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NHL top-selling jerseys: Crosby, Ovechkin and Winter Classic effect

Who had the best-selling jerseys in the NHL last season? According to Sports Business Daily, it's still the Sid and Ovie show:

Penguins C Sidney Crosby(notes) again led the NHL in jersey sales during the '10-11 regular season despite missing half of the campaign due to a concussion. Crosby has led the NHL in jersey sales since '05-06, his first year in the league. Capitals LW Alex Ovechkin(notes) ranks second.

Several Blackhawks players capitalized on the team's Stanley Cup win last June to make the list -- C Jonathan Toews(notes) and RW Patrick Kane(notes) ranked third and fourth, respectively, while RW Marian Hossa(notes) and LW Patrick Sharp(notes) also made the top 20. The top-ranking Bruins player is LW Milan Lucic(notes) at No. 14, while no Canucks players broke the top 20.

Here's a comparison between the 2011 sales (left) and the 2010 sales (through February of that year):

NHL top-selling jerseys: Crosby, Ovechkin and Winter Classic effect

There are always mitigating circumstances when jersey sales surge or drop: Like a team changing its sweater design or a high-profile player transfer or a championship run.

(In the case of Ryan Miller(notes) of the Buffalo Sabres, it's probably a little Olympic afterglow combined with the Sabres' old-school heritage jersey.)

But for the NHL, these lists confirm two things: That the Winter Classic is Gary Bettman's ATM machine, and that the League's star power has come a really, really long way in just five years.

The Winter Classic effect was evident in 2009-10, with seven players from the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers landing in the top 10, presumably thanks to the Fenway Park Classic jersey sales.

Last season, the Winter Classic Effect kept Sid and Ovie and Malkin in the top five, but it also boosted Nicklas Backstrom(notes) and Kris Letang(notes) into the top 20. (Again, just playing a retail hunch, this might have been a bunch of Crosby and Ovechkin fans buying a Winter Classic sweater with a name they didn't already own.)

The Heinz Field Classic was big business for jerseys, according to the NHL:

NHL Executive Vice President Brian Jennings told the media this week that the League expects more than 38,000 Winter Classic jerseys to be sold through at stores by the end of this weekend. That sets a record for Winter Classic jerseys. "This will be our top-selling year," Jennings said. "With jerseys, fans can connect emotionally with the event."

The fact is that NHL fans are connecting with this crop of current stars in a way they weren't connecting with the League's top faces just five years ago.

In 2006, Jack Gage of Forbes.com reported that half of the NHL's top-selling jerseys through non-venue retailers featured players that weren't in the NHL anymore — players like Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky.

"A lack of star power, youth and recent trades of popular veterans has — along with a messy lockout — left fans groping for the glory years," wrote Gage.

The top-selling jersey in 2006? Peter Forsberg(notes) of the Philadelphia Flyers, around 33 years old and around four years removed from his best offensive season. But the second-best selling jersey was Crosby's in 2006. (Keep in mind the Forbes numbers were for jerseys sold outside of games and team stores; with those factored in, Crosby was the leader.)

NHL top-selling jerseys: Crosby, Ovechkin and Winter Classic effectAs you can see in 2007, things started to really change. The Winter Classic Effect was taking hold, boosting Penguins and Sabres players into the top 20.

The Penguins increased their merch sales by 164 percent from Dec. 2006; the Blackhawks (92 percent) and Capitals (89 percent) saw similar surges as their bandwagons crowded.

In five years, the NHL has established a cadre of young star players who are marketable and an event in the Winter Classic that produces must-own swag for fans. It's been quite a run.

What to expect in 2011-12? Expect the New York Rangers to move players into the top 20 thanks to whatever Winter Classic sweater the team cooks up.

And expect there to be a few new Winnipeg jerseys sold; our money is on Dustin Byfuglien(notes) and Evander Kane(notes) as the two best-sellers.

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