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Worst to First Jerseys Series: New York Islanders

Because jerseys are always a passion-eliciting topic, we welcomed John van der Woude of Hockey by Design to rank and discuss the Isles' jersey history.

Discussing the jerseys of New York Islanders history, from worst to first.
Discussing the jerseys of New York Islanders history, from worst to first.
Hockey By Design

Note: This is a guest post, from the "Worst to First Jerseys" series by Hockey By Design. That blog discusses graphic design in hockey, and they'll be doing the jerseys for the rest of the league over time, so give them a visit to check it out.

"It was the best of times. It was the worst of times."

That basically sums up the Islanders' existence so far, from the incredible success of the '70s and '80s Cup dynasty years (the Islanders are still the last professional sports team in North America to four-peat a championship) to the long slide down to the humiliation of the Mike Milbury and Charles Wang years. But things are starting to look positive again for the Islanders, with some strong play this season and hope for the future (finally!). Their jerseys have actually followed this same general trend.

Here's how this works: I'll count down, from worst to first, all the jerseys the Islanders 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 from the fine people over at For the Isles, we will discuss seven different jerseys/eras. And we'll start with the worst one. Also, if you see an italicized link (like this one), it's leading to an image that may help you visualize what I'm talking about, not a whole new webpage.

7. 1995–98 Home & Aways


C'mon, was there any doubt? From the Highliner/Gorton captain to the wavy lines to the seasick numbers, these jerseys are a complete mess.

The general rule of thumb on a bad jersey is that they last about 5 seasons before being changed (sometimes less for third jerseys). These lasted 3 seasons. That should tell you something right there.

Some call the '90s the "dead puck era" in the NHL. I call it the "dead design era". Almost everything that was created in the '90s in terms of jersey design was some of the worst the NHL has ever seen. There's the Kings' Burger King, the Ducks' Wild Wing, anything by the Thrashers, etc, etc.

The Islanders graciously provided the most obvious piece of evidence to corroborate this "dead design" theory. Curved striping is certainly not a stranger to hockey jersey design, but the Islanders took it to the extreme, with waves as dramatic as The Perfect Storm and as shoddily executed as Rasputin (Russian history, yo.): mis-shaped, irregular, seemingly random.

It's actually somewhat regular on the sleeves, but everywhere else, it's incredibly inconsistent and follows no apparent system at all. That's fine if you're actually the ocean, but if you're a hockey jersey, it's pretty stupid.

What that also does, of course, is affect the nameplates and numbers on the back and sleeves, creating oddly-shaped and roughly put together numbers and letters. It's not visually interesting at all, looking more like a certain news team on a bad night. Simply, it's a mess, and looks worse than what the Blues did with their jerseys in the '90s.

The shoulder yokes follow the same nonsensical pattern. And on top of everything, they decided to make it more inconsistent than the rest of the striping on the jersey by not coloring the yoke in teal and adding in a grey stripe. Makes absolutely no sense.

And then there's the colors: navy blue, teal, grey, white and orange. Teal was a trendy colur in the '90s, popularized by the Sharks in the NHL, but adding navy blue, orange and grey into the mix as well just creates a visual mess for a single team.

Look at Toronto, Detroit, Philadelphia – all teams with a single dominant color that they own and it works well for them. Even Nashville with the mustard yellow. I can appreciate the blue and orange, as they're complimentary colors and work well together (which we'll get to later), but this is just too much and they all end up competing with each other.

I won't talk about the logo at all. That thing deserves a post all on its own, but it's a serious indictment of a jersey when that logo is easily the most professional-looking and well-designed element on the entire jersey. The one positive about these jerseys is that it goes absolutely perfectly with this era being the Mad Mike Milbury years: erratic, nonsensical, badly planned and executed even worse.

All the being said, I'd love to own one of these, because they're just that terrible. And it can serve as a constant reminder that however bad any new jersey that might be designed in the future, at least we're not in the '90s anymore.

Jersey Recommendation: #16 Palffy. This is not a slight against the Ziggy One – he was a star player in the league at the time – but he was the dominant star on the team during these years and played on Long Island almost exclusively during this era. Get it in the blues.

6. 2002–07 Third Jerseys

Islanders22Remember what I said in the previous jersey's section about the blue and orange being complimentary colors, and them working well together? Well, here comes a further explanation of how that works, and this jersey perfectly explains how it shouldn't be applied.

The idea with complimentary colors (blue/orange, red/green, purple/yellow) is that they compliment each other perfectly when used together, as long as one is allowed to be the dominant color and the other just complements it. Think Penn & Teller: Teller's quiet, Penn's the screaming limelight hog.

The best sports example is probably the L.A. Lakers. Their purple/yellow jerseys look fantastic. The Oilers, with orange and blue, have done a good job of that too. And the new Wild road jerseys are another good example.

But these Isles jerseys are examples of where it can go wrong. If you give the two complimentary color equal status, things clash and get messy. Could you imagine how incredibly annoying Penn & Teller would be if Teller was as loud and abrasive as Penn? These jerseys just cause your eye to jump around and fight for your attention. It's a headache.

And even without the colur issues, there's the nonsensical angled striping taking over the jersey. At least when the Dallas Stars did something similar, it made sense, because it was the shape of a star. I can deal with that. Here, it seems to be there for nothing but effect. And it just doesn't work.

Remember the shelf-life for a bad jersey? Generally 5 seasons. This one lasted just 4 because of the lockout.

Jersey Recommendation: #79 Yashin. Is he still on the payroll? Another botched experiment compliments of Mad Mike. He also played on the team from 2001–07, almost exactly the entire life of these jerseys. Just don't expect to get out of the Coliseum alive.

5. 2011–14 Third Jerseys

Islanders29It says something when we're already three jerseys into the countdown and we only getting to this third jersey now. It's predominantly black with the team's colors in the piping, the front of the jersey features arching text across the front with the players' numbers right below.

Sound familiar? It's a bit of a rip-off (again from Dallas!). But it's worse(!) with those strange angled stripes on the sleeves and sides.

And there's nothing really new or innovative about this jersey at all. A dominant black jersey has, in general (and thankfully), being moved away from in NHL jerseys these days after almost. EveryTeamExperimented with it.

When you have a terrific complimentary color palette to work with for your team's brand, why would they bother bringing black into the mix? It's also a clear break with traditional jersey design in the NHL and leaning more towards that of the rest of the major sports' jerseys (MLBNBA and NFL). That's not necessarily a horrible thing, but at least this one was relegated to the third jersey only to be worn once in a while.

Hockey jerseys, with their prominent logos on the front, are a thing of beauty and unique among the major professional sports in North America. Also, specifically to the Islanders, it seems strange for a team that has struggled for upwards of a decade on the ice, has trouble filling its building on most nights, and after having such a storied legacy as one of the most successful dynasties ever from the States, would eschew a pretty decent logo and relegate it to a shoulder patch.

But the detailing is something atrocious. The shoulder yokes mixed with the curved-V sleeve and side striping makes it overly busy and complex. Remember the last time a team featured prominent 'V' shapes all over their jersey as accents? Mmm hmm. This jersey's shelf-life? 3 seasons.

Jersey Recommendation: #26 Moulson. With the team almost exclusively while these jerseys were worn, and one of players who worked well with Tavares to provide some offense for the Isles.

4. 2007–10 Home & Away Jerseys

Islanders25With the league-wide adoption of the new Reebok Edge jerseys before the 2007 season, the Islanders took the opportunity to re-design their jerseys.

After ditching their fisherman logo/jersey fiasco in 1998 for something closer to what they wore in their past (more on that jersey later), they introduced these Edge jerseys.

It's definitely better than anything previously on this list, but it's still not great. Simply, it's really over-designed, meaning that it tries to incorporate way too many elements that don't end up working well together.

There's tons of strange inconsistencies in the striping and details of the jersey and it feels a little like the "kitchen sink" mentality of designing. Throw enough mud, and something's gotta stick.

None of the elements individually are bad at all, but together it just turns into a shit mix. The only thing holding it all together is a pleasantly simple and consistent color scheme. For example, there's the stripes along the bottom of the jersey, which don't match the stripes on the sleeves at all, which also don't match the stripes on the shoulder yokes, which also doesn't match the single collar stripe.

Then they threw laces on there, along with numbers on the front. It all becomes very busy and detracts from what should be the star of the jersey: the Islanders' logo.

Of note, this is one of the few recent jerseys to use sleeves that are a different color from that torso part of the jersey, which is a relatively minor thing, but it creates an odd dynamic with the rounded cut of the shoulder yokes. Very few teams have done this sort of thing, the most notable one being Detroit's white jerseys with the red sleeves, and Pittsburgh's '80s and '90s jerseys (and current third jerseys).

It's not necessarily a bad look at all, but the outline of the yokes just accentuate the oddness of it. The best part of the jersey? The four stripes on the shoulder, symbolizing the four Stanley Cups won by the franchise. Shelf life? 3 seasons.

Jersey Recommendation: #21 Okposo. These three seasons are pretty bleak ones for the Islanders, but it led to the 2009 1st overall pick (and Tavares). Okposo was there through all of these bleak seasons, and reaping the benefits now. Get it in the road whites.

3. 2014 Stadium Series, 2014–present Thirds


Most of the jerseys worn during last year's Stadium Series were a disappointment, either looking like orange pyjamas or well, not really much different at all.

What the Islanders came up with was a refreshingly different and somewhat innovative jersey, introducing a new alternate logo and a simplicity that's hard to find in their other alternate jerseys. There’s a lot to like about these jerseys, but it's not all completely positive.

The biggest negative is the chunky white shoulder yokes. Don’t get me wrong, I really like the shape of them. Coming to a point on the shoulders (instead of being rounded- or squared-off) is something more interesting and innovative and fits very nicely with the diagonal lines being used elsewhere on the uniform.

But the bright white yokes on a navy blue jersey creates an incredibly start contrast, constantly drawing the eye to the jersey’s shoulders.

It’s balanced somewhat by the brightness of the NY logo, and it would have been even more balanced if the logo's chrome elements and light grey outline has been removed altogether.

Other than the yokes though, I like how the orange is dialed down in the jerseys. As mentioned earlier, using complementary colors like orange and blue only works if one if clearly given prominence over the other, which allows the other color to truly complement it instead of competing.

With the orange left to striping in the collar and sleeves on the jersey (and pants/socks in the full uniform), it allows for the colors to work together smoothly. Some of the other quirks (the sleeve stripes that don't wrap around the full arm and the angled numbers) aren't great, but unavoidable given that they seemed to be mandatory for all Stadium Series jerseys.

I like the stripes on the sleeves, if they went all the way around, but then there’s the striping on the bottom of the jersey, being just a single white line. Not crazy about it, as it’s a little too simple, and I wonder how an orange line included in there might work.

They also went with the white nameplate with blue letters on the back, which I’m worried might become a new trend in jerseys. The Flyers first re-introduced it for their Winter Classic jerseys and it worked well with their design, because it’s an extremely simple design and their orange color is not as contrasty as the Islanders’ navy blue.

Here, like the gloves, it’s more of a distraction than a positive look. But overall, it’s a good looking uniform and does what third jerseys are meant to do: play around a little bit, see what works in jersey and uniform design to continuously push the conversation forward in an innovative way.

Oh, and for the teams/league to make more money, of course.

Now, is it still too late to get rid of the chrome on the logo, which doesn’t fit with the design of the jersey at all? Shelf life? To be determined.

Jersey Recommendation: #29 Nelson. He scored the only goal for the Islanders in their Stadium Series game against the Rangers, and has been an effective contributor so far this season as well.

2. 1998–2007 Home & Away Jerseys

Islanders19After the debacle of the Islanders' seasick fisherman jerseys, they retreated back to what worked, a replica of their original jerseys, but with a much darker shade of blue.

Otherwise, these are pretty much identical to their original (and current) jerseys, and there's a lot to like about them.

First of all, it actually looks like a hockey jersey. No ocean-wave lines. No "Islanders" on the front. No messed up star pattern. No mishmash of totally disparate elements. There's nothing necessarily traditional or innovative about it, but it just works.

The complementary blue and orange colors here are nicely balanced, especially on the blue jerseys, which is like a well-experienced and efficient wedding caterer – brings just enough punch to the table.

On the whites, the blue are orange are about equal, but since they're both relegated to the trims, it's not a problem. Speaking of the trims, the striping is consistent and simple for both jerseys. The whites add a thin strip of white between the orange and blue, which helps separate the orange and blue and adds a little bit of visual levity. It's a really nice balance.

The whole jersey is a strong, simple and traditional design. Given the history of the Islanders' jerseys that we've already discussed, it's a welcome addition. And again, love the 4 stripes on the shoulders for the 4 Cup wins.

Shelf life on this jersey? 8 seasons. The longest-lasting jersey discussed so far. That should tell you something right there.

Jersey Recommendation: #3 Chara? #1 Luongo? Sorry Isles fans, one last poke at the Milbury years. How about #30 Snow? The Isles never won a playoff series during these years, so the pickings are a little slim. So, how about the current GM, the team's goalie during these years, who – at least this season – is now doing a better job than some thought he ever could. Get it in the road whites. 

1. 1972–95 Home/Away, 2008–10 Thirds, 2010–present Home/Away Islanders27

The only thing separating the second-place jersey and this one is the blue, because otherwise, they're pretty much identical.

Same striping on both of these jerseys as the white ones just previously discussed. Nice balance of orange and blue. And that blue! The darker blue is fine, but when blue starts getting into midnight/navy blue territory, it just looks black during gameplay, which is almost never a good idea.

Hockey is a game played on a sheet of white ice, a blank canvas, so adding as much color as possible is always preferable. And these jerseys keep the blue looking blue.

It's the classic Islanders look that all the other jerseys listed here have never surpassed. It's iconic, it's strong and simple, and it's raised a few of these.

The first place jersey selection was as obvious and expected as the last pick was. These jerseys symbolize the Islanders' successes, so it's fitting that they're wearing them again, now that their future is looking bright again.

Shelf life on these jerseys? 29 and counting.

Jersey Recommendation: So many choices! Go classic with #22 Bossy or #5 Potvin or #19 Trottier or #31 Smith, all excellent players. Or go contemporary with a nice #91 Tavares, the new face of the franchise. All good choices, but just make sure to get in those beautiful blues.

We Need Your Help for an Isles' Poster

Isles-VintageWhat do you think is the biggest goal scored in Islanders' history? Or, what's the most memorable play-by-play call made for a big Islanders 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 the Islanders' entry into the Vintage posters series, pictured here. 

You can buy yourself one right here. Always free shipping when you spend over $40!