It can be tricky being an expansion franchise and trying to carve out an identity in the league. It can be even harder when you’re doing it as a hockey team in Florida. The Lightning were able to break stereotypes about hockey in the south and be successful. Funny they were able to do it while always changing a little something up about their look all the time.
Best: The Lightning have been a franchise always in search of a complete look. While their sweaters have all been essentially the same thing since their inception in the early 90s, there’s always been some kind of tweak going on. Whether it was with the numbers, the letters, or both, things were always changing.
That said, they got it right in 2001 when they stuck with what worked with their crest and shoulder logo and gave up on being different with everything else and stuck to block letters and numbers. Their black road sweater that served them well between 2001 and 2007 proved to be their best. The one odd touch with any of their black and white sweaters came thanks to the “victory stripes” located in the armpits of the sweater. Team founder Phil Esposito said that when the team lifted the Stanley Cup they’d get to see the team colors then. They sure got to do that in 2004 when Dave Andreychuk, Vincent Lecavalier, and Martin St. Louis led the team to their one and only Stanley Cup.
Worst: Boy oh boy could teams not get their third sweaters right. The Lightning sought out to really hammer home their location on Tampa Bay and the fact their team was named after a naturally occurring event. From 1996 to 1999 the Lightning’s third jersey had lightning bolts coming down the sleeves out of a grotesque storm cloud-like gray shoulder yoke with the Lightning crest big and bold on the front over top of what was a rocky storm at sea landscape. This sounds as if I’m describing a terrible painting and… Yes, that’s precisely what this sweater was. A terrible, awful, dumb painting.
Black or blue?: When the Lightning introduced a new third jersey during the RBK Edge era, they opted to take advantage of the other main team color they had. They created a bright, bold blue sweater that put the Lightning’s revamped Reebok logo on the shoulders and spelled out “BOLTS” diagonally on the front while slipping a small “Tampa Bay” on the rear bottom flap of the sweater. With the Lightning switching to an entirely new logo and look this season, it ends the era of black sweaters in Tampa, one that did them well through their first 19 seasons in Florida. Perhaps that means someday we’ll be treated to a “new” black alternate sweater in the future.
Assessment: The Lightning’s new look is bold but I’ll reserve total judgment on it until I see it in action on the ice. The new logo looks like something out of a futuristic sports video game and the amount of blue that’s seen in the home and road sweaters is staggering. Leaving the color black behind in such a cold turkey kind of way will take some adjusting to. That said, it’s a modernized old school kind of look and one for Steve Stamkos to embrace as the future of the franchise.