Status Of Hockey In The United States Part 5: No American Golden Boy In NHL History

America loves heroes, particularly in the military or in sports. But in NHL history, the best player of his generation is always Canadian. Since the 1940s, the best player who is always head and shoulders above everyone else comes from Canada, virtually an unbroken golden chain. Its members, in order, include Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr, Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Sidney Crosby. Connor McDavid is currently speculated as Crosby’s successor. All have won at least one Stanley Cup.

There have been no Americans or Europeans who have been the best players of their generation. Alexander Ovechkin was billed as Crosby’s rival when he entered the league at approximately the same time but he has no team championships in the NHL or internationally like Crosby has. Probably the non-Canadian player who has come closest to being acclaimed the best player of his generation is Jaromir Jagr, Lemieux’s sidekick in Pittsburgh, still currently playing and who is now the number two scorer in NHL history behind only Gretzky.

For the Americans, the best they could do is Brett Hull, Bobby’s son who was born in Canada but who became an American citizen and often played for the United States in international tournaments. Another top Canadian, Brian Trottier became an American citizen and played for the United States internationally. And there have been distinguished native born Americans like Joe Mullen, Mike Modano, and Jeremy Roenick, etc. But never the number one NHL player.

So the best Americans can do is have Canada’s top player as a member of an American NHL franchise and win Stanley Cups for them. Currently Pittsburgh is the beneficiary with Crosby winning 3 Stanley Cups and having a good chance to win many more before he retires and McDavid takes over.

But for the United States, it is still not the same as having a native son as the best player. There is no legendary American hockey player like Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Joe Montana, Babe Ruth, Wilt Chamberlain, and Michael Jordan to inspire young American minds. And because the NHL has never had such an American player, its status in the United States suffers when it is compared to other “traditional” American sports. Hockey in American eyes remains a Canadian game and the NHL ranks number 4 behind the NFL, MLB, and the NBA.

Currently the best American hope for the future appears to be Auston Matthews now playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Jack Eichel playing just down the road in Buffalo. And Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets may be the best future European. But all three will have a tough time supplanting McDavid who recently signed an 8-year $100 million contract with Edmonton. It will be quite a future rivalry among them, plus any other new top kids who enter the league in the future.

Even if they don’t topple McDavid off his projected throne, all three have a chance to write a distinguished legendary career of their own. If Matthews should lead the woeful Toronto Maple Leafs back to the Stanley Cup after 50 years of bad ownership and management and wandering in the wilderness, he’ll be an all time legendary hero in that city, no matter where he comes from. And if Eichel and Laine deliver Buffalo and Winnipeg their first Stanley Cup, they’ll become all time heroes in their cities too.

But in terms of becoming the ultimate hockey idol, it is still the dream of a Canadian boy. We are still waiting for the American and European Gretzky, Orr, Richard, etc., to appear.


4 thoughts on “Status Of Hockey In The United States Part 5: No American Golden Boy In NHL History

  1. I would agree, though I would say that. One thing leads to another. I think you have to get the kids. And the right kids and enough kids playing hockey. You have to inspire them into wanting to do that. So there are 2 ways of doing that having a Golden Brett or national pride. I think that the Olympics are the key. I think that the Miracle on ice gave rise to the players from America in the ninety’s and the NHL playing the Olympics in the 90-00 leading to the bumper of players we have now. If USA won the gold metal in the Olympics it could cause the right kid in the states to see that and want to play. And a huge amount to play also you talked about Brett Hull a Canadian who plays as an American. He inspired also last year’s enter draft 5 players from St. Louis were selected in the first round. That’s huge and I think that had a direct affect of the team and Hull.

  2. People are attracted to star players, but all the players who make up “Canada’s Golden Chain” have a special aura about them. Nobody else came close to them when they were dominating the NHL. It’s the same in other sports too. Pele in soccer, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays in baseball, Jim Brown and Joe Montana in the NFL, Muhammad Ali, are all legendary people. Whichever country that can send a player to the NHL who can break “Canada’s Chain” of top players will have somebody special in the legends of hockey and sport in general.

    • I agree but I think that if you don’t have that person. The an Olympic win get the right kids to want to try a sport that they might not have. With no NHL players in this next Olympics I bet that attendance to watch will be much lower. St. Louis had 5 kids drafted in the first round considering we don’t get snow anymore that’s huge. I think that that culture of the team and the Blues caused that.

  3. You are right, Josh, viewership will be lower now that the NHL pulled out of Pyeongchang. That’s going to make it more interesting to see what the unknown South Korean team does at next year’s World Championship when they will be competing against the “big 7” teams for the first time.

    All “victories” that people recognize have something special about them, not just the Olympics. It may be just getting over a hump that has plagued somebody for a long time that may be something special at least to that person. In fact, each new discovery, each new cure or improvement on a disease or injury is taken as a milestone. And the more people that recognize an advancement, the more will be inspired to emulate it or improve it.

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