When you’re over a hundred years old and want to feel young again, what can you do? Maybe start wearing some tie-dye, colour your hair black, or how about hanging out with an internationally famous pop star? Well, if you’re the Toronto Maple Leafs, check off “all of the above”.
Today, the Maple Leafs unveiled their new third uniform, an all-black outfit with tie-dye elements on the crest, designed in collaboration with Justin Bieber, Adidas, and the NHL. They’re calling it the “Next Gen” uniform, referencing the Leafs’ “Next Gen” Game, a celebration of youth in the community which features family-friendly programming such as kids participating in the team introductions, in-game entertainment, and broadcast roles.
“Since its inception during our 100th anniversary celebrations in 2017, the Next Gen game has become an annual team event where all our fans, young and old, come together to celebrate, and in some cases introduce and share their passion with our next generation of Maple Leafs fans,” said Brendan Shanahan, Maple Leafs President and Alternate Governor. “We are excited to be able to take Next Gen to another level with this special uniform designed with our next generation in mind.”
Toronto will play its next “Next Gen” game tomorrow night, March 23, against the New Jersey Devils. Yes, they will be wearing their new uniforms.
Canadian entertainer Justin Bieber and his Drew House clothing brand were heavily involved in its design. The uniform is black, not blue. The player numbers are black, not white. Oh, and did I mention the jersey is reversible? A first in North American pro sports.
“The opportunity to collaborate with Justin [Bieber] and Drew House to create such a unique alternate sweater will make it even more special for our fans and the team,” added Shanahan.
“My love for the Maple Leafs has always been a big part of who I am, and my passion for the team, and the passion of millions of fans, is stitched into this Next Gen sweater,” said Justin Bieber. “I’m grateful to the Leafs for the chance to team up again to create something so authentic for the team and its fans.”
They’re going all-in on black, from head to toe, a colour the Maple Leafs have never used before in any official on-ice capacity. The crest is the modern Maple Leafs logo with a shibori-inspired (or tie-dye) blue sublimated design within it. There are two royal blue stripes on either sleeve with a darker blue patterned design in between them featuring the City of Toronto skyline. The suggestion of the skyline came from the players themselves, looking for a way to show their pride in Toronto on the uniform. Around the waist is a single royal blue stripe, much like their usual road white jersey. Player numbers are black with white trim, the inside back collar is yellow (wait, what? hold on, we’ll get to that) with the club’s “Honour. Pride. Courage” motto in their Next Gen-styled typeface.
“We were very mindful of how we designed this jersey because the blue is so important to our core fan base,” said Shannon Hosford, Chief Marketing Officer at Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment. “We made sure [blue] was included, even though we have [introduced] the black, to make it different and fresh. We want our team to skate out and have a lot of pride and also our fan base.”
The helmet, pants, gloves, and socks are also black (Leafs’ players wore the new black helmets, pants, and gloves at practice yesterday), the socks have the same striping as the jersey sleeves, including the Toronto skyline pattern.
“We were very fortunate to have Justin Bieber and his team reach out and say ‘How can we be involved?'” continued Hosford. “The big balance for us is, ‘How do we create a uniform that pays homage to our core fanbase and allows them, we hope, to love it as much as we do but then adds in that little Easter egg, something special?’ That’s where the Drew House comes in, helping with the design.”
Bieber’s group’s involvement is apparent in the “flipside” of the jersey, with a design that plays heavily off the look of his Drew House clothing line. It feels like this is the beginning of the NHL’s version of the Toronto Raptors’ long–running black-and-gold O.V.O. collaboration with Drake.
“We worked with the NHL and Adidas to come up with a way to work with Drew House and make this really special, and they made the suggestion to make it reversible,” added Hosford. “So our next generation fans are able to wear the jersey inside out, and we absolutely love it.”
When the jersey is turned inside out, an entirely new design is revealed, stripes are yellow, the shadow of the main crest is visible through the stitching with a combination of the Leafs logo and the Drew House “Smiley Face” logo in the centre of it all in yellow.
“Creating the first reversible jersey in North American pro sports history presented the opportunity to blend sport and lifestyle. It also presented challenges,” said Matty Merrill, Design Director of Adidas Hockey, in an email to SportsLogos.net. “We spent hours brainstorming how to conceal the reverse side crest and clean up internal stitching. We ultimately used the zigzag pop stitch to sew on the crest and player numbers, creating the illusion of the usual one-sided jersey on the outside, and an X-ray feeling to the inside of the sweater.”
No, they won’t be wearing the jerseys inside out during actual games; we’ll only ever see the black and blue side. Yes, that was honestly the first question I asked the team. I did get the impression the Leafs may consider wearing them inside out during the pre-game warmup skate at some point.
The bright yellow catches your eye when holding this jersey in person, especially with that black base. Because this part of the jersey is the flipside of the main design, player names and numbers appear backwards and are nothing more than just stitched white lines — it makes for an interesting look, one that a certain criss-cross-wearing teenaged pop duo thirty years ago would have absolutely rocked in their music videos had this jersey existed at the time. I confess that I did smile the first time I saw this jersey; it’s not often I see a logo smiling back at me, especially when it’s my team.
Note that this is *not* a “one-off” uniform, though the story behind it and its non-traditional design does give it that impression. Officially, this is classified as an alternate uniform (or “Third Uniform,” as the NHL refers to them); per league rules, an alternate uniform such as this must be kept for three seasons and worn during at least four games per season.
Toronto’s pivot to black from an incredibly long-used two-colour scheme feels similar to the NBA’s Boston Celtics. The latter set aside their usual green and white look for an all-black alternate uniform with minimal green and white additions.
This uniform caps off a span of five games in which the Leafs wear not only five different uniforms but four different colour schemes during a trip through the 100+ year history of this franchise. Things started with the dark navy blue Heritage Classic 1918-inspired throwback set on March 13 before jumping ahead to their 1950s-inspired current home royal blue uniform. St. Patrick’s Day then saw the Leafs wear a green-and-white 1920s Toronto St. Pats uniform, followed by the team’s current away white set for a road game in Nashville. Finally, this all-black “Next Gen” set, which will debut at home tomorrow night, March 23, 2022.
How do I feel about this jersey? As a fan of traditional design, it certainly caught me off guard at first… but I think I’ve since warmed up to it. If we’re judging the design of the uniform on its own, it works well as an alternate jersey. I’m typically not on board with the colour-on-same colour numbering or logo idea, but it might work here in the context of the overall design. I’m a lot more flexible on the inside-out design as it’s not something the club will be wearing during games, so for me, that’s just a fun fashion jersey, I’ve got no problems with that. An interesting idea for fans that can essentially get two jerseys for the price of one (note to leagues: no, this is not an excuse to double the price of future jerseys!). And just teaming up with a pop star such as Bieber opens things up to an otherwise typically untapped (and huge!) market, look at the exposure the once forgettable Raptors achieved when Drake entered the picture.
“Anytime you can do a collaboration with an international global star [such as Bieber], we think that that brings a lot of positive attention to the sport,” said Brian Jennings, the NHL’s Chief Brand Officer. “We think our sweaters are the best in the world and ultimately, this continues in that vein.”
The Leafs are a traditional franchise which has forced them into a narrow avenue of design options, but every tradition has to start somewhere, if the Leafs never tinkered with their look they’d still be wearing green out there instead of the iconic blue. I have a feeling this gives the team the opening they craved to experiment a lot more with their overall brand, for example, now they can incorporate black and/or tie-dye designs into their next season’s Reverse Retro uniform. A scary thought for some, but I’m open to something other than that drab grey-on-blue they gave us last season.
The Maple Leafs Next Gen jersey is available for purchase *today* online at NHLShop.ca in Canada and NHLShop.com in the United States. If you happen to find yourself walking around Toronto today and wanting one of these jerseys, you can grab one at RealSports.