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(Illustrations by Matthew Bambach)
(Illustrations by Matthew Bambach)

Dave McGinn

Designing a jersey you'd be proud to wear at a Stanley Cup celebration Add to ...

Some jerseys deserve to be hoisted up to the rafters, others deserve a game misconduct.

Pity the playmaker or enforcer wearing the caricatures that dominated design in the early 1990s. The San Jose Sharks? The Anaheim Ducks? The Coyotes? They all looked more like a Saturday morning cartoon gang that no self-respecting pro athlete should be wearing. But if a team is really desperate to intimidate, even a Penguin can be given the look of feral menace.

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More successfully, some jerseys reference their past to reinforce their power: the Flames, Islanders and Sabres among them. Some clubs may not have much of a past but, like the Minnesota Wild in 2003, a team can field a sweater that exudes a cool, majestic aura, as though their athletic ancestors played on ponds.

The classic jerseys, on the other hand, cannot be trifled with. Habs and Leafs players skate with the burden of history on their shoulder pads, and blowing apart that Original Six look would be tantamount to Original Sin.

"If you're an Original Six team or a team with a lot of history, they tend to want to stay consistent with that," says Keith Leach, Reebok's director of merchandising for NHL apparel.

So for the superstitious who believe that the voodoo of a brand-new logo will lift the Leafs out of the basement, it's never going to happen.

"Any change to our jersey is very infrequent and if it's going to happen, it's going to be subtle at best," says Tom Anselmi, chief operating officer at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. "The jersey is the most important visual representation of the brand and what your team is all about."

Indeed it is, which is why creating a new look is such a painstaking process. Typically, a team that wants to mix things up must make the request to the National Hockey League 15 months before the start of a season. From there, no detail is ignored by designers. They look at the team. Factor in the region. Consider its iconography and symbolism and from that alchemy, conjure an image.

But credit those designs for going out on a limb. And if kudos for that is granted, no team is more deserving than the ever-changing Vancouver Canucks, who have never been afraid to get ugly. They may have a sweet shirt now, but it has taken many excruciating iterations to get there.

Click on 'The evolution of the Canucks uniform' link on the left-hand side of the story to see the Canucks jerseys through the years

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