On the eve of the National Football League kicking off (pun intended) the 2017 season, you’ll read a lot about the ‘Madden Curse’; a superstition with some pretty damn good support behind it, that suggests whomever is deemed the cover athlete of EA Sports’ annual video game title will be doomed that upcoming season.
Now, by my own admittance, I’m not a big football fan. Those who follow me know that my loyalty and love comes on the ice with all things hockey and the National Hockey League.
But all this chatter led me to think, “If there’s such thing as a Madden Curse, does an ‘NHL Curse’ exist?”
Developed and released every year by the same company, the yearly NHL video game franchise is also developed by EA Sports. Whereas Madden didn’t tout a cover athlete until the 1999 season, NHL 97 was the first EA Sports hockey game to host an athlete on the cover, rather than a generic or team photo of any sort.
Let’s see if the hockey gods are as damning as the football overlords.
Cover Athlete: John Vanbiesbrouck (Florida Panthers)
The 1995/96 season was a good one for ‘JVB’ and his Florida Panthers. They enjoyed the most successful run of the franchise’s 24 year history, losing to the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Final. The following season, Vanbiesbrouck would put up similar numbers and the Panthers would lose in the first round of the playoffs.
CURSED? – Nah. But things didn’t stay rosy for Vanbiesbrouck forever.
Cover Athlete: Peter Forsberg (Colorado Avalanche)
Argued to be one of the greatest players to ever play the game, Forsberg was named the NHL 98 cover athlete after coming off a 26-goal, 86-point season with the Avalanche. He increased his point totals ever-so-slightly the following season and won a gold medal at the Nagano Olympics in Japan as the NHL sent players to the Games for the first time.
CURSED? – Nope. ‘Foppa’ was just getting started.
Cover Athlete: Eric Lindros (Philadelphia Flyers)
If not for a career of concussions, Eric Lindros may have gone down as the most dominant hockey player to set foot in the NHL. During the peak of his career, there were very few who could slow down ‘The Big E’. That said, his concussion problems started in 1998 and early into 1999 which would alter Lindros’ career forever.
CURSED? – I’d say we have a winner here.
Cover Athlete: Chris Pronger (St.Louis Blues)
Plagued by his own concussion issues that prematurely ended his career, Pronger was a force on the blueline in St.Louis in during the 1999-2000 season, scoring a career high 62 points and was awarded the Norris Trophy (Defenceman of the Year) and Hart Trophy (League MVP) for his efforts. The following season after being named cover athlete, Pronger was plagued by injuries and only played 51 games, but still amassed 47 points.
CURSED? – No. Had it not been for injuries that season, Pronger likely would’ve won another Norris Trophy and challenged for the Hart once again.
Cover Athlete: Owen Nolan (San Jose Sharks)
Nolan finished with the second highest goal total (44) the season before being named cover athlete and was sixth in league scoring. Why Jaromir Jagr, Pavel Bure or even Teemu Selanne (all of whom had better offensive seasons than Nolan) weren’t named cover athletes is beyond me (likely because the game was produced in Canada and, well, they weren’t).
The San Jose Sharks’ captain followed it up with a dismal season the following year, earning just 49 points, appearing in just 57 games.
CURSED? – I wish he was. I hated Nolan.
Cover Athlete: Mario Lemieux (Pittsburgh Penguins)
This had nothing to do with the stats. This was the fact that one of the greatest players ever had beaten cancer and was given a second lease on life and his playing career. He managed to get back and play 24 games the season before being named cover athlete, and then went on to post 91 points in 67 games.
CURSED? – The man beat cancer. God love ‘em.
Cover Athlete: Jarome Iginla (Calgary Flames)
Jarome Iginla was everything you wanted in a hockey player. He could score, hit, fight, lead…he was everything. His stats weren’t enough to make him cover athlete. (He didn’t even crack the top-10 in scoring) He was as popular a player as there was in the league and he followed up being a cover athlete with an even better performance scoring 41 goals, and leading his Calgary Flames to the Stanley Cup championship finals, losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games.
CURSED? – Hardly.
Cover Athlete: Dany Heatley (Atlanta Thrashers)
How the hell was he named a cover athlete?! He killed someone the year before and the NHL locked out it’s players the following season.
CURSED? – You be the judge.
(Editor’s Note – EA Actually replaced the Dany Heatley cover with a Joe Sakic cover after the car crash. Sakic had a decent year, however.)
Cover Athlete: Markus Naslund (Vancouver Canucks)
No Hockey Eh?
CURSED? – Well, for that season everyone was.
Cover Athlete: Vincent Lecavalier (Tampa Bay Lightning)
He probably should’ve been named the cover athlete instead of Heatley after winning a Stanley Cup, but Lecavalier was anything but cursed after being postered all over NHL 06. He went on to have a career season with 52 goals and 108 points. Boom.
CURSED? – If being AWESOME is cursed, then yeah.
Cover Athlete: Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals)
See: Lecavalier, Vincent. Went from 48 goals to 65 the year he was cover athlete, the best of his career.
CURSED? – No.
Cover Athlete: Eric Staal (Carolina Hurricanes)
Staal was named an NHL All-Star for the first time and was named MVP of the game. Other than that, it’s hard to see why he was named cover athlete for NHL 08.
Oh, what’s that? He’s from Thunder Bay? Okay. That must be why.
CURSED? – Carolina gave him 58 million reasons to stick around after the season. He’s good.
Cover Athlete: Dion Phaneuf (Calgary Flames)
For the first time in almost a decade, another defenceman makes the cover of EA’s annual hockey release. For Phaneuf, it was well deserved after a career season. He signed a $39 million dollar contract with the Flames, posted a career high 60-points, was named to the NHL’s First All Star team, and was runner up to Niklas Lidstrom for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best d-man.
After being named cover athlete? A career low (at the time) 11 goals, -11 on the season, and just months away from being traded to Toronto.
CURSED? – Phaneuf hasn’t been near the same player since, so we’ll blame it on EA. Sure.
Cover Athlete: Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks)
Kane notched 88 points after appearing in all 82 games for the ‘Hawks the season prior to being named the cover athlete.
Oh yeah. That season after appearing on NHL 10, he scored the winning goal to clinch Chicago’s first Stanley Cup in 49 years. So there’s that.
Cursed? – HAHAHAHAHA!
Cover Athlete: Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks)
For the first time ever (and not the last time JT would be involved in a ‘first’ for EA), the NHL series featured a cover athlete from the same team in back-to-back years. Following the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup victory, their captain donned the cover.
Toews didn’t win another Stanley Cup that year, but he did go on to post a career high 76 points.
CURSED? – Toews wasn’t, but the Hawks might’ve been. The first major casualty of the salary cap era in Chicago.
Cover Athlete: Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning)
Prior to being named cover athlete, Stamkos notched 19 goals in his first 19 games of the season, and finished with 45 goals and 91 points. After being ‘the guy’ for NHL 12, he put up 60 goals.
CURSED? – I’d say not.
Cover Athlete: Claude Giroux (Philadelphia Flyers)
93 points and a heck of a playoff push in 2011-2012 made Giroux a great choice for NHL 13. At that point, he looked to be emerging as one of the league’s most elite players.
But you know what happened after that, right?
CURSED? – LOCKOUT!
Cover Athlete: Martin Brodeur (New Jersey Devils)
A history of marketing shows that you typically go with “what’s hot” in your industry as you try and promote your brand. So why would an aging, near-the-end-of-his-career, athlete like Martin Brodeur get named cover athlete for NHL 14?
Speculation was high at the time that arguably the game’s greatest goaltender was going to retire. While the 2013-14 wasn’t his swan song (it should’ve been), Brodeur’s 21-year tenure with the Devils ended. He played five games the following year in St.Louis before announcing his retirement.
CURSED? – No. The end was already there.
Cover Athlete: Patrice Bergeron (Boston Bruins)
While he’s become the poster child for a lot of NHL marketing in recent years, Bergeron was anointed the cover athlete for probably the worst game in the franchise’s history. Was he deserving? He wasn’t the highest scoring player in the league (37th in league scoring, 17th in goals), but the marketing around the game was great and he did a good job, so…sure?
CURSED? – Meh.
Cover Athlete: Patrick Kane & Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks)
Interesting story…Toews and his ol’ buddy Patrick Kane were going to appear together after leading the Hawks to the team’s third Stanley Cup in six seasons. But then, well…this happened. Because it happened so close to the release of the game and the controversy surrounding it, EA Sports decided to (smartly) remove Kane and give Toews the solo cover.
CURSED? – Toews? No. Kane? You be the judge.
Cover Athlete: Vladimir Tarasenko (St.Louis Blues)
As one of the league’s hottest young players, Tarasenko was a no-brainer and an excellent choice. After a strong season and excellent playoff performance, Tarasenko signed a very hefty 8-year, $60-million dollar contract before being named EA’s cover athlete. The following season? Much of the same.
CURSED? – Not at all. Tarasenko is a beast.
Cover Athlete: Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers)
Time will tell, after the most dynamic player this side of Crosby/Gretzky/Lemieux walked away as the league’s MVP and top scorer. An easy choice as cover athlete.
CURSED? – He damn well better not be! (I’m an Oilers fan through and through so if he can just have another MVP calibre season that’d be great. MMMMKAY?)
Suffice to say, the NHL doesn’t appear to have the same issues as the NFL when it comes to cover athletes in video games. Taking a look through this list, there’s no correlation between being named cover athlete for the NHL series and any type of ‘curse’. That’s a good news for fans of these athletes, and while EA Sports has made some questionable selections over the years as to just who makes the cover, suffice to say, careers aren’t being ruined because of it.