I’m the biggest Auston Matthews and Toronto Maple Leafs fan there is. I watch every game, scour the numbers on Capfriendly, and even subject myself to YouTube reaction videos. If anyone is going to defend Auston Matthews being on the cover of an NHL video game two out of three years, it’s me. However, even I must pause and wonder why EA Vancouver went this direction. Yeah, Matthews is a huge star and is very deserving, but so are a lot of players. Let's take a look at five top-notch players who are just as deserving as Matthews to adorn the cover.
Colorado Avalanche superstar, Nathan MacKinnon, is a top-three player in the world. Even if you want to push back on that, he’s a top-five player in the world. He’s also never graced the cover of an NHL game. MacKinnon finished 8th in league scoring last year while missing eight games. If he plays those eight games, he likely finishes third in league scoring behind McDavid and Draisaitl. He’s my bet for the NHL 23 cover athlete. Calling it now.
As I was browsing through the list of players that have graced the cover of an NHL game, I noticed that Sidney Crosby had never been an NHL cover athlete. We’re talking about a guy with three Stanley Cups, more than 1,300 points, and who was the best player in the world for an entire decade before Connor McDavid showed up. How has Crosby never been on the cover of an NHL game? This would have been a great year to correct that, and there won’t be many more chances as Sid’s career winds down.
It’s been nearly a decade since a goaltender has been the cover athlete for an NHL game, and that was Martin Brodeur in NHL 14. Vasilevskiy is probably the best goaltender in the league right now, and by EA Vancouver’s own admission is a superstar. He’s got a Vezina (should maybe have two), two Stanley Cups, and was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner the past season for being the most valuable player in the entire playoffs. He’s got to get a cover at some point, right?
Okay, so my first three picks were a couple of guys in their mid-twenties and an aging superstar who is on the decline, even if he’s still elite. I’ve also not covered a defenceman yet, so you get 22-year-old Cale Makar from the Colorado Avalanche. Makar won the Calder Memorial Trophy in 2020 as the league’s top rookie and is the best defenceman on a very good team at a young age, which is rare. The last blueliner to be the cover athlete of an NHL game was P.K. Subban, the year before Matthew’s first.
Pettersson is probably my weakest pick. However, he plays for the Vancouver Canucks, and NHL 22 is developed by EA Vancouver. I would imagine there are a lot of Canucks fans in the office, and as the star center of the future, he’d be the leading candidate for a Canucks player to be on the cover. I’m not so much suggesting Pettersson is a better pick than a bunch of other players as I am curious as to why EA Vancouver doesn’t sneak a hometown favorite in there every now and then.
At the end of the day, the debate about cover athletes for sports video games is just for fun. Even if I’m a bit surprised that Matthews is on the cover of NHL 22, I have zero doubt that the decision was made with sound reasoning by EA Vancouver. Matthews has style, social media followers, is the best player on one of the most popular teams in the league, and is the best goal scorer in the NHL today. He’s a no-brainer if this is his first time, and acceptable as a repeat. The question of why Matthews is the cover athlete will quickly shift to how many more times he’s going to have the honor.