The NHL is taking its talents to South Beach for the 2023 All-Star Game and has unveiled the vibrantly audacious jerseys its players will be wearing at next month's events.
The jerseys for the Eastern and Western conferences are modeled on ones from the mid-1990s, giving a "Reverse Retro" makeover from adidas. They're accented with electric blues and pinks "inspired by the vibrant sunsets and glowing neon of South Beach," but not typically found on NHL uniforms.
"It really made sense to embrace the cultural colors of South Florida," said Matty Merrill, design director for adidas Hockey, who spearheaded the design of the jerseys that debuted on ESPN during Thursday night's Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Edmonton Oilers game.
Fashionable Boston Bruins star David Pastrnak, who was voted into the NHL All-Star Game by the fans, saw the jerseys for the first time on Thursday night and gave them his vote of approval.
"Oh, that's nice. Very old school. It reminds me a little bit about when I first learned about NHL jerseys," he said. "They're great. I like the color choice."
The NHL All-Star Game and All-Star skills competition will be held February 3-4 at FLA Live Arena, home of the Florida Panthers, in Sunrise, Florida. The All-Star Game will once again feature a 3-on-3 tournament between 11-player teams representing the league's four divisions.
There are two primary jerseys, but if the West meets the West or the East meets the East in the All-Star tournament final, there are dark and white versions for each conference.
This is the first time since 2009 that the All-Star teams will be identified as East and West on the crests of the jerseys. To continue the retro vibe, the NHL logo on the jerseys will be in its original orange and black hues.
The first plans to revisit classic NHL All-Star Game looks were formed six years ago, when the Reverse Retro program was being developed by adidas.
"The Reverse Retro jerseys hit on the things people love and present them in a new way. It feels different, without it being upsetting," said Merrill. "For a long time, we've been waiting for that opportunity to bring [Reverse Retro] to an NHL event and the All-Star Game was the obvious choice."
Adidas starts designing about a year and a half before an event. They knew the 2022-23 season would feature the second batch of Reverse Retro jerseys in the NHL, so the timing was right to bring the gimmick to the league's midseason classic.
First, the designers created a board with images of every All-Star jersey in NHL history. Their decision on which jersey to give the "Reverse Retro" treatment was made for them when the NHL put up a post on Instagram that listed nine old All-Star looks, asking fans for their favorite.
"We do a lot of social listening. It's usually focus groups and searching for names or terms on Twitter. But all we had to do here was go into the Instagram comments and just tally up which ones the fans were voting for," said Merrill. "And the 1994 jersey got twice as many votes as any other jersey. More than three times more than almost any of them. It was the clear winner."
When the Florida Panthers were awarded the 2023 All-Star Game, there was suddenly another more karmic reason to go with the 1994 look: That was the first All-Star Game to feature the Panthers, who entered the league as an expansion team in 1993. Goalie John Vanbiesbrouck and center Bob Kudelski were Florida's first all-stars.
"The fact that it was their first and it was a round number of around 30 years ago ... those little things are amazing," said Merrill.
The players wore this jersey style from 1994-97, before the NHL changed the design. Stars like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Mark Messier, Ray Bourque, Eric Lindros and Dominik Hasek, to name just a handful of the legends.
"So that's an extra layer of cool for the players themselves, I think," said Merrill.
After selecting the style, it was time to apply the colors that make adidas's "Reverse Retro" jerseys so striking. The game being held in South Florida was all the inspiration the designers needed.
"The beach sunsets, the neon lights. It was pretty obvious that we were going to go with pink and blue or bright colors," said Merrill.
The team landed on "Biscayne Blue" and "Flamingo Pink" as the hues they'd use.
Merrill couldn't recall another NHL jersey that utilized pink in its design. Adidas had internal conversations, and some debates, about whether to use it at all.
"It's a conversation that we had many times. We know that it's polarizing. But if the story is strong, you can win people over," he said.
Having the game in South Florida was just the "story" they needed to make the bold color choices. They pop around the edges and the trim, while the rest of the jersey is a more traditional black and white.
Fine-tuning "Biscayne Blue" and "Flamingo Pink" was also a process. Merrill said that adidas had to make sure the colors didn't mimic any already in the league. "If your favorite guy is wearing your rival's colors, like that's kind of a tough look sometimes," he said.
They also looked back at other examples of logos that were influenced by the South Florida palette and tried to avoid copying that. "Making sure we're presenting something at least a little bit original and different -- not just pulling the logos, the colors straight from the 'Miami Vice' logo, but actually finding our own thing that was right for the NHL," he said.
The NHL has embraced the local iconography of its big events in recent years. The NHL Winter Classic at the Cotton Bowl had a giant cowboy boot near the rink. The outdoor game at Dodgers Stadium was surrounded by light-up palm trees. Last year's All-Star Game in Vegas had an event where players shot pucks at large playing cards to make blackjack hands. And now, South Florida-flavored All-Star sweaters.
"I think you will continue to see the incorporation of the site, the location and the host for all these events," said Merrill. "You flip on the TV and you see this event happening and you're like, 'Gosh, that looks like a lot of fun."