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From Awful to Artistic: Best and Worst Phoenix Coyotes Jersey Designs of All Time

John van der Woude of Hockey by Design joins FFH to rank the Phoenix Coyotes' uniforms from worst to first! Check out his blog for more about graphic design in hockey.

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John van der Woude Designs

When I counted down the Best Team Logos in the NHL (BTLNHL) on my blog, I like to think I surprised a few people by ranking the current Coyote's logo so high on the list, coming in at #9, beating iconic teams such as the Rangers and Oilers. But it wasn't always so great for the Coyotes brand.

Here's how this works: I'll count down, from worst to first, all the jerseys the Coyotes have ever worn. Home and away jerseys will be lumped into the same category (so, more of a jersey "era") and I won't worry about small changes (like slightly changed positions of piping for example). Third jerseys will stand on their own. I'm focusing on the jerseys only, not the entire uniform. The jersey images are compliments of the fine people over at For the Coyotes, there's five different jerseys/eras. And we'll start with the worst one:

5. 1998-2003 Third Jerseys Coyotes-Thirds-old

Regular readers of the blog would see this one coming from a million miles away. Like Anaheim's Wild Wing that I talked about in my last Worst to First post, this is not only the worst jersey the Coyotes have worn, it's one of the worst NHL jerseys ever. Having a landscape that resembles an 8-bit Nintendo Ninja Gaiden-esque backdrop to replace the striping on the jerseys is certainly something that you don't see on an NHL jersey everyday. And thank god for that. The problem is, it's something you might see on a minor-league hockey jersey. They put out crazy stuff like this all the time. Just the other day, the Bakersfield Condors announced they were wearing Abraham Lincoln/Gettysburg Address-inspired jerseys. I could not make this up if I tried. And then there's the Albany River Rats' Ronald McDonald jerseys, where they even dyed the ice yellow. This jersey is on par with those messes of jerseys. I'd roll my eyes if Phoenix were a minor league team and leave it at that, but in the NHL - the best hockey league in the world - it's just reeks of amateur. However, I can appreciate that the third jersey campaigns NHL teams are doing allow the teams to play around with traditional jersey design and create something different and exciting. Most of the time, it draws on the history of the team. Phoenix, having a history of about two seasons at this point (aside from being in Winnipeg of course), couldn't draw on that, so they introduced one of the worst inclusions of horrible design that epitomized the '90s. Seriously, the '90s were bad. Awful even. The alternate logo they used on these jerseys is just the head of their primary hockey-playing Native American-influenced coyote, which is also a logo I was never crazy about, and also a product of the '90s era of hockey design. But the head by itself is actually more simplistic than it's minor-league-looking full-bodied version and actually is the only plus on this whole jersey. Everything here just reeks of '90s design, and any jersey like this should remain banished in a minor league somewhere. But, to be honest, I wouldn't mind owning one of the jerseys one day, just because it's so incredibly awful. It's like the Governor keeping an aquarium full of zombie heads, just to remember how bad things had gotten for a while. Jersey Recommendation: #97 Roenick. Loud, colourful, abrasive and quasi-offensive. The jersey, I mean. But that's Roenick too, so it's a good fit.

4. 1996-2003 Home & Away Jerseys Coyotes01

When the original Winnipeg Jets made the trip to the deserts of Arizona in 1996, it was at the height of experimentation in the league aesthetically. The first third jerseys had rolled out in 1995. There was a new technology for printing on jerseys allowing for gradients. Expansion and relocation, particularly to the southern US, was unprecedented which brought in a whole new phase of different aesthetics to appeal to the new markets. Some of this experimentation was on a mad-scientist-blow-up-in-your-face-charring-your-face-leaving-you-googly-eyed-and-unable-to-move level. It was bad. One of the biggest experimentations was with the traditionally simple straight lines on the sleeves and bottoms of the jerseys. Colorado and Dallas added angles. Los Angeles added words. Phoenix, like Carolina and Atlanta, added patterns. For the Coyotes, their logo drew from kachina-inspired aesthetics of the traditional Indigenous societies, and these first jerseys became an extension of that aesthetic, creating a relatively complex pattern along the sleeves and bottom of the jersey. Nothing wrong with bringing in Indigenous influences in your design, as the Canucks did it with their logo, but did anyone think that these jerseys might look like a poncho when being worn? The problem with the complexity of the patterns is that it becomes the focal point of the entire jersey, which should instead always be the main crest on the front. Look at this picture and try tell me you're staring at anything other than Tkachuk's neck. The complexity, heavy contrast and multitude of colours draws the eyes away from the logo and to the perimeters of the jersey. This is just bad jersey design. The other bad aspect of this era of hockey was the overly complex colour palettes. Florida is guilty of it. Atlanta was guilty of it and so was Phoenix, using sand, green, burgundy and brown. None of these colours are common in the NHL (where blue, navy blue and red run rampant), so it's great they chose unique colours, but did they need so many? Luckily, they fixed that later on. I'm usually not a fan of black jerseys either, as I prefer as much colour as possible on jerseys considering the players are playing on a blank canvas of white ice. But, with the amount of colour splashed all over jerseys, I'm OK with it. It's the complexity of it that brings it down this far. Jersey Recommendation: #7 Tkachuk. The captain of the Coyotes from the time they moved from Winnipeg to when he was traded in 2001. The most obvious choice to represent this era. Get it in black.

3. 2008-present Third Jerseys Coyotes11

The rebranding that happened for the Coyotes in 2003 greatly improved the overall quality of design for the team (more on that later), but this third jersey was a slight mis-step. This jersey features the weakest logo (alternate or otherwise) that the team has ever had. A coyote, caught in mid-motion leaping (or running away?) over nothing in particular may portray speed and grace (which are integral to the sport of hockey) but it has absolutely no sense of strength or intensity (also integral to the sport of hockey). The orientation of the logo is also badly-considered for a hockey jersey. The extreme horizontal nature of the icon gives it less prominence on the jersey (which is the same reason why the Anaheim Ducks were ranked last in the BTLNHL Countdown) and that's mixed with the over complexity of having a full animal's body in the design (the same reason the Florida Panthers were ranked so low in the BTLNHL Countdown). As for the rest of the jersey, I've already expressed the problems with having black jerseys in hockey (which was all the rage for a few years but luckily dying down again). The wavy lines along the sleeves and sides of the jersey are somewhat inexplicable. They're non-traditional for a hockey jersey, but there's no apparent reasoning for doing so. The only thing I can think of is that its meant to match the movement in the alternate logo itself. But because the logo is already accentuating that aspect (and because this third jersey is the only place this logo is used), the jersey can be used to accentuate the strength and intensity of hockey. Like sleeping in on Black Friday, it's a missed opportunity, if you like getting trampled and injured. Also, the sand/beige stripes on the sides don't match the width of the stripes on the sleeves. That s*** bugs me. It makes it look like a mistake. Jersey Recommendation: #89 Boedker. The Dane was drafted by the Coyotes the year these third jerseys came out and has played with the team every year they've worn it.

2: 2007-present Home & Away Jerseys Coyotes10

This jersey and the one in first place are extremely similar to each other, with only minor details separating them, but these details were enough to keep their current jersey in second place. It's still, in my mind, one of the nicest jerseys currently in the league. Part of that starts with the logo and the rebranding the team did in 2003. They threw out the complexity of the blatant Indigenous-inspired designs in favour of something that simplified the colour scheme to the burgundy and sand. They simplified the logo to something more elegant and refined, while still being distinctive. You can read the entire breakdown of the logo in the BTLNHL Countdown, and you can read the conversation I had with the designer of the logo, Daniel Price, here. The jerseys were reduced to one colour: burgundy. Only the Colorado Avalanche use burgundy in their brand as well, and they mix it with blue, so Phoenix's remains distinctive and unique within the league. Some of the most iconic jerseys in the league, like the Maple Leafs and the Red Wings, also use a single colour on their jerseys. Gone are the overly complex patterns in favour of traditional hockey stripes: simple, strong and elegant. Phoenix also wears what I consider to be one of the best designed shoulder patches in the entire league on these jerseys. Even the fonts were changed, from the standard cut-off angles traditionally used in hockey, to something unique to Phoenix. You don't often see a serifed font on any sports jerseys, but it works on these nameplates because they're very slight and, for the most part, don't impede readability. It's actually a gutsy move, and it worked well. In all, when combined with the logo, the jerseys are distinctive, simple, strong, elegant and even iconic. Daniel Price did a fantastic job with these. There's only a couple things that kept these from first place. In 2007, when Reebok redesigned all the NHL jerseys, Phoenix did what quite a few teams did and eliminated the stripes from the bottom of the jerseys. For the burgundy jerseys, Phoenix didn't change anything else, making the jersey change almost too minimal. A big complaint after teams removed the stripes was that they started to look like practice jerseys, and these jerseys are certainly heading that way. As the lack of stripes at the bottom becomes more commonplace, that complaint has subsided since viewers have gotten used to it, but it's still important to make a distinction. For the white jerseys, they moved the burgundy stripes at the bottom to the top, in the form of burgundy shoulder yokes. It's not bad, but shoulder yokes are pretty hit-and-miss. It can make a jersey look incredibly blocky, or accentuate an already nice design. Generally, with simplistic jerseys like the Coyotes have, it's a detriment. Jersey Recommendation: #23 Ekman-Larsson. A symbol of the future of the Coyotes (who I don't think will ever let him go) and future captain of the team. He is the Coyote's future version of Nicklas Lidstrom.

1. 2003-07 Home & Away Jerseys Coyotes08

The original outcome of 2003's rebranding of the team, these jerseys are as close you can get to classic, iconic hockey jersey design while still being distinctive and unique to the team. Again, the simplicity of the logo, the colour palette and the overall design is wonderful. And they take the top spot because the shoulder yokes are gone from the whites, and they have the stripes along the bottom of the jerseys. In comparison to the jerseys at No. 2, these are just barely a step ahead. Simple, strong and intense, but with the logo, full of movement and grace. It's a great combination of all the elements that make hockey such a great sport to watch and play. Not much more to say than that. Jersey Recommendation: #19 Doan. He became the captain in 2003, when these jerseys were introduced. And he's been the undisputed leader of the team ever since. With players like Ekman-Larsson, Yandle and Boedker developing, they will be the future of the franchise, but this era belonged to Doan, no question.

This installment of the Worst to First Jerseys features the Phoenix Coyotes, and much thanks to Five For Howling for letting me guest post on their blog. On my own blog, I talk about about graphic design in hockey and I'll be doing the jerseys for the rest of the league over time, so come by Hockey By Design to check it out.