Monday, 31 January 2011

Changing Their Course

Rarely are NHL fans treated to a new look midway through the NHL season. Rarely are we treated to a shift in the values, vision, and direction of a franchise so thoroughly with half the season still to be played. And it is the rarest of cases that a franchise will debut new uniforms midway through a season while still wearing their old uniforms. However, the Tampa Bay Lightning have decided to break the trend of waiting until the off-season to debut their new uniforms by unveiling them today. Of course, I have my take on these new threads, so we'll take a look at the good, bad, and indifferent about these new uniforms, and we'll have an overall grade of the new look debuted by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

We've seen a monumental shift in how the Lightning does business since Steve Yzerman took the reins as general manager of the Floridian franchise. The Lightning have definitely changed from an outside point-of-view, extolling the virtues of honour, tradition, respect, and doing things the "right way" as values of their franchise. So it comes as no surprise that the Tampa Bay Lightning published a new set of core values on which the team will build.

If you read that vision statement correctly, the Lightning represent three major keys: the Tampa Bay community, a championship team, and hallmark events. These are the cornerstones of the Lightning franchise in that they will represent and be part of the Tampa Bay community as both corporate citizens and icons within the community; they will be a championship-calibre team so that the metropolitan area of Tampa and St. Petersburg can be proud of their hockey franchise, and proudly stand behind and support their NHL club; and, the Lightning will host hallmark events in which the people of the Tampa Bay area can take part and of which they can be proud. Essentially, the Tampa Bay Lightning are redefining themselves in the market they play in, and I think this is an excellent idea.

Not only are the Lightning pledging to be more visual and more active in the community, but they are committing themselves to the community of Tampa Bay as partners and citizens. But it's not like this vision just suddenly appeared as some apparition to the men who run the Lightning. Instead, this is the basis that the vast majority of northern NHL markets run their businesses. Franchises like Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Minnesota, and Detroit send their players out into the community to interact with fans all the time at various community events. It's no secret that Steve Yzerman, a long-time Detroit Red Wing, is putting this vision forward as a way for the Lightning to become more visible in their own yard. This, readers, is how you generate buzz about your team. For a team that's deep in the sunbelt, this is nothing but a good idea. GOOD.

While the vision statement is something brand-new for this franchise that now puts an onus on the club in being a good corporate citizen, I have to admit that I'm shocked that the Lightning took a step back in their branding of themselves. The new logos, while fairly clear, are also still regressing backwards from their previous iterations. While we saw this work in the case of the Vancouver Canucks as they moved to new uniforms, the Lightning, to me, should be a little more bold. After all, lightning is a pretty awesome force in nature. So while the overall aesthetic of the Lightning hasn't been lost, it does seem a little underwhelming just being one colour. PUSH.

The new uniforms are different, and normally I believe that different is good if it leads to something better. The Lightning have essentially turned a once-bold look into a very subdued look. While I'm not totally against the idea of simplifying anyone's look, we go back to the Lightning being a name that exudes energy and boldness. Had the Minnesota Wild come up with a logo like this, the brand simply doesn't fit the identity. I feel that the home jersey's brand doesn't have the same effect without the black and silver that it once does, and the Lightning are worse off for it. STUPID.

However, I do like the blue colour that the Lightning have decided on for the home jerseys. I was always a fan of the alternate jersey that the Lightning wore in the late-1990s, and the "electric blue" that they wear on their current alternate jerseys stands out. While the Lightning certainly could use some black and silver highlights, the home jersey would essentially look a lot like their current alternate jerseys... making them Dallas East. Kudos for the Lightning in opting for the blue background for their home jerseys, and for not selecting navy blue as their primary colour. GOOD.

The new white road jersey is even more sterile than their current road jersey. Again, the jersey could certainly use some black and/or silver highlights to make the jersey "pop" a little more. After all, we're talking about "the Lightning". And I'm not a fan of the "Tampa Bay" written across this jersey. As you know, I seriously think that NHL teams need to live and die by their logos and branding and not the city name. While the city name is vitally important to the identity of the team, when you read "Chicago hockey", the Blackhawks logo probably comes to mind. Lose the name, grab some jersey accents for this road jersey. STUPID.

The new shoulder patch being sported by the Lightning is magnificent. Honestly, I love the retro look of this new patch, and I think that this design has a lot of opportunity to be a very good logo for branding. First, circular logos are automatically pleasing to the eye in their nature. Don't believe me? Think about these logos - Target, Apple, Disney, Mercedes-Benz, the Olympic Rings, AT&T, Shell Petroleum. What do they all have in common? They are round or have large portions of their logos in a round shape. And I guarantee that most of you can picture each of those logos in your head.

Secondly, the patch is very simplistic in its design. Less is definitely more in this case, and I think the Lightning should be very happy with this design. I, for one, think it could almost be their primary logo. GOOD.

I apologize for the size of the picture, but the Lightning have gone to single-colour names and numbers on the back of the jerseys. I'm certainly not complaining because you can read the names and numbers quite easily in that small picture, and it is much better than some of their previous font choices. The font is clean and simple, and that's perfect. GOOD.

Overall, the look of these new jerseys leaves me wanting more from the Lightning. It's not to say that they're bad or that I won't get used to them, but in comparison to today's look and yesterday's look, the Lightning just seem less aggressive in their new duds. Having the legends show up and wear the new uniforms, including Phil Esposito who never played for the Lightning, was a little much in terms of presentation.

The Lightning also announced that their recently-introduced alternate jerseys would move forward with the new uniforms to remain as the alternate jersey. So while the "Victory Stripes" may be gone from the home and road jerseys, fans of the Lightning will still get to see them when the Lightning play games in their alternate uniforms. As much as I like to make fun of the armpit stripes, they are unique to the Lightning, so I'm glad to see the stripes remain. However, I'm still not sold on "Bolts". PUSH.

So there are the new-look Tampa Bay Lightning in all of their uniform glory. Personally, I think the look will grow on me, so I'm going to give these jerseys a thumbs-up as they went 4-2-2 in the GOOD-STUPID-PUSH record. Time will tell how the Lightning fare in their traditional design, but at least Steve Yzerman didn't resort to bringing Manon Rhéaume in to back up Dwayne Roloson.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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