NHL 13 Cover Vote: 15 Players Who'd Be Better Than Pekka Rinne/Claude Giroux

Patrick DrottarCorrespondent IJune 5, 2012

NHL 13 Cover Vote: 15 Players Who'd Be Better Than Pekka Rinne/Claude Giroux

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    Back in the summer of 2011, the NFL gave fans the opportunity to decide who would grace the cover of the very popular "Madden" video game.

    The idea ended up being a successful one, and the NHL has decided to do the same this year for "NHL 13," due out on September 11, 2012.

    Two players from each NHL team were chosen, and the fans would submit their votes as to who they thought was most deserving of the cover.

    After months of voting, only two remain, and those two are Philadelphia Flyers' winger Claude Giroux and Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne.

    Giroux finished third in the league with 93 points, while Rinne led all goaltenders with 43 wins this past season.

    Giroux is looking to become the first Flyer to make the cover since Eric Lindros in 1999, and Rinne could be the first goaltender on the cover since John Vanbiesbrouck in 1997.

    As deserving as these two players may be, there are a few players out there that are more deserving of the coveted prize.

    If there was not a fan vote for the cover, one of these 15 players may have been chosen instead.

Brian Campbell

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    Back in 2007-2008, defenseman Brian Campbell was one of the most talented young players in the league.

    After being traded by the Buffalo Sabres to the San Jose Sharks, Campbell finished that season with a career-high 62 points.

    At the end of the season, Campbell was signed by the Chicago Blackhawks to a massive eight-year deal, where he made close to $7.1 million per season.

    In three seasons with the Hawks, Campbell's stats slowly decreased each season, and Chicago was looking to clear the massive salary cap hit.

    Campbell was traded to the Florida Panthers in the summer of 2011 in the Cats most aggressive offseason to date, and Campbell had an impressive career resurgence.

    The 33-year-old almost doubled his point total from 27 in 2010-2011 to 53 points this season, good for second-best among defensemen and the first time he reached the 50-point mark since 2008-2009.

    Campbell and company helped the Panthers go from worst in their division to first and clinching their first playoff berth in 12 years.

    Although they were eliminated in Round 1 by the eventual Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils, Campbell has helped make the Florida Panthers a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference again.

Erik Karlsson

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    Not many players in the league have had the kind of improvement from season-to-season as Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson.

    In his first two seasons with the Senators starting in 2009, Karlsson put up good numbers, steadily improving from one season to the next and almost doubling his point total.

    However, this season, Karlsson caught fire and put up the best numbers in the league among defensemen.

    He was first in goals (19, tied with Shea Weber), assists (59) and points (78) among d-men. The next closest player was Winnipeg Jets' Dustin Byfuglien, who was 25 points shy of Karlsson's lead.

    Karlsson was one of the crucial players in helping the Sens make the turn around from last place in their division in 2010-2011 to making the playoffs this season.

    The 22-year-old has a very good shot at winning his first Norris Trophy and being the first Senators player to ever be given the award.

James Neal

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    When looking at Pittsburgh winger James Neal's stats coming into this season, not many people would have predicted an above average season.

    In three seasons in the league, Neal never surpassed the 30-goal mark and only tallied more than 40-points just once.

    However, in his first full season with the Penguins, Neal was a pleasant surprise with his best season to date.

    Neal registered career highs in goals (40), assists (41) and points (81) in 80 games this season.

    The 24-year-old ranked among the league's elite, ranking fourth in goals as he scored more than previous "Rocket" Richard Trophy winners, Alex Ovechkin and Corey Perry.

    In the high scoring playoff series between the Pens and the Philadelphia Flyers, Neal contributed two goals and four assists in five games as the Penguins lost the series four games to one.

    Neal may have been one of the league's biggest surprise this season.

Marian Gaborik

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    In his 11 seasons in the NHL, New York Rangers winger Marian Gaborik has always seemed to be followed by the injury bug.

    Last season was more of the same as the 30-year-old missed 20 games and put together a below average season for the Rangers, only registering 48 points.

    However, this year was the first time in his career that Gaborik played in all 82 games of the regular season.

    Gaborik did not disappoint, putting together another stellar season for the Rangers, scoring 41 goals, good for third in the league, as well as 76 points.

    The Slovak winger helped the Rangers make it to their first Eastern Conference Finals since 1997.

    He would become a key role in the postseason, especially against the Washington Capitals in the semifinals, where one of his three goals in the series came in triple overtime to give New York a 2-1 series lead.

Brian Elliot/Jaroslav Halak

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    Like mentioned earlier, the "NHL" video game cover has not had a goaltender grace the cover since 1997.

    One out-of-the-ordinary idea they could have considered to end that drought is to have not one, but two goaltenders grace the cover.

    There are not many instances in the history of the NHL where both team's goaltenders finish in the top five in goaltending statistics.

    However, this season, not many goalies were better than the two-headed monster in St. Louis in Brian Elliot and Jaroslav Halak.

    Elliot finished first among all goaltenders with an astounding 1.58 goals against average, followed closely by Halak in fourth place with a 1.97 goals against average.

    The two split time during the season and together, helped the Blues make the postseason for the first time since 2009.

    Elliott would start and win all four games he played in the first round against the San Jose Sharks, taking the Blues to the next round, where they would later lose to the Western Conference champion Los Angeles Kings.

Steven Stamkos

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    Now I know that he was just on the cover last season, but I would be stubborn not to say that Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos was not deserving of another go around on the "NHL" cover with his play this season.

    After almost helping the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Finals last season, Stamkos came back this year and put up career highs.

    Stamkos led the league with 60 goals, achieving his second "Rocket" Richard trophy in three years and surpassing Vinny Lecavalier's team record for most goals in a season.

    Stamkos also contributed 37 assists for 97 points, the highest point total for him in his short four-year career.

    Stamkos is only the fifth player in NHL history to score 50 goals in a season before his 23rd birthday. He is also the 20th player to record 60 goals in a season and the first to do it since 2007-2008.

    The 22-year-old earned his first nomination for the Hart Trophy and has a very good chance of winning the award in June.

    EA Sports has never put the same player on the cover of an NHL game in consecutive years, but after Stamkos' season, it would be hard not to consider it. 

Henrik Lundqvist

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    Another player who received his first ever Hart Trophy nomination was New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

    In the six prior seasons to this one, Lundqvist has never finished with a goals against average below two.

    However, this season, the Swede did so with a goals against average of 1.97, helping lead the Rangers to the Eastern Conference Finals, before being eliminated by the New Jersey Devils.

    The 30-year-old also recorded career highs in wins (30) and save percentage (.930) in just 62 games, the first time he has not started more than 65 games since his rookie season.

    This is the first time in his seven years with the team that Lundqvist and the Rangers have made it past the conference semifinals.

    Lundqvist put up impressive numbers over the course of the postseason with a goals against average of 1.82, while recording three shutouts in 20 games.

    Lundqvist was the only other goaltender, along with Pekka Rinne, that had made it to the final 16 in the cover vote, and would lose to Rinne in Round 2.

Evgeni Malkin

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    Pittsburgh Penguins winger Evgeni Malkin proved to the rest of the league that he had no problem putting the 2010-2011 injury-ridden season behind him.

    After only playing in 43 games last season with only 37 points, Malkin roared back this season with his best statistics since 2008-2009.

    The 2004 first-round pick led the league with 109 points in 75 games and finished second with 50 goals.

    The Russian's play earned him his third nomination for the coveted Hart Memorial Trophy that is given to the player who is the most valuable to his team.

    Although he has never won, he is hoping that the third time is the charm and he brings the trophy back to Pittsburgh for the first time since Sidney Crosby did so in 2007.

    Malkin came up just short of making it onto the cover, losing to Claude Giroux in the semifinals. Malkin beat out last year's cover star Steven Stamkos and Giroux's teammate Scott Hartnell before being eliminated.

Ilya Kovalchuk

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    Speaking of players who had no trouble putting a prior season behind them, Ilya Kovalchuk also put together his best season since 2008-2009.

    In 2010-2011, Kovalchuk put up some of the worst numbers in his 10-year career, including a career low minus-26 rating.

    However, this season, Kovalchuk came back strong, tallying 37 goals, 46 assists and raising his plus/minus rating by 17 points.

    He also broke into the NHL record books, becoming the player with the most shootout goals in a single season, as well as most game-deciding shootout goals in a single season.

    Kovalchuk has helped lead the Devils to their first Stanley Cup Finals since they won the Cup in 2003.

    The 29-year-old is second in the league in postseason points with 18 and has contributed seven goals.

    Kovalchuk has never made it to an "NHL" cover.

Jonathan Quick

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    One of the most deserving players would have to be Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick.

    His 2011-2012 season was Quick's best to date, and he has been a crucial piece in the Kings' successful postseason run.

    The Kings finished the season with one of the lowest goals per game averages in the league.

    Los Angeles has struggled to score, and yet they are up three games to none in the Stanley Cup Finals, thanks to the play of Quick.

    The 26-year-old finished with an impressive 1.95 goals against average, finishing only second to Brian Elliot of the St. Louis Blues.

    Quick has a very good chance of not only bringing home his first Vezina Trophy in his career, but he may be bringing the trophy to Los Angeles for the first time in the Kings' history.

Nicklas Lidstrom

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    One of the greatest players to ever play the game said goodbye as Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom officially announced his retirement last week.

    Lidstrom spent 20 seasons in the NHL, all with the Red Wings, where he helped the Wings to four Stanley Cups during his time with the team.

    The Swedish defenseman may not have had career numbers in his last season, but his numbers over his long career may have deserved an honorary cover in his last season, much like the NFL did with Brett Favre after the first time he retired.

    The 12-time NHL All-Star was a Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 2002 and is a seven-time Norris Trophy winner, with his most recent coming in 2011.

Martin Brodeur

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    Martin Brodeur may not be the league leader among goalies this season, but time and time again, the man has proven that he is one of, if not the best, goaltender in the history of the NHL.

    After a dreadful season in 2010-2011 where the 40-year-old registered a career low 2.45 goals against average, Brodeur came back for his 19th season and turned up his game when it mattered most, in the postseason.

    Coming in as a sixth-seed, Brodeur helped lead the Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals for the fourth time in his career.

    During his time in the NHL, Brodeur has put his name in the record books on numerous occasions.

    The Canadian netminder holds the records for most regular season wins (656), regular season shutouts (119), most playoff shutouts (24), wins in a single season (48) and most 40-win seasons (8), just to name a few.

    One honor that Brodeur has yet to achieve, however, is an "NHL" cover, and as his career is soon coming to an end, he is running out of time. 

    Brodeur is currently trying to win his fourth Stanley Cup, but he has his work cut out for him as the Devils find themselves down 3-0 to the Los Angeles Kings.

Dustin Brown

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    Unfortunately for Brodeur and the Devils, they are facing off against the hottest team in the postseason in the Los Angeles Kings, led by their captain Dustin Brown.

    Coming in as the lowest seed in the Western Conference, the Kings shocked the world, eliminating the defending Conference champs and No. 1-seeded Vancouver Canucks in five games.

    They would follow that up by sweeping the talented St. Louis Blues and cruising to a 4-1 series win against the Phoenix Coyotes to clinch their first Stanley Cup Finals berth since 1993.

    Brown has played a crucial role in the Kings' success, leading both on and off the ice. The 27-year-old is second among Western Conference players in the postseason with 17 points, second only to his teammate Anze Kopitar.

    He has improved his play as well as his leadership skills each season in his eight years in the league.

    Back in 2011, EA Sports gave the cover to the captain of the team that won the Stanley Cup, which would be Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews.

    If the Kings were to win the Cup, Brown would be a worthy candidate if EA Sports had decided to go with this strategy again.

Anze Kopitar

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    Speaking of giving the cover to a player from the winner of the Stanley Cup, Brown's teammate Anze Kopitar would also be very deserving if EA Sports went that way.

    In just six years in the NHL, Kopitar has become one of the best players in the league at only 24 years old.

    The Yugoslavian winger has become consistent for the Kings, delivering 70 or more points the past three seasons, including 76 points this season.

    However, playing in the West Coast where hockey is not as popular as other sports, Kopitar has not reached the popularity levels of Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby.

    This postseason has been a bit different for Kopitar, however, as he has plenty of time to show off his skills on national television, contributing eight goals and 10 assists, leading the league in postseason points.

    Kopitar would make a huge contribution in his first Stanley Cup Finals game as he scored the game-winning goal in overtime against the Devils in Game 1 and would contribute another goal in a Game 3 victory.

    With his play in both the season and playoff push, Kopitar would be a good representative for the West Coast, as he would be the first player from the Western Conference since Dion Phaneuf did so in 2009 while playing for the Calgary Flames.

Rinne and Giroux Are Most Deserving

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    Now, I know this article has been about players who are more deserving of earning the "NHL" cover, but that is not to say that both Pekka Rinne and Claude Giroux are not deserving.

    Both players had key roles in helping their respective teams reach the postseason and have an opportunity to become greats in each franchise.

    During this season, Rinne's play was rewarded as he was locked up for a seven-year deal, worth $49 million, the largest contract in Preds' history.

    Rinne showed the Nashville front office that they had made the right decision, increasing his win total from 2010-2011 by 10 wins and leading the league in wins with 43.

    At only 29, the future is bright for the Predators in net.

    Meanwhile, Claude Giroux stepped up when the Flyers needed him most after the team traded away key players Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.

    Giroux completed a second consecutive season with 25-plus goals for the Flyers, but increased his assist total to 65, which would add up to 93 points for third in the league.

    Giroux also contributed in the postseason, leading all players with eight goals in two series and making headlines with his game-changing check of Sidney Crobsy in Game 6 that led to the Flyers eliminating their in-state rivals.