The NHL has two poster boys they promote all day, every day. Alexander Ovechkin was watching the gold medal game from home. And yes, Sidney Crosby scored the now-legendary game-winning goal in overtime to win the gold, but he hadn’t scored in in regulation in four games in the tournament. The national face of the Blackhawks has been Patrick Kane; he was selected with the Number One overall pick in the draft, won the Calder Trophy, led the Blackhawks in All Star votes last year and is now on the cover of EA Sports’ NHL ’10 video game.
While the world watched over the past two weeks, the Chicago Blackhawks’ captain put on a show worthy of every accolade he received. The Directorate named Jonathan Toews the tournament’s Most Outstanding Forward, and he was voted onto the All-Olympics team by the media. If USA goalie Ryan Miller hadn’t played one of the best seven game stretches imagineable, Toews would have likely been named the tournament’s MVP as well.
But is Toews now emerging as a new face of the game?
He was voted the youngest captain in the history of the Blackhawks before the 2008-09 season began, and has continued to hold that role through this season. Earlier this season, the Blackhawks made arguably their best investment ever by locking up Toews, Kane and Duncan Keith with long-term contracts. Toews, with Kane, will be in Chicago for at least the next five years, and both have indicated their wanting to stay in the Windy City longer.
With Toews and Kane together, the Blackhawks might be looking at the dawn of their Jordan-Pippen Era.
What Toews has that Kane doesn’t, though, is a Canadian birth certificate. In Canada, if you’re a great hockey player, you’re a god. If you’re a great person, even better. And Toews is both.
The reality that Toews is just 21-years old, bilingual, responsible and already the captain of a successful team simply adds to his marketability.
Toews has something that neither Crosby nor Ovechkin can claim as well: a major market. According to the 2008 Census, Chicago is the third-largest city in the United States with a population of approximately 2.85 million people. Ovechkin’s Washington DC area had a population of roughly 590,000, and Crosby’s Pittsburgh is only 310,000 strong. When you then consider that half of Pennsylvania hates Crosby (Flyers fans) and the density of NHL teams up and down the East coast, and then factor in that the nearest teams to Toews in Chicago are Detroit and Minneapolis, the fanbase in the heart of the country to which Toews could be sold is enormous.
What do Crosby, Ovechkin and Kane have that Toews doesn’t? Big goal totals and exposure (which, for Kane, hasn’t always been a good thing). But there is something, unfortunately, about each that someone could not like; Crosby is perceived by many (right or not) as a primadonna, Ovechkin is a physical cheerleader, and Kane has had some PR issues in the last year.
So perhaps this memo needs to go out to Gary Bettman’s office, the NHL Network, NBC, and anyone else selling the NHL to North America. Jonathan Toews is not only one of the best young players in the game, but he’s a great human being. If the league wants to slap the a face on billboards, video games, magazines, Game of the Week promotions, Toews should be the first, not the next, guy in line.