Jeff Veillette: 31 for 31 - Metropolitan Division
A little over a decade ago, a high-school-aged me decided that, at some point in his life, he was going to have the jersey of every team in the National Hockey League in his closet. Maybe some teams more than others, and not every sweater would have the same story, but we'd get there.
This journey started just a few blocks away from the CoolHockey head office, so over the years, we've built up a pretty great relationship - one that has led to the completion of this collection, as they've filled the final three gaps needed to complete it.
Over the next several posts, I'm going to pick one sweater I own from each team and talk a little about it. In many of these cases, I may have "better" or "rarer" uniforms for the respective teams, but these were the ones that spoke to me the most.
Today’s focus is on the Metropolitan Division.
When most people look at this sweater, their first thought is probably the 2006 Stanley Cup Final, where the Hurricanes shocked the hockey world by being the first champions of the Salary Cap era. That's absolutely fair, given that it featured Staal's breakout season, which still stands up as his best statistically.
As a man who has spent too much of his life playing hockey video games, however, my first instinct is to think of NHL 08, of which Staal manned the cover. Even though Staal hasn't been a Hurricane in over four years now, I still associate the two with each other.
Continuing off the Staal point, a lot of those same feelings go towards Rick Nash and the Blue Jackets. That might even be more inexplicable - Nash only spent a little more than half his career in Columbus, and the team was never particularly good while he was there, having seen much better days since.
But damn it, if he didn't score some of the most electrifying goals of his era with the team. He was their first star, and the player who secured them onto the NHL map, and his 61 will always look right in Columbus blue.
Anyone who has read my work over the years knows that I've had a heck of a feelings arc towards Ilya Kovalchuk. One of my most despised players as a young kid, Kovalchuk's playstyle in Atlanta eventually won me over, to the point of becoming one of my all-time favourites. He's another player who I want to eventually have every team of in my closet.
My actual grail here would be Kovalchuk on a "Christmas Tree" sweater - in my opinion, the best that the Devils have ever worn, and one of the best in NHL history. A friend of mine was actually lucky enough to thrift one for just $50 a couple years back. I remain jealous, and he remains only willing to give it up to me if I give him a pair of sneakers worth significantly more than the sweater, so our stalemate marches on and I continue to wear the home threads instead.
John Tavares might be the captain of the local sports team, but he's been one of my favourite players for much, much longer than that. Ever since he was an Exceptional Status prodigy in the OHL, I've been following his career closely, to the point where until recently, I had seen the Islanders in more cities than the Leafs, despite living in Toronto and cheering for the team.
I have two Tavares Islanders sweaters at the moment - both home, one Adidas and one Reebok, in different sizes for different uses. I'll probably end up expanding on that at some point. This Reebok is the one I wore for the first two days after he signed in Toronto until I had the latest and greatest in my hands.
While most of the jerseys picked for this series are customized, two of them aren't. In this case, we look to the Lady Liberty, who years on, lacks a name on the back. A lot of this comes down to the most stitch-worthy players of this sweater's era also having impacts on other teams, and me changing paths upon finding a good deal on another one of their jerseys before getting around to lettering this one.
At the moment, I'm thinking of going classic and putting The Great One, Wayne Gretzky on it. as it's probably the most modern-looking jersey he wore in his career. We'll have to see.
It's crazy to think about now, but there was a time where Mike Richards was destined to be the long-term face of the Flyers. A devastating two-way threat at his peak, a young Richards nearly led the Flyers to the 2010 Stanley Cup, which would've ended a 35-year drought had he been successful.
Richards eventually got his Stanley Cup rings alongside his partner in crime Jeff Carter, but it happened in more of a support role - and in a different city. The Kenora native's career went a bit off the rails towards the end, as injuries and substance issues slowed him down, but there's never a bad time to remember the "Cannon" era of his career.
There were so many good choices that I could've pulled out of the closet for the Penguins, who have had many cool sweaters and great players over the years. If I unfurled my entire lineup for them, most of you would say I'm bringing out the wrong jersey, and I wouldn't blame you.
But you know what? I loved the "Robo Penguin". Yes, it was very modern-tech looking and doesn't have the hockey charm of the classic skating penguin. But it's still a great looking logo, and one of the few that could properly carry the gradient look. This jersey wouldn't fit in today's NHL, but it's so perfectly 90's that you have to respect it.
Speaking of great 1990s jerseys, let's cap off the division with a distinctly 90s player wearing a jersey that is distinct to its era. When most think of the Capitals, they think of Alexander Ovechkin's group, and of the "Rock The Red" branding, and they absolutely aren't wrong. As one of my all-time favourite players, I obviously have a couple Ovi's in my collection, including a CoolHockey customed World Cup of Hockey Russia jersey.
But Peter Bondra was awesome. He was a straight line, goal-or-nothing hockey player, and he made that screaming eagle soar to heights that the team hadn't seen at that point in their history. When I think of those sweaters, I think of him, so to land him was a great snag on my part.