NHL Suffers as No Superstar Has Emerged

As I groggily dump Fruit Loops into my bowl, I rub my eyes and flick on Sports Center. The voice of Steve Levy explodes from the television, as he rambles about the greatness of LeBron James. While the likes of the James, Johnny Manziel and Mike Trout appear to be constantly touched upon, an episode passes without any mention of the NHL. Superstars such as the names I have referenced (while Manziel has not played a regular season snap, he certainly impressed while at Texas A&M) drive the media into a frenzy, analyzing the athletes’ every move and thus sparking more interest. Let’s dig into whether the NHL currently possesses such a megastar, and whether the sport actually requires one.

Does the NHL Currently Have A Superstar?

Controversial as it might be, I do not believe that the NHL has a superstar. Sidney Crosby is an unbelievable talent who can put up points at a pace one might only think of while playing a video game, but I don’t consider him to be a megastar. No disrespect to Crosby, but he has been injured too frequently in recent years. Although he cannot control these injuries and clearly does not want to be sidelined, Crosby has only played 61% of the 294 total games over the past four years. Another possible knock on Crosby is that he is not known for a fiery attitude. Crosby is a clean player, one who doesn’t drop the gloves frequently and is not known for his antics. Players such as Yasiel Puig grab headlines not only for his outstanding plays, but for his shenanigans on and off of the diamond. Comments made by superstars that aren’t afraid to stir the pot only increases conversation between media and fans alike. Crosby isn’t known for creating controversy, on the ice or while talking to the media. Despite being a skating definition of the word “playmaker”, Crosby’s personality keeps him away from the lofty megastar since he doesn’t create headlines.

 

alex ovechkin hart trophy

With decreasing point totals since he entered the league, Ovechkin’s name was been removed from superstar status. (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Another possible inclusion on the list of the NHL’s biggest names is Alexander Ovechkin. His wrist shot appears as if it were fired out of a cannon, not off of a hockey stick. After the Russian averaged 53.8 goals through his first five seasons in the league, it appeared destined that Ovechkin was a legend in the making. However, Ovechkin’s goal scoring has dipped as he has entered his mid-to-late twenties, and he became a major liability on the defensive end. He owned an atrocious 0.3 defensive point shares and his -35 rating would make any coach cringe. Defensive shortcomings and lazy hockey are holding Ovechkin back from become a household name.

Is A Megastar A Necessity?

From Michael Phelps to Usain Bolt, top athletes drive a sport’s popularity and peaks interest in fans everywhere. Everyone knows who Derek Jeter is because of his outstanding leadership and consistency on the diamond, but I doubt that most people outside of hockey can recall the accomplishments of Jaromir Jagr or Teemu Selanne. Although cornerstones of the fastest game on earth, Selanne and Jagr are not household names. While the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, and Martin Brodeur are names that everyone should be familiar with, the NHL doesn’t have a long list of true Superstars.

The league could use a Kardashian. Seriously.

Okay, let me back up. A player that constantly is caught up in media coverage would be welcomed, as the extra popularity is nothing but good for the league. Loads of revenue could be gained from the likes of SportsCenter, TSN, and others drooling over the superstar. Increased youth participation and higher television ratings are both awesome for a continually growing league. An immortal star is what the NHL needs to continue to flex its muscles and become a powerhouse league.

Shirts like this one popped up everywhere after Oshie became a national hero

Shirts like this one popped up everywhere after Oshie became a national hero

During the World Cup this summer, the entire country got behind the United States Men’s National Team. Once Tim Howard emerged as a star, the entire nation was tripping head over heels. While the popularity soccer during the World Cup exploded during the World Cup, the same could be said for hockey during the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Following T.J. Oshie putting on a clinic versus Sergei Bobrovsky, Americans fell in love with Oshie just as teenage girls melt for Justin Bieber. Hockey fever had the fifty states sizzling, and Team USA players transformed into idols.

Just as Olympic hockey’s reach stretched like a rubber band, the NHL’s could do the same. Is the NHL being held back by their lack of a hero on the ice? Oshie filled the shoes on the world stage, but the NHL’s reach is being hurt by the fact that no one has filled the domestic void. As fans flocked to televisions to watch the games and clamored to read more about Team USA, the same would occur in the NHL. New fans would hop onto the bandwagon, the NHL would take flight.

What do you think, does the NHL need a new Mega Star ?

Cam Kerry
Cam joined The Hockey Writers in July of 2014 as a Los Angeles Kings writer. Growing up in Titletown, Cam bleeds the color of Boston sports teams. In addition to writing about his passion, the fastest game on earth, he is the co-founder of Press Room Sports. Cam is a junior at Phillips Academy, where he plays soccer, hockey, and golf.
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33 Comments

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful article, Cam.

    I think that athletic mega-stardom springs from visibility in the US, and not just athletic ability.

    It’s hard for individual hockey players to stand out during a game because of the fast pace, the short shifts, and everyone wearing the same bulky uniforms.

    I am not the best multi-tasker, so I predominantly focus on the puck and not the specific players when I watch hockey. I listen to the TV announcers to help me figure out who is on the ice.

    As for the notable names that are often mentioned by the sports media, there are noticeable breaks during games that give the opportunity for lingering shots for the TV cameras. Football players can take their helmets off while waiting on the sidelines. Not so much with hockey players and their helmets during the game and players going off the ice during intermissions.

  2. I’m really surprised you didn’t mention Toews. The days of “Captain Serious” are in the rear view mirror. On the ice, he’s got plenty of game and plenty of grit. Off the ice, he’s maturing and growing more confident in the public eye – hey, being a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and Stanley Cup champion will do wonders for your confidence. The dance-off and selfie videos from the Blackhawks conventions, along with the wake-boarding ice-bucket challenge footage are Exhibits A, B & C. Fun to watch for even non-hockey fans. It doesn’t hurt that he’s part of an organization that understands video’s role in its marketing machine. Check out some of the video of him as the face of Canadian Tire’s Red Ball campaign. He’s got a comfortable public presence that Sid sorely lacks. If there’s anyone currently in the NHL who can break into the mainstream consciousness, my money’s on Toews.

  3. @Robnik0v (Twitter) says:

    Ah better to comment here. Twitter messages needs to be so damn short. Interesting article and I enjoyed it. Makes you think.

    My opinion is that that NHL did right by choosing NBCSN (& NBC) for television coverage. ESPN doesn´t simply give it enough television time. Sports Center not giving a ***p is kind of natural because why promote a sport they don´t cover.
    Hopefully hockey interest will just keep on growing (agree on Olympics being important for US hockey!) and when the demand is big enough, ESPN will pay and give television time accordingly.

    About hockey culture, showing raw emotions is important and definitely the future of NHL. Remember Yakupov? Oh the opinions of Don Cherry about those Europeans! Perhaps the ever growing percentage of American players and influx of euro-players will change the macho-poker-face-modest Canadian way of playing (no offence, luv u Canada).

    Not gonna speculate about who exactly is the next mega-superstar but the future looks bright with the likes of P. K. Subban and the hopefully rising stars Josh Ho-Sang and California born Emerson Etem (the latter being my favourite). These guys are not afraid to speak their mind. No need to be over the top outrageous either..Evander Kane style!

    I feel a superstar is bound to arise in the near future! Will Jack Eichel rock the world of hockey and become an American poster boy? Is Connor McDavid The Next One? Thanks again and these were my thoughts/ramblings. Forgive my grammar!

  4. Now i know this controversial but I think the NHL should get rid of helmets. If the players were helmet less they would make the NHL hugely popular. Hockey players are good looking athletes and this would drive people identifying with them, seeing them more clearly thus making the sport way more popular. However yes i know there is a big safety issue.

  5. Making the US a hockey country from top to bottom is like turning a tanker…very slow. Not saying it can’t be done. But it has history against it, deep long history that can’t be altered…the future…sure. The US needs to produce the best hockey player of a generation…something it has not done…ever.
    The number of superstars it has produced vs other countries…is very small. Lafontaine, Hull, Modano(add any other you prefer here)…vs Gretzky, Orr, Lemiuex… The origin of the game itself…some other country. Look at the amount of major trophies and how they are directly tied to Canada. The number of Americans in the hall of fame vs that other country(s) The number of international tournaments and their results vs other countries. …I use these as examples (and there are others but you get the gist) as they are simple starting points to try to confirm the argument that it is an uphill battle, and one that can’t be turned around in the matter of a few years.
    There are very good players Kane, Kessel, Quick…but they are lost in amongst all the other very good players…ie not considered the best at what they do…Kessel…scores…but not like OV or Stamkos…Kane…similar, but plays along side a captain most teams in the league would choose to start their franchise with if they had a choice. So until there is an elite, “that guy is the best player on the planet” type of player…it’s thought of as another countries game to most Americans. When they see one of their own at the top…things can start to change.

  6. Crosby is not a superstar, or a mega-star

    It’s not because of his character, but because HE REALLY IS NOT THAT MUCH BETTER

    James & Durant really stand out on multipl, but there are dozens of players doing almost the same stuff that crosby does. His best season wasn’t even top2 the year before (thornton & jagr had more points just before crosby’s best season), his next best seasons are completely in line with the other guys, even someone like Sedin.

    He hasn’t carried his team to the cup (Geno did)

    He won the Art Ross last year with 104 points, but that was mainly due to the fact that everyone else was having a bad year. Every full season 05-12 before that had the art winner with more points than that.

    09-10 he was very much healthy, playing 81 games, but there were still 2 guys better than him, ovechkin being clearly better. 08-09 he played 77 games, but was overshadowed by both Geno and Ovechkin.

    There’s also the fact that he isn’t at all flashy. He does not generate highlights. He just does his job. Crosby’s best plays wouldn’t crack the personal top10:s of Datsyuk, Kane, Ovechkin or Geno.

  7. I don’t think the machinery of celebrity is actually a solution, even to this imaginary problem.

    What is the problem, exactly? The NHL is suffering a lack of what, revenue? It should make more money, which would make it better. Why? I’m not saying I categorically disagree with the idea that increased revenue would be good for the league, I would just want to understand why, first. And I’d also want to consider the possible negative consequences. If the problem is that “hockey is awesome and should be more popular than it is,” or “how do we get hockey on ESPN,” then Britney Spears on skates is still not the answer. And that is what celebrity is, or would be, in the case of the NHL. I mean, if testicle spearing and cheerleaders didn’t work, what will? A more organic solution is in order. The hockey community should get together and reproduce at a pace far greater than the rest of the American population. We should train our offspring from a young age to worship the game of hockey. We should send moles into the educational system and secretly convert as many young minds as possible into a deep and lifelong love for the game, even while they’re studying Spanish or chemistry or composition. In a matter of one or two generations, we can get hockey onto ESPN. Once it’s there, we can bask in the glories of our accomplishment. Hockey. on ESPN.

  8. I think the reason why you don’t have any Hockey “Mega Stars” is because the success of a Hockey team is dependent on all 24 players on that team. Not to mention the short shifts that are a part of the game. Even the best players on the team are on the ice for maybe 90 seconds at a time and then they are off again. In Basketball players like Lebron are on the court for minutes at a time, and 1 players stellar performance can take over a game. Hell, Lebron carried the Heat to the Finals by himself.

    Hockey is the most team-dependent sport of the big 4. I already mentioned Basketball. Baseball is more about singular performances being added up to a whole. (only one player on the field is a factor at any given time “Hitter, Pitcher, Fielder”) Football is pretty close to Hockey in regards to a “Team Effort” but you don’t have players shifting in and out as often as they do in hockey. Not to mention, it’s much much easier to compensate for the lack of play by one player in Football than it is in Hockey.

  9. Andrew Bensch Andrew Bensch says:

    Good stuff man, killing it on the shares! As for me personally, I think the die hard hockey fans love that there is no star power and that it is a team game. Perhaps more stars would help but sounds like hockey is growing. Only thing is need to increase the offense a bit now. Couple things I wish to see is that penalty killing teams no longer be able to ice the puck freely, and for linesmen to be retrained to let the players play unless it is egregiously obviously outside. Wayyyy tooooo many times they blow it down when its not offsides, and if it was, only by millimeters, it kills the action and the attack to the net!

    • Thanks Andrew, I appreciate it! I agree with you, I am not a fan of the referees taking over control of the game. It happens too frequently, especially with the picky calls that don’t alter the outcome of the game. That’s something that has to change!

  10. Gretzky, Howe, Orr were players who transcended superstar status to become NHL legends. In Gretzky’s case, discussed in this article, he shattered scoring records like never before and of course set all kinds of records destined to never be broken. Legends are sometimes created out of quirky, twists of fate. A player can become legendary because of a fiery attitude on ice, yet that player may not be a superstar. Which brings us to the point of what exactly is a superstar, a point that is never defined in the article? IMO a reasonable definition is an athlete who’s statistical ability clearly separates him from other athletes of his cohort – and in that regard, the NHL has many superstars that include not only Crosby, but also Malkin, Ovechkin, Stamkos, and many others we could agree upon. The problem with comparing Crosby to Gretzky is not only because the game of hockey has changed so much, so it’s comparing apples to oranges, but because Gretzky will always be regarded as a legend of hockey, whereas Crosby will most likely go down in history as a dominating superstar of his era.

    • That’s a great point. By superstar, I was aiming for someone who could really transcend the game. As many great players in the game that have today, how many of them will be remembered as a hockey legend?

  11. I think the closest thing to a fiery, I’m the best and I know it type player in the NHL right now is PK Subban. He absolutely has that confidence or you might say cockiness that garners the kind of media attention you’re talking about. If he can manage to keep getting better, and I think he has the potential to do so, he might fit the bill.

  12. Hockey is not a SportsCenter/ESPN hit for a few reasons:

    1. Most of the best players are from other parts of the world: I can’t think of a single American player who has won the Hart Trophy in the last 30 years. I bet this extends even further. You mentioned Crosby and Ovechkin and both are from different countries too. The fact that we don’t even see European football highlights just yet shows that ESPN is still working on making their American programs more international.

    2. Most of the country doesn’t even play: Hockey isn’t played in many parts of the US and is a fairly expensive sport, compared to football or basketball. It doesn’t cater to kids from the inner city because it’s hard to afford all of the equipment. The level of growth therefore in this country is slowed. It’s hard to grow hockey when kids don’t grow up playing or watching it.

    3. The inability to sometimes follow the puck: When I first started watching hockey, I didn’t know sometimes when a goal was scored. I would wait for the horn to go off or for guys hands to go in the air or for the announcer to yell “He scored!” In basketball, football, baseball, or soccer, it’s easy to follow the ball.

    4. People aren’t informed on the rules as well: Most people I talk to don’t know what the blue line means or what icing is or the various penalties that could be called. It’s sort of like my 3rd point. People are waiting for the reaction on the ice before knowing what’s happening.

    Let me just say that I’m certainly hoping hockey rises up again, before I’m called a hater. Playoff hockey is so fun to watch, especially when your hometown team is in the mix. I’ll never forget all the OT games I watched in the past (something which hockey has done right for sure: sudden-death OT).

  13. One of the things I love about the NHL is the lack of egotistical superstars. I’ve met prospects, Hall of Famers, current greats and everyone in between and what’s struck me is that they all seem like genuine nice guys. I have even met a young star (ask me if you want to know who, I don’t want to brag and list names) and while he has personality, he seemed to genuinely enjoy meeting fans. I have also met two NBA players, a big name center who was a great guy, and a point guard who’s played for 6 teams, including 5 since 2010 who didn’t even bother to remove his iPhone earbuds. Basketball is a far more egotistical sport in general and it’s unfair to hockey to compare them.

    • I do believe hockey and basketball should be compared. Out of the four major sports in America, they are the only ones who’s seasons are played at virtually the same time. Hockey and basketball will always be a competition in my mind, but I guess that’s for a different article!

  14. So, you say Crosby isn’t a “megastar” because he doesn’t have an off ice euros laity. The you go in to say how Tim Howard and TJ Oshie were stars in their respective events based on on field and on ice performance. How stupid is that? You don’t need to have a “personality” to be a great player. Also,the injuries argument is stupid too. Is Bobby Orr not the greatest defenseman if all time because he hurt his knee? Is Mario Lemieux not a generational talent because he sat out a few seasons? No, and the same shouldn’t be said for Crosby.

    • Sam, Howard and Oshie fired up a whole nation. Everyone truly cared because those two players seized the spotlight and became heros. Is Crosby a hero? Has he taken the media by storm (the Howard and Oshie have)?

      • Oshie and Howard only took USA “by storm”. Crosby scored the golden goal in 2010 Olympics that took Canada by storm. The number of fans who still bring it up to this day is quite something. His moment would’ve had the opposite effect on Americans because it meant they lost.

        It isn’t a fair comparison because you’re naming American athletes effect on USA based on international tournaments, but saying Crosby hasn’t done that to the US fanbase when he’s Canadian. It’s just like how Ovi is pretty much Russia’s national treasure even as North American fans complain about +/-.

        That said, maybe it’s just because ESPN pushes him down everyone’s throat often, but most people I know who don’t watch or know hockey, they all know Crosby. Most of the time, he’s the only current player they can name, I’d say that means he is the current superstar, even if he isn’t an interesting personality.

  15. The NHL just need it’s best players to have success, with Sid and Malkin with one cup, Ovechkin with 0, Stamkos with 0. Luckily the Kings are a big market team and Chicago has had great success as of late to keep the popularity of the league alive. The cap and parity comes into play a bit as well.

    I just wrote a piece on Gretzky in case anyone cares to look.

  16. Gretzky had an even more vanilla public persona than Crosby does (AKA “Sidbot”). It was just a different time. Players across the board today are so much better than they were when Gretzky played. Today’s 3rd and 4th liners would have been at least 2nd liners in that era. If you transplanted Gretzky in his prime into today’s game he would not come close to touching his old numbers. It’s a different game with a much more talented pool of players today. Nobody is going to come along and separate themselves the way Gretzky did. And let’s also not forget that Gretzky’s most productive years came before the Instigator Rule was implemented and few defensive players would challenge him physically for fear of being jumped and beaten by Semenko/McSorley. He had a ton of space on the ice and he didn’t exactly create it with his skating skill and speed.

    But I would argue that the NHL doesn’t need guys that separates themselves from the pack like that as all the important metrics are at their highest they’ve ever been for the league. Ratings, Merch, attendance, exposure……all at all time highs. The league is doing just fine. It’s just not an American game and even the biggest hockey star on the planet (Crosby) will never “transcend” into mainstream sports stardom.

  17. I would say that Malkin, Ovie, Crosby, Suter, Parise, just off the top of my head are stars, if not super stars.

  18. I agree, no major superstar in today’s NHL. The league is so balanced in talent that the greats can’t separate themselves statistically from the pack at a high rate like in previous years from the 70’s,80’s and early 90’s. Same thing with goalies, the difference statistically from the top goalies to the bottom goalies has never been so close as it is now. Time to separate the men from the boys and make the nets bigger, and not just 1 or 2 inches, but more. You’ll see the game change and you’ll see the real stars shine and separate themselves more from the average Joe. If baseball can take a historical sport and lower the pitching mound several inches, then the NHL can increase the size of the nets. And personally to me, I think Stamkos is the best player in the NHL, he’s the one guy who can really light it up even in today’s game. He just needs to stay healthy.

    • I don’t think we need bigger nets, I think the NHL needs to start policing the obstruction again with the same intensity they did on the heels of the lockout. It’s gotten out of control once again.

  19. I really disagree with the story about the NHL having no SuperStars. The beauty in general with the NHL players is that they do not feel a NEED to be controversial or “Shock” worthy. The world media today in a sad way glamourizes this and it really is a sad thing. The players today are great and there are many star caliber players. Sid, Ovy. Gino, Chara, Kane, Toews, they are just seem to be “Normal” in their need for attention. My Thoughts on this. Thanks

    • Thanks for reading Tim, and I can appreciate your opinion. I am a fan of how no player declares themselves as the “best”. In my opinion, there is a hole at the top of the ladder for a ‘stud’ to claim.

  20. Arrrghhh! I just don’t know. On one hand I like hockey being more of a niche market sport, but at the same time I will talk to anyone and everyone about how great hockey is. Do we need a superstar? Ehhh, maybe not just one, and particularly because the sport is, at least geographically, fairly diversified. I’m not necessarily a fan of the idea of a singular superstar to represent hockey, especially when there are so many extremely talented players out there who aren’t north american.

  21. Yeah because Grezky had a fiery attitude and dropped the gloves frequently right? Or are we not considering him a superstar?

    • No, but Gretzky was a generational great. If he didn’t score any goals, he would still be the NHL’s all-time leader in points. He is someone that changed the game forever because of his almost unnatural talent. Thanks for reading!

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