One thing that should be added, subtracted from NHL '11 (Part I)

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stickbreaks.jpgNo doubt about it, one of the best ways to get through the hockey-free summer is to play (and wait for upcoming) hockey video games. The most popular series is EA’s “NHL” games with NHL ’11 coming in September. As we await its release, I thought I’d discuss some features I’d like to see in the game and some I wish were thrown out in the development cycle.

This could be a short-lived series or it could go a little further. That all depends on what kind of responses it receives; if you’d like to see something taken out (or added) to the game, please let us know in the comments. Apologies, also, to all non-dorks out there.

One thing I’d love to see in NHL ’11: “icon” passing/defensive switches

When I play defense in NHL ’10, I feel my inner Ken Hitchcock emerge (if I had a sweet mustache to stroke during intermission breaks, I would). Instead of going for the big hit every time, I wait back like a nerdy polygonal panther and allow my opponent to make a mistake. When I do go for a hit or get aggressive, though, I prefer to take that risk with a forward rather than a defenseman.

That’s where things get a little hairy. You see, there’s no way (that I know of, at least) to switch to the exact player you want on defense. Passing is similar, too; the game decides where you intended to send the puck. Most of the time, it guesses correctly, but when I can’t switch to a forward in a dangerous defensive situation … well, it’s not pretty. Let’s just say I devolve into a 13-year-old kid who used to scream at Video Game Kerry Collins for yet another interception.

The funny thing is that EA is a company that either invented or at least popularized the concept of passing to the exact player you want in the Sega Genesis/SNES “Madden” era. I faintly recall each wide receiver getting his own window with a button assignment in those early days of sprite-based graphics.

It would be a simply change, too. I looked at the game’s controller scheme and saw one button on the controller that rarely (if ever) is used: the “back” button. It’s located to the left of the middle X-Box thing and the start button. Why not allow players to click “select/back” and then choose whom exactly they want to pass to or switch to?

I am but a reasonable man.

One thing I’d like to see removed: Broken sticks

OK, it might not be completely fair to turn my back on this before I see it in action. After all, Electronic Arts really nailed “board play” in NHL ’10, a “realistic” element I was a little weary of.

There’s only one problem: while it adds heightened reality, there’s nothing fun about broken sticks. It’s honestly an annoying issue for the sport itself, but imagine this scenario for a second. You’re on the powerplay in a tie game. Perhaps your friends wagered some money on the outcome. Or maybe your reputation as the coolest person alive is on the line. (All realistic scenarios, naturally.) You find yourself in a great situation for a booming Chris Pronger point shot when – out of nowhere – his stick breaks and the other team scores a shorthanded game-winning breakaway. After you flip over your coffee table, kick your dog and break a controller, you realize that your significant other cannot look you in the eyes anymore. Ultimately, you turn off your console embarrassed and wronged.

Who wants that, huh? Don’t do it, EA. I’m begging you.

Matthews to sit out preseason tilt versus Sabres, as Maple Leafs give him ‘a little break’

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Auston Matthews poses for a portrait after being selected first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs play the Buffalo Sabres on Friday. But No. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews won’t be in the lineup, according to multiple reports.

“Sooner or later, he’s going to get in, but not tonight,” said assistant coach Jim Hiller, as per the Toronto Sun.

“The lineups are day by day. They (World Cup players such as Matthews, Milan Michalek, Leo Komarov and James van Riemsdyk) went through a solid three weeks. It’s a little break, a little down time. There are tons of games coming. They’ll get a lot of ice time. They’ll get in shortly.”

(The report also notes that Matthews is not dealing with a health issue, which is obviously good news for the Leafs.)

On a night when the No. 2 overall selection Patrik Laine is slated to make his preseason debut for the Winnipeg Jets, fans wishing to see Matthews don a Maple Leafs jersey in his anticipated debut will have to wait.

Matthews played for Team North America at the World Cup held in Toronto. He had two goals and three points in three round robin games, but the young North American team was unable to advance to the semifinal round.

The Maple Leafs play the Montreal Canadiens at home on Sunday.

McLellan: Maroon’s lower-body injury not considered serious

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It appears Patrick Maroon‘s injury from Wednesday’s preseason game against the Vancouver Canucks looked worse than it is.

The Edmonton Oilers forward was in obvious pain immediately after he went hard into the boards from an awkward hit delivered by James Sheppard just past the midway point of the third period. Maroon needed help to the bench and was unable to put much, if any, pressure on his left leg.

He left the game and didn’t return.

Good news, however, from the Oilers: Head coach Todd McLellan told reporters on Friday that the injury — lower body — is not serious, as per the team’s Twitter account.

According to Mark Spector of Sportsnet, the 28-year-old Maroon is expected to be ready for Edmonton’s season opener against the rival Calgary Flames on Oct. 12.

The Oilers acquired Maroon at last season’s trade deadline, a move that certainly added size and an element of grit to their group of forwards.

In 16 games with Edmonton, he scored eight goals and 14 points. In 56 games with Anaheim that same season, he registered only 13 points before the trade.

Patrik Laine to make highly anticipated preseason debut for Jets

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Patrik Laine gives an interview after being selected second by the Winnepeg Jets during round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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Anticipation has been building since the Winnipeg Jets officially took Patrik Laine with the second overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft.

On Friday, Laine, the highly coveted Finnish forward, will make his preseason debut for the Jets when they play the Edmonton Oilers in Winnipeg, as the home fans get the chance to take in the occasion.

The Jets have done a nice job of amassing good young forwards in their organization. Laine, who has the gifts to be a prolific scorer in the NHL, is at the top of that prospect list.

Winnipeg’s roster tonight also includes forward prospects Kyle Connor, Nic Petan and Brandon Tanev, not to mention more NHL experienced forwards like Alex Burmistrov, Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele.

Laine enters this season with high expectations placed on him from fans and media, after coming to the NHL following a standout career in Finland as a teenager. He’s aware of the expectations, but toned down the hype with the usual statements of just playing his game.

“Just be brave on the ice and show everybody I will earn my spot on the team,” he told reporters.

Laine has already seen game action this month. Not with the Jets, but with Finland’s entry at the World Cup of Hockey.

Following offseason knee surgery, Laine wasn’t happy with his performance in Finland’s first pre-tournament game. In three tournament games, Laine failed to register a point, despite a team-best 10 shots on goal, as Finland was quickly eliminated in the round robin.

Related:

Looking to make the leap: Patrik Laine

Murray: Ristolainen’s good-faith gesture unlikely to sway talks with Sabres

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 22: Rasmus Ristolainen #55 of the Buffalo Sabres makes a pass during the game against the Detroit Red Wings on January 22, 2016 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty Images)
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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray tells The Associated Press he doesn’t believe defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen‘s decision to join the team for practice without a contract will have any effect on thawing negotiations.

With a big laugh, Murray on Friday said the only way Ristolainen could speed up contract talks is if “he got all lovey-dovey” and elected to take the Sabres’ latest offer.

Ristolainen is a restricted free agent whose rights were retained by the Sabres in June. After representing Finland in the World Cup of Hockey, Ristolainen reported to the Sabres on Thursday in what was regarded as a sign of good faith.

Though he’s not allowed to play because he’s not under contract, Ristolainen is practicing with the team and also taking part in meetings. Ristolainen is not making himself available to reporters.

Murray says he didn’t see anything wrong with allowing Ristolainen to practice, saying he’d rather the player be in Buffalo than working out elsewhere.

Murray says the two sides are still negotiating.

In three seasons, Buffalo’s 2013 first-round draft pick has established himself as the Sabres’ top defenseman. Last year, Ristolainen led the team in averaging more than 25 minutes of ice time per game, and led Buffalo defensemen with 41 points (nine goals, 32 assists).