Great or gimmick? Looking back on the Edmonton Oilers’ Todd McFarlane jerseys

Ryan Smyth looks for a pass in the Oilers third jersey designed by Todd McFarlane. COURTESDY: Edmonton Oilers

It was a flying oil drop out of the blue.

The Edmonton Oilers’ first, and arguably boldest, third jersey debuted in the fall of 2001. It was blue, but a different blue than what the team usually used. There was no orange, no copper. And, yeah, it had an oil drop, but instead of hanging vertically, it was surrounded by a gear and blades and was shooting across a player’s chest.

“The dream of recreating the Oilers legacy of the 80s was not bearing fruit for the team we were rebuilding,” said Patrick Larforge, the Oilers president and CEO at the time. “As a brand, the Oilers were bigger and more important as a lifestyle image for the young and affluent oil workers of northern Alberta, B.C., and Saskatchewan.

“They loved the Oilers but didn’t live the traditional lifestyle of their parents. They were very loyal to the oil but needed a different flag for their nation, so to speak.”

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So who to design it? The Oilers looked at some outside options, but ultimately, the artist came from in-house.

“I saw they had spent some money on some designs,” said Todd McFarlane, who was a member of the Edmonton Investors Group which owned the team. “I convinced them, ‘Let me just give you some designs. I’ll do it free!’

“I said, ‘It’s going to be old school.’ That’s why I went to the tie-downs on the neck. Nobody was doing that at the time. To me, that was all those hockey cards I had as a kid.”

McFarlane hated some of the third jerseys that NHL teams were using in that entry, most notably the L.A. Kings’ “Burger King” design.

“To me, third jerseys can be a little gimmicky,” said Kevin Lowe, who was then the Oilers’ general manager. “Having said that, you have to stay up with the times. You have people on the business side who have a good idea what people’s desires are for the hockey club.”

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“Yeah, sure, we had that question,” Laforge answered when asked if he was worried McFarlane’s jersey would look too much like his splashy and sometimes busy comic book art. “But we thought he was the perfect rockstar graphic artist to help a new, youthful, go-hard image. He was a creative genius.

“A strong logo is a logo that anybody will wear, regardless of the sport. When you look at the wheel and that wing for the Detroit Red Wings, it doesn’t say hockey,” said McFarlane.

“The Boston Bruins is a B with spokes on it. It’s just a classic, cool look.”

The only issue was getting the jersey on time. Darrell Holowaychuk, the Oilers’ retail and merchandising manager, did most of the legwork to get it to retailers in time for season-ticket renewal season. Once the public saw it, they loved it.

“The jersey broke NHL records for third jersey sales for number of units and dollars sold,” said Laforge. “As we hoped, it was a hit with Todd’s followers as well.

“The jersey was selling in new and different markets around Canada and the U.S.A.”

McFarlane remembers designing several logos, but he only put two of them forward for consideration.

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“Did I create eight or 10 of them? Yeah, but I learned long ago, never show your eighth-best drawing to someone in a suit, because they’ll pick it,” McFarlane said with a laugh.

“I liked the idea behind the colours chosen. The blue and silver were representative of the Yankees and Cowboys a little bit, two strong organizations,” said Lowe.

“You were used to the OIlers logo and familiar logos like the Boston Bruins,” said Sean Brown, a defenceman for that Oilers team. “It was definitely a little different.

“When something is different in hockey, you’re worried people will react like it’s a bad thing.”

Some fans would love to see the McFarlane jersey brought back as it hasn’t been worn in a game since 2007. Others found it too much of a departure from tradition. Overall, it was a hit with the guys who actually had to play in it.

“I loved it!” was Georges Laraque’s reply when asked about the design.

“I thought it was very cool. It was outside the box,” recalled Brown. “I wish I still had one!”

Watch below: Some Global News videos about hockey jerseys.


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