By Allan Muir
On some level, everyone recognizes that the cover athlete for a video game matters about as much as a vice-presidential running mate, right? A game, especially one in a long-running series like EA Sports' NHL brand, sells itself on its own merits. They could probably slap a stick figure on the front and sell exactly as many copies as they would if it featured Sidney Crosby.
But they can't put Sid on the front every year -- things would get a little confusing if they did -- and the NHL and NHLPA licenses demand that a current player wearing his team's logo must be prominently featured. They're fussy about that sort of thing.
So credit the marketing whizzes at EA Sports for turning a meaningless decision into an annual event guaranteed to get hardcore hockey fans and hockey gamers all worked up ahead of the product's September release.
The online voting to find a successor to Claude Giroux as the cover athlete for EA's NHL '14 began Monday with 60 players, two from each team, vying for your love. From there, the field will be winnowed down to 30 team reps plus two wild cards based on most votes earned in a losing effort. That will create a 32-player bracket-style tournament from which a winner eventually will be crowned.
A field that size should offer up a handful of intriguing candidates, but honestly, it's probably a good thing that the game sells itself considering the crew of semi-stars they have lined up.
Not that there aren't are a few solid choices--Evgeni Malkin, Martin Brodeur, John Tavares, Joe Thornton, Taylor Hall and Pavel Datsyuk all seem eminently cover-worthy. But the field of 60 is littered with players like Teddy Purcell, Mike Fisher, Matt Beleskey, Andrew Cogliano, Dennis Wideman and Lee Stempniak, whose own kids probably wouldn't vote for them.
Then again, the most intriguing option might be one of the outliers. Brandon Yip, Nashville's three-goal forward, is so off-the-wall that a Vote For Rory-style grassroots campaign is already percolating. Can't wait to see the fan-produced ads touting Yip that are sure to start popping up online any day now.
The ground war already has begun in earnest in South Florida, where Kris Versteeg is about to turn Brian Campbell into his own personal Barry Goldwater. Versteeg's hipster qualifications include training a dog to bark in Spanish and being able to grow a mustache, while Campbell 's running a campaign that should go over well with Lawrence Welk fans and other shut-ins. But since that crowd isn't the key demographic for hockey video games, I'm guessing Versteeg pulls close to 100 percent of the Florida vote. If not, it's time to go back to a monarchy. The winner will be revealed during the Stanley Cup Final.