Suboptimizing the New NHL Uniforms?


Penguins training Camp: Players say uniform changes all wet

I'm getting excited about the upcoming NHL season. I grew up a Red Wings fan, but I go to a lot of Stars games now that I live in Dallas (including the two visits the Red Wings are making this year).

If you follow the NHL, you probably know there are new uniforms this year, a new technology and design from Reebok. You can see many pictures of the new designs here (keeping scrolling).

The uniform “system” promises:

The RBK EDGE jersey fits anatomically with proper room given for protective equipment. This is possible by use of stretch-mesh under the arms and 4-way stretch pique used to give players more mobility then the current jerseys while cutting down on drag by 9% and making it 14% lighter.

The new Rbk Edge uniform system has new technology that makes it cutting edge. The jerseys and socks have BEAD AWAY technology that repeals 76% more moisture than the current jersey. The PLAYDRY system allows for more comfort, breathable, and temperature control up to a ten degree difference than older design.”

The new cuts of the uniform have necessitated some design changes, including the Stars (who had great old uniforms with the star design). Since the new uniforms have all sorts of moisture-wicking panels, the old design wouldn't work, they say, so we get this new boring design. That reminds me of the stories that Kevin Meyer tells, over at Evolving Excellence, about how companies are forced to change their processes to fit the inflexible templates of business software. Nah, that's a bit of stretch… the Stars still could have come up with a better design.

So did I have a Lean point here? I think so… Nike and Reebok are the SAP and Oracle of the sporting apparel world, often pushing technology for technology's sake (or some would say). When you have something this radically new, you might assume that the whole system was thoroughly tested. The Toyota Way principle says to use only reliable, thoroughly tested technologies that support your people and your process.

In the article I linked to at the beginning, some Pittsburgh Penguin players are complaining about the new uniforms already:

Right winger Mark Recchi, for one, understands what the league was trying to accomplish by adopting a sweater that does not absorb fluids, but does not think the designers took into account the moisture — to wit, perspiration — generated under a player's uniform.

“[The sweaters] don't soak anything in, which I guess is what they wanted,” Recchi said. “But the problem is, it goes through all of your equipment. It goes into your gloves, goes into your skates.”

And eventually saturates the leather in both, leaving the players feeling as if their hands and feet are immersed in liquid. Perhaps because, at least in some cases, they are.

With Lean, we are always trying to avoid suboptimizing systems. Did the Reebok (I'm sorry, “RBK”) designers suboptimize the jersey and shorts? Yes, hockey players wear shorts, BTW. Keeping sweat and ice spray out of your jersey is good, but we all know that wet skates and wet gloves don't exactly give you a high-performance feeling.

The players are developing “workarounds,” including plans for changing gloves, socks, and skates between periods. With Lean, we don't want to force employees to employ workarounds to get their work done effectively.

There's too much money involved to go back now. My prediction is that the NHL will be stubborn and rationalize or justify their decision at every turn. It will be interesting to see how upset the players get (especially after many fans are upset with the design changes).

I wonder if this will be another “NBA new ball” situation where the league ended up caving in to player complaints?

Also, a shout out to one of my favorite blogs, Uni Watch (credit for the link to the article about the Penguins players).

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Wow, a fellow UniWatch Reader.

    I thought I clicked on the wrong Bookmarked site this morning when I saw the article. The LeanBlog and UniWatch Blog are usually morning musts for me.

    I have to admit thinking pretty much what you have written as I read the articles.

  2. It does sound an awful lot like the NBA “new basketball” story. Why can’t the leadership in these leagues LISTEN TO THE USER/CUSTOMER before making these changes????? It’s stunning, the lack of foresight.

  3. The new cuts of the uniform have necessitated some design changes, including the Stars (who had great old uniforms with the star design). Since the new uniforms have all sorts of moisture-wicking panels, the old design wouldn’t work, they say, so we get this new boring design.

    Playing devil’s advocate, I’ll try to be brief. There’s several things going on with the old/new design. First, the original stars shirt doesn’t have a set in sleeve. It is in effect, what we’d call a modified raglan which forms a “T” shape with straight arms. The new design looks like it has a set in sleeve which forms a “T” with droopy arms. Sewing wise, it’s a lot easier to sew the star shape on the T with straight arms. However, the latter will never fit as well as the T with droopy arms (set in sleeve).

    It is still possible to sew that star shape on the droopy T shape (new design with set in sleeves) but the process and method to do this is a *radical* departure from the process used in athletic apparel. The method is not known in that milleu. Actually, it’s not well known period; it’s a “trade secret” as it were. In defense of the manufacturer, if the job to put the star on the new jersey were my job, I don’t know how effectively it could be done. Because these new fibers are even flimsier than existing fabrications, elements of structural integrity are required to render the process (fusing). This requires new additional equipment, processing and training. I don’t know that they’d find it cost effective for just this job. Were it my money, I’d go for it. Learning the aforementioned process permits a dramatically expanded range of design possibilities for future client work.


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