Fans to vote who suffers the potential misfortune of being the NHL 13 coverboy

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Today, the NHL and EA Sports announced a collaborative initiative to select who will grace the cover of NHL 13 — a voting campaign, brought to you by NHL.com and BlackBerry!

Fans worldwide are able to vote an unlimited number of times and are encouraged to vote as often as possible at NHL.com/CoverVote to ensure their favorite player advances through the rounds. Fans can also show their support by tweeting their picks using #NHL13Cover on Twitter. Visit the EA SPORTS NHL Facebook page for insider updates and additional content.

“The EA SPORTS NHL Franchise has had a rich tradition of outstanding cover athletes including Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup Winners, NHL All-Stars and Hall of Fame Members,” said David Le, Marketing Director, EA SPORTS. “With fans selecting the cover athlete for NHL 13 they now control who gets to join that prestigious club.”

The opening-round matchups are as follows:

Eastern Conference

Bruins – Tuukka Rask vs. Tyler Seguin
Canadiens – P.K. Subban vs. Tomas Plekanec
Capitals – John Carlson vs. Brooks Laich
Devils – Ilya Kovalchuk vs. Adam Larsson
Flyers – Claude Giroux vs. Scott Hartnell
Hurricanes – Eric Staal vs. Jeff Skinner
Islanders – John Tavares vs. Michael Grabner
Jets – Evander Kane vs. Andrew Ladd
Lightning – Steven Stamkos vs. Victor Hedman
Maple Leafs – Phil Kessel vs. Tyler Bozak
Panthers – Stephen Weiss vs. Tomas Fleischmann
Penguins – Evgeni Malkin vs. Marc-Andre Fleury
Rangers – Henrik Lundqvist vs. Brad Richards
Sabres – Derek Roy vs. Thomas Vanek
Senators – Erik Karlsson vs. Jason Spezza

Western Conference

Avalanche – Matt Duchene vs. Gabriel Landeskog
Blackhawks – Patrick Sharp vs. Duncan Keith
Blue Jackets – R.J. Umberger vs. Ryan Johansen
Blues – T.J. Oshie vs. David Perron
Canucks – Henrik Sedin vs. Alex Burrows
Coyotes – Shane Doan vs. Keith Yandle
Ducks – Corey Perry vs. Jonas Hiller
Flames – Mikael Backlund vs. Matt Stajan
Kings – Anze Kopitar vs. Drew Doughty
Oilers – Jordan Eberle vs. Taylor Hall
Predators – David Legwand vs. Pekka Rinne
Red Wings – Pavel Datsyuk vs. Jimmy Howard
Sharks – Logan Couture vs. Brent Burns
Stars – Loui Eriksson vs. Jamie Benn
Wild – Mikko Koivu vs. Niklas Backstrom

If someone hasn’t already started the #CoverboyStajan hashtag, I’d like to now.

Finally, I’d be remiss without mentioning the rich and colorful history of the EA Sports NHL Curse* — you know, the one where a player agrees to appear on the cover, then watches his career go in the tank.

The most notable victim is former Philadelphia Flyer Eric Lindros. After appearing on the cover of NHL 99 he suffered a collapsed lung, was stripped of his captaincy, missed 10 weeks with a concussion, returned to action…and was then crushed by Scott Stevens in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.

In closing, good luck to this year’s competitors!

*Yes, I know Steve Stamkos was on the NHL 12 cover and has 55 goals this year.

2017 Hockey Hall of Fame class to be named Monday; Selanne + who?

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The 2017 Hockey Hall of Fame class is expected to be announced on Monday, and every indication is that Teemu Selanne will be on the list. Beyond that, well, there are a lot of question marks.

NHL.com notes that there’s at least a possibility that Selanne will be the only NHL name to be part of this class, which would mark a first since 2010 (when Dino Ciccarelli was the lone addition).

It’s a nice way to continue what’s been a buffet for hockey fans: the 2017 Stanley Cup Final’s conclusion, the expansion draft and then the 2017 NHL Draft. The HHOF announcements are nice appetizer before free agency gets, well, frenzied?

“The Finnish Flash” was also an obvious top choice in last year’s poll to see who should be in the class.

Now, that doesn’t mean he is the only interesting name.

For one thing, Daniel Alfredsson will be eligible for the first time, much like Selanne. “Alf” falls in the “Maybe” category with some interesting, debatable other options: Mark Recchi, Dave Andreychuk, Alex Mogilny, Jeremy Roenick, Paul Kariya, Chris Osgood, and more.

The 2016 Hockey Hall of Fame class included Eric Lindross, Rogie Vachon, Sergei Makarov, and Pat Quinn.

Florida Panthers aren’t afraid to change, but will they actually improve?

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Change is often a necessary thing in sports, and the results can be swift and brutal. There’s a fine line between rolling with the punches and blindly swinging, however.

The Florida Panthers’ history as a franchise makes you wonder if they’ll ever find the right balance between stability and innovation. Amid all these years of flip-flopping and regime tweaks, there may only be one unsettling constant: the on-ice product being middling-to-terrible.

Just look at the way they burn through coaches.

Six of their 14 head coaches were behind the bench for fewer than 82 games, including Tom Rowe, who was seemingly thrown out with the analytical approach last season.

Their GMs haven’t fared much better. Dale Tallon’s probably received the longest leash of them all, and this past year or so made a mess of that situation. And it’s arguable that things have only degraded as Tallon aims to clean up supposed “messes.”

The Panthers didn’t just lose cheap 30-goal scorer Jonathan Marchessault to Vegas; they also shipped Reilly Smith to the Golden Knights. Smith was a golden boy of sorts to the more stats-leaning members of the franchise, and while he struggled last season, it sure seemed like the Panthers were eager to get rid of him.

The same could be said about Jason Demers.

MORE: Welcome Demers to the trade rumor mill

As abrupt as the Gerard Gallant firing felt, the Panthers didn’t necessarily give the analytical approach much time. At least from an “optics” standpoint.

Now, parting ways with Marchessault, Smith, and possibly Demers may end up being reasonable in hindsight. Still, there’s no denying that Tallon made some mistakes in his stead; the “computer boys” didn’t sign an atrocious Dave Bolland contract and didn’t pick Erik Gudbranson over superior talent.

The bottom line is that the Panthers haven’t won a playoff series since John Vanbiesbrouck led them to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final. There’s legitimate concern that this franchise will keep making the same mistakes – and keep changing the cooks in the kitchen – while the results leave much to be desired.

Will Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau share the same frustrating path as Jay Bouwmeester and others before them?

This summer could serve as a serious fork in the road, as Tallon has some building blocks in place and an estimated $20 million in cap space. Even if the Panthers remain a budget team, they’re likely to have some room to work with.

Perhaps they’ll finally make the right changes?

Related

Panthers look to be aggressive in adding scoring

Devils will give top pick Hischier a chance to make team right away

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There’s at least some question regarding whether Nico Hischier is ready to jump straight from being the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft to becoming an immediate part of the New Jersey Devils’ roster.

If he went back to junior, it would break a lengthy trend of No. 1 choices going to the big time right away.

Devils GM Ray Shero seems pretty optimistic that he can handle that jump, though, as you can see from this presser via MSG:

MORE: Devils pick Hischier over Patrick

As one would expect, Shero said that the Devils won’t rush him if it’s “apparent” that the Swiss-born forward isn’t ready. Still, Shero seems convinced that Hischier has the size, skill, and smarts to earn a spot.

Much like Nolan Patrick with the Philadelphia Flyers, Hischier didn’t deny that he wants to make the big time right off the bat.

“Yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s my goal, so it is important for sure,” Hischier said on draft night. “I really want to achieve my goal, but I still know I have to prove a lot of things to play there.”

Hey, maybe Taylor Hall could even ease his adjustment?

Burns and Thornton pose nude for ESPN Body Issue, and yes, it’s weird

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Hey, have you ever wanted to see Brent Burns and Joe Thornton essentially line up against each other naked?

Well, ESPN the Magazine interrupted your answer either way, going ahead and doing it for their vaunted Body Issue.

Considering Thornton’s UFA status, there’s at least an outside chance that this will be their final action together as members of the San Jose Sharks.

This is your last chance not to scroll and see Thornton, Burns, beards, tattoos, and not a whole lot else.

/waits

Former teammate Jason Demers captured it on Twitter, making it his background, and generally winning the Internet for the day:

Did anyone else think about Thornton’s line after Tomas Hertl scored four goals? No? OK.

The real highlight might be Burns and Thornton giggling in robes, honestly.

Click here for more on that issue, including information on U.S. women’s ice hockey team members who will also be featured.