The National Hockey League continues to try to gain a foothold in the United States against a crowded professional sports landscape. Though it will never reach the heights of the NFL and possibly not the NBA and Major League Baseball, there is some evidence that hockey still has a hold as one of the United States' “Big Four” professional leagues.
Andrew Powell-Morse of BestTickets.com, put together a data visualization of the most popular athletes in the United States as determined by Google search queries. It isn't necessarily the more scientific way to determine popularity, but it provides a very interesting evaluation point. Which athletes are getting searched the most could be a pretty good indication of how much they may be on the minds of sports fans throughout the country.
Unsurprisingly, LeBron James was the No. 1 searched athlete with more than an estimated 1,830,00 search queries per month on Google. Kobe Bryant was No. 2, while Derrick Rose was No. 3. Peyton Manning and Tiger Woods rounded out the top five.
BestTickets.com posted a sampling of the most searched athletes, but also shared a list of more than 1,300 professional athletes from James all the way down to Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals at 1,370.
As you can guess, Sidney Crosby was the top searched player among all NHLers and 31st among all athletes, just below Derek Jeter and just ahead of Tim Duncan. Crosby was searched on Google an average of 301,000 times per month. The gap between him and the rest of the league is gigantic as Patrick Kane, the No. 2 most searched player in the NHL, didn't even generate half the average monthly queries as Crosby did.
Here's a look how NHLers stacked up against each other, with the overall rank among other athletes in parenthesis.
1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins (31)
2. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks (69)
3. T.J. Oshie , St. Louis Blues (85)
4. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks (89)
5. Jaromir Jagr, New Jersey Devils (94)
6. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins (106)
7. Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars (113)
8. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers (124)
9. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins (140)
10. Jarome Iginla, Boston Bruins (141)
11. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens (157)
12. P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens (185)
13. Mike Fisher, Nashville Predators (186)
14. Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs (201)
15. Milan Lucic, Boston Bruins (205)
16. Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks (209)
17. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings (216)
18. Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings (223)
19. Dion Phaneuf, Toronto Maple Leafs (247)
20. Alex Ovechkin , Washington Capitals (251)
There are a couple of interesting takeaways from this list, the first and most obvious being the fact that Alex Ovechkin just barely cracked the top 20 of most searched NHLers. The league had come to be known as a two-star league with the rivalry between Ovechkin and Crosby trumped up for peak drama. How much of Ovechkin's popularity is tied to team success? As the Caps continue to dwindle as a competitive hockey club, Ovechkin's popularity seems to be going with it despite the fact that he continues to be one of the league's elite goal scorers.
What are the odds T.J. Oshie would have cracked the top 50 among NHL players had he not been an Olympic hero in that dramatic shootout against Russia? Maybe he would have snuck in there, but to be No. 3 in the league? Behold the power of the Olympics.
The U.S. didn't even medal, but Oshie became a household name overnight. His fiancée became an overnight sensation even as photos of the couple circulated quickly after that game. Now Oshie's jersey is selling like crazy, he is featured in a national ad for Enterprise Rent-A-Car and the jersey he wore in that fateful shootout just fetched more than $23,000 at auction. That's a pretty unbelievable swing in popularity.
How great is it to see Jaromir Jagr up in the top five? The ageless wonder continues to draw interest from NHL fans young and old. From his famous selfie bomb earlier this year to his colorful post-game comments to leading the Devils in scoring, JJ is still among the game's most popular players.
Mike Fisher being in the top 20 will only surprise you if you forgot who he is married to. Being the husband of one of the most famous singers going today has its perks. Carrie Underwood probably gives her beau a rather big boost among non-hockey fans in particular.
The Boston Bruins put the highest number of players into the top 20 with five including Rask, Chara, Lucic and Iginla, with an honorable mention to Tyler Seguin, who moved from Boston to Dallas this summer.
It's also interesting to see the number from Canadian franchises crack the top 20 as those clubs get very little air time on national TV in the United States.
According to BestTickets.com, the top searched NHL teams in the U.S. include the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens.
Maybe there's a little more U.S. interest in the most storied teams across the border than they're getting credit for.
The NHL has a long way to go before it can compare itself to the other major pro leagues in this country, but it's always interesting to see where the game and its players stand in the American sports landscape.
(h/t On The Forecheck)