Red Wings: Reverse Retro Extravaganza

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 04: Filip Zadina #11 of the Detroit Red Wings celebrates following a goal scored during the first period of their game against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on March 04, 2021 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 04: Filip Zadina #11 of the Detroit Red Wings celebrates following a goal scored during the first period of their game against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on March 04, 2021 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

Hockey jerseys are endlessly fascinating and intricately beautiful. At least they are to me; my apologies to my wonderful partner who has listened to me blither about jerseys on many an occasion (shout-out to you Katie).

Many nights have been spent going down the rabbit hole of NHL jersey history. Also yes, some hockey purists would detract points from me for saying ‘jersey’ instead of ‘sweater’. I will occasionally use ‘sweater’ as a change of pace, but to me there is a big difference between the original uniform tops of hockey players and the tops of today.

Gone are the days of woolen tops that were affectionately called ‘sweaters’, instead today jerseys are made of a combination of synthetic fibers and starting last season around 50% recycled material. Therefore, I mainly refer to hockey tops as jerseys instead of sweaters. Hockey purists have mercy on me.

As a hockey jersey enthusiast, my disappointment was immeasurable and my day was ruined when the Red Wings revealed their reverse retro jersey two years ago. A note to readers on what “reverse retro” means and is supposed to encompass.

The NHL had the idea to release a specialty line of jerseys, one for every team, that would be worn occasionally for one season. The idea was that the jerseys should bring in retro elements from the team’s past, with updated (“reversed”) colors, striping, logo, etc.

I had such high hopes based on some of the fantastic jerseys Detroit has donned for special occasions since 2000. The letdown felt particularly poignant when I saw some of the awesome jerseys released side-by-side as part of the inaugural reverse retro class. A few of my favorites included Arizona’s (the Space Coyote is whimsically alluring), Carolina’s (the Whalers had a great kit) and Los Angeles’ (finally the return of the royal colors).

Yes, yes, I understand the design concept behind the Red Wings’ reverse retro. I get that it was the white jersey striping pattern (essentially our current red home jersey striping pattern) paying homage to Detroit jerseys from pre-1956. I also understand that the Red Wings don’t have a lot of colors to work with from the team’s history, so they chose to go with the silver that was found in the Centennial Classic jersey. I understand all of that, but the fact of the matter is that the overall design (as seen at the top of this article) just did not work.

Many complaints about the design were that it appears to be  unfinished, causing it to look like a practice jersey. I fully agree with these complaints. It gave me strong vibes of me in high school working on a project where we had to build a model of a brain. My partner, Reed, and I were quite slow in our creative process (watching too many movies). With only a couple of days left, I was worried we weren’t going to have a finished project. I walked into Reed’s house, and to my delight he had stayed up late and finished the brain model by himself. I was lucky that I had a partner who went above and beyond to create a great finished project. Unfortunately for the Red Wings, they did not have a Reed in their creative department.

Those are the vibes I got when first laying eyes upon the jersey. Mercifully, we didn’t have to see these jerseys until late in the 2020-2021 season. Alright, enough bashing of the last reverse retro jersey for the Red Wings. Instead, let’s now focus on the potential options for the next reverse retro debuting this upcoming season.

When it was announced the NHL would be bringing back the reverse retro series for the upcoming season, my excitement shot through the roof and into orbit. Thus far, the NHL has not formally released the jerseys yet but there have been a number of leaks. While these leaks could obviously be quite different from the finished product in the form of the actual jersey, they do seem to align with many of the rumors that have been swirling over the summer (i.e. Edmonton bringing back the geared oil drop, Los Angeles resurrecting the crown, and San Jose throwing back to the California Golden Seals). However, from the numerous leaks so far let out of the bag there is a notable team missing: our Detroit Red Wings. This allows me room to speculate on what I hope they do but is unlikely, what I think they ultimately will do with the design, and what I hope they don’t do.

First, the design I would like to see used this season is a reversal of the colors from the 2014 Winter Classic jersey.

That’s right, I want a cream-colored Detroit Red Wings jersey. I would consider removing the Detroit wordmark above the Winged Wheel, and adding in the number style from the 1982-1983 jerseys, because I think that stylized version of the numbers would look great with this jersey design. I loved the incorporation of the cream into the Winter Classic jerseys and thought it was a natural transition from red and white, to red and cream. The reason I don’t think this design will be the reverse retro jersey is because Detroit hasn’t had a jersey base color outside of red or white in its entire team history, even back to its Cougars and Falcons days.  So as much as I want to see it, the odds are not in my favor. A more likely design would still be aesthetically pleasing.

There is an option that I think is more likely and it would still be a major departure from the usual. I know the Red Wings are traditionalist, but this jersey would sell like hotcakes: Cougar head. Take the 1928-1929 Detroit Cougars jersey and make a red edition with a cleaner version of the cougar head logo and add some striping at the base of the jersey. Then the team can swim in money; plus, it would be funny listening to Michiganders struggle to say “cougar” as noted in Fabric of the Game (Creamer and Radom 78). If the Red Wings’ reverse retro from two years ago sold well and was well received, I don’t think this design would be likely. However, the jersey did not sell well and is still readily accessible today unlike other teams’ jerseys.

Many teams sold out of their reverse retros immediately, while stores are struggling to get rid of the Detroit Red Wings’ reverse retro even today. As a result, I think the cougar head is a real possibility. I would thoroughly enjoy this jersey, unlike the next option.

One possibility that I would not be thrilled to see is an updated Detroit Falcons jersey. I think it’s possible the team goes this way, with a ‘Detroit Red Wings’ wordmark in place of the Detroit Falcons. I also think if this is the choice, they will just use red or white in the wordmark and numbers, not yellow. The funny part about this is this would still look better than the design of the last reverse retro. The reason why I don’t want to see it is simple: I’m not a huge fan of wordmarks. I certainly don’t hate wordmarks, I just think it would be a safe choice. Not to mention that a word mark in the middle of this Falcons’ jersey would be busy and line heavy. Of the three options laid out in this article, I think this option would certainly be the worst.

Are there other options out there for the Red Wings’ design team to make? Certainly. These are just three that I could see likely happening. I might be wrong, in which case please feel free to think ‘this guy is so stupid, who would think that?’. I’m personally just very excited to see what will come out when the NHL gets around to releasing the 2022 class of reverse retros. The air of mystery around the Detroit design also adds a lot of excitement on my end and I’m very happy nothing has leaked out yet involving the team. Whatever the design that drops is, let’s just agree to put the duct tape patchwork of the last Detroit reverse retro design behind us and hope for an exciting design for this cycle’s release.