2K Sports will release Wii-exclusive 'NHL 2K11' two weeks early, on August 24

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nhl2k11kesler.jpgIn case you haven’t heard, Electronic Arts’ NHL series dominance over 2K Sports’ own NHL 2K games reached so far that 2K’s upcoming “NHL 2K11” will only appear on Nintendo’s Wii console. In many ways, it seemed like a move inspired by the fact that EA never made a hockey game for the Wii before; perhaps 2K Sports thought it could have a “monopoly” on polygonal pucks on the best-selling “next generation” console?

If that was the strategy, it backfired because EA is planning on launching a Wii-exclusive called “NHL Slapshot.” They’re rolling in guns blazing, too, with Wayne Gretzky as the cover star and a mini-hockey stick controller that could turn some heads if it works well. (Click here for more on the upcoming game.)

Perhaps 2K is concerned about “NHL Slapshot” because Operation Sports reports that “NHL 2K11” will be released on August 24, a week or two earlier than the traditional early September window for hockey video games. While release dates are often subject to change, it seemed like the original plan was to release 2K11 on September 7, the same release date as EA’s Slapshot. (NHL ’11 is also rumored to come out on September 7.)

While it might be wise for 2K to try to get a leg up on EA’s foray onto the Wii, I can’t help but sense a little desperation on their part, too. You have to wonder if the company’s hockey titles are in danger of going extinct, much like their NFL2K games (although this time it would be because EA is clobbering them in the quality and sales department instead of just signing an exclusive licensing agreement, like they did with their football games.)

ESPN’s Jon Robinson interviewed Ben Bishop of 2K Sports regarding the changes gamers should expect to see from 2K10 to 2K11.

Ben Bishop: There are the Wii Motion Plus controls, but it’s not just that, I think the controls changed a lot in general. You have a lot more options, and with the Wii Motion Plus control, you have direct one-to-one control over everything from stick lifts to actually lifting the puck up, juggling it, and performing trick shots. And if you’re a fan of the game from the 360 or PS3, you can actually play the game using classic controls and play the game the way you’re accustomed to. So you have a lot of options to really treat this as a simulation game if you want to. We think there is plenty of room on the Wii to have a good simulation sport, so you can play the game on the Wii as you would on the other consoles.

On the flip side of the coin is our Road to the Cup mode and how we let you bring your Mii characters into the game and let them play through some mini-games that are all hockey based. This is something that is popular on the Wii, and it’s a great thing to do when you have some buddies over. It’s something you can play through pretty quick and you don’t have to be great at the sport of hockey or at the simulation aspect to have a good time with it.

One other tidbit Bishop shared is that Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin will be the three highest rated players in the game. It’s far from surprising, but for people who might be a bit obsessed with that sort of thing, there you go.

Will a two week sales head start help 2K Sports stick with EA’s splashy debut on Nintendo’s system? We’ll just have to wait and see about that.

Fisher also contacted by Canada for Olympics along with Doan, Iginla

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Add Mike Fisher to the list of veteran free agents who’ve at least been contacted to represent Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Hockey Canada VP of hockey operations Scott Salmond revealed as much to TSN 1040 on Thursday while also noting their interest in Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla.

“As Hockey Canada we have tremendous respect for all of those players,” Salmond said. “There’s no question that their leadership and their experience could be invaluable to our team.”

(Read more about Canada contacting Doan and Iginla specifically in this post.)

Fisher, 37, shares certain similarities with Doan and Iginla. All three players have captained NHL teams, each brings a mixture of scoring ability and grit to the table, and they all obviously have plenty of experience.

Pending talks with Nashville

On the other hand, there are a few potential differences that make Fisher’s case interesting.

For one thing, Fisher hasn’t decided – or hasn’t shared his decision – regarding a return to the Nashville Predators just yet. That choice is expected to come sometime next week.

The thing is, Fisher at least has some say in that matter, as he might make the choice not to come back. In the cases of Doan and Iginla, they might struggle to find suitors in free agency (or at least find suitors willing to give them the specific deals they seek).

A first for Fisher?

While that might hurt Canada’s chances, there’s another wrinkle: Fisher hasn’t really gotten “the call” quite like Doan or Iginla have. Fisher hasn’t ever suited up for Canada in the Olympics and, according to Hockey Reference, hasn’t suited up for Canada since the 2009 World Championships.

Perhaps that rare opportunity might trump playing another season in the NHL? A few weeks of international hockey wouldn’t represent the same wear-and-tear as playing through an 82-game season.

(There’s also at least the concept of playing in the Olympics and then trying to find a deal with the Predators, however unlikely that might be.)

While Doan and especially Iginla stand as bigger names, you could make a very reasonable argument that Fisher actually has more left in the tank. He’s also a center, which Canada might deem a lacking position heading into the 2018 Winter Olympics.

For all we know, none of these three forwards will bite at the opportunity. This seems like one of those creative ideas that might not work out.

It’s easy to see why Canada’s reps would at least get the conversation going, and Fisher might just be the best target to aim for.

Hurricanes give Di Giuseppe a two-way deal for 2017-18

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The Carolina Hurricanes signed forward Phil Di Giuseppe to a one-year, two-way contract on Thursday.

The team announced that Di Giuseppe’s deal is worth $725K at the NHL level and $125K in the AHL in 2017-18.

Di Giuseppe, 23, was the 38th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft. He’s been getting some looks at the NHL level with Carolina:

2015-16: 17 points in 41 games
2016-17: seven points in 36 games

He’s also been splitting time between the AHL and NHL lately, so a two-way deal works well enough.

Carolina doesn’t have much more to do on the free agent front, but that doesn’t mean that their off-season is wrapped up, as there’s still that whole ownership situation to settle.

Habs president Molson pens glowing farewell letter to Markov

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Another bold move by GM Marc Bergevin, another statement from Montreal Canadiens president/CEO Geoff Molson.

However Molson actually feels about the franchise’s decision to let Andrei Markov leave for the KHL, he provided quite the goodbye letter regarding the 38-year-old defenseman. One can’t help but wonder how Molson feels about Montreal’s overall makeover, whether you believe Mark Streit is really “replacing” Markov or not.

Anyway, that will need to wait. In the meantime, here’s the very kind statement from Molson to Markov:

“On behalf of the entire organization, I would like to thank Andrei for his great contributions during his 16 seasons as a proud member of the Montreal Canadiens. Arguably one of the best defensemen in franchise history, Andrei was a model of dedication to the great game of hockey. A respected figure around the league and among his teammates, Andrei demonstrated leadership both on and off the ice. Andrei’s commitment to our franchise was second to none, proven by his overcoming three serious and potentially career-ending injuries. I would like to wish Andrei the best of luck in the next step of his career, and happiness with his family.”

Speaking of Canadiens all-timers, Larry Robinson had plenty of nice things to say about Markov, too.

Related

Markov, Habs officially part ways.

Markov is headed to the KHL.

Sabres re-sign Eichel’s buddy Rodrigues for two years

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The Buffalo Sabres might have signed Evan Rodrigues back in 2015 in part because he enjoyed so much success as a college linemate with Jack Eichel at Boston University, but the undrafted forward seems like he’s making a case that he’ll be a part of their future in his own right.

The Sabres handed Rodrigues a two-year deal that is two-way in 2017-18 and one-way in 2018-19. Whenever he’s at the NHL level, it’s worth $650K per season.

Rodrigues debuted in 2015-16, scoring a goal and an assist in two games. He managed to play in 30 regular-season contests for the Sabres last season, collecting six points.

He’s shown quite a bit of improvement at the AHL level, in particular. After collecting 30 points in 72 games for the Rochester Americans in 2015-16, he scored 30 again in 2016-17, although he only needed 48 contests to do so. Rodrigues isn’t quite Matt Moulson to Eichel’s John Tavares just yet, but it’s possible that he might at least develop into a regular NHL player.

Buffalo’s work isn’t done for the summer just yet, as RFAs Zemgus Girgensons and Nathan Beaulieu still need deals.