The first Oilers jersey of its kind was crafted in 1972 ahead of the Alberta Oilers inaugural season in the World Hockey Association. “The flashy jersey,” said John Short, Oilers Public Relations Director from 1978-80, “the orange and blue… That was all (former Oilers Owner, General Manager and Head Coach) Bill Hunter.” Although, there was more to it. Hunter initially flirted with the concept of red, white and blue but later deferred. The businessman hooked a sponsorship with Gulf Oil and promised to use the company’s orange and blue colours but fear of tension between WHA team owners and the NHL caused the pact to fall through.
The logo’s vinyl record-resembling, ‘70s-influenced design remained. Born was an identity for the franchise, as ‘OILERS’ spilled down the sweater with drooping letters. Certified “a statement,” by original Oilers Captain Al Hamilton, the former defenceman knows little of its creation. “Bill had contracted somebody to come up with that logo,” he said. “I’m not sure who it was.” Edmonton alternated between two sets of jerseys their induction season. In the first batch, the orange away uniforms spelled ‘ALBERTA’ on the back while the white home set had nameplates. The second set saw regular nameplates on both. The abstract design, meanwhile, screamed of Hunter. “The flashy big colours and big logos,” said Short. “That was Hunter’s personality.”
Coined the ‘Reversed Logo.’ Beginning in 1974-75 through to the 1978-79 season, Hunter inverted the colours of the jersey’s mantle. Hockey card hobbyists are aware of the blue visiting jerseys. “If you’re familiar with the Gretzky rookie card,” said Oilers Game Used Inventory Manager Dwain Tomkow, “that’s the logo that would be on it.” The decision to revamp the emblem was as surprising as the design itself. “I don’t know why he did that,” Hamilton recollected. “Bill was the architect of all that.” Having secured a career in the NHL with no intention of migrating to the WHA, Hamilton signed with the Oilers for their debut season just to unite with Hunter. Hunter was Owner, General Manager and Coach of the Oil Kings when Hamilton defended their blueline. The two won a Memorial Cup together in 1966.
From Hamilton's perspective, it was Hunter and the Oilers management who exalted the silks. “They liked them so much that they never gave us our jerseys at the end of the year,” the former Oilers defender said. “They kept them. They were more in love with them than we were.” Legend Glen Sather later established a club code. “As soon as he became coach, he introduced the rule that the sweater and the logo never went on the floor,” said Short, adding that it was adopted from the Montreal Canadiens. “I don’t know if it ever got to be, ‘We’re proud of the logo,’ but there was always a strong feeling for the sweater, for the Oilers… and the reality was that this was the Oilers jersey and those who wore it were indoctrinated.”
Hello, NHL. Goodbye, ‘Reversed Logo.’ The season the Edmonton Oilers were first introduced to the National Hockey League, the team switched back to its earliest icon. A white backdrop, baggy royal blue ‘OILERS’ lettering and an orange tear of oil descending upon it. In the NHL induction season, the Oilers went with a lightweight knit manufactured by Maska. Wayne Gretzky’s sweater from the ’79-80 year lives inside a glass case in the Oilers Hall of Fame Room. Sewn within the right shoulder’s yoke is the ‘Edmonton Patch,’ a piece commemorating the City of Edmonton’s 75th anniversary.
Maska evolved the look of the uniforms by incorporating more vibrancy but Gretzky’s sweater in the display speaks of the knit’s frailty. Threads lunge from seams and the sleeves are tracked with sutures. “If you look at Wayne’s jersey,” said Tomkow, “it’s just absolutely destroyed. I can’t even count how many repairs are on it.” Kevin Lowe’s sweat-soaked and puck-marked 1979-80 rookie white also lives in the Room. The weak fabric caused the Oilers to begin exploring other manufacturers with more durable materials in the subsequent years but on the ice, the season was best known for the Oilers fielding the beginning pieces of their dynasty’s core: Gretzky, Lowe and Mark Messier.
The search for the right textile continued in 1980-81 and the modifications made were apparent. The sheening, lightweight Maska’s from 1979-80 were initially replaced with a Sandow SK knit, and then were followed by a heavier Sandow mesh, which proved more durable. “Once they hit mesh, they soon realized that that was the way to go because they held up a lot better,” said Tomkow. The numbering kit was emphasized with a three-tone pattern while the numerals on the back were elongated. Patches continued to be the fad, so a year after commemorating Edmonton’s 75th birthday, the Oilers did the same for the province of Alberta.
Gretzky, Lowe and Messier welcomed some new faces to their bus in 1980-81. It was the debut seasons for defencemen Paul Coffey and Charlie Huddy, goaltender Andy Moog, winger Glenn Anderson, and Gretzky’s reserved right winger Jari Kurri. Edmonton went with a perforated Nike from 1982-83 up until 1988-89 – winning four of their five Stanley Cups with the famous swoop on their hind. Typically, a manufacturer’s tag would appear on the back of the jersey’s right side. In their first year as jersey supplier, Nike did have their branding on the jersey’s right back, but in 1983-84 moved it to the left because of The Great One’s patented right-side jersey tuck.
After the Oilers switched from Maska to Sandow SK and Nike, the NHL standardized manufacturers in 1989-90. CCM became the first supplier mandated by the League. “That would have been the first year everybody was using the same jerseys,” said Tomkow. The striping down the pant was removed as the club went with a darker blue and more robust look. The Oilers won their fifth Stanley Cup in the 1989-90 season and Messier’s Cup Final jersey sits in the Oilers Hall of Fame Room with a Stanley Cup championship patch on the right chest.
The old Copper and Blue, best known for being used during the ‘Doug Weight Era.’ In 1996-97, the Oilers template was overhauled drastically. Navy was introduced as the team’s primary colour while copper and red accentuated the look. The oil drop, formerly orange, was changed to copper and an outer red ring circled the sweater’s emblem. The team kept the shoulder yoke on their whites for one year but removed it following the 1996-97 season. What did remain, was the oil worker pulling a hockey stick lever on the shoulder. The make saw all sorts of shifting manufacturers - including CCM, Pro Player and KOHO – until Reebok took over as the sole jersey supplier across the NHL in 2007-08, introducing a fresh take on the jersey’s construction.
“I think they were going, ‘This guy does creepy comics and he lives near Phoenix, it’s going to be an aberration. It’s going to be a mess. A mess,’” said Comic Book Artist and former Oilers Minority Owner Todd McFarlane, designer of the Oilers 2001 alternate uniforms. “My whole goal was, first off, pick colours that traditionally are very popular," he said, also incorporating symbolic representations of the franchise’s legacy within the new logo. "That colour scheme – silver, dark navy and white – it works. It’s got a history there." McFarlane saw initial sketches of Oilers alternates when he was visiting the executive office. “This was in the era where a lot of the third jerseys – and even some of the regular jerseys – were starting to go with stripes at an angle,” McFarlane said. “They didn’t look ‘hockey’ to me… and I’m like, ‘Guys, let me take a crack at it... let a Canadian show you how it works.’”
The Reebok Edge uniforms gave the NHL a new fit in the 2007-08 campaign and for the Oilers, a new permutation. Lined copper piping parted from the uniform’s collar all the way down to the pants and the oil worker shoulder patch was removed. “Innovation didn’t really hit until Reebok took over and had all the 1.0 and 2.0 jerseys that had all the different materials,” said Tomkow. In March of 2008, Andrew Cogliano scored three overtime winners in three consecutive games, establishing an NHL record. The current Anaheim Ducks forward’s game winners came against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues on March 7, 9 and 11, respectively. The 2008-09 edition of the sweaters featured the Oilers 30th anniversary patch.
The Oilers re-introduced the light blue silks as an alternate, eventually easing it in as their primary home uniform in subsequent seasons. Oilers centre Sam Gagner paid homage to the threads in 2011-12 when he amazingly scored four goals and four assists against the Blackhawks adorned in the jersey, becoming only the 11th player in NHL history to have an eight-point night. "Everything seemed to be working in my favour," the current Vancouver Canucks forward said. "It was a special night and I'm sure everyone involved will remember it for a long time."
Style is timeless, so at the 2015 NHL Draft, the Oilers retrograded once again by bringing back their vintage orange from 1972-73. First overall selection Connor McDavid became the first player to be draped in the jersey, which was intended to be worn in only eight games as part of the Farewell Rexall Place season. Instead of going with tradition and having just the year of the draft on the back of the uniform, McDavid’s nameplate and No. 97 appeared at the podium in Sunrise – reinforcing the genesis of a new era. The sweater became the Oilers primary home uniform in the 2016-17 season as they moved into Rogers Place. Led by McDavid, the team gained entry into the 2016-17 Playoffs for the first time since 2005-06.
Having played over 300 NHL games in his career, suiting up for the Buffalo Sabres, Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers, the act of dressing into an NHL uniform never loses its sentiment for Zack Kassian. “Every time you put on an NHL jersey, it never gets old,” he said a day after donning the newest iteration of the Oilers threads in Edmonton’s 2017-18 home opener against the Calgary Flames. Adidas outbid Under Armour and Bauer Hockey to land the NHL’s jersey contract from 2017-18 onward and thus, the ADIZERO was created. The uniforms were made to be lighter, cooler and stronger while the Oilers sweaters sees some radical changes to the orange and blue colours. The piping features a three-ringed band, similar to Adidas’ trademark triple stripes. “They’re sharp looking jerseys,” continued Kassian, “and to put on any NHL jersey is a privilege.”