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NHL 17 Wishlist – 29 Changes We Want On And Off The Ice

by Matt Bertz on May 12, 2016 at 12:00 PM

After stumbling onto the ice with its first entry on Playstation 4 and Xbox One, EA's NHL series bounced back with a much improved second shift last year. Last week we got our first glimpse at the company's plans for the next entry in the series via a trailer that teased promising new features like international competition, team customization, franchise relocation, team celebrations, and net battles. As bigtime hockey fans, our wish list is slightly longer.

Getting all of our proposed improvements into NHL 17 (or even 18/19) is unrealistic, but we'd love to see these deficiencies addressed in the coming years as the series strengthens its position in the ranks of sports games. Hockey's never been the most popular sport, but if EA smartly caters to the hardcore fans of old-time hockey and entices some new players into the fold, it could reclaim the glory of past entries.

Here are 29 changes we think could drastically improve the franchise.

PRESENTATION

Fine-Tune Game Day Broadcasts
The second year of broadcast team Doc Emrick and Eddie Olczyk was much better, but NHL still has some room for improvement with its presentation. The commentators still rarely dive deep on league happenings, injuries affecting the teams, potential trades, or any of the other common topics that fill the dead space between whistles. The stat boxes should show season stats as players rack up goals and assists instead of single game stats. To curb unnecessary repetition that kills immersion, the season specific commentary about players and teams should be removed when moving to the next season in Be A Pro and Be A GM modes. 

Invest In Player Likenesses
Like basketball, you can clearly see the face of every NHL player outside of goalies during cutscenes. The overabundance of generic faces is a big problem in this HD era. Too many player likenesses are still missing from NHL, and EA Canada should invest heavily in securing these for every roster member, not just the star players. A new player model generator that delivers more variety of draft classes and created players would also be welcome.

Bring Back Outdoor Games
The Winter Classic, Stadium Series, and Heritage Classic are now NHL staples, but EA's series lost outdoor games in the transition to new consoles. With the game’s foundation in place, it’s a good time to bring it back. Creating a couple generic outdoor stadiums and rotating the participating teams each year in Be A Pro/Be A GM modes would suffice. Having snowy weather factor affect the ice would also be a plus.

Add Authentic Coaches
Many sports games have already incorporated head coaches, but the NHL bench bosses are still relegated to being generic faces. I would love to see the Q-stache patrolling behind the Blackhawks bench or Avs coach Patrick Roy aiming his stare of death toward a ref after a dicey call.

Adding the coaches could be just the excuse EA needs to incorporate a wider differentiation of tactics into the game. We'd love to see Roy pull the goalie with four minutes left in the game while other coaches wait until the minute mark, or have a coach put some grit into the lineup if they got dominated the last time they played your team. This could help franchise mode games play out differently from game to game, and change your responsibilities when playing in the Be A Pro mode depending on what team you're on.

Capture Playoff Intensity
Outside of a few zealous arenas, the atmosphere and buzz surrounding a playoff hockey game is exponentially more exciting than a midweek, regular season showdown. Crowds waving rally towels, loud vocal reactions to each rush and save, goalie chants, and more chirping after the whistle should all be incorporated to further drive home the high stakes of the cup. I’d also like to see EA Canada turn up the game speed a notch during the postseason to make the game feel faster as well.

Speed Up The Menus
Most sports game have already won this battle, but NHL still struggles with slow menus. From loading saves to transitioning between game modes, the game should be much more responsive.

Read on to hear our gameplay recommendations.

 

GAMEPLAY

Continue To Tweak Scoring And Checking
NHL found a steady rhythm with its gameplay last year, but plenty of work is left to tap its full potential. Nerfing the cheese goals nearly anyone who falls behind online resorts to is a good first step. We’d also like to see A.I. checking toned down on higher difficulties; too many times it seems they pull off big hits even with smaller players who aren’t known for their aggressive play.

Revamp Board Play
Board play hasn’t received a proper re-evaluation for some years now. No one wants to see the return of suction animations, and the programming can’t be easy, but we’d love to see a new system that introduces more physicality. With puck possession at stake, we see players pin and elbow each other, use their size and strength to box out the opposition, and dig frantically for the puck with their sticks. Almost none of this happens in the video game.

Diversify Goalie Styles
The goaltenders still all feel like they are cast from the same animation template. You never get a sense that stand-up goalies play wildly differently than butterfly or hybrid netminders. Introducing more noticeable differentiations in style would give shooters something to think about before firing the puck from game to game.

Tweak Puck Recognition And Retrieval
Far too many times we still see players unable to locate a puck at their feet and fail to take possession it when skating up the ice. Increasing player awareness of puck location with head tracking and then giving them more short animations for awkward puck gathers would help the transition game. 

Improve Off-Puck A.I.
When A.I. players don’t have the puck, we still frequently see problematic behavior. EA Canada should fine tune defensemen supporting their partners correctly, offensive cycling, forwards moving through the neutral zone correctly to receive a pass on the breakout, and moving toward the puck when there is a tap-in on the doorstep. How many times have you seen a puck bounce to a prime scoring location, only to see an A.I.-controlled teammate in an advantageous position yield the ice to a defender instead of pouncing on the opportunity? I don’t expect grinders to make the right play every time in this situation, but highly rated skill players should be much more effective at identifying scoring chances and taking them when a juicy rebound lands in front of them.

Address Net Battles
The first NHL 17 trailer hinted that EA Canada is working on introducing new mechanics for staking out real estate in front of the goalies, so we are bullish on this getting addressed in some capacity. Pushing, pulling, and slashing are a reality in these tight spaces, so we’d love to see both defensive and offensive players be given some tools for the fight. 

Embrace Player Differentiation
We’ve harped incessantly on this point for almost a decade, but EA Canada seems to like having almost no talent gap between top-line all-stars and fourth-line grinders. We remain convinced the game would greatly benefit from stretching out the player ratings like Madden has. We’d also love to see EA introduce player traits and specialties like instigator, master puck deflector, needle threader, penalty shot specialist, etc. to further distinguish between players.

Introduce Roster Sharing
If EA isn’t going to fix its imbalanced ratings, just give us the damn keys and let us do it ourselves. Roster sharing could enable dedicated users to redo the entire league to create more differentiation, and allow us to import proper draft classes for a more realistic experience. 

Cultivate Dynamic Player Chemistry
Hockey Ultimate Team still clings to its gamified version of line chemistry, but we would love to see the series integrate a dynamic chemistry that tracks player relationships based on real trends. Is a line having a hard time scoring over several games? Reflect that in a diminishing player chemistry rating between the three players that forces users to re-evaluate their lineups and possibly juggle lines to find a spark.

Revamp The Injury System
Injuries play a critical role in the modern NHL. Rather than head to injured reserve, many modern NHLers tough it out and play with broken jaws, dislocated shoulders, and even torn knee ligaments. The NHL series should introduce this component to its franchise, having GMs weigh long-term effects versus short-term gains of skating an injured player with impaired ratings.

Give Users More Line Options For Special Teams
Nothing is more frustrating than taking a late penalty only to see your two PK lines are completely gassed. Most NHL coaches would skate fresh legs to let their best penalty killers catch their breath, but the only way to do this in EA’s game is to pause and drill into the line edits, make the changes, then rework them after the penalty is killed to make sure your best players are available next time. Creating a contextual system that allows you to work other skaters into your PK would be a great addition and finally solve this inconvenient, long-standing problem. 

Teach And Diversify Team Strategies 
We brought this point up in the add authentic coaches entry, but we feel it deserves its own entry as well. Too many teams play the same style of hockey in the NHL series, and the game does nothing to educate players on hockey strategy. Madden has made huge strides in teaching passing and defensive concepts in recent years, and we’d love to see a similar program come to NHL so players not only become better at the game, but more knowledgeable about the sport as well. We’d also like more visible examples of strategy options and more flexibility in saving them outside of games; why are the breakout strategies limited to in-game alteration? 

Introduce Position Changes
Modern coaches are fearless when it comes to experimenting with the player roles. In the past several years we’ve seen bold coaches go back and forth on where to play versatile players like Brent Burns and Dustin Byfuglien, skating them as forwards and defenders. We’ve also seen players move from center to winger with relative frequency. Adding this flexibility into roster management would be greatly appreciated.

Read on to learn about our game mode recommendations. 

GAME MODES

Play By Real NHL Rules In Be A GM
The NHL series is still lacking a couple essential GM tools: midseason contract extensions, and no-movement/no-trade clauses. Players demanding NMCs or NTCs during contact negotiations could test the mettle of general managers and add a new layer to potential mismanagement. Adding contract extensions into the middle of seasons could reignite the stagnating trade deadlines where A.I.-controlled GMs may abandon trying to resign a big-name player and decide to get value for them while they can. Considering how uninteresting trade deadlines have become in recent years, where GMs only consider trading old players in the last year of their contract and throwaway minor leaguers, this could be a major boost to one of the busiest days in the real NHL calendar. 

Tweak Player Progression
Player progression has been an unexplainable voodoo science for too long in the NHL series. Instead of having players make sudden rating jumps regardless of context, we’d love to see the progression reflect real-world elements like ice time, statistical performance, and role on the team. If you are barely skating a highly touted offensive prospect on the fourth line and letting him languish on the bench during power plays, that should stunt his growth. If a defensive prospect is logging heavy minutes in the minors and playing in every circumstance, that should help him get better. That would better capture the risk/reward of calling up and sending down prospects than the current system. 

Scrap The Scouting/Drafting System
Two long-neglected parts of Be A GM mode in need of serious refurbishing, scouting and drafting would greatly benefit from scrapping the old system in favor of a new one that gives GMs more meaningful feedback than an incomplete and hardly trustworthy amalgamation of potential skill ratings. Scouting is an imperfect science, and it would be great to see EA Canada build this off by inundating the GM with information and differing viewpoints from your scout team on players. Adding the draft lottery and custom draft classes would also help breathe new life into the process.

Rebuild Free Agency
Free agency is one area of sports games that developers haven’t gotten right yet. The perfect personification of this frenzied yearly ritual would involve accentuating competition between teams, introducing player demands, back-and-forth negotiations, and operating under a limited amount of time to make a big splash when the signing period opens. We’d love to see the media play a big role as you build up to free agency, hinting at teams your target is considering and letting you know if one of your players is thinking about walking. Player demands should also fall in line with on-ice production; if a player is coming off a poor season, they should understand why a team isn’t offering top dollar. 

Hone The Player Morale System
The player morale system introduced to Be A GM last year was a step in the right direction, but EA Canada needs to continue to flesh out this system. Players with extremely low morale shouldn’t jump at the opportunity of signing a contract extension. We’d also love to see more work go into making sure the player gripes make sense. 

Bring Drama To Be A Pro Mode
We said this two years ago, and it still holds true: Be A Pro is a lifeless husk compared to the stellar NBA 2K offering. That's the benchmark EA needs to chase. Giving players the ability to interact with coaches, general managers, and teammates would be a great start. What's the locker room atmosphere like around trade deadline? What kind of bond do you form with your linemates if you have good or bad chemistry? Giving users a glimpse into this side of the league would be thrilling. At the very least, this largely ignored mode could use a logic tweak so you don’t get bumped down a line for bad play after a six-point night.

Sports games miss a great opportunity to incorporate strategy into these types of modes. Not every team plays the same system. Differentiating between teams and giving players different responsibilities when forechecking, backchecking, working the power play, or killing off a penalty depending on the coach's philosophy would not only educate fans, but potentially create tension between coaches and players who aren't buying into the system.

What changes would we like to see come to online? Find out on the next page.

ONLINE
 

Reintegrate Player Flexibility Into EASHL
Last year EA introduced player archetypes to create a better balanced EASHL experience. While it eliminated the vast skill gulfs that developed in previous iterations between new players and those who spend hundreds of hours in the mode, it also killed off any sense of ownership over your play style. Rather than lock us in these rigid roles, if EA isn’t going to go back to a rating progression the least it could do is give us a skill matrix where we can allocate points in certain characteristics to make a more diverse and realistic mix of players. 

Deepen Customization In EASHL
The first NHL 17 trailer teased custom jerseys while showcasing franchise relocation. We hope this technology is leveraged across all modes so EASHL teams can create their own jerseys as well. We’d also love to see EA introduce gear and player customization options from every era of hockey, not just the modern sticks, skates, helmets, and gloves. Give us wooden sticks, Friday the 13th hockey masks, and an array of amazing mullets to rock on the ice. 

Double Down On eSports
The world of eSports keeps getting bigger, and EA Sports games are a natural showcase for player skill. Integrating game-streaming broadcasts and proper international competitions with prize money seems like a natural evolution for the brand, provided it cleans up the leftover exploits. I would love to watch an EASHL Stanley Cup playoff series where the best 16 teams vie for the virtual cup in best-of-seven series. It would also be fun to watch your EASHL team in action while you wait in the lobby to jump into the next game. 

Create Player Profiles For Online Matches
We always loved the 2K Sports VIP profile system that tracked player tendencies and gave you a nice scouting report before jumping into a head-to-head matchup. Providing users information about where opponents prefer to shoot from, their win-loss records, power play/penalty kill success rates, which teams they prefer to play with, and how many times they quit out of matches when down would be very helpful when vetting potential opponents before stepping on the ice. It would also be great to pre-set your own strategies and lines so you don’t need to pause and tinker every time. 

Those are our suggestions on how EA Canada can take its hockey series to the next level. What would you recommend it do to improve the franchise?