Electronic Arts' upcoming Wii game to feature hockey stick controller, Wayne Gretzky

gretzkytired.jpgIt’s no secret that Electronic Arts took over the hockey video game genre, at least on the X-Box 360 and Playstation 3, with its NHL series. There’s a reason that Take-Two Interactive decided to pull its NHL2K series off of the consoles that emphasize graphics. Yet now the one advantage Take Two enjoyed – publishing the only licensed hockey game on Nintendo’s stupidly popular Wii console – looks to be a thing of the past starting next season. EA’s game will be called “NHL Slapshot” and is expected to ship by September 7.

EA’s puck-based debut on the console isn’t the only big news, though. The software company is bringing out the big guns with the game: Wayne Gretzky will play the role of cover star and the game shall include a small hockey stick that the company claims will respond to hockey-like movements.

This, quite frankly, is the exact kind of thing hockey fans have been dreaming about since the Wii came out. Of course, Canoe.ca’s blog points out that these situations can often be too good to be true.

It’s hard to say what the biggest news is here. That EA is finally doing their first NHL game for the Wii, challenging 2K Sports on their previously exclusive turf? That Gretzky is involved as the cover athlete and in-game playable character? Or that NHL Slapshot will use a minature hockey stick peripheral that ships with each copy of the game?

Yeah, I’m gonna say it’s the stick. Because if this thing works, it could be a crazy amount of fun. If it doesn’t work, it’ll be yet another hunk of plastic discarded next to those silly third-party tennis racket add-ons, the original Guitar Hero II controller and the Tony Hawk: Ride skateboard.

Indeed, the problem with many Wii products is that they’re often under-developed and gimmicky. EA, for their part, is saying all the right things about what sounds like a very exciting innovation for hockey dorks such as myself. Steve Tilley spoke with with the game’s lead producer, Joe Nickolls.

Nickolls says that because the stick peripheral holds both the Nunchuk (in the butt end of the stick, with the analog stick used for moving your player) and the Wiimote (further down the shaft, with the trigger used as a modifier to execute certain moves), it’s more accurate than the Wiimote alone.

“Because you’re getting two signals sent to the Wii, it triangulates the signal. So it basically gives you more accuracy,” Nickolls says, adding that WiiMotion Plus won’t be supported by NHL Slapshot because it’s essentially not needed.

The stick peripheral will detect slap shots, wrist shots, body checks (done with a cross-check motion) and poke checks, with the Wiimote’s trigger used as a modifier to perform passes, dekes and other moves. The game can also be played with the Wiimote and Nunchuk alone, or even just the Wiimote.

Anyway, the story also describes some kid-friendly modes called “Peewees to Pros” that makes me worry that the game may be geared only toward children. Yet if EA can make a game that could appeal to kids as well as man-children (and women-children), then they might be onto something huge.

Especially if that goofy looking little stick actually works like a dream.

(H/T to From the Rink)

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    Report: No buyout for Girardi, but Rangers willing to trade almost anyone

    FILE - In this Feb. 11, 2012, file photo, New York Rangers' Dan Girardi looks on during an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in Philadelphia. The Rangers say they have agreed to terms with Girardi on a multiyear contract extension, taking the key defenseman off the trading block and keeping him away from unrestricted free agency. The deal was announced Friday, Feb. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)
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    From Larry Brooks at the New York Post:

    The Post has learned the Blueshirts do not intend to buy out the remainder of Dan Girardi’s contract, which has four years remaining at an annual $5.5 million cap charge.

    In addition, sources report management has not requested the alternate captain to waive his no-move clause (which will be replaced by a modified no-trade following 2016-17). Further, no such request is expected.

    So Girardi will be back with the New York Rangers next season. That’s what Brooks is reporting.

    But that doesn’t mean there won’t be significant changes to the roster. According to Brooks, the Rangers are “prepared to listen to offers for everyone,” save for Henrik Lundqvist, Brady Skjei and Pavel Buchnevich.

    That includes Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes, each player’s availability, of course, will be dependent upon the exchange rate in return. But nothing is off the table. And the Wild are believed to have serious interest in native Minnesotan Stepan.

    We told you it could be an interesting offseason in the Big Apple.

    Related: AV concedes the Rangers had a ‘puck-moving’ problem

    Chris Phillips, a former first overall draft pick, announces retirement

    Chris Phillips
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    Chris Phillips, the first overall draft pick in 1996, has retired after 1,179 NHL games, all of them with the Ottawa Senators.

    “Chris’ trademark leadership, determination, hard work, and resilience as a hockey player gave our city and our fans the opportunity to witness an impressive 19 year journey in the National Hockey League,” said Sens owner Eugene Melnyk in a release. “Chris’ commitment to our team and our city places him among one of the greatest players to don a Senators uniform. He will forever hold a special place in the history of our hockey club.”

    Phillips, 38, will remain with the Sens in a front-office role.

    The 38-year-old defenseman was a pending unrestricted free agent; he didn’t play at all in 2015-16 due to a back injury.

    Phillips’ last game was on Feb. 5, 2015.

    The timing of the Gudbranson trade was…interesting

    Florida Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson (44) gets up from the ice after being pushed in the second period during a preseason NHL hockey game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
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    It seems like only yesterday that the Florida Panthers were raving about Erik Gudbranson.

    Except it wasn’t yesterday.

    It was earlier this month.

    “Guddy has taken a big step for our team this year,” coach Gerard Gallant said, per the Sun Sentinel. “He’s very confident, moves the puck real well and is a big part of our blue line.”

    “He’s really going to be a special player for a lot of years in this league and hopefully for a lot of years with the Panthers,” said veteran d-man Brian Campbell.

    Now, Florida had just signed Gudbranson to a one-year contract extension, so of course there was raving to be done.

    But it still surprised many when he was traded to Vancouver yesterday.

    For example:

    Not that Gudbranson was given away for nothing. The return the Panthers got from the Canucks was considerable. Jared McCann could be a top-six forward one day, and there was more.

    “The fact we were able to add draft picks this year, second and fourth round, 33 and 93, we felt gave us two picks that we got back that we lost on the trading deadline,” general manager Tom Rowe told reporters.

    Rowe also conceded that trading Gudbranson was a “very, very difficult decision.”

    The timing, though.

    The timing was pretty hard to ignore.

    Rowe, of course, was just named Florida’s new GM. He replaced Dale Tallon, who was “promoted” (or demoted, depending who you ask) to the role of director of hockey ops.

    It was all part of a big, managerial shakeup — one that was driven in large part by analytics:

    Would you be surprised to learn that Gudbranson did not have a particularly high Corsi?

    From Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com:

    Panthers

    Now, we’re not saying the Panthers made this trade solely because of advanced stats. When there’s a salary cap, difficult decisions need to be made. Gudbranson will need a new contract next summer, and he won’t be cheap to re-sign.

    Added Rowe: “The way [Michael Matheson] played in the playoffs and at the World Championship for an outstanding Canadian team really gave us more of a comfort level to do this.”

    Still, it was only two years ago that Tallon was saying Gudbranson was “likely going to be the captain of our team some day.” And it was only a few weeks ago that Tallon called Gudbranson “an important part of our young core who has continued to develop into a reliable, physical presence on our blue line and a strong leader in our locker room.”

    So yeah, whether or not you like the deal for the Panthers, it’s more than fair to wonder who, or what, was the driving force behind it.

    One thing’s for sure — the Panthers are going to look very different on the back end next season. Gudbranson’s gone; Willie Mitchell is unlikely to be back; and Campbell is an unrestricted free agent who may test the market.

    In the playoffs, no defenseman played more for Florida than Gudbranson. After him, it was Campbell.

    Related: People are wondering — do the Florida Panthers know what they’re doing?

    Some tough decisions await the Blues

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    Yet again, the St. Louis Blues failed to achieve their ultimate goal.

    And boy does it hurt right now.

    “We’re all hurting,” coach Ken Hitchcock said last night after getting eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.

    “You don’t want this to be our best opportunity. You want this to be a building block. In this game, in this era, in this cap world, you don’t know where you’re going to be a year from now.”

    Indeed, GM Doug Armstrong has some tough decisions to make this offseason.

    At the top of the list is whether to bring Hitchcock back. Yes, the Blues did better than 26 other teams, and yes, they finally got past the first round. Still, there are people who believe this will be it for the head coach, that a new voice could help. Overall, Hitchcock has done a great job in St. Louis. But then, so did Todd McLellan in San Jose. Sometimes, change can be good.

    Then there are the unrestricted free agents. Both captain David Backes and winger Troy Brouwer need new contracts. The former is 32, the latter 30. The former had seven goals in the playoffs, the latter eight. How much money will they want? How much term? The second question might be the most important.

    On the back end, it’s Kevin Shattenkirk that will garner the most attention. He’s signed through next season before he can become an unrestricted free agent. Just 27 years old, and considering the demand for what he does, he’ll be very expensive to keep. And with the emergence of Colton Parayko, trading Shattenkirk could probably be justified, especially if the return is good. A team like the Boston Bruins might be willing to pay up.

    Right now, the pain is still fresh for the Blues.

    “It’s so hard to win in the league right now,” said Hitchcock. “It’s so hard to win a series. So hard to just get in the playoffs. When you get this far, you get this close, you think you got the opportunity.”

    The challenge for Armstrong will be to give his team another opportunity next season. And with the draft less than a month away, all these tough decisions will need to be made very soon.