Worst to First Jerseys: The Washington Capitals

Photo By Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

A look at Caps sweaters through the years

[Ed. Note: John van der Woude of Hockey by Design reached out to us about doing a guest post to be included in his series ranking jerseys of NHL teams from the worst in their history to the best, and we happily obliged (for what it's worth, here was our take on the subject at hand). So without any further ado, take it away, John...]

This installment of the Worst to First Jerseys features the Washington Capitals, and much thanks to Japers' Rink 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 jerseys for the rest of the league over time, so come by Hockey By Design to check it out.

The Washington Capitals have kept a pretty consistent look since joining the NHL in 1974, aside from the a period from the mid-'90s to mid-'00s. After that hiccup, they went back to the original jersey concept. So, there's two main concepts/eras for the Caps' jerseys, with a couple variations within each. And because of playing in DC, there's a distinctly American feel to all of them, from eagles to the Capitol building to stars and stripes. 'Merica!

Here's how this works: I'll count down, from worst to first, all the jerseys the Caps 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 Capitals, there's 4 different jerseys/eras. And we'll start with the worst one:

4. 1997–2000 Home & Alternate Jerseys, 2000–2007 Home & Away Jerseys

The worst jerseys the Capitals ever wore are from an era which was arguably, their greatest. Or, at least, when they had their most success in the Stanley Cup playoffs, getting to the Finals against the Red Wings in 1998. They didn't pull off the victory in that series. The designer in me wants to blame these jerseys. But if that were true, Dallas never would have won the Cup in 1999 in those jerseys. Then again, look who they were up against.

Before 2000, the darker jersey was the Caps' third jersey. After 2000, it became their only road jersey (or home jersey after the NHL switched the white to road jerseys in 2003) and there was no third jersey. So, can someone please say what their actual team logo was from 2000–07? Was it the one-legged eagle? Or was it the cheesy overly-complicated Capitol building? Sportslogos.net (which is a great site if you're not familiar with it) has the two logos switching between primary and alternate logos in 2002, as well as a one-legged eagle version with "Capitals" written on it as the actual main logo, which was never used on the jerseys. Click here if it's getting too complex, which by the way, it totally is. Identity crisis anyone?

One of the worst things you can do for a brand – any brand – is to have any sort of confusion about your visual identity. Don't be wishy-washy. Pick something and stick with it so that fans and followers – especially in sports – have something to look up to and respect. If it's not working, then try something else. But the real problem really is, neither or these are particularly good logos. But that's a discussion for another day. We're talking jerseys here.

But the jerseys don't necessarily have any consistency between them, aside from the colour scheme and typeface being used. The striping patterns are totally different. The striping placements are different. The styles overall are different and, as already mentioned, the logos are even different. Take the identifiers off, and it could believably be jerseys for two totally different teams. The Caps are as confused about their brand identity as Tobias Fünke is about his sexuality. The black jersey works as a third/alternate jersey, but when it's the main coloured ones, it just doesn't make sense.

And talking about typefaces, I'll give the Caps credit for at least trying out a different typeface for these jerseys, but it's too oddly-shaped and doesn't work, especially when outlined once or twice, as they are. There's a reason why sports uses sans-serifed fonts as opposed to serifed ones: much easier to read.

Individually speaking, the white jersey isn't bad. Sure, it has the angled/curved striping which was all the rage back in the late-'90s (over two-thirds of the NHL's then-28 teams had them at some point from 1995–2000, while today, only 4 or 5 remain), but at least the stripes are consistent on the sleeves and along the bottom of the jerseys. The stripes are a little overly-complicated, but the blue, bronze and white stripes are at least very thin and subtle. The black stripe is a little too thick, but there's a reason for that (which we'll get to later).

The black jersey, however, has an even more complex striping pattern and seven(!) individual stripes: white, blue, white, bronze, white, blue, white. That's overkill. At least, with the white jerseys, they are consistent. Speaking of the colours of the stripes, what's with the new colour scheme? Red, white and blue? Makes sense. Black, blue and bronze don't exactly scream USA, or DC, or anything like that. Not that it absolutely has to, but it would be good to know the logic behind that decision.

But the bigger problem with these jerseys are the use of black jerseys. Regular readers of Hockey By Design are incredibly familiar with this rant: Hockey is game played on a sheet of white ice, with one team almost always wearing white. The other team just wearing black makes for incredibly dull games, visually. Red Wings vs Lightning? Awesome. Kings vs anyone? Boring. Black jerseys were a big trend in the late-'90s and early-'00s, but are slowly fading away. Good on the Capitals for already getting of that crazy train.

So, confused identities, bad logos and complex striping/angles delegate this jersey to the bottom of the pile.

Jersey Recommendation: #37 Kolzig. A nod to goaltenders with this pick, Kolzig was the prime reason the Caps got to the Finals in 1998 and was the Capitals' starting goaltender the entire time these jerseys were worn. Get it in the white jersey, the obvious better one of the two. Unless you want the black jersey in an ironic/hipster sort of way.

3. 1995–1997 Home & Away Jerseys, 1997–2000 Away Jerseys

These jerseys are previous iteration of the ones previous discussed, and road jerseys are better in almost every way. But, the white home jerseys are actually worse because of one detail.

It's always amusing when hockey jerseys feel the need to put their team names on the fronts of their jerseys. Sure, a lot of other sports do it (actually, all the other major North American sports do it, some more subtler than others), but hockey is unique in the sense that it's the only sport where the team logo is the most prominent element and the main focal point of the uniform. Whatever is on the front of the jersey (or side of the helmet) is meant to inspire confidence and pride in the fans and players. Adding the team name on a hockey jersey without reason not only cheapens the logo, but looks incredibly odd. Is the team's logo not recognizable enough that players need reminding of who they're playing? Hopefully not.

But other than the "Capitals" being there, it's the identical jersey to the previous jersey discussed, so all the other good and bad things mentioned there applies here. And that's also why the black stripe is so thick on the jerseys, even when the word is gone. Too bad nobody thought they needed to be changed.

But, the blue jerseys are, obviously, totally different and actually looks similar to the white jerseys. That kind of cohesive branding (which should be a given for any team) is enough on its own to place it ahead of the previously discussed jerseys. Aside from the white area turning blue and the numbers/name switching from black to white, it's the identical same jersey to the white ones. So again, consistent striping is great (even if it's a little busy). Angled striping, meh. It's not bad but glad that the fad is over. The colours are nice but don't make much sense for the team/region. The typeface is weird and doesn't really work.

The biggest drawback with these jersey are the "Capitals" on the front. Remove those, and you've got it made. Well, kind of. It's still third on this list after all.

Jersey Recommendation: #77 Oates. Another strong contender would have been #12 Bondra, but given Adam Oates current affiliation with the club (although, if the Caps don't make the playoffs, who knows how long that would be for) and being a huge leader on the team when they wore these jerseys, my vote goes to him. Get it in the blues. [Ed. Note: Yeah, he's not so popular around here these days...]

2. 1974–95 Home & Away Jerseys, 2011 Winter Classic Jerseys, 2011–present Third Jerseys

I'll be the first to admit that I've never been crazy about these jerseys. The logo's kind of weird using a reverse-italicized Helvetica with a hockey stick. The stars at the collar and sleeves seem pretty cheesy. The stripes along the bottom of the jerseys are just really large and dominating. So why are they ranked so highly? Because in many ways, they just make much more sense than anything discussed so far.

First: the colours (sorry, "colors", but my IP address is in Canada and everything autocorrects to that). Red, white and blue. Gotcha. America. Washington's the capital. Government town. Patriotism. No problem at all. It makes perfect sense. It's very traditional hockey colours and not super-unique in that sense, but you can blame Betsy Ross for that. It's not the Capitals' fault.

Second: the stars. It's a double entendre really. Stars and stripes, obviously, are on the American flag, which can account for the stars on the sleeves. Five stars for 50 states. Since all 50 aren't going to fit on the jersey, 5 makes sense. But, the DC flag also has a line of three stars, which is represented on the front of the jerseys, to the left and right of the collar. Makes sense. Alternating the colours of the stars is cool and all, but it's what gives the stars that cheesy and gimmicky feel. Keeping them a solid colour would have made for a better jersey. And especially on the sleeves, it's a pretty tight fit for all 5 stars.

Third: the stripes. Again, looking at the US and DC flags, there's a double entendre there that works well. Stripes on the US flag and stripes on the DC flag. Again, makes perfect sense. Are the stripes a bit too thick and dominating? Yes they are and would look better if they were narrowed a bit.

As for the other elements, like the shoulder yokes, they're strong and simple, but the main issue is that they don't leave much room for the stars on the sleeves and the numbers to co-exist, making it look and feel too cluttered. Removing the yokes could be an improvement and make the jersey looks less clunky overall.

All of these add up to a jersey that makes perfect sense for the location and nature of the city of Washington. The concept is strong, simple, iconic and definitely working, but it just needs some tweaks to make it a better jersey.

Jersey Recommendation: #5 Langway. There's a few different possible picks here – Iafrate, Gartner, Labre, Hunter – but the Secretary of Defense gets the vote. He spent more seasons with the Capitals with any of the other people mentioned here and, aside from Labre, is the only one that also retired as a Capital. And that moustache! Get it in the whites.

1. 2007–present Home & Away Jerseys

Speaking of the previous jersey needing tweaks, here's they are! Not exactly the tweaks that we were discussing, but tweaks that streamlined and refined the jersey into something that becomes the best that the Capitals have ever worn, without any of the chunkiness from the previous jerseys. The Caps took the introduction of the new Reebok Edge jerseys as an opportunity to rebrand themselves and bring back some of their original look. The red, white and blue is still there (and still makes sense). The stars and stripes are mostly gone, aside form adding the three stars (all the same colour!) from the DC flag [Ed. Note: The stars also represent D.C., Maryland and Virginia] as part of the updated and modernized logo (which is still a weird logo though).

It has a less of an overtly American feel to it missing the overload of stars and thick stripes, but that's not necessarily a bad thing from a design standpoint. It makes for a more refined and modern jersey that has a good mix of the team's historical influences with some modern touches.

There's not so much stripes on this jersey as just chunks of colour. A single line outlines a slightly-wavy shoulder yoke (and oddly, just on the front, not the back) to the cuff which has another thin blue line. That line is mimicked again down near the bottom of the jersey, so there's a consistency to some of the elements here.

The two odd chunks of colour are the wing-like strips right below the shoulder yoke outline and strips of blue on the sides of the jersey. The wings are a bit strange, as they stand out on the jersey in being the only element that doesn't have consistency with anything else and seem to appear randomly, not coming out of any particular jersey line (on the non-cuff side obviously). But, they definitely add a sense of movement and flow to the jersey overall and it's relatively unique within the league. And the chunks of blue on the sides of the jersey are not really that necessary, but at least they kept them solid and minimal, not like some teams. Those two chunks of colour would have been necessary to include in some form anyway as, without them, it probably would have looked like nothing more than a practice jersey.

It was also nice of them to introduce a different typeface to use, namely one that's legible, but it also has a mixture of classic and modern.

It's a jersey that was almost universally praised when it first came out. Part of that was because the previous Caps jersey was the mess at the bottom of this list, but also because it is simply the best jersey the Caps have ever worn.

Jersey Recommendation: #8 Ovechkin. Duh. The best jersey for arguably the best player to ever play for the Capitals. Get it in the home reds.

We Need Your Help What do you think is the biggest goal scored in Capitals' history? Or, what's the most memorable play-by-play call made for a big Capitals goal? Let us know in the comments below and it could be epitomized as a poster similar to these ones, available at the Hockey By Design store. Also, now available at the store, made specifically for this post, is a Capitals entry into the Vintage posters series, pictured here. You can buy yourself one right here.

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