My Thoughts On The Lightning Rebranding

Not that anyone necessarily cares, but here's my two cents on the Lightning's rebranding: I think it misses the mark by a wide margin. So far, it seems like the overall reaction from the fan base has been unfavorable by a two to one margin, and it certainly evoked an unfavorable reaction from me. Now that I've had a little time to think it over: there's a couple of reasons why.

First, I think the new jerseys fail to recognize that there's a tradition that has been built in Tampa Bay in the eighteen plus years since the franchise was started. That's probably the hardest things for outsiders to understand when they look at the Lightning: there's been almost two decades of ups and downs with this franchise, and a slew of beloved players who have come through here who have all worn essentially the same jersey since 1992 when the franchise was started. There's something to be said about maintaining a continuum from Brian Bradley and Rob Zamuner, through John Cullen and Dino Ciccarelli, to Fredrik Modin and Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, to Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, right on through to the future with guys like Carter Ashton and Brett Connolly.

The Lightning were the only expansion franchise from the nineties who did not change their jerseys from day one until the Reebok Edge jersey re-designs that came after the lockout, with the exception of three adjustments to the team's lettering scheme over the years from an italicized futuristic font, to a torn out jagged looking font, to a more standard block font. Other than that, they didn't change for almost 15 years, and even the Reebok Edge re-design was not a radical departure from the original jerseys. They took out the white yoke on the shoulders, simplified the main crest by getting rid of the text "Lightning," and added a small jersey number on the right hand chest. Mind you, even those changes rubbed me the wrong way when they were made, because I wanted to see as few changes as possible to the jerseys. Would the Montreal Canadiens jerseys be what they are if they rebranded every five to ten years? If the answer is no, and it is, then why would anyone believe the Lightning can build a tradition by continuously changing the look of their jerseys?

That's the first part of why I think the new jerseys are such a bad idea. There's almost nothing about the new design that speaks to the uniforms that Lightning players and fans have had on their backs for almost two decades. It started at even the most basic of levels: they changed our colors. For all these years, the Lightning have worn black jerseys and they've worn white jerseys. Those are the Lightning's basic colors, and in my mind they always should be. I don't have a problem with a third jersey that's a third base color for special occasions, but to completely scrap black altogether is just an absolute shock to me. Brian Bellows wasn't wearing blue when he scored the overtime winner in Game Two in Philadelphia of the 1996 playoffs, which was the Lightning's first ever playoff win, now was Dave Andreychuk when he hoisted the franchise's first Stanley Cup in 2004.

Then, when you get into the little details of the uniform, you see how the new designers ignored all the little unique things that have made the Lightning jersey what it is for all these years. Gone are the iconic lightning bolts on the pants, which were the idea of franchise founder Phil Esposito. Gone are Espo's other idea, multi colored lines in the armpits of the jerseys that were meant to be "celebration stripes" for the Lightning to display anytime they scored a goal and raised their arms in triumph. That lore is gone from these new designs. What's also gone is the Lightning's secondary logo, which signified the Lightning's status as the first franchise in the state of Florida. However fleeting that uniqueness may have been with Miami getting a franchise a year later, it was part of the iconography of the original jersey design.

I'm kind of surprised that Vinik's group overlooked the tradition that already existed in Tampa Bay when considering this rebranding. I expected that kind of ham-handedness from Koules and Barrie but not from an ownership group that has done so much right so far. The "Two Cowboys" strode into town and immediately jettisoned the 2004 Conn Smythe winner and ran the best coach the franchise had ever known out of town in favor of Barry Melrose in the twisted belief that Melrose was necessary to sell hockey in Tampa because the mindless rubes in the South would recognize him from cable TV. Nevermind the fact that Tampa Bay was routinely in the top ten in attendance in the years following their Cup win until the Two Cowboys temporarily wrecked the team. But Vinik? I would've never guessed the guy who made it one of his first acts to re-sign heart-and-souler Martin St. Louis would have ignored the significance of the colors that St. Louis has represented so well for so long.

Second, I think that the new jerseys are just a poor design. Ignoring 18+ years of tradition is bad enough, but they didn't even replace it with a compelling replacement. The new Lightning jerseys are, frankly, boring and generic. Not even the most enthusiastic of admirers of the new design can dare to call it a terribly creative effort. I get that there was a conscious effort to follow a less-is-more philosophy in the new design, but what they came up with is clearly a case of less-is-less.

Here's what I think happened: the Lightning and their design firm made a decision early on in the process to go with a two color design. Most teams have a three color design, and the Lightning have had a four color design (black, white, blue, and silver), but some of the more traditional franchises like Detroit and Toronto have two color designs. I think the new design is supposed to evoke a traditional feel like the Detroit Red Wings jerseys, but fail miserably because of the simplicity of the new logo design, which some Lightning fans have even called "clip art-esque."

Look at the Red Wings logo. Look at the complexity of it, from the way the shading around the tire implies a third dimension, to the spokes of the wheel, to the feathers in the wing, to the way the wings swoop to their tips. It's a work of art, and it would take anyone a lot longer than five minutes to sketch it with any accuracy. That complexity helps give interest that helps overcome the inherent simplicity and flatness you'd have otherwise expected from a two color design.

Now look at the new Lightning logo. See how flat it is? See how simple and overly abstracted it is? See how it doesn't hold your eye and doesn't make up for the two color design? Mind you, I'm not sure how you would make a lightning bolt look as complex and artistic as the Red Wings logo, because while a wheel and a wing are tangible, solid items, lightning is an act of nature that pretty much has to be abstracted for it to make any sense to people. You can't hold lightning, and you can't observe it for longer than the split second that it blazes across the horizon. But, for what the design firm got paid to come up with this design, they should've pointed that out to Vinik and his team and then recommended that either a third color or additional text around the logo was necessary to make the new logo visually interesting. There's nothing wrong with a three color design. It doesn't preclude the feeling of tradition one iota. The Bruins and Rangers have three color designs. The Flyers have a three color design. The Blackhawks have long been recognized as probably having the best logo and jerseys in the sport, and their logo has, by my quick count, seven colors in it, while their jerseys have three base colors.

In fairness, the designers might be quick to point out that Toronto has a two color design and a very abstract, simple logo. That's true. And, in fact, a lot of Lightning fans have already pointed out that the new Lightning jerseys are very reminiscent of the Maple Leafs' jerseys, much to their chagrin. But the case of the Leafs, I think, only serves to prove my first point. The only reason their flat, simple, abstract logo set in two colors works is because their jersey has not changed much since 1966. Over forty-four years of tradition overcomes a boring design, because at the end of the day it's the players who have worn the Leafs jersey and have built that franchise that make it work. But this new Lightning jersey doesn't tap into any continuum of history and that's why it falls so flat. It's the worst of both worlds: it lacks the backing of the franchise's tradition and it's a really boring design.

Unfortunately, I'd bet that the rebranding train is already well down the track, and that even if the groundswell in the fan base were enough to convince Vinik and company to put the brakes on, it'd be almost impossible for them to do so. With that in mind, I think this could go one of two ways: I think the Lightning could stick with the new design for a few seasons and again find themselves rebranding three to five years from now. Or, they could make some well placed tweaks to what they've got to try to make the new designs work.

If the latter is the case, there's two ways I think they could go: the first would be to try to remake the new design in three colors by adding in black. Even some black striping to accent the white stripes on the arms and torso would be a major improvement. The other way they could go, if they're really married to the two color concept, is to make the shoulder patch the primary logo. I will give the designers some credit for what they came up with for the shoulder patch: it's the whole design's redeeming quality. It has a very traditional quality to it, while at the same time having enough complexity with the text and the smaller lightning bolts around the words "hockey club" to be visually interesting. Making that the primary logo and keeping the smaller jersey numbers on the front right of the jersey might at least make them visually appealing, even if they don't speak to the franchise's underrated and oft-forgotten tradition. I think the effect would be similar to the Minnesota Wild's home jerseys, which also have a round logo with text, and are generally well regarded. Throw some lightning bolts on the pants and you might actually have the best of all worlds.