Flashy Maple Leafs eager to ‘set an example’ with relaxed dress code

Chris Johnston and Shawn MacKenzie discuss the role goal tending will play in the Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets series, and debate the players' relaxing of the NHL dress code.

TORONTO – With the NHL officially relaxing the league’s game-day dress code policy this summer’s return-to-play tournament, some teams have nobly stepped up to enforce their own sartorial guidelines, lest things get out of hand.

The Dallas Stars will skip the suits but have decided to represent with a nice pair of slacks and professional-looking collared shirt. No ripped jeans or hats, Andrew Cogliano explained to reporters.

The Minnesota Wild Mild, according to Zach Parise, will rotate three different team-issued, logoed collared shirts in line with the franchise’s colour palette. Match those with some clean pants and they’ll be sure to appear presentable on the journey from hotel to rink.

That’s so hockey.

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The Toronto Maple Leafs, however, are loosening the reins and flinging open the wardrobe. And, for the most part, the players are intrigued by the possibilities. If they’re gonna be in the spotlight, they might as well dress the part.

“All the eyes are on us in Toronto, and I think we can kind of set an example that way, as long as we keep it pretty good and nothing too outrageous,” Kasperi Kapanen says. “It’ll be fun to see what the guys wear, and it’ll be a really good show.”

Bingo.

Heck, they even call it the league “The Show.” Yet the standard hockey player’s default outfit has always been more along the lines of funeral chic.

Since 2005, safe and predictable has been written into the collective bargaining agreement: “Players are required to wear jackets, ties and dress pants to all Club games and while travelling to and from such games unless otherwise specified by the Head Coach or General Manager.”

But it’s summertime, and the pandemic is sucking away all fun. At least give us our sweatpants and T-shirts.

“It’s an opportunity to move the game forward a little bit,” Morgan Rielly says. “If those guys want to go nuts, it’ll be nice to watch.”

Plenty of NHLers are content with the suit-and-tie look — or at least used to it, because they’ve been doing it since it junior. But others have seen the way the player-friendly NBA counterparts have pushed the limits and expressed their individual flair through their attire, and now they’re ready to show that hockey players have individuality too.

Auston Matthews, who made noise with a GQ fashion shoot in 2018, and William Nylander will be on the front lines of this movement.

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Mitch Marner is already conceding the Leafs’ title of Best Dressed.

“It’s gonna be Matts and Willy. Those guys aren’t afraid to get wild with their outfits. It’s gonna be a one-two punch in that category,” Marner says. “You see every other league really letting players do what they want with their dress code. I think it’s something we’re all looking forward to, we’re all excited about.”

Few are as excited as much as Matthews, who believes the slackening of the dress code is overdue.

“It’ll be a pretty cool opportunity for guys to kind of express themselves like other leagues are able to,” says Matthews, a big fan of the stylish Russell Westbrook. “We got a lot of young guys on our team, a lot of young guys around the league, and I think that’s kind of a trend nowadays.”

Contrary to what some may believe, the NHL wants to help market individuality and personality. The return-to-play memorandum encourages each team to send a social-media employee to capture video and images of the players. A star’s outfit going viral can catch the attention of the casual fan.

So onboard are the Maple Leafs with ditching the suit, even father-of-four Jason Spezza might make an exception for the first time in his hockey life. In a bubble situation, easing the pre-game uniform is “a smart move,” Spezza says, but don’t expect him to throw out all his formalwear.

“I enjoy suit and tie. I think it looks great at home. But I also think traveling in suits all the time can be excessive. You see some of the soccer teams wearing sweats and stuff, and it looks pretty sharp. I’m all for growing with the game and embracing it, but I don’t know if I’ll make it a permanent fixture in my life,” says Spezza, team player. “If it’s going to be relaxed going to games, I’ll try to embrace it.”

Hey, nothing will be normal about this tournament. The NHL is experimenting with new playoff formats, new game presentations and new schedules. We see no harm in tinkering with the dress code.

“I think at times hockey can kind of fall behind as far as that goes,” Matthews says. “Who knows? Maybe it works out really well and they change it to full-time no dress code.”

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