Canucks: Is the lucky black skate jersey the right vibe for playoffs?

The Vancouver Canucks have won 12 out of 14 games this season when they’ve worn the black “skate” jersey. No wonder the players love them.

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When it comes to the question of what jersey the Vancouver Canucks should wear when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin next month, both the vibes and the data are clear: the black ones.

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There’s the vibes: they’re not only popular with the fans in the stands, they’re a very popular look in the room.

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“I love them,” Nils Höglander admitted a few weeks ago, expressing a sentiment you know is a common one among his teammates.

Of course, what the teams wears in the playoffs isn’t really up to the players. There are bigger stakes, like what you want your team defining image to look like, should you go all the way and win the Stanley Cup.

Of course, you have to get that far in the first place to even be able to ponder this question, so consider the raw data: when the Canucks have worn black this season, they’ve won.

Vancouver Canucks’ Pius Suter, front, grabs Buffalo Sabres’ Alex Tuch’s stick during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, on Tuesday, March 19, 2024. Photo by DARRYL DYCK /THE CANADIAN PRESS

Out of the 14 games the Canucks have worn their black skate third jersey this season, they’ve won 12 times, against one regulation loss and one overtime loss. (The Canucks are scheduled to wear black three more times this season.)

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This is a remarkable record, in a season that has been remarkable on the whole.

Then you look at the goals scored in those games: they’ve outscored the opposition 54-31. That’s 63.5 per cent of the goals.

And that’s better than their season record — 241 goals for, 186 against — where they’ve scored 56.4 per cent of the goals.

It’s a narrow sample, but so far the Canucks’ winning record presents a strong case. And so are those vibes.

Studies have found that teams dressed in black are viewed as more aggressive. That’s a posture plenty of sports teams would love to be known for. On the other hand, a 2020 review of previous research into the relationship between uniform colours and sporting success found no conclusive evidence that teams wearing a particular colour — there have been suggestions in the past that teams in red win more often — are in fact more successful.

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Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford was somewhat amused by the question; if only your results were solely about your uniform, he quipped via text message.

But he said it was unlikely they would switch away from their standard blue jersey

“I would suspect we will stick to the traditional one,” he said.

And as well as the Canucks have played this season in black, there is a broader truth about black jerseys to be understood: studies in the past have found that teams that wear black tend to be called for more penalties; which resulted in about 104 more seconds short-handed per game over 25 seasons worth of data collected in one study.

This data has been proven in a number of ways, starting more than 40 years ago: midway through the 1979-80 season, the Pittsburgh Penguins offered up an in-season example by switching from predominately blue jerseys to predominately black jerseys.

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Before the switch, the Penguins had taken about eight minutes in penalties per game. After the switch, they took about 12 minutes in penalties. It wasn’t a slam dunk that the change from blue to black was the reason, but there are other studies that line up with such a conclusion.

Vancouver Canucks goalie Casey DeSmith (29) stops Buffalo Sabres’ Dylan Cozens (24) as Vancouver’s Ian Cole (82) and Elias Lindholm (23) defend during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, on Tuesday, March 19, 2024. Photo by DARRYL DYCK /THE CANADIAN PRESS

Further studies have confirmed this trend.

A study of NFL and NHL games in the late 1970s through the mid 1980s found that teams that wore black were penalized more often than teams that didn’t wear black.

A more recent study of NHL games, published in 2012, came to a similar conclusion: teams in black do get penalized more often. That study was aided in its conclusion by its study window crossing over 2003, when the NHL switched home jerseys from white to black.

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The rate of penalties remained consistent, whether the black team was the home team or the visiting team.

So, in the end, we’re left a few thoughts: black teams are perceived to be more aggressive and, perhaps unsurprisingly, end up being penalized more. And while the Canucks have had an amazing record this season while wearing their black jerseys, there’s little historic evidence to suggest a team’s uniform colour has anything to do with their success.

Which leaves us back at the start, looking at vibes.

And if the players want black, and the fans want black, the Canucks as an organization should give everyone what the want: black in the playoffs.

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