NHL 12 review roundup: Is it the best game yet or has the series reached a plateau?

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With training camps starting up around the NHL, the hockey-starved masses are already being thrown some meat to chew on. For those who might not be satiated by rookies trying to nail down roster spots and new players/coaches getting acquainted with teams, there’s another option to try to satisfy that hunger: video games. This time around, there’s only one major title to choose from: EA Sports’ NHL 12, which released on September 13.

While there are other reviews that haven’t poured in yet, a good chunk of reactions filtered through blogs, gaming Web sites and various other outlets already. For the most part, the reviews have been very positive, but there also are some naysayers – including one whose negativity might qualify as extreme. With a few days for experts to digest the game out of the way, let’s take a look at how critics reacted to the new game.

A sampling of emphatic praise

1UP.com called it “the series’ greatest achievement” in their A- review:

This is the best version of NHL in the past three years — it’s like the previous versions were simply leading up to this release. Everything looks and feels and plays as it should; a fine balance of entertainment and realism.

Gaming Excellence gave it a 9.2 (“Excellent”) rating:

To be honest, I’m usually in the camp that skips every second NHL title because it’s hard to justify what seems like a few enhancements and a roster update for the price of a AAA game, but this time they’ve done a fantastic job with improvements that are very hard to resist.

Gaming Age gave it a 95 percent (“Superlative”) score:

What more can be said other than, NHL fans need to buy NHL 12 if only to play the best representation of the sport ever created. I don’t think I can praise it any more than that.

Are the improvements too subtle?

There aren’t many major criticisms of the game (at least as far as giving it a bad “score”), but the most consistent line of complaints indicate that the tweaks, new features and improvements aren’t enough to justify a purchase if gamers already own NHL 11. Metacritic captures many of those “it’s a great game and all, but … ” reviews, including this one from GameShark.com.

To be fair there are a lot of changes and tweaks made to the NHL 11 design, but many of them are so small to be nearly unnoticeable. As great as NHL 12 is, and it is a great game, it’s not a giant leap from NHL 11. Is that enough to warrant another $60? Only you can answer that one.

Adam Najberg of the Wall Street Journal blog Speak Easy goes as far as to wonder if EA should put the series on the shelf altogether in what must be the harshest major review for the series in a long time.

Maybe a deep cleansing breath or a hiatus would help. It certainly has for other EA Sports game franchises. On the basketball side, EA has taken a breather for a couple of years, trying to retool and reinvigorate a tired NBA game franchise that wasn’t up to snuff.

(snip)

It’s not really for me to say, but until EA Sports can really come up with something new and refreshing, maybe it should consider putting its NHL game series on ice.

(Quick aside: however you might feel about the direction of the NHL series, bringing up the NBA Live/Elite hiatus won’t improve the odds for a hockey break.)

NHL 12 producer Sean Ramjasingh addressed the question of NHL 12 being a big enough improvement over NHL 11 in an interview earlier last week.

“I think this year is probably the most authentic game we’ve made; it’s leaps and bounds over NHL 11,” Ramjasingh said. “The incredible team we have here busts their butts all year to put over 300 gameplay refinements in, so as you play the game, all that depth is going to start to come through. The real game-changer for me is the hat trick of game innovations.”

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This post provides a solid rundown of that “hat trick” of alterations, which seemingly impressed most critics. The ultimate criticisms come from peoples’ wallets, though, so tell us how you feel. Does the game seem worth your money, whether you already paid for it or are primed to buy it in the future? Let us know in the comments (and expect PHT’s take soon).

Report: Red Wings RFA Athanasiou could sign in Russia

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With training camp approaching, Andreas Athanasiou is still without a contract for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old forward and restricted free agent posted 18 goals and 29 points in 64 games for the Detroit Red Wings last season in the final year of his entry-level contract with an annual average value of $902,500.

Based on a report Tuesday afternoon, traveling overseas to play next season could be an option for Athanasiou, one of the bright young forwards in the Red Wings organization.

Earlier this month, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said the organization has made a “number of offers” to Athanasiou.

One of the issues facing Detroit right now is the salary cap, which the Red Wings are currently over by almost $4 million, according to CapFriendly.

Report: ‘We … are not dealing with this issue as of now,’ says Iginla’s agent of Olympics

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National Hockey League players will not be going to the 2018 Olympics. However, it appears Team Canada has taken another step in expressing interest in a pair of unrestricted free agents — Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla.

That’s according to the Canadian Press on Tuesday, as it reported Team Canada general manager Sean Burke contacted representatives for both Doan and Iginla, inquiring about possible availability.

Both players are 40 years old and have represented Canada at previous Olympics when NHL players participated. Iginla set up Sidney Crosby‘s famous overtime winning goal during the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

From the Canadian Press:

Burke, who’s building the first Canadian Olympic roster without NHL players since 1994, suggested that both former Olympians would have to be playing somewhere if they were to be considered. He reached out to their representatives on Tuesday morning.

“We want to look at all possibilities, but there has to be a long-term plan because it’s going to very intense (at the Olympics) and it’s going to be great hockey and guys are going to have to have a plan for the year,” Burke said on a conference call, which also included the team’s head coach Willie Desjardins.

Whether or not the two veterans would be interested is another question.

“We really are not dealing with this issue as of now,” Don Meehan, Iginla’s agent, said in an email to The Canadian Press.

The report also indicated that Team Canada’s roster should become more clear by November.

Doan played his entire career with one franchise until this June, when Coyotes management informed the veteran forward that they would not be bringing him back for another season. He’s appeared in 1,540 NHL games throughout his career, but scored only six goals and 27 points in 74 games this past season.

Iginla, a two-time Olympic champion for Canada, split this season between Colorado and L.A. He had only eight goals and 18 points in 61 games with the Avalanche before getting dealt to the Kings. He then posted six goals and nine points in 19 games with L.A., although that club missed the playoffs.

Blue Jackets need Bobrovsky at his best to take the next step

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

When it came time for the annual NHL Awards, Sergei Bobrovsky‘s rebound season was, deservedly so, recognized with a Vezina Trophy.

(He was also a finalist for the Hart Trophy but that went to phenom forward Connor McDavid.)

At the heart of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ franchise record-setting season, which saw them win 50 games and post 108 points while competing for the Metropolitan Division, was the performance of Bobrovsky. He was brilliant, particularly after his previous season didn’t go according to plan, in large part because of injuries.

He posted 41 wins over 63 starts, the most in a single season for him, and a .931 save percentage. That last stat technically isn’t an individual career best for Bobrovsky, although the one time he achieved a better save percentage was over 38 games during the lockout-shortened season.

Critical to his play was the fact he was able to remain healthy — a priority for Columbus heading into last season, and something that will need to continue once again in 2017-18. He was able to gain confidence in his own game and help propel his teammates to a different level, as the Blue Jackets competed with Pittsburgh and Washington through a good portion of the season for the division lead.

“When Bob’s at his game and feeling good, it brings a whole different kind of confidence into that room,” team captain Nick Foligno told the Associated Press last season.

Where Bobrovsky has struggled is in the playoffs. That continued again this past spring. In five games against a talented Penguins roster in the opening round, he allowed 20 goals against with an .882 save percentage, and is reportedly open to the idea of seeing a sports psychologist to help get over that hurdle.

With a good young roster, the Blue Jackets took quite a step forward last season. There was another productive year from Cam Atkinson. Zach Werenski impressed as a rookie defenseman. The biggest difference, however, was the goaltending Bobrovsky provided.

It’s difficult to believe April’s playoff struggles will have much, if any, impact on Bobrovsky heading into the new season. After all, he was able to prove in the weeks before that he can bounce back from disappointing times.

And he was able to prove that, when at his best, the Blue Jackets could be a dangerous team.

After another productive season, Cam Atkinson enters contract year with Blue Jackets

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

Cam Atkinson had already proven himself to be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL. It was a mark he hit three consecutive times prior to last season.

And that’s when the former sixth-round pick from 2008 really broke out.

Atkinson, now 28 years old, led the Blue Jackets in scoring with 62 points. What highlighted his point totals was the fact he scored 35 goals — leading the team in that category, as well — in a year when only seven other players in the entire league were able to best his total, Sidney Crosby leading the way with 44.

Despite his output at the time, Atkinson was originally a snub from the 2017 All-Star Game before getting added to the event when Evgeni Malkin couldn’t participate because of injury.

Another area where Atkinson has been so valuable for the Blue Jackets has been on the power play. Of the 62 points he recorded last season, 21 of those were with the man advantage. He finished in a three-way tie for second on the team in that category.

It is worth pointing out that with the addition of Artemi Panarin, the Columbus coaching staff may have an adjustment in mind for Atkinson, according to assistant coach Brad Larsen.

From The Columbus Dispatch:

Larsen said plans can change – prospects are still a month away from leaving for Traverse City – but his first thought is to play Panarin at his familiar spot and slide Atkinson to the middle slot, one open with the free-agent defection of Sam Gagner.

“Panarin has had a ton of success on that off side with his one-timer,” Larsen said. “If I was going to say right now, I would say he’s going to start there. Cam has done an outstanding job there and we might shift him into the middle. Again, there are going to be discussions and we haven’t really gotten into it.”

While the Blue Jackets enter the season looking to build on a franchise record-setting 2016-17 campaign, Atkinson enters the final year of his current contract, which has a cap hit of $3.5 million and a total salary of $4.5 million, according to CapFriendly.

Aaron Portzline of The Athletic recently suggested market value on a long-term contract for Atkinson — who turns 29 years old next June, only a few weeks before free agency opens — may be between $5 million to “maybe” $6 million annually.

That’s a nice raise. Not bad for a player taken 157th overall in 2008. He now sits fourth among players from that draft class in career goals, behind only Steven Stamkos, Jordan Eberle and Derek Stepan.

Atkinson is now eligible to sign an extension, but for right now, the Blue Jackets still need to get restricted free agents Josh Anderson and Alexander Wennberg under contract for the upcoming season.