Sharks winger wants NHL’s jersey rule changed: ‘It (stinks) that we can’t wear it’

Sharks winger wants NHL’s jersey rule changed: ‘It (stinks) that we can’t wear it’

SAN JOSE – Anthony Duclair was looking forward to the San Jose Sharks’ Black History Night celebration at SAP Center on Thursday, especially considering this season marks the first time in his NHL career that he’s had two Black teammates while also playing for an African American general manager in Mike Grier.

It would have been nice from Duclair’s perspective, though, had players had also been able to wear special night-themed warmup jerseys – an exercise he wants to see return after the league banned the practice last offseason.

“Obviously like a night like tonight or any night that we celebrate should be celebrated properly,” Duclair said. “I think having those specialty jerseys — for whatever event it is — I think it’s awesome. The boys embrace it, and it sucks that we can’t wear it.”

A small number of NHL players, including former Sharks goalie James Reimer, chose for various reasons not to wear special Pride-themed warmup jerseys last season on the nights their teams held Pride celebrations.

Reimer said the jerseys went against his religious convictions, and some Russian-born players believed they might experience repercussions back home if they showed support for the LGBTQ+ community.

The NHL, feeling those few instances had become an unwelcome distraction, decided last offseason that teams will not be allowed to wear any themed pregame jerseys, including on Hockey Fights Cancer and Military Appreciation nights.

In October, the NHL sent a memo to all teams clarifying what they could and could not do as part of their respective in-arena theme celebrations. That included a ban on the use of specialty stick tape, such as rainbow-colored tape for Pride nights, an edict that was later amended.

Still, wearing theme-night jerseys for pregame warmups remains outlawed, and Duclair would like the NHL Players’ Association to have discussions with league officials about ways to change the rule.

“That’s definitely a topic that they need to bring up, for sure,” Duclair said, adding later, “I would say the biggest changes will happen during the summertime and it should be and definitely will be a topic of conversation this summer. Hopefully, that can change for next year.”

The Sharks, as part of their Black History Month celebrations, wore special pregame jerseys for at least the last three years.

Last season, the jerseys’ shoulder patches showcased the NHL’s official Celebration of Black History Month logo, as the nameplates and numbers were designed by San Jose artist Dion Rollerson. The jerseys were later auctioned off, with net proceeds benefiting African American Community Service Agency.

Duclair said other NHL players would also like to see themed-night jerseys make a return. Last summer, Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid said last offseason that the NHL’s ban was “disappointing to see.”

“I’m not the only one,” Duclair said. “Even like breast cancer awareness and indigenous nights, we‘ve got so many cultures in this league and so many guys that support different initiatives. Everything’s a little personal to them, just like for myself, Givani (Smith) and Justin (Bailey), this is a personal night for us.

“We want to represent and at the same time, we want to support other guys that support other initiatives. We want to come together and be one and a night like tonight we’re we can wear the jerseys would be beneficial for that.”

Thursday, the Sharks gave away posters featuring the Sharks’ three Black players – Duclair and fellow forwards Bailey and Smith, and their autographs – with a handful of background images, including ones of trailblazers Willie O’Ree and Sharks general manager Mike Grier.

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O’Ree became the NHL’s first Black player in 1958, and Grier, who played 1,060 games over a 14-year NHL career, became the league’s first Black GM when he was hired by the Sharks in 2022.

Duclair hopes Grier’s leadership of a hockey operations department can help open the doors for other groups.

“It’s good to have representation in that position for minorities, not just Black people,” Duclair said. “This doesn’t necessarily have to be through hockey. It can be in management, it could be social media or journalists. It could be connected to sports and other ways, and I think that’s definitely going to shed light on visibility in that sense, and definitely going to inspire young kids to hopefully be in that position one day.”