It feels like the Pittsburgh Penguins just lifted the Stanley Cup yesterday, yet here we are talking about the draft, league expansion plans, and the next edition of NHL. Hockey season truly never ends.
After regaining its footing last year, EA Canada's yearly hockey sim is in good position to have a breakout season. With a lot of big makeovers planned in EASHL, franchise mode, Hockey Ultimate Team, and on the ice, the developers are shooting for the net. We won't know until September if the shot has enough power and accuracy to find the back of the net, but until then we can chew on all the juicy new details we learned about while talking extensively with the development team at E3. Here are 68 things we know about this year's edition thus far.
- The big push for presentation this year is celebrating significant moments. Across franchise mode and Be A Pro, NHL 17 is now smarter about recognizing appropriate milestones to call out. For instance, during a player's first game the team will haze him by making him take the first lap of the warmup skate alone. When a player scores his first goal, a teammate will grab the puck and hand it to the equipment manager for sake keeping. Veteran landmarks like games played or point accrued are awarded with silver sticks and commemorative pucks, respectively. The other players on the ice celebrate these moments appropriately, and these landmark achievements happen for the opposing teams, too.
- After two years of using orchestral music in menus, NHL 17 returns to the EA Trax approach of featuring contemporary bands on the soundtrack.
- Practice mode is finally more fleshed out, allowing you to practice with one player versus a goalie, power plays, penalty kills, 3v3, etc. You can even practice as a goalie.
- The new World Cup of Hockey mode features the real international jerseys for the eight participating teams.
- The semi-pro league ECHL comes to the NHL series for the first time. All but five NHL teams have affiliations with ECHL teams, and the league is known for its quirky jerseys and logos. We hope these Utah Grizzlies alt jerseys make it into the game.
- EA has no current plans to overhaul its approach to player ratings, which we've called out in the past as a weakness of the series because of the extreme lack of player differentiation.
- EA has no plans to add shared rosters this year, either.
- Checking has been a sore spot for many fans because of the inconsistent outcomes. This year EA tweaked the system to take velocity into account more. Stationary players no longer drop opponents with crushing blows; instead they shove the puck carrier, which alters his position. The checker's size and strength will determine how far the puck carrier gets pushed.
- Everyone who played the past two NHL games has a story about landing a successful check that knocks the player to the ground, only to have the puck be shielded by the downed player, which allows the checkee to recover possession before the checker has a chance to win the puck. EA thinks it finally found a solution to this. When you hit a player away from the puck direction, the puck can come free now and keep going. That should cut down the number of times we see this frustrating circumstance occur.
- A new net battle mechanic allows you to tie players up in front of the cage or shove them out of position. On defense, you can hold the A button to tie up the stick before the offensive player is even in the vicinity so your player is prepared once the forward tries to set up camp.
- Big, strong offensive players can initiate net battles as well, so it's not just a defensive mechanic. If a defender pushes you too far out, you can use a spin move to roll off of him and gain a better position.
- EA has worked a lot to improve the A.I.'s facing direction, breakout recognition, off-puck assignments, and ability to capitalize on rush opportunities.
- To create more varied ways to score, EA has loosened up the goalie movement and created more differentiation between netminders with authentic goalie stances. Larger goalies who take up most of the cage will now try to get big to cut off scoring angles.
- Goalies are more affected by screens and deflections now. Having two players parked in front of a goalie instead of one severely limits their sightlines.
- Expect to see a lot more varied goalie reactions to allowing goals.
- Skating is not a brand new system, but it's a lot easier to control your movement skating backwards. Keeping the player properly faced and maintaining your gap seems easier in our limited hands-on time.
- For the first time in many years, EA is introducing a new difficulty. The semi-pro setting slides nicely between amateur and pro settings.
- Puck pickup continues to be a point of contention for NHL fans, so this year EA is surfacing its slider bar so players can adjust to their liking.
- In fact, EA has surfaced tuning sliders for most gameplay settings so players can tweak to their liking. The new sliders are the same ones the developers use to tune the game, ranging from 0 to 100. They now allow players to alter settings of everything from the speed of passes and how much players bobble passes to the frequency that specific penalties get called.
- EA says these new settings should allow hardcore sim fans to generate more realistic play with real period lengths. Gameplay producer Ben Ross says he recently played a game with full 20-minute periods that resulted in a 3-1 final score.
- Another often requested gameplay feature that won't be coming this year is additional special teams lines. Having to drill into menus to get non-fatigued players on the ice in these situations is a hassle, and EA is aware of the request. While no changes are happening yet, they told us it's something that could come to the game in the near future because more NHL and European teams run more than two special teams lines.
- It's not coming this year, but EA would like to create an ad-hoc system for picking shootout participants as well, so you could select your lineup based on who is hot or not.
- The On-Ice Trainer EA implemented for beginners in NHL 16 returns this year with some new ways to help players learn the game. This year EA wants to encourage veteran players to use it to learn more advanced moves they may not have in their repertoire. The On-Ice trainer is modular, so you can turn on and keep certain aspects of it as you see fit.
- EA tweaked coaching feedback to teach players more about positionally sound hockey. Feedback ranges from explaining basics like offsides and icing to coaching up gap control.
- Following in the footsteps of Madden, NHL 17 has changed its Be A GM mode, which is now rebranded as franchise mode.
- In addition to controlling the team rosters, users must manage the budget, promotions, and pricing to try and generate the most revenue possible.
- No real owners are included in the mode, but each of the fictitious ones have different goals and temperaments.
- Want to resurrect the Hartford Whalers and get hockey out of southern markets? Now you can thanks to team relocation.
- Relocating a team requires you to build a new arena. Customization options allow you to choose everything from the sound and scoreboard to the color of the seats and stanchions.
- Cities you can move to include Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Halifax, Hamilton, Hartford, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Oklahoma, Portland, Quebec City, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Saskatoon, and Seattle.
- If you decide to be a heartless owner and relocate your team, the commentary team will be aware of the move and discuss the pending transition and subsequent fan reaction during the broadcasts.
- You cannot build a new arena in a pre-existing market; instead you must maintain/renovate the building facilities like concessions/bathrooms/seats/parking and make sure they don't fall into disrepair and cause fan discontent. Dissatisfaction can cause an adverse affect on your bottom line. For instance, if fans are disgusted by the quality of the bathrooms, they will be less likely to spend money on concessions.
- Each pre-existing NHL arena has a unique starting condition; older ones may need more repairs out the gate.
- Each NHL city is marked as a small, medium, or large market. The market size also drives how many fans are high-spenders, medium spenders, and Groupon-seeking cheapskates in the respective markets. A lot more high spenders attend games in New York City, so you can get away with higher-priced concessions and memorabilia sales, but in a small market like Columbus you may have to lower the price of jerseys and hot dogs to get more people to spend their hard-earned money.
- All of your decisions affect the overall team status. If you start making a profit and your owner is happy, he gives you more money to spend in your operating budget and on player salaries as well.
- You can always spend to the salary cap, but the owner may not want you to. If you overspend past your budget outlines on contracts anyway, should you fail to meet the owner expectations, his judgment will be much tougher.
- As you move through years in franchise and your former star players move on, the game creates new promotion opportunities around your new stable of players.
- An organizational status hub page reports how your decisions have played out in terms of revenue, fan temperature, and ownership satisfaction.
- Free agency, drafting, trades, player potential, and scouting are not being changed in significant ways this year, but EA has some minor tweaks planned. The team wants to get this new foundation in place before making those sorts of overhauls.
- You still can't negotiate contracts midseason.
- The player morale system was intriguing in concept last year, but it still needs a lot of work. The first change coming to the system is giving players a better understanding of the tone they are delivering messages with, which should hopefully explain the unexpected reactions players had to your decisions last year. If you deliver a line sternly and the player reacts poorly, you will know going forward that approach isn't conducive to getting the best out of that particular player.
- To give the popular mode more of a long-term hook, EA is introducing a new team progression system.
- Your team starts with a generic jersey and a community rink. As your team gets more games under its belt and jumps up the competitive tiers of play, you unlock new jersey customization options like a greater variety of logos, uniform styles, alternate jerseys, arena songs, and new stadium options. Eventually your team can work its way up to a state of the art arena with flourishes like the Xcel Energy Center lighthouse or Amalie Arena Tesla Coil.
- The new jersey customization offers several more jersey styles and logos than in years past.
- You cannot customize goalie masks, unfortunately.
- The arena/jersey customization is currently only accessible in the game menus, but EA is watching to see how players use it before deciding whether or not they should create a web client like NCAA Football had in years past.
- EA is still examining how much individual player customization they want to introduce to progression outside of player celebrations, but the devs we spoke to mentioned that players can choose from a much more formidable lineup of salad as they create players, including the untouchable Jamomir Jagr mullet and Al Iafrate's isle of hair.
- EA took feedback from the player classes last year and is tweaking each slightly, though their general skills and deficiencies are the same. Player speed was one of the biggest points of emphasis in the recalibration; if your team makes a poor pass decision that leads to a turnover, the puck is going to go the other way much more quickly.
- The dangler class introduced midseason is coming back as well.
- NHL 17 also introduces a handful of new classes to the mode to reflect the wider array of player styles in the NHL; the final number of new classes is in the air still as they go through playtests, but EA shared four of them with us.
- One of the new classes being tested is an Ovechkin-style hitting sniper, who loses a little bit of the traditional sniper's accuracy in favor of more hitting power.
- Another new forward type is the large playmaker, modeled after power forwards with great vision like Joe Thornton.
- The last new forward class is the two-way dangler, who is modeled after the game of Pavel Datsyuk. This dangler loses a little bit of his hands in favor of better defensive skills.
- The new class coming to defense is a puck-moving defenseman, who excels at passing. Adding this class demanded the dev team revisit the pre-existing defensive classes. Now the offensive defenseman has the big shot, and the defensive defenseman is more of a stay at home net clearer.
- EA added a rank rating to each user, so the game can matchmake pickup games based on skill.
- Taking another page out of the Madden playbook, NHL 17 brings over the Draft Champions mode. In this mode, you draft a certain number of players to build a fantasy team, with the rest of the open roster slots being filled in automatically.
- EA is still toying with the number of players the user drafts, but it will be 10, 11, or 12 players. The dev team wants to find the sweet spot for team building strategy, where you can perhaps load up on offense or defense but still have a deficiency in your lineup somewhere. The E3 demo had 12 rounds.
- Unlike Madden, you don't need to put up any currency to participate in head-to-head competitions. You can also play offline against the CPU.
- NHL has its own twist on Draft Champions with themes. Before you start drafting, you choose which theme you want to try, which will affect the player pool. In the E3 demo, you could choose from options like former all-stars and big and strong players.
- EA told us it plans to introduce new themes like international players over the course of the year.
- If you win all four games with your drafted team you earn HUT rewards.
HOCKEY ULTIMATE TEAM
- Say goodbye to chemistry – this year EA introduces a new team building concept called synergy. Synergy works on two levels, as players, and as a team.
- Synergy grants perks across your lineup for pairing players with similar skills like dangling, playmaking, wrist shots, offensive pedigree, net presence, etc. Your lineup needs a certain amount of players who have the same specific skill to activate the perk. When activated, any player with that attribute receives the skill bonus.
- Team synergies work in a similar fashion, but apply to the entire team instead of just the individuals with those skills. To activate these team perks, you will need a greater number of players with the required skill than the player synergies.
- Coaches and goalies have synergy as well.
- Any cards that had to do with player chemistry, like the change position or change team cards, are gone.
- NHL 17 introduces the concept of sets to HUT. As you collect entire sets, you can turn them in for rewards. For instance, if you collect all the Pittsburgh Penguins players, you can cash the set in for a higher-tier player card, coins, etc.
- Consumable cards are no longer rare.
NHL 17 is scheduled to release in September on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. EA Canada is hosting a closed beta starting July 28.