Every Tuesday, PHT will remember a hockey video game, preferably one less obvious than the “Swingers”-immortalized “NHL 94.” Due to technological limitations many reviews will lean closer to recollections. Either way, hopefully these are fun — and maybe inspire people to scour a flea market or two when it becomes safe to do so.
When EA Sports announced NHL Slapshot for the then-red-hot Nintendo Wii, some groaned as if they blocked an actual slapper. It ended up working out better than expected, just not enough to be a smash hit.
Plenty of game companies tried to emulate the “even kids and grandparents can play it” genius of Wii Sports, but most failed. Mix that copycat mentality with all of the “shovelware” being released and expectations were low for NHL Slapshot. A game where you morph a video game controller into a virtual hockey stick? Yeah, good luck with that.
Yet, instead of being a shameless, half-baked cash grab, NHL Slapshot ended up being … quite good. It simply didn’t put enough elements together to draw attention from enough of those kids and grandparents.
NHL Slapshot was better than expected, but maybe didn’t hit the sweet spot
This “controller trailer” captures many of the basics for NHL Slapshot. Basically, players would insert the Wii’s strange “nunchuk” controller setup into a plastic mini-stick included in the game’s box. Then they’d use it to play an arcade-style game.
EA Sports deserves a lot of credit — it was a pretty ingenious setup.
But, frankly, my overriding memory of owning NHL Slapshot was that dealing with the controller was kind of a pain. While it wasn’t that difficult to put together, it was just frustrating enough. Being that it was a MacGyver-style setup to turn that controller into a hockey stick, you’d have to take the controller out if you wanted to play another game. Unless you decided to have a controller devoted solely to NHL Slapshot. It could be a little uncomfortable at times, too.
That stick controller stands as a microcosm for the game overall. It was clever, but didn’t quite find that sweet spot. NHL Slapshot didn’t quite appease hardcore sports fans, and was a bit clunky for casual audiences.
Not quite there
Sometimes “better than it has any right to be” translates merely to a nice novelty that fades.
Performing the real-world gestures for crosschecks, slap shots, wrist shots, and poke checks triggers the corresponding moves in the game. The game tracks your checking and slap shot motions admirably, but the rest of the moves don’t have much accuracy. Backhands are particularly unresponsive, as are wrist shots in those moments where you pick up a loose puck around the net and must get off a shot in nanoseconds before getting checked or losing possession. The deking moves are very rigid in comparison to the analog stick movements in NHL 11, and given the slight controller lag, the poke check and stick sweep options aren’t effective strategies on defense.
Don’t take this as totally dragging EA, though. The game did quite a lot right, and that was reflected in some pretty solid reviews, as you can see at Metacritic. An aggregate score of 76 really isn’t half-bad for an experimental, family-friendly game like NHL Slapshot.
NHL Slapshot brought out Gretzky’s inner gamer
Even if the game was a total failure — which, again, it was not — this charmingly awkward footage of Gretzky playing the game would justify its existence.
Gretzky making the “I’m playing a game” face, especially in the beginning.
“The Great One” attempts to get his kid interested in playing a game, and largely being ignored.
Gretzky sounding like a kid when he says that he wants to play as Alex Ovechkin.
Pondering slight potential for a spiritual successor
As I mentioned before, NHL Slapshot seemed a touch before its time. It was a noble effort, but the lack of a sequel cements the notion that it didn’t quite come together.
It does make me wonder, though. What if EA or another company put real effort into a hockey video game that takes advantage of virtual reality?
Now, that hypothetical game would absolutely count as a niche within a niche. Even so, virtual reality games sometimes go that far, and a company like EA could conceivably bundle a hockey game with golf, football, and other sports. Sure, that sounds like a long shot, but NHL Slapshot was unlikely (and pretty solid) too, so who knows?
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• William Douglas mourns Marlowe Stoudamire, who passed away at age 43 because of COVID-19. Stoudamire made a big impact in Detroit, including helping to create the “Learn, Play, Score” program. That $1M program helped bring the sport to about 30,000 children in Detroit. Heartbreaking for sure, but Stoudamire clearly made a big impact on the sport and on his city. (NHL.com)
Eddie Lack retires
• Eddie Lack announced his retirement from hockey with a really wonderful four-part series of videos. For one thing, there’s plenty of humor involved. Kudos to Lack for poking fun at himself for allowing a long-distance goal from Brian McGrattan (!), and Roberto Luongo for poking fun at Lack for a stain.
The thread is particularly worth your time for Canucks fans and/or Swedish hockey fans:
It time for me to RETIRE. The next 7 minutes are a tribute to All of you that were with me during this crazy ride and my way of saying – THANK YOU.
It’s sad to see Eddie Lack retire, being that he’s only 32. As Lack said, though, hip issues weren’t making life any easier, so he’s moving on to a career in real estate.
Eddie Lack last played for the AHL’s Binghamton Devils in 2018-19, and his final NHL action came with the New Jersey Devils in 2017-18. So, yeah, it’s fair if your immediate reaction was: “Wait, didn’t Eddie Lack already retire?”
Other NHL/hockey headlines
• The Globe & Mail’s Morgan Campbell takes a look at how the NHL and other leagues might approach things post-pandemic. Could there be some silver linings? Campbell wonders, for instance, if leagues use this as a catalyst to improve ways of experiencing events even while de-emphasizing the in-arena experience. Organizations/leagues who are spry might be most adept at “taking lemons and making lemonade.” (The Globe & Mail)
• Kevin Fiala was never as happy or confident in hockey as he was late in 2019-20 — until the coronavirus pause happened. Even so, he believes that red-hot player we saw wasn’t merely an aberration. Instead, Fiala believes that’s simply what he is now. (Star-Tribune)
• Claude Giroux explains that the Flyers are trying to be positive, rather than frustrated, with the pause. (The Hockey News)
• High-end 2020 NHL Draft prospect Quinton Byfield is only 17. Yet, despite his age and the interruption, Byfield aims for an immediate jump to the NHL next season. He certainly has the size to play with the big boys at 6-foot-4. (TSN)
• In hindsight, Seth Jones made a wise decision in undergoing surgery rather than leaning on natural healing. Thanks to the hiatus, Jones won’t need to rush back, either. This situation is especially advantageous for 2019-20, but maybe also overall? The Blue Jackets can take heart in at least one thing working out well for them with this pause. (1st Ohio Battery)
• Projecting where the Penguins would be at if the season didn’t get paused. (Pensburgh)
The NHL and its teams have been making players, coaches and general managers available to the media during the league pause. The availabilities continued on Monday and we learned a few things along the way.
Quarantine stinks: Rask’s gas would keep Chara away
One of the more unexpected things learned Monday was that Tuukka Rask possesses some powerful flatulence. When asked which teammate he’d least like to be quarantined with, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara picked his goaltender.
“The way he farts, the smell is awful,” Chara said. “He like his chicken wings. I sit behind him on the bus and I’ve got tell you, I’ve got control myself sometimes.”
During an Instagram Q&A session Monday, David Pastrnak said that due to Rask’s love of chicken wings and the fact that he owns a sauna at home, he would choose the netminder to be his quarantine buddy.
Pasta did confirm the strength of Rask’s gas.
“His farts are pretty bad, but I think I could overcome it,” Pastrnak said. “I would definitely not skate through his crease anymore than once at practice.”
“I think in my case, it might be the other way around,” Rask said.
We need Tuukka mic’d up from now on for when action shifts to in front of him.
McLellan no fan of No. 1 draft pick tournament
A tournament with all of the non-playoff teams vying to win the 2020 No. 1 draft choice? Please, no, says Kings head coach Todd McLellan.
“I’m not a fan of it, one bit,” he said. “I don’t think the draft and the draft lottery was put in to reward the winner of a tournament. When you take teams that don’t make the playoffs … so team No. 17, if that’s the number, might miss the playoffs by one point. You compare them to teams at No 31 … there’s a big discrepancy between Nos. 17 and 31. No. 17 is going to have a greater chance of winning, and they’re less likely to need the first pick overall. So to me, it’s counterintuitive to do it that way. It makes no sense. But I’m only one voter.”
And he’s right. You think potential UFA Taylor Hall would want to play extra games to help the Coyotes, a team he may not even play for next season, win the first overall pick? We want to put meaningless mileage on Joe Thornton’s soon-to-be 41-year-old body? The NHLPA would shoot that idea down quickly.
Senators with coronavirus “doing well”
Of the four NHL players who tested positive for COVID-19, two are on the Senators. Brady Tkachuk was asked for an update on them and he said they are feeling good.
“We’re a tight group so we’re always in contact with one another,” he said, “but I think all of us are just concerned about them and everybody impacted by it.”
The players, whose identities were not revealed by the team, tested positive on March 17 and March 21, respectively. The Avalanche have also had two players test positive since the league pause.
Flyers’ Fletcher on keeping touch with his staff
It’s not just NHL players maintaining a group text while we maintain social distancing. Team executives keep them as well, according to Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher. He’s been in touch with his assistant GMs Brent Flahr and Barry Hanrahan about contracts and the draft, which was postponed last week.
“They’re working hard on getting their lists for the draft, watching video, doing reports, having discussions on players and doing things that they would typically do at this time of the year with the obvious exception that we were are not able to watch games live right now,” Fletcher said. “Barry is working on contracts and cap related issues going forward. Obviously, we’ve been able to sign a couple of our unsigned draft choices, Tanner Laczynski and Wade Allison recently. Barry’s been on the forefront of those conversations. We stay in touch every day and try to coordinate things that we do.
“Personally, I am trying to reach out to a lot of our support staff and scouts as well as people like Bob Clarke, Paul Holmgren, Bill Barber and Dave Scott to keep the lines of communication going. To speak to people on a regular basis and just to do what we can to stay busy.”
Fletcher is also staying in touch with his head coach, Alain Vigneault. There’s a lot that can’tbe done until the NHL resumes, but there’s still plenty of planning that is taking place for down the road.
“He had been working on his golf swing for a while, but right now he’s like the rest of us, he’s going through notes and trying to stay safe,” said Fletcher. “I speak to AV every week, just once a week. I’ve reached out to quite a few of the coaching staff, scouting staff and supporting staff and try to stay in regular contact with them, whether it’s by a phone call, text or email. We’re all trying to stay in touch and do what we can.
“Again, for obvious reasons, a lot of our business has been shut down right now. Most of the things we can focus on are matters going forward, whether that’s the draft or signing some of our players. Maybe planning some things for the future.”
Several years ago video was unearthed of a teenaged Dylan Larkin and his buddy shooting pucks in his basement, a.k.a. “the dungeon,” for a little “snip show,” as he described it. In it, we learned the Red Wings star had given himself the nickname “D-Boss.”
Asked if a prolonged NHL pause could give the world some followup D-Boss videos, Larkin kept the door open.
“It might come, I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve got a little shooting area in the garage — The Dungeon 2.0. I’ll have to get out there and make a video. Fans might like it. We’ll see.”
Capitals GM on finishing the season
Brian MacLellan, whose Capitals are currently atop the Metropolitan Division, was asked about how the NHL should finish its season. There have been many ideas on the subject from playing out all 82 games to going right to the playoffs. He would like to see some number of games before the playoffs begin.
“Fair to me would be all teams play the same number of games both home and away,” MacLellan said. “Depending on the time you have, when or if we come back, you could set the schedule at 72, 74 games as close to possible home and away, if you could even those out, and go from there.”
As far as what a playoff format would look like, it would all depend on the timeframe to award the Stanley Cup.
“There’s no set answer to it because I don’t know how much time we’ll have,” he said. “If we have eight weeks, 10 weeks, do we have more than 10 weeks? Depending on that time frame and if that’s even legitimate at the time, you would have to set your schedule there. So could you shorten the series? Could you shorten the schedule? I think all those options are on the table. I think it’s just how the virus plays out and how we handle and how much time we’d have to get a season in – if we can get a season in at the end.”
When the coronavirus outbreak started to ratchet up in mid-March, hockey fans received at least one bit of soothing news. It turns out Joe Thornton doesn’t rank among the NHL players who might be considering retirement as the season hangs in the balance.
TSN/The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported that Thornton responded to a question about playing next season by texting back, “I have years to go!” If you’re like me, triumphant music might as well have been playing while you read that. (My choice: the “victory song” from Final Fantasy games.)
Check out LeBrun’s tweet. It’s been a while, so maybe you already saw it anyway, and could use a reason to smile?
Checked in with Joe Thornton today. Even if the NHL season resumes at some point, I'm not sure non-playoff teams will be involved. So I asked him about playing next season.“I have years to go!,'' Jumbo replied via text. So plan on seeing him next season (and maybe beyond)…
A couple days later, The Athletic’s James Mirtle put together a thorough list of players who might have played in their final NHL games (sub required). I thought it might be useful to take a look at this group of aging veterans and wonder: should they have played their last NHL games? As we know, plenty of athletes don’t get to make the final call on retiring, instead being forced to fade from the glory because they couldn’t find any takers.
Other aging forwards give Joe Thornton company when it comes to wanting to be back in 2020-21, and possibly beyond.
Frankly, quite a few of these players should be of interest to someone, and I’d figure the biggest stumbling block might be fit. Would these players only suit up for a contender?
If there’s some flexibility, then many would make a lot of sense. There were some rumblings that the Sharks found a taker for Patrick Marleau because he’s still a pretty good skater, while a more plodding Joe Thornton made for a tougher fit. Similarly, some coaches will be more willing to overlook Ilya Kovalchuk’s defensive lapses than others. The Maple Leafs made an analytics-savvy move in adding Jason Spezza, and he remains an underrated option. Especially since he’s probably not going to break the bank. Justin Williams is likely poised to call his shot again, and justifiably so.
Someone like Mikko Koivu figures to be trickier. Koivu seemed to indicate that he wasn’t OK with being traded from the Wild, so if he remains Wild-or-nothing, that could get awkward.
The Stars made a reasonably low-risk gamble on Corey Perry, but that didn’t really seem to work out. Perry and (possibly AHL-bound) Justin Abdelkader might not have the choice.
You can break down forwards into “surprisingly useful,” “some warts but probably worth a roster spot,” and then “broken down guys who’d live off of name recognition.”
An uncomfortable number of the defensemen above (Brent Seabrook, Roman Polak, Jonathan Ericsson, and Trevor Daley) could fall close to that broken down category. At least if you’re like me, and you hope Jay Bouwmeester bows out gracefully rather than risking his health after that scare.
Zdeno Chara stands tall as a “play as long as you want” option. Dan Hamhuis and Ron Hainsey mix the good with the bad, and could probably be decent options for coaches who simply demand veteran presences.
But the forward group is far richer, it seems.
This post largely focuses on to-the-point analysis. Is this player good enough? Would they be willing to make some compromises to sign with a team?
But what about the human factor? This coronavirus pause is allowing players to spend more time with their families. For some, that might mean too much of a good thing/fodder for making a chicken coop. Yet, goalies like Ryan Miller might get another nudge out the door.
Back in June 2019, Ryan Miller explained why he came back to the Ducks. In doing so, Miller relayed this precious and heartbreaking detail about his then-4-year-old son Bodhi Miller pleading with him to retire.
“It’s not like he’s a little bit older and understands the full weight of his words,” Miller said to The Athletic’s Josh Cooper (sub required). “He was like, ‘If you aren’t doing that, you could be playing superheroes with me every single day.’”
Jimmy Howard is no spring chicken at 36. After a sneaky-strong 2018-19 season, his play dropped significantly. He’d likely need to take significant role and pay decreases to stay in the NHL.
Mike Smith warrants consideration, too. He’s struggled for two seasons now, and is 38.
Closing thoughts on NHL players considering retirement
While family time might nudge some toward retirement, added rest — particularly if play doesn’t resume this season and playoffs – could also revitalize certain veterans.
Overall, it’s a lot to think about regarding NHL players who might be considering retirement. Which players should lean toward hanging their skates up, and who should NHL teams convince to stick around? This list isn’t comprehensive, so bring up names of your own.