Martin St. Louis

Thornton NHL 2K cover
via 2K Sports

PHT remembers hockey video games: An ode to the NHL 2K series

Every Tuesday, PHT will remember a hockey video game (or games). Since we don’t have every console or cartridge, some posts will be recollections, not reviews. This week, we look back at the NHL 2K series, which served as great competition for EA’s NHL games, particularly during the Playstation 2 era.

This past weekend, ESPN’s feed gave Twitter addicts welcome reprieve from “pick three” lists with the question: “What is the peak of your personal athletic achievements?”

Naturally, I sat that out, as my peak athletic achievements lean toward “not being chosen last in a pickup game.” Now, if you ask about the peak of my fake video game athletic achievements, the NHL 2K series etched one moment in my memory.

A personal highlight from the NHL 2K series

Allow me to set the scene.

It was late in the summer of 2006, in my deeply crummy Texas apartment. If “Guitar Hero” wasn’t on the screen, chances are, it was “NHL 2K6.”

Facing off for the first time against someone who would become a lifelong friend, I was controlling Ilya Kovalchuk. And, folks, I made the move.

If you’ve ever gotten hooked on hockey video games, you know that there are some surefire ways to score goals. In that run of NHL 2K games, this cheesy behind the net plus backhand move was money. Especially with Kovalchuk.

Yet, instead of cash registers ringing from said money, there was … nothing. Was I mad? Perhaps, but I was undoubtedly perplexed.

Well, it turns out that the money move was indeed money. Maybe Kovalchuk doing the move broke the game. The puck actually hit the very top of the glass behind the net, bounced back off of the opposing goalie, hit the crossbar, and went in.

Speaking of being mad or not, if my friend was upset, he didn’t exactly show it. We were both perplexed, and frankly in awe.

During the latter years of the Playstation 2 era, the NHL 2K series captured my attention away from EA’s offerings. That turned out to be short-lived, as EA pulled away with the “skill stick” and jump to the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.

NHL 2K didn’t just fall behind in the race. It ended up falling out altogether.

But, like the Blackhawks and Kings … hey, we still have the memories. And a lot of the NHL 2K memories ended up being fond ones. For a while.

The birth of the NHL 2K series

As with 2K Sports’ other sports titles, including the still-running NBA 2K franchise, and the still-beloved NFL 2K games, the NHL 2K series got its start on the all-too-briefly realized Sega Dreamcast console.

(If you want to observe people getting weird about video game hardware, do some Dreamcast deep diving.)

  • NHL 2K launched the series with Brendan Shanahan on the cover.
  • The series took a year off, returning with Chris Drury-starring NHL 2K2. It might have been the final North American release for the Dreamcast.
  • NHL 2K3 and the following release ESPN NHL Hockey both featured Jeremy Roenick on their covers. (The 2K games did this around that era, as Allen Iverson basically had a monopoly on the NBA 2K games.)

ESPN NHL 2K5: darkest spot of the golden era

There was a lot to like about ESPN NHL 2K5. It was part of the run of 2K games that were only $20, and it didn’t backfire for the NHL 2K series like it did for NFL 2K.

(People also lionize ESPN NFL 2K5 to this day.)

But whenever I saw that cover with Martin St. Louis, I couldn’t avoid thoughts about the 2004-05 lockout.

2K Sports/Youtube

Dark times.

  • Personally speaking, NHL 2K6 and NHL 2K7 were the last titles in the series that truly hooked me (and friends).

NHL 2K7 wasn’t just a swan song to many. It also featured out of place songs by way of a soundtrack with acts like The Postal Service. It’s uncomfortable that the latter stages of the series were more worthy of emo.

EA Sports pulls away

Things drastically changed when EA made a more successful jump to the next consoles thanks to brilliant execution of “the skill stick.”

  • You could really start to see the strain to catch up with NHL 2K8, which wasn’t received particularly well. Things didn’t get much better for NHL 2K9, either.
  • Consider NHL 2K10 something of the end of an era, as it was the last in the series to appear on the more powerful consoles. It’s also an oddity that Alex Ovechkin was on the cover, being that he also appeared on the cover for EA’s NHL ’07.

NHL 2K10 did cater to fans in two specific ways: being the first to feature the Winter Classic, and also helped turn the tide for the Hartford Whalers’ jerseys to appear in games again.

  • Things really fizzled out from there with NHL 2K11 (Wii and iPhone) and simply NHL 2K (mobile game) years later in 2014. Curiously, Ryan Kesler was the cover star for the latter two games.

***

Basically, the NHL 2K series went out like … erm, Ryan Kesler, actually. But like a beloved star who stayed around too long, let’s try to remember the good times instead of the sadder moments.

PHT remembers other hockey video games:

  • NHL Championship 2000, Fox’s rare foray into hockey video games, starring Mike Modano.
  • NHL Slapshot, a Wii video game with a small plastic hockey stick peripheral that even Wayne Gretzky found delightful.
  • EA’s NHL ’98, when the company hit its polygonal stride, and also featured a great soundtrack (ironically and unironically?).

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Oilers look for depth beyond McDavid, Draisaitl

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The Edmonton Oilers have an opportunity to secure home-ice advantage for part of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, they need help from anyone not named Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl.

McDavid scored his 30th of the season to give the Oilers a two-goal first-period advantage. But the San Jose Sharks rallied with five straight goals and collected a 6-3 victory Thursday at Rogers Place.

Timo Meier scored twice, Brent Burns and Joe Thornton each had two assists in the Sharks’ second straight win. Aaron Dell added 28 saves in his 11th win of the season.

Edmonton’s dynamic duo have the chance to finish the season leading the NHL in scoring, which is an incredible feat. Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos pulled it off in the shortened 2012-13 season.

The Oilers captain showed why he is the most dangerous player in the NHL early in the first period. He sped past Mario Ferraro after catching the Sharks defenseman slightly out of position in the neutral zone. McDavid’s ability not only to fly on the rink, but skate at lightning speed with possession of the puck is his best attribute.

While possessing blazing speed is an important characteristic for McDavid, he also has the hands to finish the play and convert a deke at a similar pace.

However, McDavid and Draisaitl’s success also calls out the need for more contributions from up and down the lineup.

General manager Ken Holland has limited salary cap space available at the trade deadline and cannot afford to add a player that does not have an expiring contract. Nevertheless, an opportunity has presented itself and the Oilers have the chance to play playoff hockey if the right reinforcements are brought in.

Holland’s hands are tied due to cap limitations, but great executives always find a way to add the right piece.

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

PHT Decade in Review: Most significant trades in hockey

As 2019 comes to a close, we’re taking a look back at the past decade. We’ll remember the best players and teams, most significant goals, and biggest transactions that have happened since 2010. Let us know your memories in the comments.

Best Hockey Trades

Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen

The Nashville Predators and Columbus Blue Jackets each had a glaring need and were able to help each other when Seth Jones and Ryan Johansen were traded for one another. From Columbus’ perspective, Johansen was not a favorite of coach John Tortorella and already had a lengthy contract dispute. Nashville had an abundance of talent on the blueline and needed to find a top line centerman. When a trade of this magnitude happens, one team usually regrets the move but, in this situation, both teams were left quite pleased.

Martin St. Louis for Ryan Callahan

It takes a lot of extenuating circumstances for two teams in the thick of a playoff race to trade their captains, but in 2014, the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning completed the transaction. Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman created a dispute with Martin St. Louis when he left the future Hall-Of-Famer off Team Canada’s original roster for the Sochi Olympics. In return, St. Louis requested a trade and the Lightning ended up honoring the request. On the other side, Glen Sather wrapped up contract extensions with Henrik Lundqvist and Dan Girardi but struggled to find common ground with Callahan. Even though the Lightning had very little leverage in the negotiations, Yzerman still found a way to pry two first-round picks from New York in the process. The Rangers went on to lose in the 2014 Cup Final and fell in the 2015 Conference Finals to the Lightning in a seven-game series. Neither team won a championship because of this move, but both clubs settled a problem with this transaction.

Mike Richards and Jeff Carter end up in Los Angeles, Flyers acquire Wayne Simmonds, Bradyen Schenn and Jakub Voracek

A few maneuvers were significant when Los Angeles won two Stanley Cups early in the decade, but the Kings paid a steep price to acquire Mike Richards in June 2011. Coincidentally, another big piece, Jeff Carter, was traded that day to the Columbus Blue Jackets. He was eventually sent to Los Angeles at the 2012 trade deadline where he became a key cog for the Kings. Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Dustin Brown were already in place, but the acquisition of Richards and Carter were a huge reason why Los Angeles was very successful in the first half of the decade.

On the flip side, the Flyers were looking to change the culture around the club that offseason and landed Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn in the Richards deal, while acquiring Jakub Voracek in the Carter trade. Philadelphia did not win a Stanley Cup, but they were not ripped off in either deal when trading legitimate NHL stars.

Flames send Dougie Hamilton to the Hurricanes in five-player trade

It was a blockbuster trade in June of 2018 that helped both the Carolina Hurricanes and Calgary Flames. Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and Adam Fox were sent to Carolina in exchange for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm. If one was to define a hockey trade, this would be a great place to start.

One sided trades

Bruins ship Tyler Seguin to Dallas

There are always overreactions after losing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs but the way the Boston Bruins reacted to losing the 2013 Stanley Cup Final was clearly a mistake. The Bruins front office decided to trade Tyler Seguin, a star in the making, to the Dallas Stars for Loui Eriksson and several other pieces. The Bruins did not make matters worse by handing Eriksson a lucrative contract extension in the summer of 2016, but they did lose a player that averaged 77 points per season since the trade.

Capitals send Filip Forsberg to Nashville for Martin Erat

George McPhee is most likely still having nightmares about this transaction.

Ben Bishop for Cory Conacher

This deal is easy to judge knowing how each player performed since the trade. However, in April of 2013 the move did make some sense for both teams. The Ottawa Senators had a crowded crease with Craig Anderson, Robin Lehner and Bishop while Conacher was off to a strong start with the Tampa Bay Lightning, recording 24 points (nine goals, 15 assists) in the first 35 games of the season. The undersized forward instantly became the Senators’ leading scorer upon his arrival but would never become the lethal scorer Ottawa hoped for. On the other hand, Bishop has become a well-rounded NHL goaltender.

Griffin Reinhart to Edmonton

There probably could be a category for several of the moves Peter Chiarelli made but trading two premium draft picks for Griffin Reinhart is at the top of the list. It doesn’t help when one of those picks turned into Mathew Barzal, but the Oilers general manager hoped Reinhart would solve Edmonton’s defensive issues. Former Islanders general manager Garth Snow is probably still confused how he pulled this one off.

Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson

Hall helped the New Jersey Devils return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and captured the 2018 Hart trophy, while Edmonton picked up a middle-pairing defenseman.

Mika Zibanejad for Derick Brassard

Why the Ottawa Senators were interested in trading a young center with Zibanejad’s potential is still a bit mind-boggling. The Swedish forward has turned into one of the more underrated centers in the NHL while Brassard has bounced around the NHL the past couple of seasons.

Brent Burns to the Sharks

The Minnesota Wild received Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and a first-round draft pick, but Burns has been one of the most dynamic defensemen in the entire NHL throughout the decade. There are very few assets that could have lived up to the value Burns has provided on the ice.

Franchise Altering Maneuvers

P.K. Subban for Shea Weber

For those who understand the salary cap recapture penalties, the Nashville Predators took a significant gamble when sending Shea Weber to the Montreal Canadiens for P.K. Subban. If Weber were to retire before his deal runs out, they will be forced to operate with a lot of dead money on their books.

Subban did help the Predators reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2017 but has since been shipped off to the New Jersey Devils.

Blues acquire Ryan O'Reilly

The 2019 Conn Smythe winner was an integral member of the St. Louis Blues’ Stanley Cup run last season. Doug Armstrong gave up a lot at the time including a top prospect, two premium picks and two roster players, but the Buffalo Sabres miscalculated in their evaluation. Without the the O’Reilly acquisition, the song ‘Gloria’ is probably not a huge hit in the St. Louis area.

Penguins acquire Phil Kessel

It wasn’t always a smooth ride in Pittsburgh, but Kessel averaged 75 points per season and played a major part in back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships.

TJ Oshie to the Capitals

The Washington Capitals have been one of the most successful teams over the last decade but didn’t get over the hump until the spring of 2018. T.J. Oshie was not the main piece during the championship run, but he has provided secondary scoring and strong two-way play since his acquisition in the summer of 2015.

MORE PHT DECADE IN REVIEW FUN:
• Top NHL players in fantasy hockey
• Most significant goals
• Best players of the decade
• Favorite goals, best/worst jerseys
Best NHL teams of the decade

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Appreciating Stamkos’ underrated career at 400 goals

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Calling Steven Stamkos “underrated” never really feels right, but you might argue that his greatness is “too easily forgotten.”

Maybe you can chalk it up to Alex Ovechkin‘s even-more-impressive goal-scoring pyrotechnics, or perhaps to some mid-career injuries that diluted some of his career peaks, but either way, Stamkos’ career achievements can sneak up on you.

Take scoring 400 goals, for example.

Stamkos hit that mark in his last game, and with Tuesday’s Lightning – Blues contest soon to air on NBCSN (livestream link), this seems like a great time to consider what we’ve seen from Stamkos, and what else we might see going forward.

Rare company

Stamkos didn’t just hit 400 goals in Tampa’s Nov. 16 loss to the Winnipeg Jets; he also did it before age 30 (he’ll turn 3-0 on Feb. 7). Less than 20 players have reached 400 goals before age 30.

He’s one of only nine active players to hit 400, and did so the second-quickest among those nine, managing the feat in just 763 games. (Alex Ovechkin is first, getting there, somehow, in just 634 GP). Stamkos is also only the 98th player to reach 400+ goals, period.

Stamkos’ .52 goals-per-game average places him at 16th all-time among players with at least 300 games played, by Hockey Reference’s measures. That average is higher than the likes of Guy Lafleur (.50) and Eric Lindros (.49).

With 786 points in those 763 games, Stamkos ranks ninth among active players, and his 1.03 ppg average fittingly ties him with teammate Nikita Kucherov for sixth-best among active players.

Stamkos is a two-time Maurice Richard Trophy winner, and became a rare 60-goal scorer in 2011-12. Pretty lofty stuff.

And, naturally, it’s not all in the past.

Stamkos comes into Thursday’s game on a tear, having generated a five-game point streak (two goals, six assists). He already has 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 17 games this season. The 2018-19 season ranks among his best, too, with 45 goals and a career-high 98 points.

[COVERAGE OF BLUES-LIGHTNING BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Passing fancy

It’s a bit absurd to ding Childhood Stamkos for not having much of a shot, but it’s kind of an adorable way to illustrate the point that the Lightning forward has grown his game over the years — which might come in handy if his shot becomes slightly less terrifying.

“When he was a kid, he couldn’t shoot,” his father, Chris Stamkos, told The Athletic’s Joe Smith (sub required) in a great story about Stamkos’ shot. “He could skate and pass, but he couldn’t shoot.”

Stamkos’ former partner-in-crime Martin St. Louis praised Stamkos to Smith, stating that Stamkos isn’t just a “one-trick pony.”

There was some concern that Stamkos’ shot might have been diminishing, but his 45 goals quieted a lot of worries. Normally a 19.2 shooting percentage would make you think fluke, but with a career average of 16.9, maybe he still has time as a an elite sniper?

Some of this comes down to the inevitable drive to create plays for Nikita Kucherov. Of course Stamkos will start to get his playmaking to sniping ratio closer to 1:1 when he’s paired with a winger who’s arguably already even more dangerous than him, right?

After all, his shot volume is still there.

Overall, his partnership with Kucherov should be heartening for the Lightning when it comes to Stamkos’ future. If Stamkos does indeed become less dangerous at sniping as he passes 30 — a common thing for mortal snipers, aka those not named Ovechkin — then he can conceivably tweak the dials to set up Kucherov more. He’s found quite the player to grow old with, as Kucherov and Stamkos even fit each other as left and right-handed shots respectively. It’s the ideal mix for one-timers, basically making them the hockey equivalent of a couple where one spouse prefers drumstick chicken wings while the other digs the flats.

Evolving game

Again, Stamkos has found ways to improve his overall game, which is promising if his scoring does drop off.

Amusingly, Stamkos noted how low his faceoff rating was when EA Sports named him the cover star for NHL ’12, and we’ve seen his acumen in that area rise — probably coincidentally. Stamkos’ early career faceoff percentage was just 46.4. Stamkos improved gradually over the years, and has really took off in that area since 2015-16, winning 53.7 percent of his draws. This season, Stamkos has won a whopping 60 percent.

While the impact of faceoff dominance can be overblown, the point is really that Stamkos continues to refine his game. He won’t be mistaken for a Selke frontrunner anytime soon, but by becoming more well-rounded, Stamkos faces a strong chance of mitigating the aging process by bringing more to the table than just scoring.

***

So, yeah, it can be easy to forget how special Stamkos is. Maybe winning that elusive Stanley Cup might shine that spotlight on him a bit more?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Nikita Kucherov somehow already has 71 points

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Even in the stunningly score-happy 2018-19 season, 71 points would be fantastic work for, you know, mere mortals.

After generating a goal and an assist in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 4-0 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, Nikita Kucherov already has that many points in just 43 games. Yeah.

Along with getting a primary assist on a Brayden Point goal, Kucherov connected for his 21st goal of the season with this tally:

To give some mind-boggling perspective, consider this: on Jan. 8, 2018, Kucherov topped all NHL scorers with 59 points in 42 games, seven points more than anyone else at that time. The slacker.

Kucherov isn’t just leading the NHL with those 71 points; he’s also rubbing elbows with some of the game’s greats. The league pointed out some staggering stats:

  • Kucherov is the first player to reach 70+ points in 43 games since Jaromir Jagr hit that mark in 38 contests, way back in 1999-2000. Former Lightning great Martin St. Louis managed to hit 70 in 53 contests back in 2006-07, which was the best pace between Jagr’s feat and Kucherov doing so on Tuesday.
  • His playmaking has been especially prolific. The NHL notes that Kucherov is the 10th player to generate at least 50 assists in 43 games. The most recent time that happened came from a scary 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins group of Jagr, Mario Lemieux, and Ron Francis. No big deal.

Kucherov’s 71 points in 43 games translates to about a 1.65-point-per-game pace. If he maintained that blistering productivity, Kucherov would author an absurd 135 point season. The 2017-18 campaign represents his career-high so far in the NHL, as he generated 100 points in 80 games.

Pretty zany stuff. For a deeper dive on Kucherov’s torrid last few months, check out this recent post from PHT’s Adam Gretz.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.