Perhaps nothing makes a hockey player more mainstream than being featured on the cover of the newest edition of EA Sports’ NHL video-game series, becoming the unofficial face of hockey for the season. But many players who appeared on ‘Chel’ have had their share of problems, too. Coincidence or curse? You decide.
Here’s a look at five notable cases of the video game cover curse:
Post-season Futility (Various)
EA started featuring a single player on its game covers beginning with NHL ’97. But being a cover star quickly became an omen of post-season futility. The first five such players – John Vanbiesbrouck (NHL ’97), Peter Forsberg (NHL ’98), Eric Lindros (NHL ’99), Chris Pronger (NHL 2000) and Owen Nolan (NHL ’01) – all played on teams eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in their respective cover seasons. Since then, another seven cover boys have been bounced in the first round, while 10 more were on teams that didn’t make the post-season at all.
Owen Nolan (NHL 01)
Just getting Owen Nolan’s photo on the cover of NHL ’01 had its own challenges. He had signed a deal with equipment company Mission that summer, so a photo of Nolan from the previous season couldn’t be used. EA rented a rink and sent photographer Steve Babineau to photograph Nolan in his new gear, but there was a problem: no one sharpened Nolan’s skates, limiting his agility. Babineau resorted to photographing Nolan lunging forward to make it look like he was skating.
Joe Thornton & Dany Heatley (NHL 04)
Originally, Bruins captain Joe Thornton was slated to appear on the NHL ’04 cover. That was nixed after he got into an off-season fight with police. The charges were eventually dropped, but EA turned to the Atlanta Thrashers’ top scorer Dany Heatley for the cover. Prior to the season’s start, Heatley crashed his car while speeding, killing passenger and teammate Dan Snyder. Copies of NHL ’04 picturing Heatley had already made it to store shelves. EA replaced Heatley with Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic midway through production, resulting in two different game covers.
Patrick Kane (NHL 10)
One month before NHL ’10 – picturing Patrick Kane – came out, the Hawks star was arrested and charged with assaulting a cab driver. The criminal charges were dropped, but it wasn’t the publicity EA wanted for its cover boy. This wouldn’t be the last time Kane’s legal troubles coincided with his box-cover status, either, because…
– Again (NHL 16)
After the Hawks won the 2015 Cup, EA planned to have Kane and team captain Jonathan Toews jointly hoisting the Stanley Cup on the NHL ’16 cover. The promotional image was widely circulated. But Kane was accused of sexual assault that summer – the investigation was eventually dropped without charges – so EA distanced itself from Kane and pictured just Toews instead.