Friday, September 28, 2007

Are the New RBK Jerseys the NHL's Synthetic Basketball

The 2007-08 NHL season has not even officially kicked off (but it will on Saturday in London, in case you heard otherwise) and already criticisms of the new RBK Edge jerseys have begun to circulate. The new jerseys were designed using technologically advance material (I'll be honest, I have no clue what that really means) with the goal of creating a lighter jersey that doesn't absorb water and provides a greater range of motion. But from the beginning, its unveiling at last years All-Star Game, fans and players alike have been skeptical of the new design.

In sports even the slightest alteration of anything from the rulebook to the equipment is bound to bring on endless criticism and second guessing. It's about tradition, and it's one of the things that makes sports great (also Dollar Dog Days). It's why you may have heard me mumbling all spring about Major League Baseball killing the classic wool baseball cap in favor of new technologically advanced (there it is again) New Era Hats. And when I heard some complaints from the wings I initially chalked it up to this, and categorized it with the Brett Hull/Don Cherry bunch who are often heard complaining about the lack of fighting, those wimps who wear shields, and how the game was infinitely better thirty years ago. But as the season approaches, and the uniforms are put to the test during training camps and exhibition matches, it seems like some very legitimate complaints have begun to surface.

The first complaint is one that sprung immediately after the RBK Edge Jerseys were unveiled, the new formfitting cut is just too small. Over the past couple decades the size of players and the size of equipment have grown greatly, and players combated this by wearing increasingly larger jerseys. But with the new design, Reebok attempted to make a jersey that would be cut to the shape of players today. The problem? Players can't get them on. Last winter when the Edge Jersey's were first worn in practices, players joked about have to enlist the help of their teammates just to put the jersey on. But equipment managers aren't laughing, allegedly some have taken to ordering players jersey a couple sizes larger, to work around the tighter fit.

The second complaint is something I've got to admit, I never really thought of, but makes perfect sense. According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, neither Mark Recchi, Gary Roberts, nor Mark Eaton are huge fans of the water resistant fabric. Apparently without the jersey to absorb sweat and water, players gloves and skates are become trenched. Well, the good news is that super technologically advanced fabric is working. The bad news is players may have to change gloves and skates between periods.

And the complaint that seems to be arising from a fight filled preseason, is that the new jersey's aren't standing up to a good old NHL throw-down. Several jerseys have ripped during fights so far, including that of New Jersey Devils Cam Jansen, who after having his jersey pulled over his head, was sent to the ice, injuring his shoulder.

It was only a year ago that the NBA went through a similar situation shelfed the leather basketball in favor of a new synthetic design. Players were unhappy with the new ball, claiming it was slippery and caused cuts on their hands. After only 2 months, at the insistence of the players, the NBA brought back the leather ball.

I would find it difficult to believe that the NHL and Reebok would ever get to the level in which they'd return to the old jerseys, considering how much they have already invested into the RBK Edge. But it does look as if the design is in serious need of some tweaking. What good is a jersey is it doesn't fit, or if it tears to pieces in a fight?

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