NHL ’12 video preview: EA Sports boasts ‘hat trick’ of innovations

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We don’t mean to rub it in, but opening night in October is a long way away. That being said, there are distractions for hockey fans who cannot get enough. Obviously, the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and free agent frenzy provided equal portions silliness and hope for puck enthusiasts. PHT will carry you through these warm, hockey-free months with updates regarding the latest moves, looks into the future and features to tickle your fancy.

One could probably consider September the month in which the light at the end of the tunnel gets a little bigger and brighter. That’s when training camp starts and it’s also the time of year when the next round of NHL video games are released. For the second consecutive year, it seems like EA Sports’ best-selling NHL series won’t have major competition (besides other sports games, TV shows and other bigger picture distractions) with the 2K series in road kill mode.

For those who worry that the software giant will rest on its laurels without another puck-based game making them sweat, it seems like the company will try to bolster its impressive foundation. We’ve already covered the fact that the game will include a Winter Classic mode and shared the September 13 release date/first preview video, but EA provided a more complete view of the biggest changes in store for NHL ’12 recently.

EA unveiled its “hat trick” of innovations, which you can check out in this video from GameTrailers.com.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Here are some of my observations about each innovation after watching that video and reading up on how these changes might impact the game.

1. “Anticipation AI” – The company claims that computer players will do a better job of anticipating the puck changing hands and generally reacting to on-ice events in a more organic way.

2. “Full contact physics” – As I discussed in Todd Marchant’s retirement post, speed used to be an overriding asset in hockey video games. There’s no doubt that fast skating is important in today’s game, but the perceived disparity often makes bigger players seem useless. The reality is that big players are often very useful in the NHL, especially in front of the net. NHL ’12 claims to address that issue better than before. (To be fair, the series made some progress in this area already, but this might be the big leap some were waiting for.)

3. “Dynamic goalies” – This innovation strikes me as the next installment of the “broken sticks” gamble from last year. There are plenty of ways that this could go wrong (example: will the game know if you’re trying to shoot or if you want to initiate contact with a goalie?) but it could add some needed realism to the game. If nothing else, it would be great to see more personality from goalies.

Things look promising overall, but it’s tough to overlook how awkward Zdeno Chara’s battles in front of the net ended up looking. It’s something that Operation Sports also tackled in their preview.

In terms of impact, I do think the physics engine is the biggest deal of the three. It essentially ties into a lot of what’s happening with goalies this year, and it also works to improve and fix much of what was wrong with the physics last year. However, I want to start with a negative here and point out that some ugly animations crop up with the implementation of this physics engine. I think it’s the price you pay, at least for now, to experience more organic moments, but it doesn’t excuse the look of some of the interactions. For example, nudging and bumping some players from behind causes the puck carrier to react in some questionable ways. It’s nice to see some new stumbles, but it’s just not that common for players to be checked down or pushed to the ice from behind as much as they are here. On top of that, some goofiness crops up when the goalies interact with players.

It looks like NHL ’12 could be a significant upgrade over NHL ’11 if EA’s innovations work out as well as advertised. The series has a great track record of delivering on their promises so far, but we’ll keep you updated as more information surfaces and the September 13 release date approaches.

(Screenshot via Operation Sports.)

Report: Finnish goalie Sateri eyeing NHL after strong showing at Worlds

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Harri Sateri, the former Sharks prospect that’s spent the last three years in the KHL, is reportedly looking to come back to North America.

Per Finnish news outlet Iltalheti, Sateri shot down an extension with his current club, Vityaz Podolsk, to try and land an NHL gig.

The 27-year-old’s decision comes after a pretty solid showing with his native Finland at the World Hockey Championship. There, Sateri split time with Columbus’ Joonas Korpisalo, finishing with a .915 save percentage and 2.26 GAA. He posted a 26-save shutout in a surprising quarterfinal win over the U.S.

Sateri’s been good in Russia as well. Last season, he finished with a .929 save percentage and 2.50 GAA in 42 games.

It’ll be interesting to see if he can find a gig this summer. Sateri was originally San Jose’s fourth-round pick (106th overall) at the 2008 draft, but spent all four of his years in North America with the club’s AHL affiliate.

In his final season, he lost out on the gig as Antti Niemi’s backup to Alex Stalock in the preseason.

Kelly or Wingels will replace White for Senators in Game 7

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Either Chris Kelly or Tommy Wingels will replace Colin White for the Ottawa Senators tonight.

White, 20, made his NHL playoff debut in Game 6, but he only took seven shifts and logged 2:39 of ice time.

Clearly, head coach Guy Boucher didn’t trust the rookie in such a big game.

Tonight in Pittsburgh, it’s an even bigger game. Win and it’s off to the Stanley Cup Final. Lose and that’s it for the season.

Kelly, 36, and Wingels, 29, have each played their share of big games. Kelly went to a Cup final with the Sens in 2007, and he went to a couple more with the Bruins. Wingels played for the Cup last year with the Sharks.

“They both have lived seven games, and they both have won seven games,” said Boucher. “So those are the two guys we need to have out there.”

Kelly has only played once this postseason, all the way back in the first round against Boston. But with Derick Brassard seemingly unable to take faceoffs, Kelly may draw in because he’s a center.

“It will all depend if it’s a center or winger I’m going to need,” said Boucher.

Related: Schultz and Hornqvist will be game-time decisions; Sheary may play

Carolina has the ‘open for business sign out there’

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Ron Francis is ready to make more deals.

Heading into the offseason, Francis had 11 draft picks at this June’s draft, and already used one — a third-rounder — to acquire Scott Darling from Chicago.

Now, the Hurricanes GM is prepared to use more in the hopes of adding to the roster.

“We’ve got the open for business sign out there,” Francis said Wednesday, per the News & Observer. “We’re in a unique situation with the amount of picks we have and the amount of prospects we have. It’ll be interesting.

“Really what it comes down to is what teams want: Do they want a player back for the asset they don’t have to protect or are they willing to take some picks and prospects?”

It’s pretty obvious the goal for Francis and head coach Bill Peters is to get the ‘Canes back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The team has shown steady improvement over the last three years — going from 30 to 35 to 36 wins — and had a nice late push before ultimately falling short this season.

“I think we have specific needs, very specific needs,” Peters said at Carolina’s end-of-year media availability. “So as a coach I’m going to give very specific names.”

It sounds like more than just picks could be in play.

The News & Observer said the ‘Canes “aren’t agonizing” over the expansion draft, as the team has a pretty good idea of who’ll be exposed. So it could be a case of identifying the players that will remain, and seeing what assets they may fetch in return.

There’s been speculation that the Hurricanes might be willing to move Noah Hanifin. Though it might seem strange to dangle a gifted 20-year-old d-man with loads of potential, Carolina has good depth on the blueline with Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. It’s expected that prospects Roland McKeown and Haydn Fleury will push for NHL jobs next year, and there’s still ’16 first-rounder Jake Bean on the horizon.

Francis also has another asset at his disposal — cap space.

It’s what allowed the ‘Canes to snag Teuvo Teravainen from Chicago for the price of taking on Bryan Bickell‘s contract. Another similar move could very well be in the cards, especially when the NHL releases next year’s cap ceiling figure.

Report: ‘All signs point’ to contract extension for Ducks’ Fowler

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“All signs point toward” a contract extension for Anaheim Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler, according to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun.

LeBrun reported this morning that talks between the Ducks and the 25-year-old defenseman are expected to resume next week. Talks so far have been “positive,” said LeBrun.

It won’t be cheap to re-sign Fowler, who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer. He’s coming off a 39-point season for the Ducks, and he logged almost 25 minutes per game.

If Fowler does agree to re-sign, he’ll obviously be protected in the expansion draft, along with Hampus Lindholm. Assuming the Ducks only protect three defensemen, that would only leave one spot to protect Sami Vatanen, Josh Manson, or Kevin Bieksa — and the latter has a no-movement clause, which for now demands he be protected.

For that reason, Bieksa will likely be asked to waive his NMC. It’s also possible he could be bought out.

Anaheim does have the option to protect four defensemen and four forwards. However, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler all have NMCs, and the Ducks won’t want to expose Rickard Rakell or Jakob Silfverberg.

Related: Big decisions looming for Ducks