Nostalgia might be the National Hockey League's most reliable export. In a recent NHL survey that asked fans to rank the 25 best team jerseys, around 90% of them were throwback jerseys.
As Adidas hockey considered its next NHL jersey collection, it felt it needed more than just nostalgia as a selling point. Since so many retro jerseys had already been brought out of mothballs by teams for retail sales and special events, Adidas wanted to go in another direction. Hence, the "reverse retro" line was born.
"It's an old meets new. It's an authenticity meets street. We're not designing new patterns. It's a remix, essentially, of the brands that represented that team or that city," Dan Near, senior director at Adidas hockey, told ESPN last week. "It's been an interesting journey. Pitching these ideas, getting the team alignment and eventually bringing them to the ice ... it feels like hockey is doing something big here, which is cool to be a part of."
The process in creating the jerseys was a bit different than usual. When teams want to add a jersey to their kit, they create a proposal and give it to the NHL's official partner for gear, and the development process begins. This was a leaguewide initiative initiated by Adidas, whose team presented its concepts to a full meeting of the NHL board of governors, and then to the individual teams.
"It wasn't quite 'pick one of these three that we're showing you today,' but it was closer to that in our typical process with the NHL," said Near. "I would be stretching the truth if I said we had everyone in unanimously from day one. It doesn't really work that way."
While the jerseys list specific years as inspirations for their looks, the reality is that Adidas just used them as a guide marker for some teams in blending together different eras. The Los Angeles Kings jersey, for example, is sourced to 1989 but features the crest of the Wayne Gretzky era jerseys mixed with the purple and gold of the "Triple Crown Line" era jerseys.
One big difference between the "reverse retro" jerseys and the third-jersey program: These jerseys are going to be worn a limited number of times during the 2020-21 season only, and are "while supplies last" as far as retail sales. The Adidas reverse retro jerseys will be available Dec. 1 for $180-$225 in the U.S. and $200-$250 in Canada on Adidas and NHL online retail sites, and then at additional retailers starting Dec. 6.
Some of these jerseys are instant classics. Others will fade into memory. Here's a ranking of all 31 NHL reverse retro jerseys from Adidas:
1. Colorado Avalanche (1979)
The best of the reverse retro collection, and it's not really particularly close. The Avalanche have tried to remain connected to their Quebecois roots since relocating to Denver in 1995, but this is the most overt use of Nordiques iconography in franchise history. Quebec's igloo logo and fleur-de-lis trim are remixed with Colorado maroon and blue.
"The team was pretty receptive to this concept up front. It wasn't the only idea. But it might have been the only one we showed them," said Near, with a laugh, "because we wanted it so bad."
Adidas spoke with the Canadiens regarding how this jersey might be received in Quebec. "We do have some market information, as far as demand and enthusiasm. There are definitely people out there who believe that the Colorado jersey will be very popular north of the border. I don't know if I can source that to the province of Quebec. Intuitively I would, but I don't have the data to prove that," Near said.
Some might see this as blasphemy. We see it as a clean, striking tribute to a franchise's past -- and the most successful blending of old and new among these 31 jerseys.