He still has yet to play an NHL game, but right now Connor McDavid's name, number and likeness are, as they say in business, moving product.
Make no mistake, the Edmonton Oilers and the NHL are taking full advantage of McDavidmania for as long as it lasts, which, barring injury to the supremely talented 18-year-old center, should be for a long time to come. While the NHL will not make public the list of best-selling player jerseys for 2015 until after the year, McDavid's No. 97 already is listed as one of the "top sellers" on the NHL's shopping website.
Only two players—Jonathan Toews and Henrik Lundqvist—are listed above McDavid on the vertical rows of top sellers on the site. Considering McDavid's jersey has only been available since late June, that's impressive. Patrick Kane's No. 88 was the best-selling jersey on NHL.com's site in 2014, and Sidney Crosby's 87 the year before that.
An informal sampling of Edmonton-area sports apparel stores by Bleacher Report made clear that McDavid jerseys have been tough to keep in stock.
"We've definitely sold a lot of them," a clerk from the "Oilers Store" at the Kingsway Mall told a reporter.
On the Oilers' official website, in the apparel-for-sale section, McDavid's jersey dominates the front page. The retail price for a top-of-the-line McDavid game-style jersey in the U.S. is $169.95—the same as most players considered star caliber. (In Canada, the price is over $200 in local currency.) The asking price for some autographed McDavid jerseys is already $1,000 or more on eBay. McDavid's official Twitter handle @cmcdavid97, already has 116,000 followers and growing.
And, just wait until McDavid's rookie card comes out in November. Upper Deck holds exclusive rights to his official rookie card as part of its "Young Guns" series, and already card-shop owners are doubling and tripling their usual orders in anticipation of hot demand for a McDavid rookie.
“It’s nice to see a guy like McDavid coming along that can give [the card industry] that shot in the arm it needs again,” Don Preston, proprietor of All Star Cards and Comics in Toronto, told the Globe and Mail. “As far as it being sustainable, only time will tell.”
Right. McDavid still needs to play one official NHL game before Upper Deck can put out his rookie card, per rules of the NHL Players Association. One broken leg in training camp and...well, nobody is thinking negative like that right now in Edmonton.
Jim Matheson has been at the Edmonton Journal since 1971 and has covered hockey's Oilers since they began as a World Hockey Association team in 1973. He covered every year a guy named Wayne Gretzky played there and will pass by a statue of the Great One in front of Rexall Place every game when he begins his 43rd season on the "Oil" beat this fall.
Befitting a jaded, ink-stained wretch of a newspaper man then (said with the full respect that connotation deserves), Matheson needs more tangible accomplishment from Connor McDavid before he starts to make any serious comparison to Gretzky or Mark Messier or any of the other Hall of Famers from the Oilers' glory days.
"They haven't commissioned a McDavid statue to flank Gretzky's just yet," Matheson said. "I think Wayne's scoring records are safe for time immemorial too."
But even Matheson has to admit he's been impressed by the level of enthusiasm that has gripped his city since the Oilers made McDavid the first overall pick in June's NHL draft.
"The first day of orientation camp they had (last) month, at least half the crowd had a McDavid jersey or T-shirt on," Matheson said. "You're starting to see one every time you go out of the house."
Matheson, who wrote a revealing story about what Gretzky thinks of McDavid's chances for stardom in Edmonton (the Great One's best pieces of advice to the youngster include living with a billet family the first year and hoping he isn't a nervous flyer), still wants to see him play night-in, night-out before breaking out his best-written superlatives.
"Some people already want to christen the Cup to the Oilers because they have him," Matheson said. "I still say they won't even make the playoffs this year."
Maybe not. The Oilers defense and goaltending still have plenty of question marks. But with McDavid and other still-young, talented forwards and former No. 1 picks such as Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle still around, creating buzz on and off the ice wouldn't seem to be a near-term problem.
Matthews set for Swiss season
In an interview with Bleacher Report in late July, Marc Crawford admitted to saying a prayer every night that he might be able to coach Auston Matthews this coming season for his Zurich Lions team in Switzerland. Some hockey god up there was listening, as Matthews signed a one-year contract to play for the Lions last week.
Matthews, a 6'2" center and native of Scottsdale, Arizona, is on most scouts' lists as being the likely No. 1 pick in next year's NHL draft. The 18-year-old, who missed being eligible for this year's draft by two days, wanted to play in a pro league under a former NHL coach rather than a year of junior hockey before becoming draft-eligible.
The Lions were able to get the proper working papers in order for Matthews to play overseas, otherwise he would have been forced to play for the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, which held his junior playing rights.
"We are excited about working with Auston Matthews and all of our ZSC Lion players as we work towards another championship season," Crawford told Bleacher Report.
Matthews, slated to earn $400,000 with the Lions, would be the first American-born player to go No. 1 overall since Kane was taken by Chicago Blackhawks in 2007.
If all goes as planned in Crawford's world, Matthews will help the Lions win a Swiss League title for the second time in his three years, and both will be working in the NHL after the season.
Craig "Miracle On Ice" gear for sale
Whenever an item appears about a player putting his career mementos up for sale, the first thought becomes, "Oh no, are times that tough for him?"
That isn't the case for 1980 USA Hockey hero goalie Jim Craig, who by all accounts has made a nice living for himself the last 35 years in a variety of roles, including a brief NHL career and a longer one as a motivational speaker.
Still, it's hard to believe that anyone right now can own all of Craig's best memorabilia from the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid. Anyone with a spare $5.7 million, anyway.
That is the initial asking price for the 19-piece lot of Craig's Olympic gear, which includes his gold medal, his Jason-style facial mask, the jerseys he wore in the famous game against Russia and the gold-medal game against Finland, his skates and the American flag he draped himself in after winning gold. You can spend $5.7 million for those and other items (ranging from goalie pads to a wristwatch given to all participating U.S. athletes) or offer on items individually.
The gold medal itself has the highest asking price, at between $1.5 million-$2 million. The home white jersey from the Russia game has an asking price of between $1 million-$1.5 million. The Craig memorabilia is being handled exclusively at the auction house at Lelands.com and can be viewed here.
As the Associated Press reported (via Yahoo), Craig is selling the items because looking after them all himself became something of a burden (what if they get stolen?) and because, hey, the money will be useful to his children and grandchildren.
"Over the years, I've loaned my Olympic memorabilia to museums and other venues so it could be accessible to fans to enjoy. It is my hope that whoever purchases this will do the same."
On a personal note, my father, Alan, filmed the USA-Russia game in Lake Placid for a documentary on the Olympics. Hey dad, couldn't you have scooped up some of Craig's ice shavings at least? Even those would have gotten a few bucks. To my way of thinking, $5.7 million is a bargain for Craig's gear. It can only go up in value I think. Can you imagine, putting on the mask he wore and looking through the same little circular slits in the eyes he saw through, staring down the Russians? Amazing.
In our exclusive weekly installment with the legendary, 14-time Stanley Cup-winning coach and executive, Scotty Bowman was asked: "If you were commissioner for a day, what are the top one or two things you would immediately change or add to the game?"
The two things, Bowman said: make the neutral zone bigger again and change the way goalies can pass the puck.
When the NHL made rules changes following the 2004-05 lockout, it took eight feet out of the neutral zone and split them in half to add to each end zone. It was designed to add more space for skaters in scoring areas, but Bowman thinks it's made scoring tougher.
"The end zones became so big that coaches said, 'OK, we can't cover everyone in this big space anymore, so we'll collapse everyone down low and turn them into shot-blockers,'" said Bowman, who had his day with the Stanley Cup at his Buffalo, N.Y.,-area home on Friday. "If you take out the four feet in each end zone, now the blue line is closer to the goal and I think you'll have defensemen able to get more shots through from the point and more goals on rebounds and deflections."
Bowman thinks another problem with today's game is goalies being able to pass the puck out of their zone too much, leading to too-easy tip-ins and line changes for teams.
"If they handle the puck, I think the rule should be they have to make a play inside their own blue line otherwise it's a violation," Bowman said.
Adrian Dater covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him @Adater