Thursday, July 17, 2008

Will Leafs have a third jersey for all their third-line players?

It would be a far better thing to talk about two sweater designs for the much-needed second NHL team in Southern Ontario than a third sweater for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

There was a passing reference here last week that the NHL wasn't satisfied with already having got fans to shell out for the RBK Edge jerseys that all 30 teams introduced last summer. Talk that about half the teams will break out a third jersey this fall is starting to pick up (they're waiting for the official announcement). On gut level, this comes across as greedy, the latest instance of pro sports viewing fans as ATMs with ears.

This all comes down to whether or not you're satisfied with the state of your team and the game. Winning changes everything. You wouldn't have such a sizable outcry about the Rogers Centre caterers firing a beer vendor for the flimsiest of reasons if the Jays were 10 games better than their 47-48 record (although the proof that people are right to rally to Wayne's defence is obvious iby the mere fact that Paul Godfrey won't go near it. Maybe Wayne should have sold beer to 20-year-old Red Sox fans from Boston without IDing them -- he'd have probably got a raise).

The Leafs are at best two, three years from being watchable again. Hockey is still too much of a defensive game (it's better than before the lockout, but that's no stardard at all). Ticket prices remain out of reach for the average fan in most Canadian NHL cities. A large handful of U.S. teams are hemorrhaging money, but hey, commissioner-for-life Gary Bettman would rather let an alleged white-collar criminal into the owners' den than Jim Balsillie, who would -- the nerve! -- try to put a team where people might actually pay the going rate and then some for tickets.

Throwing another overpriced jersey into the mix just pushes the bile a little more. It's ust another indicator that economic model of pro sports, in which you pay through the nose to show how much you care -- or have to act like you don't care, which has often been the case for this Leafs fan since about January 2006 -- is broken.

It won't change unless people keep raising a stink and refusing to stand for this, but it might be too soon to hold your breath on that front. Speaking as the proud owner of a Blue Jays powder-blue throwback, I know all too well the perils of a weak sales resistance. In fact, at this writing, I'm wearing the jersey.

Getting back to the point, why do NHL teams need to add another jersey? What's wrong with Chicago's iconic insignia, which was good enough for Bobby Hull?

This is something that is best left alone. The NHL doesn't get it. People, especially the folks in the United States who have hockey served to them on a silver platter and still sent it back to the kitchen, aren't going to start watching a sport because of snazzy uniforms. Coincidentally or not, the four four reigning champions in the major North American leagues -- the Boston Red Sox, the NBA's Celtics, the New York Giants and the NHL's Detroit Red Wings -- each wear the same uniform that that they did for generations. The Red Sox did have a different look in the '70s and so did the Giants in the '80s and '90s, but don't miss the point: They went back to the originals.

There's no sport in North America that inspires such fanatical loyalty as college football, especially in the Southern states. The last anyone checked, almost every major program has had the same look for decades (although Michigan is making a slight change this season).

Getting back to the Leafs: True to form, the jersey that's appeared on the team website doesn't look all that different from the current model, except for a lace-up collar and different striping on the sleeves.

Was there any great clamouring for the Sens or the Leafs to add another sweater when they just tweaked them 12 months ago? Why not just go all the way and have 82 different jersey, helmet, pants and sock combos, one for each game in already too long season? It would cause an uproar, but at least it would be honest.

(Digression:While we chalked up MLSE letting Leafs fans attend a game as a win, Puck Daddy is calling it a desperation play. One difference between the Leafs and the Jays is that with 81 home dates and 50,000 seats, instead of 41 and 19,500, makes it more obvious that a team and its league has lost its market share.)

This might have the air of that Seinfeld where George tells an actor from Cheers, "I don't want to tell you how to run your show, but enough with the bar already," but what the hell. The Leafs aren't allowed to introduce a third jersey unless it does away with the leaf crest (either version) and employs a colour scheme beyond the traditional blue and white.

They wouldn't do it, of course, because it would be messing with tradition. It's odd how that only gets invoked when it's convenient.

(Sites such as Icethetics do a great job tracking this subject, if anyone is interested.)


eyebleaf said...

that leafs jersey looks nice. i think i might go out and buy it.

Mike said...

When I was 18 I went over to England and found out they were pumping out new kits on a regular basis. To me it made no sense beyond profit, but at least with footy there's so many clubs out there they need something to give them an edge. I think 3rd jerseys started out as a great novelty but aren't necessary, and yet now everyone is jumping all over them. I don't see the purpose of this 3rd jersey by the Leafs maybe a St. Patrick's jersey or an old school one would suffice, but this is basically identical.

I dunno, myself I won't be making the purchase, as the NHL is doing a cash grab that I don't feel is necessary - regardless of how the southern teams are doing.