Good friend and uniform maven Paul Lukas - he of Uni Watch and ESPN - posed the following question to me that got the shovels out as I began digging into the information I had at hand. He wrote,
Hi, Teebz...A very interesting question, and one that I've actually never given much thought to as I watch NHL games. It is part of the uniform guidelines, I believe, since every team wears the NHL logo, but when did that start?
So here's something I'm having a hard time pinning down: I know NHL teams began wearing the NHL logo on their rear jersey hemline in 1990. But what about the NHL logo decal on players' helmets - do you know when that started?
Every helmet worn in the NHL would have to be approved by the NHL as a league partner and for safety, so one could assume that if it gets the passing grade by the safety department it would probably receive the logo. My first guess would have been in 1969 after Bill Masterton's death from hitting his head on the ice, but the league actually didn't mandate helmets be worn until the 1979-80 season. They grandfathered the wearing of helmets in, allowing players such as Brad Marsh, Craig MacTavish, and Guy Lafleur to skate without one.
In researching this, the logo appears to be a recent addition as I've found a couple of pictures where the NHL logo doesn't appear to be on the back or could be concealed on the helmet based on placement of the NHL logo, but it appears this rule took effect sometime in the mid-1990s. Initially, I thought the best place to start was at the 1995 NHL strike since there was a new CBA drawn up at that time. This would lead me to start looking at the 1995-96 season as the focal point in looking for logos on the back of the helmets since I can conclude that it wasn't worn before that point in time.
My biggest issue in digging into this problem was that a lot of images on the internet aren't dated in the description or on the page they are found. For example, this image of the Penguins celebrating a Mario Lemieux goal has all the makings of a pre-1995 picture - correct jersey style, and all four Penguins players played for the team pre-1995 - but there is one dead giveaway that this picture is actually from 2000 or 2001: the Buffalo Sabres jersey. Buffalo didn't start wearing that black uniform until 1996. By that time, both Kevin Stevens and Martin Straka had moved on from the Penguins to different teams. However, by 2000 all four players wore Penguins colors once more. Basing my research off photos was proving to be more difficult than I had anticipated.
The only other place I could turn to was YouTube. Video doesn't lie unless someone messes up the description of the video, and there are usually a few instances of old hockey footage that can be found. Isolating the back of a helmet may be tougher depending on the coverage, but I'm up to the task so we'll start with the 1996 Stanley Cup Final that featured the Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers. While I couldn't isolate any Panthers, there's a great shot of Alexei Gusarov on the bench at the 2:45 mark of the video with his back to the camera. In checking that, there are no rear stickers other than his jersey number on his helmet. Scratch 1995-96 as the starting point.
We move to the 1996-97 season where the Detroit Red Wings met the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup Final. It took a while to find some isolated shots of the back of helmets, but Eric Lindros' helmet at the 5:14 mark clearly shows no NHL logos. During the Red Wings' celebration, Steve Yzerman has no NHL stickers either. Scratch 1996-97 as the starting point.
The 1998 Stanley Cup Final featured the Detroit Red Wings and Washington Capitals. It's fairly clear that the starting point of the highlights on that YouTube video give us the answer. Neither the Red Wings nor the Capitals are wearing the NHL logo stickers, so this one was put to bed very early. Scratch 1997-98 as the starting point.
The 1999 Stanley Cup Final was all about "the goal" as the Dallas Stars and Buffalo Sabres met for hockey's biggest prize. There are a pile of notes about the Dallas Stars' uniforms in this series, but we'll start by looking at the helmets. Lo and behold, we have an NHL logo sticker on Sergei Zubov's helmet! In another video, we clearly see the NHL logo on Mike Peca's helmet! Two confirmed sightings in the NHL Stanley Cup Final on two teams means we can accurately pinpoint that the 1998-99 season was the starting point for the NHL logo appearing on players' helmets!
There are a couple of things to note, as stated above, about the Stars in this series besides the NHL logo stickers. They wore their alternate jersey throughout the playoffs as they had told the NHL that it would become the primary jersey in 1999-2000. While unofficially their new primary uniforms, it would mark the first time that an NHL team had won the Stanley Cup while wearing their alternate uniforms. Additionally, the 1998-99 season would be the last season that they wore the "Dallas" pants in an NHL game. In 1999-2000, they switched to a standard black set of pants without the added "Dallas" down the leg. The Stars pulled off two major uniform changes in that season that took effect the following year, and have yet to win another Stanley Cup. Coincidence?
Now you might be asking what other stickers have been worn on helmets. Honestly, there have been lots. I'd need a team of researchers hunting these stickers down for a month if I wanted to build a comprehensive list. However, I will throw a few below that have been featured on helmets.
- The Dallas Stars wore their secondary logo in 1999.
- All seven Canadian NHL teams wore a "Hockey Talks" sticker in 2013. Hockey Talks was a program spearheaded by the Vancouver Canucks to raise mental health awareness through a variety of outlets, including in-arena messaging, online storytelling, and sharing information and experiences at Hockey Talks game nights.
- The San Jose Sharks wore a sticker and patch for Warren A. Strelow in 2006-07. Strelow was a highly-respected goaltending coach who last worked with the San Jose Sharks before his passing.
- The Penguins and Capitals showed their support after the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv tragedy on October 13, 2011.
- The Penguins also supported teammate Steve Sullivan after he began wearing a sticker in memory of former Predators teammate Wade Belak who committed suicide.
- The Stanley Cup finalists wear the Stanley Cup Final sticker.
- All NHL teams wear the Hockey Fights Cancer stickers during the month of support the NHL shows for cancer-related initiatives and charities.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!