-lettered, blue-dropped one from the blue version.
Into the NHL
When the Oilers entered the NHL, they kept the uniform style but reverted to the crest from the 1972-74 sweaters. It’s the design they used for 17 seasons, including for all five Stanley Cup wins, through the 1995-96 campaign.
The Oilers switched to the dark blue/copper/hint-of-red combo in 1996-97 — unveiling it on May 31, 1996, amid the team’s do-or-die season-ticket campaign to either qualify for the NHL’s Canadian assistance plan or to avoid relocation, depending on if you believed NHL commissioner Gary Bettman or then-Oilers owner Peter Pocklington — utilizing the same striping pattern but dropping the shoulder yokes on the road jersey.
A roughneck logo was added to the shoulders. The yokes lasted one season on the home whites.
A board of Oilers people which included Peter Pocklington and Glen Sather chose to stay with a traditional hockey look. The New York Islanders had introduced a new logo and look a year before, and the reception was decidedly tepid at best.
The yoke-free versions were the Oilers’ mainstays for 10 seasons, including that incredible 2006 run all the way to Game 7 of the Cup final (tear).
And now for something completely different
In 2001-02, they added an alternate jersey designed by comic-book artist Todd McFarlane, then a member of the Oilers ownership group, and creative partner Brent Ashe.
It was a notable departure from their traditional design and logo. The team used it as their third jersey through the 2006-07 season.
From Jean Fraser’s story on the jersey’s unveiling on Oct. 26, 2001:
The oversize jersey has rap-star appeal, Gen-X allure and will work as well on urban streets as it does on hockey ice.
Which is exactly the point, says the Calgary-born McFarlane, modern and sophisticated in head-to-toe black and a pair of Gucci-style shoes.
“We wanted it to be a hockey jersey but also a good wear if you were just walking down the street.”
New supplier, new look
Reebok took over as NHL jersey supplier for 2007-08, a move that saw the Oilers change their design to the ‘pajama’ style. Gone were the familiar stripes on the sleeves and belly along with the roughneck. The Macfarlane-style jersey disappeared from the team’s closet.
Back to the future
As part of their 30th anniversary, the Oilers brought back the blue version of their classic 1980s uniform in 2008-09. They kept it as an alternate until making the full-time switch to the classic look in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’s rookie season, 2011-12, when they (re)introduced the white version.
Connor McDavid wore this design his first two seasons, too, along with the WHA-style orange alternate that the team introduced for 2015-16 and used exclusively at home during the 2017 playoffs. The ‘Orange Crush’ promo that spring foreshadowed the full-time switch to orange the following season.
Shift to orange
In the fall of 2017, when Adidas took over from Reebok as the NHL’s jersey supplier, the Oilers made their most recent design switch to the current look, which is true to the classic design, just an emphasis on orange for the home shirt and dark blue instead of royal. In my opinion, the road white jersey is practically a direct descendent of the 1979-80 version.
The past two seasons, the Oilers have used different alternates — in 2018-19, as part of marking their 40th season in the NHL, they wore royal blue throwbacks in the style they had abandoned just a year earlier for four games, one each against their former Smythe Division rivals. Last season saw the debut of a mainly dark blue third uniform with bright orange trim, no white.
And now the Reverse Retro.
So, what’s your favourite Oilers jersey of all time? Honestly, I don’t even know if I can answer it. I mean, you can’t go wrong with the 1980s design no matter what, but that dark blue/copper from the late ’90s into the 2000s was very sharp. Orange is fun, too.