Is Jarome Iginla Running Out of Mainstream Fame Options?

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 10: Martin Brodeur #30 of the New Jersey Devils shoots the puck away from the on-rushing Jerome Iginla #12 of the Calgary Flames on March 10, 2009 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

So it seems that the Flames aren’t going to try and trade Jarome Iginla.

On the one hand, I think it’s great. Iginla’s from Alberta. He loves Calgary. He wants to play for the Flames. The fans love him. It’s a great situation.

I also think it’s great for the Flames. They’re obviously having an awful season, but it would probably be even worse without Iginla.

Iginla’s been having a rough season, but busted out with a hat trick over the Blackhawks this weekend. Part of the scoring outburst might have come from his being relaxed. But I also think part of it was just the law of averages. He’s been playing well but not scoring. He was due for some kind of offensive explosion.

Having said all of that, I think by sticking around in Calgary, Iginla and the NHL are missing out on an opportunity.

This weekend the Times had an article about the impending release of the NHL’s documentary on Alexander Ovechkin.

The article makes an offhand mention of something I had never heard before:

Ovechkin is recognized by 37% of the American public, according to the company’s Q ratings, which use polling methods to measure the familiarity and likeability of celebrities. That is third among active N.H.L. players, behind [Sidney] Crosby (44%) and Martin Brodeur (41%).

I had never heard that Brodeur is the second most recognizable active NHL player.

At first, it didn’t make any sense to me. He’s a goalie, not an offensive star. He plays for the Devils, a franchise the NHL and their television partners don’t go out of their way to promote.

But then, upon further review, it started to make sense. Brodeur’s won three Stanley Cups. He’s a fixture in the playoffs. And unlike a forward or defensemen, he’s on the ice the entire game, so he’s always a part of the game conversation. Plus, goalies tend to be the focal point of our attention, since they’re the last line of defense before a goal is scored.

So Brodeur’s position plus his nearly constant presence in the playoffs (although probably not for this season) has made him the NHL’s second most recognizable player.

Plus, playing in the Eastern time zone doesn’t hurt his recognizability potential.

And of course, being a shoo in Hall of Fame goalie has to help, too.

Reading about Brodeur got me thinking, though. Given the parity in the NHL, you just don’t see the same players in the playoffs each year (other than the Penguins and Red Wings, that is. And of course, Marian Hossa). It makes it tougher for players to get recognized, unless they’re specifically marketed by the NHL, the way Crosby and Ovechkin are.

So what if Iginla had gotten traded to a playoff contender? Maybe even the Kings, who were rumored to be trying to land Iginla.

It would put Iginla back in the playoffs and elevate his visibility.

Because while parity has been good for the NHL in terms of lots of different fans being able to see lots of different favorite teams in the playoffs, one of the costs of this parity is that very few genuine stars have emerged from the rank and file of NHL players. Sure, you have Ovechkin and Crosby, but as we learned, the falloff from Crosby is to Brodeur, whose recognizability is more about consistency and longevity, two laudable qualities, but hardly very sexy.

Of course, there were no guarantees Iginla would have been traded to a playoff contender. And no guarantees his new team would have become a dynasty. Heck, there’s not even any guarantee Iginla would have returned his game to its previously exhilarating status.

But the possibility that Iginla might finally have gotten the more mainstream recognition he deserves is too tempting not to dwell upon.

The NHL system produces parity but not stars. It’s a shame, because Iginla is a star who’s never been given his full chance to shine. Some of it can certainly be blamed on the Flames having just one Stanley Cup finals appearance with Iginla, but surely the NHL shoulders some of the blame. As great a player as Brodeur is, does he really deserve to be the second most recognizable active player in the NHL?

Does it speak to Brodeur’s reputation or does it indict the NHL for failing to produce stars outside of the Crosby (and to a lesser extent for now, Ovechkin) orbit?