In January 2015, I conducted a small survey to figure out who the biggest names in American sports were. At the time, it was done to show the impact that Derek Jeter had on baseball in his last season and how the Yankees, sports media, and brands had done a great job of celebrating him. On top of that, it was to show how baseball might have an issue filling the void in having a superstar.
This year, I wanted to do the same thing with no specific mission in mind. Who are the biggest names in major American sports? Who are the athletes that brands can use as endorsers for products? Who are the stars that the public and the media gravitate to?
This focuses on the NHL. Last year, Sidney Crosby and Wayne Gretzky dominated the results. Will history repeat itself? Or will players from more dominant teams like the Blackhawks and Capitals rise to the top?
THE BIGGEST FACES IN HOCKEY
Number 5: Patrick Kane
- Right Winger for the Chicago Blackhawks
- Achievements: 3x Stanley Cup Champion, 2013 Conn Smythe Trophy winner, 2008 Calder Trophy winner
- Endorsements: McDonalds, Bauer Hockey
After facing some legal trouble before the start of the 2015-16 NHL season, Patrick Kane did not let that affect him on the ice as he leads the NHL in points. The 3-time Stanley Cup champion is one of the best hockey players from the USA and one of the most exciting players to watch in the league since being drafted #1 overall in 2007. The legal issues kept him from being on the cover of NHL ’16 but with them cleared up and a long career ahead, he will still remain one of the most famous names in the NHL.
Number 4: Wayne Gretzky
- Retired Winger for the New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, and Edmonton Oilers
- Achievements: 4x Stanley Cup Champion, 9x Hart Memorial Trophy winner, 2x Conn Smythe Trophy winner, 1st all-time in goals and assists
The greatest to ever lace up skates in the NHL, Wayne Gretzky left behind a legacy unmatched by anyone to ever play. His influence is still felt by many that play and he will not be forgotten in the annals of history.
Number 3: Jack Eichel
- Center for the Buffalo Sabres
- Achievements: 2015 Hobey Baker Award winner
- Endorsements: Bauer Hockey, Leaf Trading Cards
Most of my personal network is from the Western New York area, so this is why he is so high on this survey. Either way, this is a result of the influence he has had on the region as well as the number of young stars (Connor McDavid, Dylan Larkin, Max Domi) that are rookies have had on their respective areas. If Eichel lives up to the hype and helps lead the Sabres to success, he will still be as popular to that market as the national stars.
Number 2: Sidney Crosby
- Center for the Pittsburgh Penguins
- Achievements: 2009 Stanley Cup Champion, 2x Hart Memorial Trophy winner, 2x Art Ross Trophy winner
- Endorsements: Adidas, Gatorade, CCM
Sid The Kid has been one of the most famous players in the league since being drafted during the 2005 NHL Lockout. Consistent success year after year, frequent trips to the playoffs, and being the captain of Team Canada numerous times helped propel Crosby to stardom. Despite suffering injuries recently and not being as dynamic as he was, that past success helps keep Crosby near the top of the list.
Number 1: Alex Ovechkin
- Left Winger for the Washington Capitals
- Achievements: 3x Hart Memorial Trophy winner, 5x Rocket Richard Memorial Trophy winner, 2006 Calder Memorial Trophy winner
- Endorsements: Bauer, Nike, Coca-Cola
Goals are exciting, and there aren’t many that score them more frequently than Alex Ovechkin. The captain of the best team in the 2015-16 regular season has over 500 goals in his career and has the personality and likability off the ice that appeals to both casual and hardcore fans. With plenty of career ahead of him, Ovechkin will remain one of the faces of hockey for years to come.
The NHL does not have nearly the exposure of the other major sports in America and as a result, their stars do not have anywhere near the name recognition to casual sports fans like in football, basketball, or baseball.
Communities with NHL teams are drawn to their exciting stars (Washington, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Chicago, Boston). If they bring success, the fans will come and be able to put them top of mind.