With the NHL's Stanley Cup Final on the horizon, that also means fans are pretty close to getting a first-look at the next installment of EA Sports' NHL franchise.
After plateauing a bit in recent years, NHL 17 made some big strides and produced optimism for the future of the series. Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing how they build on that momentum with the upcoming NHL 18.
With that in mind, here are a dozen ideas (some serious, others not so much) that I think would be beneficial to incorporate into the upcoming release.
The graphics have taken a step forward a bit in recent years but they're still behind where they should be, especially when you compare them to others sports franchises on the market. There are still too many generic player faces, and even the non-generic ones need fine-tuning and improvements to become more lifelike. Jersey details (and movements) still need a bit of work as well.
Better Stanley Cup celebration
Every NHL season concludes with one lucky team raising the Stanley Cup and it's always enthralling to watch. It's a very emotional experience, as it's one of the most difficult trophies to win in all of sports and the journey to do so can be extremely grueling. Thus, the celebration is often cathartic and chaotic.
But if you've led your video game team to glory in NHL franchise/playoff mode in recent years, you'll know that the payoff is a big-time letdown.
The celebration cut scene, which has remained largely the same for years, lasts about two minutes -- including short clips of the on-ice celebration, the handshake line, the Conn Smythe presentation and the Stanley Cup circuit -- before an anti-climatic return to the game's menu screen.
Players who log countless hours playing through a full digital season deserve a better reward for their efforts. Even earlier versions of the game had a more satisfying championship celebration.
Revamped ratings system
In NHL 17, There are more than 50 NHL players rated an 89 or above, but none higher than a 95 — Sidney Crosby gets top honors there. That’s way too high a percentage of the player pool to be rated that highly (with many others not far behind) and bunched that close together.
It feels like there’s very little distinction between the tiers of players in NHL. Many second-tier players are rated too closely to the game’s elite superstars; too many third-tiers are close to second-tiers, and so on and so on. Any player in the game who deserves an NHL roster spot is rated an 80 or above, a mere 15 points away from the game’s very best player. That needs to be fixed.
Improved in-game presentation
The franchise got a much-needed presentation refresh when NHL 15 delivered a shift to NBC broadcast integration. Doc Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Ray Ferraro took over commentary duties, taking over for a dated duo of Gary Thorne and Bill Clement.
It was the right idea, but the execution has left a lot to be desired.
Emrick's high-energy, fast-paced style of commentary hasn't translated well to the video game, much like Gus Johnson's style didn't work for Madden. The commentary needs a serious revamping, whether that means recording way more lines and styles of dialogue or just completely scrapping this team and going in a new direction.
The NBC integration has doesn't have much of a true broadcast feel. They could help change that by offering more authentic replay styles, a more larger array of cut scenes between whistles and more broadcast graphics (stats, game notes, analysis, etc.) with accompanying commentary.
Okay, hear me out here. I know a lot of gamers aren't going to be particularly interested in monitoring their Corsi and other "fancy stats" because, well, it's a video game.
Do we really need the incorporation of advanced analytics for maximum enjoyment of a hockey video game? Probably not. But it's inarguable that there's a growing emphasis on analytics within the hockey community these days.
Incorporating more evaluation methods beyond just classic stats (points, shots, hits, time of possession, etc.) could be a good way to help introduce analytics to some gamers and educate them on their value to the sport.
You don't have to shove it down the throat of traditionalists, but making it available to those with interest isn't a bad idea. MLB The Show has included advanced stats for a few years now and no baseball fans seem to complain about it.
Again, not everyone is going to be interested in checking out shot charts or possession metrics after a game of Chel, but it's becoming a big part of hockey and so it should also be part of NHL 18.
More replay review
Apparently the league thinks that fans can't get enough of tedious, infuriating replay reviews. If EA Sports wants to deliver a truly authentic NHL experience, it will kill all momentum and make gamers sit through awful, arbitrary frame-by-frame offside reviews nearly every game...even when the goal comes dozens of seconds after the zone entry!
Can you feel that? That's the smell of excitement!
Gameplay was by far the biggest improvement in NHL 17 and, as a result, the game was much better and realistic. It felt a lot smoother, quicker and more responsive. It actually became possible to cycle the puck and set up in the offensive zone without sluggish play weighing the gamer down.
That being said, there are definitely things that still need work. Passing needs to be improved. Too often the game will misread your intended target on a pass and send it somewhere that will leave you shaking your head in frustration. Puck pickups also need refinement, as does the physics engine that causes response to body contact.
Also, I'd love to see them add a three-on-three mode. Mini-games would also be awesome. They series used to have an awesome Free-4-All mode that was a ton of fun. They should bring that back.
Better online servers
For those who like playing online, it's usually beneficial to have servers that don't cause lag or drop you out of games randomly. Just a friendly tip for the folks at EA.
NHL's Be-A-Pro mode has remained pretty stagnant and lifeless over the past few years.
When you look at similar game modes from other sports games, there's a deeper and more immersive experience. NBA 2K and FIFA have rolled out cinematic storylines and MLB The Show recently introduced more role-playing elements to their Road To The Show mode.
NHL needs to follow suit and add more depth to Be-A-Pro to allow players to feel like they're truly stepping into the life of an NHL player. Adding some more off-ice elements would be welcome.
They added some aspects of player personlization in recent years (Ovechkin's yellow laces, Kane's ear guards, Kessel's candy cane tape job) and it would be nice if they could keep that going with more attention to detail.
I'd like to see fully authetic goalie sets (including masks), plus some aspects of personalization working into gameplay. Maybe they can incorporate different skating and shooting styles with personalized moves and dangles. Using superstar players should feel a bit more special and fun. Right now, they all feel a bit too generic.
This might hurt the game's 'E for Everybody' rating but seeing players bloodied after a fight or taking a high-stick would add some realism to the violent nature of the sport.
I'm not saying we've gotta see blood leaking from a player's head (what's up, NHLPA '93?) but the game already lets players suffer black eyes and scars, so why not add some blood? With the recent (supposed) crackdown on player safety, it's pretty unlikely.
Suspensions (with "Hockey Twitter" integration)
When you throw a terrible hit during a game, you can occasionally land a five minute major & a game misconduct. It would add a bit more depth and realism to franchise mode if players could also be suspended for those bad hits.
It would be tricky considering there are a lot of moving pieces that require consideration when suspending a player, and the NHL's real-life Department of Player Safety hasn't exactly done a great job of keeping suspensions consistent over the years.
With that being said, it might be worth considering. I also like the idea of integrating "Hockey Twitter" into the game so gamers can watch people share shock and outrage over every single player safety decision.