We already know all about the Madden Curse. Nearly every player who has ever appeared on the cover of a Madden NFL video game has gone on to either have a bad season or bad injury befall them that year. The only two exceptions are Vince Young, who was the cover athlete of Madden 08, and Larry Fitzgerald, who was one of the two players featured on Madden 10 alongside Troy Polamalu (who missed most of that season with multiple knee injuries). Young’s career hit a downward spiral following a solid 2007 season, and though Fitzgerald has turned in good numbers since the 2009 season, he has not matched the 97 receptions he had that year. Since I’m more of a hockey buff, I wanted to examine whether the same applies to developer EA’s NHL series of games. Let’s take a look at the cover athletes:

  • NHL Hockey (1991) – Kelly Hrudey: Hrudey, who was the starting goaltender for the Los Angeles Kings, posted a 27-17-13 record in 60 appearances in the 1991-92 season. He had a 3.37 GAA (goals against average) and a .897 save %, which for those times wasn’t too bad. Nowadays, both those figures would be considered awful. The Kings finished second in the Smythe Division but were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Edmonton.
  • NHLPA Hockey ’93 – Rod Brind’Amour, Mike Richter, and Randy Moller: None of these players enjoyed their usual team success, as the Flyers and Rangers both missed the playoffs. However, Brind’Amour notched a career high 37 goals in 1992-93.
  • NHL 94 – Andy Moog: Even though Moog is depicted on the cover in his Boston threads (he played for the Bruins the prior year), he had been traded to Dallas. Moog backstopped a high-octane Stars squad and helped them reach the second round of the playoffs before losing to Vancouver in five games. Moog wasn’t a starter for much longer in the NHL, but he remained a reliable backup for a few more years.
  • NHL 95 – Alexei Kovalev and Kirk McLean: Kovalev’s numbers slipped in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, scoring only 28 points in the 48 game campaign. The defending champion Rangers barely got into the playoffs as the #8 seed, but upset top-seeded Quebec in the first round. MacLean’s Canucks similarly struggled, but also made the playoffs and pulled a first round upset over St. Louis. McLean himself posted a career best .904 save %.
  • NHL 96 – Scott Stevens and Steve Yzerman: Yzerman’s Red Wings would post a record of 62-13-7, good for 131 points, which is the second-highest total of all-time. The Red Wings did not bring the Stanley Cup to Detroit, however, as they lost in the Western Conference Finals to the Colorado Avalanche in six games. Stevens and the Devils didn’t even get the chance to defend their title from the previous year, as they failed to reach the playoffs.
  • NHL 97 – John Vanbiesbrouck: Vanbiesbrouck led the upstart Florida Panters to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1995-96, but his success didn’t end there. He was named the starting goaltender for the Eastern Conference All-Stars in 1997 and the Panthers again finished with a solid record (35-28-19). The Panthers did not match their playoff success, however, as they lost to the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs.
  • NHL 98 – Peter Forsberg: Forsberg scored 91 points for the Avalanche, who again won the Pacific Division. However, they were upset in the first round of the playoffs by Edmonton, a team that finished the regular season with a losing record (35-37-10)
  • NHL 99 – Eric Lindros: Lindros appeared in 71 games for the Flyers, scoring 93 points, but suffered a scary injury near the end of the regular season. Lindros sustained a rib injury during a game at Nashville, but was later found by teammate Keith Jones in a bathtub at the team hotel. Lindros had a collapsed lung and needed to be rushed to the hospital. He missed the remainder of the season, and the Flyers were eliminated by Toronto in the first round of the playoffs.
  • NHL 2000 – Chris Pronger: Pronger set career highs in points (62) and plus/minus (+52). The Blues won their only Presidents’ Trophy to date with a 51-19-11-1 record, but were upset in the first round of the playoffs by the Sharks.
  • NHL 2001 – Owen Nolan: Nolan’s season was shortened to just 57 games due to injuries as he tallied 49 points. The Sharks made the playoffs, but St. Louis got revenge for the previous year’s upset and took them out in six games.
  • NHL 2002 – Mario Lemieux: Lemieux was given the cover about ten years too late, but at least he graced it once in his career. His season consisted of only 24 games due to injuries and preferring to play in the Olympics, but it did have one shining moment; radio personality Mark Madden said he would donate $6,600 to Lemieux’s foundation if the hockey great scored off of a faceoff, and Lemieux delivered that same night. Pittsburgh finished last in the Atlantic Division.
  • NHL 2003 – Jarome Iginla: Iginla missed seven games due to injuries but still led the Flames with 35 goals. However, Calgary slumped and finished with only 75 points, last in the strong Northwest Division. Iginla assumed the captaincy for Calgary and has continued to put up solid numbers.
  • NHL 2004 – Dany Heatley and Joe Sakic: A little-known fact about this game in the series is that the cover athlete was originally supposed to be Joe Thornton. This was retracted when Thornton was accused of assaulting two police officers. Heatley graced the cover from the game’s release until his tragic car accident that killed teammate Dan Snyder. EA then tabbed Joe Sakic, who amassed 87 points for Colorado. The Avs were bounced in the second round by San Jose.
  • NHL 2005 – Markus Naslund: This was the season lost to the lockout. Naslund played 13 games for Modo in Sweden, scoring 17 points. Modo lost in the first round of the Elitserien playoffs to Farjestads. Naslund had one more stellar season, in 2005-06, scoring 79 points. His scoring output declined for the rest of his career.
  • NHL 06 – Vincent Lecavalier: Captaining the defending champion Lightning coming out of the lockout, Lecavalier put up 75 points in 80 games. Tampa Bay made the playoffs as the 8th seed and lost to the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the playoffs.
  • NHL 07 – Alexander Ovechkin: Ovechkin finished the year with 92 points, but the Capitals finished in last place in the Southeast Division. However, the following offseason was a huge turning point for Washington, as they had a number of breakout stars alongside Ovechkin and made some great offseason moves to build themselves into a sustained power in the Eastern Conference.
  • NHL 08 – Eric Staal: Staal appeared in all 82 games for the Hurricanes and posted 82 points and continued to provide strong leadership. However, Carolina lost three of their final four games and missed the playoffs, finishing two points behind the 8th seeded Boston Bruins.
  • NHL 09 – Dion Phaneuf: One of the few players on this list to play poorly after being the cover athlete, Phaneuf had a career low 11 goals and 47 points. Since then, he has only topped 11 goals once (12, last season) and has never reached 47 points (he had 44 last year), but that can be attributed to playing on an offensively-challenged Toronto team since the middle of the 2009-10 season.
  • NHL 10 – Patrick Kane: EA decided not to take Kane off the cover after he was arrested in Buffalo on charges of robbery, theft of services, and criminal mischief. Kane allegedly punched a cab driver after the driver informed Kane that he did not have proper change for Kane’s fare. This poor guy got decked over 20 cents. I wish I were making that up. Anyway, Kane scored 88 points (oddly enough, that’s his jersey number) as well as the game winning goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, making him the only player on this list whose team went on to win the Cup.
  • NHL 11 – Jonathan Toews: Not to be outdone by his Chicago teammate who was on the cover the previous year, Toews scored a career high 76 points. However, the Western Conference proved to be rugged, as Chicago needed every one of its 97 points to take the 8th seed into the playoffs, where they lost to Vancouver in seven games.
  • NHL 12 – Steven Stamkos: Fresh off his team’s appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals the year before, Stamkos became the 20th player in NHL history to score 60 goals. Unfortunately, the Lightning struggled mightily as they couldn’t stop anyone, allowing a league-high 281 goals. They finished 10th in the East and out of the playoffs.
  • NHL 13 – Claude Giroux: The first player to be elected via fan vote as the cover athlete, Giroux scored 48 points in this shortened season. As usual, Philadelphia struggled to stop opposing teams and even the offense went flat at times. The Flyers missed the playoffs this year.

So, is there a curse to EA’s NHL series? I have to say no, as there hasn’t been a consistency when it comes to player failures in the seasons they’re featured on the cover. There also isn’t a spike in production for these players, either. It seems as though any sort of voodoo or hexes that are associated with sports games are limited to the Madden franchise. It’s a good thing that the next Madden game will feature Barry Sanders on the cover, because he’s been retired for 15 years now. Or, maybe Sanders should look over his shoulder this year. You never know…