James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.

‘Draft Champions’ is an NHL 17 mode to get excited about


Many people believe that sports video games often amount to little more than “roster updates.”

That’s really not always true, yet it is fair to say that new features frequently do little beyond adding some “back of the box” buzz.

It’s quite possible that NHL 17’s “Draft Champions” mode will fizzle out like many others, but here’s hoping that is not the case.

There’s evidence that such a mode could really add a nice bit of variety to the title. “Madden 16” introduced the concept, inspiring rave reviews from the likes of Polygon’s Owen S. Good, who labeled it “a wickedly clever challenge” that applies the ideas of daily fantasy sports “and applies it to video games marvelously.”

It’s a lot like a fantasy draft in video game modes, only it’s also about scarcity; you can only tweak some of your team, so you often need to weigh that age-old draft question of “best player available” vs. “meeting a need.”

The mode doesn’t last a generation’s worth of seasons like other ones, either, so it really keeps things fresh.

Here’s how EA describes how the mode will exist in NHL 17:

The new Draft Champions mode introduces the thrill of the fantasy draft with fast rounds of superstar picks. Each round challenges managers to choose the best players to build a balanced team. Immediately following your draft, take to the ice and fulfill your team’s potential by winning the Draft Championship.

Yup, that could be pretty cool, even if it might lack the depth of the Madden version in certain areas like “coaching playbook.”

For more information regarding the game, check out NHL 17’s “Vision” trailer in the video above this post’s headline. This post also details new features.

Facts about Gordie Howe (that often feel like fiction)

Hockey fans and historians can spend hours debating where Gordie Howe belongs on a list of the greatest players of all-time, especially on the day that he passed away at 88.

It feels pretty safe to say that he leads the NHL in accomplishments that seem downright fictional, and barring some inane sports science breakthrough, we probably won’t see anyone like him again.

Honestly, this Rotoworld timeline for Howe’s life and career reads more like a series of Chuck Norris jokes than it does a factual career resume for “Mr. Hockey.”

Here are some nuggets from Michael Finewax’s great rundown, which you should read in awe:

1951-52-In addition to the Art Ross, Howe wins his first Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player. He has 47 goals and 86 points in the regular season and wins his second Stanley Cup as the Red Wings win in eight straight games. The octopus makes its first appearance at that time in the Olympia.

1963-64–Howe gets his 545th career goal to surpass Rocket Richard as the all-time NHL leading goal scorer on November 10th, 1963. President Kennedy assassinated 12 days later.

1968-69–Scores his 700th career goal. Finishes third in scoring at the age of 43 and has the most prolific season in his career with 103 points.

1979-80-The Howes return to the NHL with Hartford, as Gordie plays his final season. He manages 15 goals and 41 points and retires at the age of 52 at the end of the season. Howe finishes his NHL career with 801 goals, 1049 assists and 1850 points, the best in NHL history at the time of his retirement.

1997-Howe plays one shift for the Detroit Vipers on October 3, becoming the first hockey player to play professionally in six decades. He is 69.

Seriously, how is this the career of a single person and not … three or four?

Puck Daddy gets it right: Howe was the sort of figure you’d write a “book report” about, although an uninformed teacher might accuse you of spinning fiction.

This video from the NHL provides a great retrospective on Howe’s career, too:

The Red Wings presented a great tribute as well:

Remembering Gordie Howe

“Mr Hockey” passes away at age 88

Hockey world mourns Howe, “the greatest Red Wing of all-time.”

Wayne Gretzky’s bond with his idol

Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky: A legendary bond


When it came to No. 9 and No. 99, the bond between Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky spans most of Gretzky’s life.

“The Great One” noted to ESPN that he initially met “Mr. Hockey” when he was about eight or nine years old, the first of many instances in which the two legends crossed paths.

“It was the greatest day of my life,” Gretzky said on the Dan Patrick Show today while discussing Howe’s passing.

Gretzky volunteers as much time and time again: he believes Howe is the best hockey player of all-time.

“I’m impressed by Crosby, Ovechkin, Stamkos, Toews — those guys do such great things for our game today,” Gretzky told ESPN in February. “But Gordie Howe is the greatest player who ever lived. There’s not even a question about it. Imagine scoring 20 goals at 50 years old? Jonathan Toews might be the greatest athlete in the game today. He’s not playing at 50 and he’s not scoring 20 goals. Nobody ever will again. It’s a fact.”

One of their early meetings spawned this iconic image, via Sports Illustrated’s Vault:

It was far from the last, however, as the two became intrinsically linked as Gretzky eventually passed Howe for the NHL’s all-time points lead.

They even apparently ended up recreating that photo:

Remarkably, Howe and Gretzky crossed paths on the ice during Howe’s incredibly lengthy, one-of-a-kind playing career:

Gretzky noted on the Dan Patrick Show that people sometimes feel disappointment when they meet their idols, yet Howe lived up to lofty expectations.

In this great Sportsnet interview, Gretzky explained the rather simple way that Howe became his favorite player. He also steadfastly sticks to his belief that Howe was the greatest.

“Don’t look at this as I’m breaking your records, look at it as the game’s changed,” Gretzky said when explaining why he asked Howe to be on hand for some of those record-breaking moments.

More than a few people from around the hockey world either agree or at least understand the argument.

In the grand scheme of things, those debates aren’t particularly important. It seems pretty clear that Howe and Gretzky formed a bond that transcended the sport, and they knew it.

Update: Gretzky posted this two-part statement on Twitter:

More on “Mr Hockey.”

The hockey world mourns Howe

Dan Patrick reflects upon Howe’s legacy

The NHL pays tribute to No. 9

The hockey world pays tribute to Gordie Howe


The hockey world is in deep mourning on Friday, as word surfaced that “Mr. Hockey” Gordie Howe died at age 88.

People tend to throw around superlatives at times like these, yet they’re fitting in this case; there will never be another player quite like No. 9.

The “Gordie Howe hat trick” – a goal, an assist and a fight – is a testament to his unmistakable blend of courage, toughness and skill. Even so, it represents a mere sliver of the impact he made on the sport (and beyond).

Odes to “Mr. Hockey” are pouring in from all corners today. Here are some of the most touching and heartbreaking remembrances.

Red Kelly spoke of Howe being a Canadian hero, the country’s equivalent to John Wayne, as he told The Globe & Mail:

He’s gone now, but he’d long ago become a feature of our imaginations. Howe’s name summons up a game we’d no longer recognize and an idyllic, illusory vision of the sea-to-sea-to-sea.

What he represents now is Canada’s frontier spirit. We don’t have movie stars or galloping politicians to anchor our national mythology. We have hockey players, and none greater than Howe. He’s our John Wayne, our Theodore Roosevelt.

He is an idealized vision of ourselves – tough, decent and uncompromising.

The tone was often appropriately solemn, yet there were moments of humor and awe mixed in as well.

Again, his impact reverberates beyond hockey into other sports and even pop culture:

Few athletes make the kind of mark that “Mr. Hockey” ended up leaving behind.

PHT Morning Skate: Another sign that ads on NHL sweaters are coming


PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

A high-ranking Toronto Maple Leafs executive talks up “measured, tasteful, controlled” ads on jerseys. THAT’S HOW THEY ALL START. /cries (TSN)

25 Stanley Cup facts. (Sportsnet)

A little late on this, but Greatest Hockey Legends presents its top 100 hockey players of all-time. (Greatest Hockey Legends)

Apparently John Calipari was at Game 5. (The Score)

NHL Numbers breaks down the Philadelphia Flyers’ salary cap situation. (NHL Numbers)

How the Pittsburgh Pirates supported their NHL cousins. (Puck Daddy)

My goodness, Antonio Brown. My. Goodness.