The Winter Classic is an annual outdoor hockey game with an annual timeline for fan arguments.
They begin when the venue is announced — “Fenway Park … again?” — and continue when the participants are revealed — “The Pittsburgh Penguins … again?”
But the arguments reach their apex when the uniforms for the teams are revealed, as teams and the NHL’s retail partners attempt to create a look that’s an instant classic for the Classic.
Many times, they succeed. “I tend to like Winter Classic jerseys more than I dislike them,” said Chris Smith, founder and editor of the hockey uniform news and analysis site Icethetics.com. “Believe it or not, a list of my least favorite ones is actually harder to make.”
Harder, but not impossible. With the 14th NHL Winter Classic scheduled for Jan. 2 between the Penguins and the Boston Bruins, here is our official ranking of all 28 jerseys from the league’s foremost outdoor event, with some expert analysis from Smith and fellow sports gear guru Chris Creamer of Sportslogos.net.
But to find out the best Winter Classic jersey, we must begin with the worst …
Both the Flyers and Rangers used “heritage white” on their 2012 jerseys: a beige-ish tone that looks like the “before” example in an OxiClean infomercial. As an accent color, it is fine. As the base color for this New York jersey, it is atrocious. When contrasted with the bright white ice and boards, the Rangers looked like a collective sweat stain.
“This is easily my least favorite ever,” Creamer said. “I hate when jersey designs lean on ‘heritage white.’ It’s a truly terrible trend.”
The logo pays tribute to the one the Rangers had in 1926. A franchise that mocked the Islanders for having a “fish sticks” look on their jerseys decided to look like a Carvel ice cream shop for its first outdoor game. It all adds up to the worst Winter Classic jersey ever created. Even the points for originality can’t change this scoreboard.
Well, that’s certainly a Blackhawks jersey. Smith ranks this as one of his three least favorite jerseys: “Where’s the creativity? For such a unique game, this rehash of their standard road jersey was a big letdown,” he said.
Chicago’s dispassionate fashion choice only underscored the thrown together nature of the Nationals Park Classic, an interconference matchup with the Washington Capitals that seemed to be an excuse just to get Chicago in another outdoor game.
Two things ruin this jersey. The Sabres wanted a mash-up of their then-current sweater and their original ones from the 1970s. They used the old school colors (yea!) but also used the monotone shoulder coloring of their 2017-18 jerseys, minus the classic gold outline around them (boo!).
But the biggest sin was the addition of “NY” to the Sabres’ crest, in a desperate “SEE, LOOK: WE ARE ALSO A NEW YORK TEAM!” call for attention at the Citi Field game.
“Just a remix of their 2010 alt and throwback white jersey,” said Smith, who wasn’t a fan. “Again, only two teams per year get to play in this game, the jerseys should be special and this one simply missed the mark in my view.”
It’s never a good thing when your jersey looks like a neglected page in a hockey coloring book. The Blackhawks’ Notre Dame jerseys have been ranked at the bottom of many Winter Classic sweater tabulations, and they are Creamer’s least favorite look.
“It’s a great idea, in theory, to throw back to a cleaned up version of a Cup-winning club from the 1930s for a game dripping in traditional design such as this,” he said. “But when the uniforms you’re throwing back to are terrible … well, modern design can only do so much. I always felt the best part of the Blackhawks identity was the bright red of their dark sweaters, accented by minimal amounts of black, white, yellow, green, orange, and blue. It sounds ridiculous, but it all works together. This eliminated everything great about the Blackhawks uniform just in time for a global audience.”
Yet we don’t have them ranked at the bottom here, because our other guest expert actually listed them as his favorite Winter Classic fit of all time!
“I love the black and white and I wish they’d use it as a third jersey on a more frequent basis,” Smith said. “It’s simple and distinctly captures a different era of NHL hockey in a way no other Winter Classic jersey has, in my opinion.”
We can’t in good faith rank something this divisive at the bottom. Just near it.
Picture that meme of Pam from “The Office” looking at the 2017 and 2015 Blackhawks Winter Classic jerseys and saying, “They’re the same picture.”
That’s the gist with this ranking. This one has slightly different striping and a throwback logo to the 1950s that’s a little less refined and a bit more colorful. Otherwise, the Blackhawks’ designers appeared to be getting as bored with creating new outdoor games jerseys as we were seeing Chicago in these games.
Fresh fit for the #WinterClassic 💯
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) November 25, 2022
The “heritage white” strikes again on the Penguins’ Fenway Park jerseys, which are inspired by Pittsburgh’s original NHL franchise, the 1925 Pirates.
Writes the NHL: “The ‘P’ crest stands equally for Pittsburgh and Penguins.”
It also stands for “putrid” and “Penguin-less,” as it foregoes the adorable flightless fowl that defines the franchise for some “P” on their chest.
The colors of this Target Field Classic jersey are festive and distinct. So it’s got that going for it, which is (Minnesota) nice. The rest of it … well, Creamer wasn’t a fan.
“A great example of what happens when you try to force as many stories and inspiration into a single design as possible,” he said. “This uniform paid tribute to Minnesota hockey history, including classic designs from St. Paul and Minneapolis, and the result was a mess of green, red and heritage white.
“Stripes everywhere, out-of-place shoulder yokes, lettering and logos on the chest. Faux-leather patches on the elbows. There was so much crammed into this design they could barely fit the captain’s patches onto the front. Keep it simple, pick one story to reference and save the others for a future uniform.”
There’s one reason why these Cotton Bowl sweaters are ranked so low, and that’s a missed opportunity. The Predators had a left shoulder patch logo on this sweater that was a bonkers version of their primary logo — they even sold a hoodie with this reimagined logo.
“[It] takes the form of a roaring saber-toothed tiger’s head and represents the Predators’ size, strength and speed,” Adidas said.
Whatever it was, the logo should have absolutely replaced the scripting on the front of what could have been a ravenously wonderful jersey.
The 2022 Winter Classic in Minnesota is an odd one. It wasn’t at an iconic venue. It didn’t have an Original Six team or the Penguins or the Flyers. It was the lowest-rated Classic in the series, although in fairness it was also the first one the NHL had on cable television.
It was most notable for being the coldest Classic on record (minus-8 degrees Fahrenheit) and for having the Blues show up to the game in swimwear. Which is to say their 1967 throwback jerseys weren’t the most notable things they wore in Minnesota.
Despite the scourge of “heritage white,” these St. Louis jerseys are solid looks … although one eclipsed by another Blues Classic jersey that you’ll see in a bit.
The best thing about these Flyers jerseys was the way they were unveiled: By having players like Daniel Briere and Simon Gagne fire pucks at a block of ice until it shattered.
Otherwise, they are a tribute to the team’s 1967 expansion look with the addition of a black nameplate, something the Flyers would adopt permanently and with which we’ve never been enamored.
This Bruins fit was inspired by the logo on their 1925 jerseys, whose letter spacing makes it look like a promo for a circus bear named Osto.
While Smith believes “the all-black Bruins were imposing,” we’ve always been a little bummed they opted for that common hue over the bonkers striping of the original jerseys.
Context is important here: The Capitals hadn’t rocked these jerseys since 1995. Their current logo was a “Version 2.0” of this classic look.
So to bring back the jersey synonymous with players like Rod Langway and Dale Hunter for a game against the rival Penguins was a pretty big deal, to the point where this sweater was adopted as a road alternate the following season.
In a game at Notre Dame, it was only appropriate that the Bruins got a little collegiate. That “B” on the front would have been right at home on a letterman sweater.
“The decision to wear regular white over the temptation to do as the others do with ‘heritage white’ paid off big time for the 2019 Bruins,” Creamer said. “The contrast of the bright gold and black striping — and there’s a lot of them — against the clean white is striking, as is the big, bold, ‘B’ square in the chest. The fact that they wore this against one of the dullest Winter Classic uniforms of all time certainly doesn’t hurt.”
The Blackhawks have appeared in more outdoor games (six) than any other NHL team, and this is the best jersey they’ve worn in the Classic or the Stadium Series events.
That’s not saying much given the competition, but this replica of their 1935 jerseys — with an updated logo — was so popular that the team kept it as an alternate jersey for the next few seasons.
Like the Capitals in 2011, these recreations of the Sabres’ original white sweaters were joyously received because it had been so long since we’d seen them. Buffalo last wore these in 1996 before embarking on a jersey journey that included the “angry goat” and the “Buffaslug,” which was what the Sabres were wearing during the 2007-08 season.
Like a heaping spoonful of salt, the Winter Classic retro look might have helped kill the “slug” by 2010.
These Fenway redux jerseys are instantly memorable, from the bold striping to the whimsical font to what Bruins fans have affectionately called “Meth Bear.” The existence of their Reverse Retro “Pooh bear” logo in the same sweater season as this “Cocaine Bear” stunt double is deliciously Jekyll and Hyde.
Yet, we have to agree with the primary complaint about these jerseys, shared by blogger Zach Sexton: “Each of the components is solid enough on its own, checking off the boxes to create a vintage feel for the Winter Classic. When you put them all together though, they don’t quite click. The logo feels like it was designed for a completely different jersey based on the colors used.”
The caveat here is that we’ve yet to see these jerseys on the ice or in action, and that can sometimes elevate a jersey’s status.
These sweaters popped on the Cotton Bowl ice, especially when paired with the beige gloves that Dallas players wore. The Stars’ “victory green” color was the primary motif with a Texas-sized logo on the front.
Said Smith: “What Adidas did for the Stars was outstanding. Another one I wish we’d see more often: It’s a beautiful take on the 1940s Texans jersey and the felt patches provide a genuine vintage feel.”
The 2017 Winter Classic had a lot going for it, from Ken Hitchcock’s fedora to St. Lunatics Nelly declaring his love for 3-on-3 overtime hockey.
Perhaps the best thing was what the home team wore in its game against Chicago: These are absolutely gorgeous recreations of the club’s inaugural look from the 1967-68 season.
We’re a sucker for Rangers jerseys that swap out their royal blue for navy blue, like their famed “Liberty Head” jersey does. The lettering is inspired by their late 1920s look, while the “NY” patch on the shoulder celebrates their Citi Field game from 2018. It’s a stark look, but Creamer’s not entirely a fan.
“This one wasn’t so bad overall, but it screws around with one of the better hockey sweaters simply for the sake of making a unique uniform for an outdoor game. And that bugs me,” he said. “Maybe without the NY shield this one comes off the worst list, but the combination of ‘let’s simplify the wordmark and numbers’ with ‘let’s complicate everything from the chest up’ gives me a headache.”
Sorry for the double feature, but these are inseparable. The “We Will Rock You” into “We Are The Champions” of Winter Classic jerseys.
Alone, they’re two of the best: Playful, historic and awash in color that popped even from the highest seat at the Big House — which certainly came in handy during the icy weather during the game. Together, they produced the most visually outstanding matchup of jerseys in Winter Classic history.
It was “blue vs. red” on the ice and in the stands, giving the record-breaking game in Ann Arbor the look of European soccer supporters sections. We’ll give a slight edge to the Red Wings’ homage to the 1920 Detroit Cougars and their own early years Winged Wheel logo, but that’s not to say the Leafs’ rustic logo and memorable striping wasn’t just as memorable. More color-on-color games, NHL!
While the Rangers’ overuse of “heritage white” was calamitous, the Flyers’ decision to accent their orange jerseys with it created one of the best Winter Classic looks ever, according to Creamer.
“A great throwback-inspired uniform is one which feels like the team should have already worn it in the past or could easily add it to their current wardrobe,” he said. “The 2012 Flyers Winter Classic meets that standard easily with their iconic black and orange combo paired remarkably well with heritage white; the addition of Pennsylvania keystones behind the captaincy letters is the extra onions on this cheesesteak.
“Overall, a clean, simple look suitable for a franchise who has stuck with just one logo throughout its 50-plus-year history.”
After a pair of rather muted jerseys at the Wrigley Field event between the Blackhawks and Red Wings, the Bruins went bold with their look at the first Fenway Park game the following season. Of the Bruins’ four Winter Classic sweaters, their first was the most memorable and has grown in stature since their release.
Quibble about whether this 1940s-era logo is as iconic as the others the team has worn in the Classic, but there’s little argument that the color template is distinct. Smith said it ranks among his favorites.
“Yellow and brown is a color scheme that’s absolutely unique to this team, and they could really own it if they wanted to,” he said, “but you know hockey fans and tradition.”
Nothing wrong with a little innovation at the Winter Classic. These Capitals jerseys broke the mold for the franchise at the Nationals Park game, opting for a deep red over a dark blue “W” in the front that doubles as a silhouette of the Washington Monument. It’s not completely untethered to the Caps’ history of jerseys, thanks to the presence of stars and the “Capitals” wordmark on the crest.
As Creamer said regarding the Flyers’ 2012 look, a great throwback-style jersey should feel like a team “should have already worn it in the past or could easily add it to their current wardrobe.” This jersey hits that definition like an Alex Ovechkin slap shot hitting the back of the net.
The one that started it all. It’s amazing to think about all the things that could have gone wrong with the first Winter Classic in Buffalo. Had it been a disaster, the gimmick might have ended there. Instead, we’re left with visions of Sidney Crosby scoring a shootout goal while wearing this iconic jersey whose blue hue cut through the Buffalo snow.
“That powder blue served them well for three more years as a third and set a great precedent for every Winter Classic that followed,” Smith said.
The 2016 Foxboro Classic was a study in contrasts: The black bears of Boston skating against their vibrant visitors from the north. Watching them in action, it seemed like Montreal somehow discovered a whiter shade of white for these sweaters. It carried over the blue stripe from its home jersey, lightened it up, slapping a variant logo on it and creating a look that pulsates with colo(u)r.
“The brighter bleu, blanc et rouge for the Habs was just gorgeous,” Smith said.
There’s also a globe on the sleeve. It’s a logo modeled after one the Habs wore in the 1920s to signify their status as Stanley Cup winners, marking the first time that Montreal has reminded fans of the depth and volume of their championship legacy. (Yes, that was sarcasm.)
Penguin in a scarf. That’s all you need to know regarding this Pittsburgh look from their Heinz Field game against the Capitals.
“A precursor to the Reverse Retro series of the 2020s, the 2011 Penguins uniform took the club’s original navy blue expansion season sweater design, with its numerous baby blue stripes, and swapped out the Rangers-style lettering for the club’s actual logo of the time, giving us an all-new design that didn’t feel unfamiliar or out-of-place,” Creamer said. “How could anyone hate a scarf-wearing penguin playing hockey on their uniform? The Pens loved this one so much they made it their third jersey for a few years before they settled on the 1980s-style black and gold as their full-time identity.”
The 2011 Winter Classic had an incredible amount of hype — the NHL’s bitterest rivals meeting after being featured on HBO’s “24/7” series — that unfortunately the game itself couldn’t live up to, from Sidney Crosby’s injury to the event being weather-rescheduled to the evening.
But these Penguins sweaters were perfection at an imperfect event, a memorable remixing of a classic look with a new tradition that ranks No. 1 in our Winter Classic countdown.