When the Washington Capitals wore their throwback uniforms in the Winter Classic on New Years’ Day, we were reminded of just how good they looked. The Caps wore that uniform from 1974 to 1995, with some small modifications along the way. We have to say, it looks just as good now as it did back then. We’re even wondering if the Caps should make it a part of their regular jersey ensemble.
Throwback and fauxback jerseys have been in vogue in professional sports for several years as teams look for ways to increase revenues and get away from the ugly uniforms spawned in the 1990s. Shortly after the 2010 Winter Classic, when rumors of the Caps’ 2011 participation were rampant, Uni Watch Blog predicted the Caps would probably wear a fauxback jersey: "Capitals: I would actually expect a fauxback in this case. Most likely this would allow the Caps to create an alternate jersey and debut it on a national stage so Ovechkin can drive sales.” [Link].
The problem with that is the Caps have been using a fauxback jersey in their regular home and away uniforms since October 2007. That was when the league introduced the new sleeker Reebok Edge jerseys [link] and allowed any team to redesign their uniforms. The league also limited all 30 teams to just two jerseys that season. The Capitals were very smart to return to their old look. By returning to the original color scheme and modernizing the 1974 logo, the Caps were able to reconnect with their fan base and announce a new era in Capitals hockey as the team made the playoffs for the first time in 5 years.
The Caps had their Winter Classic jersey in mind long before they were named to the game. On December 28, 2008, with the Capitals petitioning to get into the 2010 Winter Classic [Link], the Capitals retired #11 on “Mike Gartner Night.” With the 2009 Wrigley Field outdoor game just days away, all 20 Capitals that came out for warm-ups wore a #11 white throwback jersey in honor of Mike Gartner. The jerseys were later autographed and auctioned off for charity. The Caps also wore their white uniforms at home that game, which was the practice while Gartner played in DC. [link]
With that throwback teaser, it came as no surprise that the Capitals unveiled that same throwback jersey at the Capitals Convention last October [link]. Alex Ovechkin and former captains Rod Langway and Yvon Labre modeled the jersey for the 6,000+ fans in attendance.
The jersey was a big hit when it went on sale at the team store, too. Authentic Capitals jerseys from the 1974-95 era had been extremely hard to come by for many years, so fans gobbled them up as soon as they got the chance. The Caps also sold a lot of other clothing in anticipation of the game. They had to know they were onto something. One month later on February 1st, the Capitals again wore their throwback jerseys for “Turn Back the Clock Night” to honor former Capital Dino Ciccarelli [Link]. The Caps were facing the Montreal Canadiens, who haven't done much to their jersey in decades.
Is it possible the Capitals make the throwback a regular third jersey for next season? Judging by a few other teams, it's a strong possibility. The Capitals don't have much of a history with third jerseys. They briefly joined the late-90s crowd by creating a third jersey, but they quickly made the black alternate part of their 2-jersey rotation by eliminating their regular away jersey.
The problem with that third jersey experiment was likely the ugliness of the original home and away designs. This time is different, meaning the Capitals could do one of two things to keep the revenue stream going: they could continue to use the third jersey on ceremony nights and special occasions like this year, or they could use it more regularly, a la the Los Angeles Kings or the Minnesota Twins.
With the opening of a new ballpark last season, the Twins unveiled a new throwback jersey for Opening Night and Saturday home games, a total of 16 [MLB Link, UWB Link]. The classy-looking jersey was a hit, and the Twins are likely to continue using it the same way. If the Caps follow this model, they'd wear the throwback jersey 8 times. A complicating factor here is that the jersey is white, and NHL teams play road games in white. They could wear the jersey for games against the Original 6, or perhaps big rivals like the Flyers or Penguins. If it gets popular enough, there is precedent for the throwback jersey to become the main jersey. The Buffalo Sabres were using a new fauxback jersey in 2005-06, the season they played in the first Winter Classic.
When the Sabres unveiled their original 1970s uniform for the Winter Classic, they quickly realized just how popular that look was.
It didn't take long before the Sabres made that their normal third jersey. They went all the way back this season, dropping the fauxback altogether and adopting a slightly modified version of their 1970s jersey for their 40th anniversary season. [Link, Link]
The Capitals current uniform is good-looking and popular, so it's not likely the Caps would go all the way back like the Sabres. Then again, when Washington, D.C., hosts a Winter Classic in a 2013 or 2014, who's to say they don't unveil the red throwback. [Link]
There's a very strong likelihood this red jersey sees the light of day next season, as the team and Reebok are already working on it. The Caps could use it for a ceremony night, perhaps when they retire #12 or #37. Since the DC Winter Classic will be a Capitals home game, it would make sense to use the dark jersey in the game. Let's just hope they don't go near the 1995-2006 jerseys any time soon.