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The Face[s] of the NHL

Recent conversation among pundits has been sobering with Crosby shut down and Ovechkin not playing like Ovechkin for the second season in a row. They claim that the NHL currently does not have a face because the two biggest names (they chose and marketed the eggs in one rivalry basket) are not currently the best players.

As Colonel Potter would say, horse hockey!

The NHL has a face, and it\‘s shared by two players! They happen to be twins who play on the top line for the Vancouver Canucks. Over the past two seasons they became the first brothers to alternately lead the league in points in consecutive seasons. They are the Sedin twins. It started in \‘09-\‘10 with Henrik winning the Art Ross and the Hart Memorial Trophies as well as making the first All-Star team. It continued last season, \‘10-\‘11, with Daniel winning the Art Ross Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award. Both brothers made the first All-Star team last season. The rise of the Sedin twins began after the lockout, in the \‘05-\‘06 season. After helping Sweden win Olympic Gold the Sedin twins completed their first breakout seasons together. (1)

But why hasn\‘t the NHL awakened to its current face[s]? Is it the same reason Nicklas Lidstrom was a bridesmaid three consecutive years before they had to hand him the Norris Trophy the following three years and not denied him any season since then that he has earned it, because he\‘s Swedish? (2) Or has the NHL finally gotten past the most ridiculous of all its prejudices only to fall into its worst one: The Sedin twins play for a Western Canadian team and that is simply not marketable to the rest of the league?

Before \‘07-\‘08 the league and the media did not believe a European captain could lead a team to the Cup. (3) Not only did that happen, the captain to do it was also the first European to be named playoff MVP in his previous Cup run in \‘02, and another European (teammate Henrik Zetterberg, also a Swede) was named the ‘08 MVP. So seemingly almost everyone has gotten over at least Swedish bias as well as European bias in general (Evgeni Malkin won the following playoff Conn Smyth Trophy).

That leaves the issue with Western Canadian teams. However, how does that make sense after last season\‘s run by the very team the twins lead (not just in talent, Henrik is captain, Daniel an alternate), the Vancouver Canucks, who lost a seven game series to the Boston Bruins for the Stanely Cup? Yes, the Sedin twins had a poor showing in the series, but the fact is Boston found a way to shut them down. It happens to the best players in any given series. Detroit did it to Lindros and his Legion of Doom in \‘97 by playing the finesse defense pair of Lidstrom and Murphy against them instead of the more physical unit of Fetisov and Konstantov. Did that stop the crowned \“Next One\” from still being a face of the NHL at the time? No, what stopped him was a series of concussions, the issue that brought about this nonsensical topic of the league not having a face in the first place. Ironic? I think so.

The fact is we live in an age when any team in North America can be marketed. If the NHL wanted to acknowledge the Sedin twins as the face[s] of the NHL that they are they could feature them almost weekly at 9 PM Eastern Time on VS (soon to be NBC Sports) as well as schedule some Eastern Time Zone road games when NBC has Sunday coverage. It\‘s not like HNIC doesn\‘t have three other Western Canadian teams to highlight at 10 PM Eastern Time on Saturday night.

These are the facts, and they are the face[s]. Don\‘t be surprised if Henrik flips his brother for the Art Ross this season as he is tied for the league lead in points (at the time of this writing), not that Daniel can\‘t go ballistic and recover from his games lost to injuries to make the race even more interesting by season\‘s end. They are the face[s] the NHL needs… and deserves. (4) It\‘s time someone recognized that.

Note: I originally wrote this as a posting to my fantasy hockey league after I read a Yahoo! Sports note about Henrik Sedin, a member of my own fantasy team, regarding his 3 point performance December 19th vs. Minnesota. I cannot recall the most recent article or conversation on my mind regarding the lack of a “face of the game” that spawned my comments. Also, I don\‘t know how superscript the end notes (my apologies).

(1) Referenced from biographic articles of Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin on Wikipedia; in particular a Marc Crawford comment regarding their breakout season.

(2) I am bothered significantly by the shunning of Lidstrom those three seasons; in particular that he played a “soft game.” I greatly respect the skills of Rob Blake, Al MacInnis, and Chris Pronger, but I do not believe they played better than Lidstrom. I remember his “soft play” being given as a reason by some pundits in particular when he lost to Blake and Pronger, as well as his being a “soft European” (I list Swedish as the bias above because of \“soft Swede\” and the acceptance of Ovechkin and Malkin as unquestionable superstars; Forsberg was considered an exception to the \“typical Swede,\” as memory serves). I also believe MacInnis was given the award because he had not won it yet, and as Lidstrom was the only other option that season, MacInnis received the sympathy vote. Maybe I believe this as a Wings fan and a Lidstrom fan. Maybe I am biased about those seasons, but maybe I’m not.

(3) I am generalizing from memory and cannot provide exact reference. I am also making a general comment about majority league and media opinion as I know there were many in both categories who did not believe that to be true. However this was a ridiculous bias for too many years.

(4) Taking a line from The Dark Knight and reworking it because I believe this to be true.

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Comments

Chet's avatar

the sedins are kind of weird-looking and are not that young anymore. they also haven’t won a cup. these are some of the reasons they’re not promoted as much. given those two vs. a guy like stamkos, it’s not tough to figure out where things are headed. it’s also just a sad fact that due to time constraints west coast teams are not seen as much by hockey viewers concentrated in the east.

no doubt they’re studs, top players in this league. still, crosby is better than both of them, at least when healthy.

Posted by Chet from twitter: thegansen on 12/20/11 at 11:39 PM ET

Savage Henry's avatar

I think it’s sad that there needs (in some people’s eyes) to be a ‘face’ of the NHL at all.  The game is exciting enough to stand on its own. 

Let Pittsburgh market Crosby (and Malkin), Let Washington market Ovechkin.  Thirty local ‘faces’ will be far more successful than one or two national ones.  If a player is going to become popular enough nationally (in the US - Canada is a different story) to be a TV draw by themselves it will have to happen on its own, it can’t be forced.  Nobody is as dominant as Gretzky or Lemieux or Michael Jordan were in their prime, and nobody is going to be as big a TV draw in the US. 

If the league and its TV partners aren’t content to promote the game in general, promote the good teams, not the great players . . . If one (or two) great players on a shitty team were a good draw, the Atlanta Thrashers would have sold more tickets.

Posted by Savage Henry on 12/21/11 at 12:15 AM ET

Bradley97's avatar
the sedins are kind of weird-looking and are not that young anymorethey also haven’t won a cupthese are some of the reasons they’re not promoted as much.

Posted by Chet from twitterthegansen on 12/20/11 at 08:39 PM ET 

This is hockey, a sport where black eyes and swollen lips, not to mention scarred faces have not prevented players from being marketed and adored by fans. The twins are 31, far from old. That is the age of the current generation. They are at their best right now. But that does not mean they won’t still be outstanding after 35, just look at Selanne and Ray Whitney, and Nick Lidstrom. As for winning the Cup, they were one win away. How close has Ovechkin come?

Posted by Bradley97 on 12/21/11 at 02:51 AM ET

Chet's avatar

the fact remains that the NHL for better or worse promotes younger players. of course the sedins will be good for another five years or longer, in my view. as to their looks…they’re weird. they’re not matinee idol looking guys—just a fact that may also have something to do with it. although, one has to admit ovechkin is way uglier so who knows. i also failed to mention they just aren’t flashy personalities, and that may be the biggest roadblock. they quietly go about their business of racking up huge numbers but rarely if ever get their names mentioned for a snappy or controversial quote. probably also doesn’t help that they’re euros.

if your argument is these guys SHOULD be the face of the NHL, I’m just trying to explain why they’re not…

Posted by Chet from twitter: thegansen on 12/21/11 at 03:13 AM ET

Bradley97's avatar

I think it’s sad that there needs (in some people’s eyes) to be a ‘face’ of the NHL at all.  The game is exciting enough to stand on its own.

Posted by Savage Henry on 12/20/11 at 09:15 PM ET

I don’t know that it’s sad, just that the face isn’t always going to be the same from season to season.

Let Pittsburgh market Crosby (and Malkin), Let Washington market Ovechkin.  Thirty local ‘faces’ will be far more successful than one or two national ones.  If a player is going to become popular enough nationally (in the US - Canada is a different story) to be a TV draw by themselves it will have to happen on its own, it can’t be forced.  Nobody is as dominant as Gretzky or Lemieux or Michael Jordan were in their prime, and nobody is going to be as big a TV draw in the US.

Posted by Savage Henry on 12/20/11 at 09:15 PM ET

Players like Gretzky and Lemieux don’t come around that often. I agree that teams need to market their own star players, but it’s the players who have to emerge as stars to market, not something that can be forced (see the “Next One”). However, players who reach a superstar level should then be marketed nationally while they hold that status. There was a time when people wanted to see Vancouver because of the Russian Rocket Pavel Bure, Calgary for Theo Fleury, the little guy who played like a giant, and of course Edmonton for the Great One.

If the league and its TV partners aren’t content to promote the game in general, promote the good teams, not the great players . . . If one (or two) great players on a shitty team were a good draw, the Atlanta Thrashers would have sold more tickets.

Posted by Savage Henry on 12/20/11 at 09:15 PM ET

The league and its TV partners used to emphasize the good teams regularly in the Dead Puck Era, but the game was terrible. Back then everyone knew who Kariya and Selanne were out in Anaheim, the one-two punch of Sakic and Forsberg in Colorado, the too old Red Wings who kept winning when they were supposed to be soft and slow… That changed in recent years with more of an emphasis on the big market teams in the East. VS used to have a double header once a week, now they don’t start a game past 9 PM (which can be done to market a Pacific team and its players).

However, just like players, the league needs to market the teams that are worth watching. Atlanta, like you mention, never got me excited, but neither did Anaheim, the former because the team had no depth, the latter because even with Kariya and Selanne they played a very boring game and only had two players who were fun to watch. Pittsburgh and Chicago had an exciting third period tonight, so if people stuck with the game they saw a good finish. But all too often even with marketing teams the NHL has failed.

As for the game, if the national telecast stinks, how do you market an unfortunate pick? It’s easy to market the previous season’s final four teams, assuming they are all exciting to watch, but it’s easier to market a handful of players who deserve to be noticed for playing outstanding hockey and who make their teams worth watching.

Posted by Bradley97 on 12/21/11 at 03:17 AM ET

Bradley97's avatar

if your argument is these guys SHOULD be the face of the NHL, I’m just trying to explain why they’re not…

Posted by Chet from twitter: thegansen on 12/21/11 at 12:13 AM ET

I understand your points, but the talent is what should be marketed. It’s not like Gretzky was flashy off the ice. I don’t know the Sedin twins at all. I do know Pavel Datsyuk has a very interesting sense of humor, much like Steve Yzerman did, but not many fans outside of Detroit get to hear his witty remarks. Same thing with Tomas Holmstrom. Both have thick accents, but boy can they crack a joke out of nowhere. And Holmstrom has a nickname, the Demolition Man. He has been the best net-front player since entering the league but the league has always been more interested in calling off goals (once for having his behind over the crease, not his feet, and not interfering physically with the goalie) rather than marketing his talent. The twins are something to watch on the ice, and that to me is what really matters.

The thing about hockey is the players rarely have larger than life personalities. The culture is about being good role models, good husbands, fathers, sons, etc. They come to games dressed for the board room (though some teams allow for shirts without collars or ties), not the locker room. And quite frankly I think that too is something worth marketing.

Posted by Bradley97 on 12/21/11 at 03:33 AM ET

Avatar

How will we ever disaffect the real fans and pander to 12 year olds that don’t follow hockey without a sexy-cool icon?  Goddammit I am tired of hearing about Ovechkin.  At his best he was a one dimensional individualist.  As far as having a Michael Jordan-esque stand-out…..the WORST thing that you can do is label someone as that before they are that.  Lindros “the Next One”.  That did not help his career.

That said, the Sedins are the complete package.  They are every bit the role model that Gretz was and are hugely involved in charity.  They get an enormous amount of grief and hate from the media and remain completely graceful.  They have never slagged anyone on camera (Bolland you little cock).  I’m not sure anyone has taken so much crap since day one when they were too wimpy to play.  Henrik now has over 530 consecutive games played.  Hear that much?

Posted by tuxedoTshirt on 12/21/11 at 07:32 PM ET

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