PHT remembers video games: EA Sports’ NHL ’98 and its unmatched intro video

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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 at NHL ’98, one of the most interesting entries in EA Sports’ series.

NHL ’98 won’t dominate “best sports games ever” tournaments like early entries in the series. NHL ’98 doesn’t corner the market on hockey video game nostalgia. It’s a bit niche for widespread warm-and-fuzzies.

Even so, NHL ’98 stands as one of the most noteworthy entries in the series. And it’s certainly one of the quirkiest.

(Note: this post discusses the Playstation version of NHL ’98. The entry is also noteworthy for being the last released on Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis.)

EA finally found its Playstation-era footing with NHL ’98

Asking a video game company to pump out an annual sports title is already asking a lot. Asking them to make a jump from console generations borders on audacious, especially around this time, when developers were still trying to figure out the whole “polygon” thing.

The NHL series’ stumbles backed up that notion. Most dramatically, EA Sports decided not to release NHL ’96 on Playstation for quality reasons. (See page 16 of this PDF of GamePro magazine. Heh.)

The company managed to pump out NHL ’97 for Sony’s world-beating console. Not only did the game capitalize on the Panthers’ stunning run, but they even incorporated John Vanbiesbrouck’s mask design into the disc art:

NHL '98 big step up from 97 except for disc art
Still pretty rad. Via EA Sports/Moby Games

Unfortunately, playing NHL ’97 was only slightly more enjoyable than taking refuge from a barrage of plastic rats. OK, that’s unfair, but critics backed up my teenage memories of being a little disappointed.

(That said, I’m bummed that a cursory video search didn’t turn up any of John Davidson’s pre-game analysis videos. Those were mind-blowing in 1996/97, let me tell you.)

Really, it wasn’t until NHL ’98 that EA Sports really got things right on the PS1. Not only was it well-received at the time, but Gamespot’s Brian Ekberg thought enough of the title to revisit it in 2005. That isn’t a small feat considering the churn of yearly sports releases (especially back when you might *gasp* see more than one major title per sport).

Quirks that made it memorable

As much as fun gameplay made NHL ’98 sing, the game really took advantage of CD technology to up the presentation.

(Some of the menu music will still trickle into my head.)

The biggest impression comes from the rocking and deeply silly intro video. Do yourself a favor and watch that embedded clip above this post’s headline.

To my delight, Game Informer’s Matthew Kato looked back at that ridiculous(ly great) intro in a 2018 article, catching up with composer Jeff van Dyck. Van Dyck provided a fun peek behind the curtain on making that video and the game’s music in general.

“[Producer Ken Sayler] said something like, ‘There should be a voice in here, an announcer, saying some stuff. Can you write some stuff?” Van Dyck said of composing music for the intro. “And I said, ‘I’m not really sure what he should say,’ and basically [Sayler] just rattled off what you hear in that intro. It was very flippant, the way he issued it. I think he was expecting me to re-write it, but at the time I just went, ‘Well, it sounds good enough to me.'”

And that’s how we got gems like “Are you afraid of the masked man?” in NHL ’98.

It’s all silly, yet the footage is remarkable enough that it just works. Even the font is pretty funny.

NHL ’98 featured avid gamer Marc Crawford

While Van Dyck went on to other EA projects, the NHL series and other sports games leaned on licensed tracks, making his compositions fairly unique for the series.

Also unusual: getting an active head coach involved in development. As you can see from issue 102 of GamePro (page 90), Marc Crawford consulted for the game. The article also describes Crawford as an “avid gamer,” which is just priceless. Seeing Peter Forsberg as a game’s cover star was a rare treat, too.

While the SNES and Genesis versions of NHL ’98 represented the end of the 16-bit era for the EA hockey games, the PS1 version might be considered an evolutionary leap. It wasn’t the first 3D-ish or PS1 game (again, that goes to NHL ’97), but it took the series a long way.

It even took the NHL games to places they’d never go again.

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.

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Los Angeles Kings

2019-20 Los Angeles Kings Drew Doughty Anze Kopitar
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the 2019-20 Los Angeles Kings.

2019-20 Los Angeles Kings

Record: 29-35-6 (64 points in 70 games), seventh in the Pacific Division, second-worst in West
Leading Scorer: Anze Kopitar – 62 points (21 goals and 41 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves

Season Overview

After exceeding expectations in 2017-18, the Kings crashed to earth in 2018-19. Jarringly so, to many of us.

If you look at the Kings’ place in the standings alone, you’d probably assume that 2019-20 represents the team settling into the new normal. To some extent, that’s true. In the grand scheme of things, every time the Kings make an overture toward rebuilding, they’re likely being smart.

But unlike a lot of other cellar dwellers, the Kings actually held their own by many measures. The Kings ranked somewhere between respectable to downright impressive in analytics terms. Take, for instance, how solid Los Angeles looks in Charting Hockey’s Shot Shares chart, which uses data from Evolving Hockey:

Not bad for a team that sits second-worst in the Western Conference, right?

Through their Stanley Cup-contending years, the Kings hogged the puck but sometimes struggled to finish. Such a formula worked well during their postseason runs.

This version of the Kings is a weakened form of that, but if you squint, you could see glimpses of those former glories. Not enough to win a meaningful number of games. And, no, certainly not to the point that you’d want to sabotage their rebuild.

Yet it’s amusing that the bounces finally started to go the Kings’ way as 2019-20 came to a halt.

Highlight of the Season

How could it be anything other than rattling off a baffling seven-game winning streak to “end” their season?

Indeed, as 2019-20 ended, the Kings’ winning streak was far and away the longest active streak in the NHL.

The Kings authored a decent larger stretch, too, going 10-2-1 in 13 games from Feb. 12 – March 11.

That home-heavy stretch cemented that, if nothing else, they were pesky at home. The Kings ended up 19-13-2 in Los Angeles this season, versus 10-22-4 on the road.

Upsetting the Avalanche in their 2020 Stadium Series game ranks as a highlight for the 2019-20 Kings, too.

MORE ON THE KINGS:

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.

PHT Morning Skate: If NHL returns, could games take place in … North Dakota?

NHL 2019-20 North Dakota
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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Elliotte Friedman details North Dakota as a possible host city in potential season resumption scenarios. Friedman notes that Ralph Engelstad Arena might work, in part because of the state’s low population density. The NHL should consider Engelstad’s controversies if they go probe deeper on a North Dakota plan, though. (Sportsnet)

• Bruce Garrioch expands on some of the issues the NHL and NHLPA are facing, stemming in part from Gary Bettman’s weekly conference call with the Board of Governors. Garrioch provides some interesting details about how players might try to limit the damage from big escrow challenges, and other issues that need to be cleared up. (Ottawa Sun)

• In the latest edition of his The Color of Hockey feature, William Douglas explores how Hockey Is For Everyone programs are helping rinks and schools adjust to the coronavirus pandemic. (NHL.com)

• Travis Yost analyzes the continued decline of “workhorse” goalies in the NHL. Yost shares some fascinating stats, including that Connor Hellebuyck and Carey Price are the only goalies to start 75 percent (or more) of their teams’ games in 2019-20. Could these trends eventually push No. 1 goalie salaries down, and backups’ cap hits up? Certainly plausible, and possibly more sensible than putting all your eggs in one goalie-shaped basket. (TSN)

• Sabres coach Ralph Krueger believes that Rasmus Dahlin‘s defensive game keeps going “up a notch.” Frankly, I’d argue that Dahlin’s ice time needs to go up multiple notches. After averaging 21:09 TOI per game as a rookie, Dahlin’s down by almost two minutes this season (19:18). While that climbed a bit toward the end of 2019-20, it’s baffling that Krueger hesitates to send Dahlin out on the ice at least as much as Dahlin was out there in 2018-19. Maybe such rave reviews will translate to more reps in year three? (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• You might say that I accused Krueger of under-coaching in the tidbit above. Barry Trotz, meanwhile, wonders if he over-coached his Islanders at times this season. (Newsday)

• John Barr compares 2019-20 attendance numbers to what we saw in previous seasons. Plenty of interesting graphs and charts to chew on if you’re interested in sellouts and other figures. (NHL to Seattle)

Connor McDavid and Gary Roberts teamed up for a video series to try to help kids find creative ways to stay fit indoors. Good stuff from ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski. (ESPN)

• Ranking the Nashville Predators’ jersey designs, from worst to best. Yes, mustard ranked low on the list. (Hockey By Design)

• Binging TV shows during the pause? Milan Lucic will provide staunch competition. He consumed Game of Thrones in just 19 days. That’s 73 episodes, and that wasn’t a 22-minute sitcom … although the travel logic of the latter episodes might’ve deserved a laugh track. (TSN)

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.

NHL Power Rankings: The most impressive single season stats

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we take a look back at some of the impressive single season statistics in league history.

From 50 goals in 50 games, to an unbelievable Mario Lemieux performance, to some statistical oddities featuring some of the game’s all-time greats. We limited it to one entry per player and separated them into three tiers: The truly great all-time performances, performances that stood out within the context of their era, and then finally some random fun ones at the end.

Which performances made the cut this week?

To the rankings!

All-time great individual performances

1. Bobby Orr’s 139 points. Before Orr came along defensemen were simply not a major part of the offensive scene in the NHL. At least not as it related to appearing on the score sheet. Orr completely changed that, as well the perception of what a defenseman could be and the role they could play. He was the first defenseman to ever top the 100-point mark and lead the league in scoring when he finished with 120 points during the 1969-70 season. His performance the next season was even better when he hit the 139-point mark, a number that will probably never be reached by another defender. During Orr’s peak in Boston the only player in the NHL that could compare to him offensively was his teammate, Phil Esposito.

2. Mario Lemieux’s 160 points in 60 games. The 1992-93 season is the single most dominant season of Lemieux’s career, even if the final stat line does not show the most goals or points. First, that per-game average would have projected out to be 218 points over 82 games, a number that would have been an NHL record. It also came during a season in which he overcame Hodgkins disease and returned to the ice in Philadelphia on the day of his final  radiation treatment. He received a standing ovation from the Flyers crowd when he took the ice. Later that season he received another standing ovation from another notoriously brutal crowd when he scored five goals in Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers. Imagine how dominant you have to be to get standing ovations as a visiting player in Philadelphia and New York. In the same season.

When he returned to the lineup on March 2 following his treatment, he trailed Pat Lafontaine by 12 points in the NHL scoring race. He ended up winning the scoring race by 12 points. That was a 24-point swing in a little more than a month.

3. Wayne Gretzky’s 92 goals. Gretzky could have several entries on a list like this, but we will stick with his 1981-82 season where he scored an NHL record 92 goals, including 50 in his first 39 games. That is the fastest any player has ever reached the 50 goal mark. Entering Game 38 of that season he was sitting on 41 goals before scoring four goals to give him 45 on the season. In his very next game he scored five goals to hit the 50-mark.

4. Maurice Richard’s 50 goals in 50 games. Richard became the first player in NHL history to score 50 goals in a single season when he accomplished the feat during the 1944-45 season, scoring his 50th goal in the 50th (and final) game of the season. Before this no player in NHL history had ever scored more than 44 goals in a season (Joe Malone score 44 in 20 games during the 1917-18 season), while the 40-goal mark had been topped just four times.

5. Tony Esposito’s 15 shutouts. The 15-shutout mark has been reached five times in NHL history. The first instances all came between the 1925 and 1929 seasons when the NHL was still in its infancy and goals were rare. The other came during the 1969-70 season when Esposito reached the mark as a rookie. He did it in only 63 games and won the NHL’s rookie of the year award, the Vezina Trophy, and was second in Hart Trophy voting.

6. Teemu Selanne’s 76 rookie goals. This is a record that still stands and it is difficult to imagine it falling anytime soon. Selanne burst onto the scene with the Jets during the 1992-93 season and finished tied with Alexander Mogilny for the goal-scoring crown by filling the back of the net 76 times. When he broke Mike Bossy’s rookie record he delivered one of the greatest celebrations of all time.

7. Dominik Hasek’s 13 shutouts. Arguably the single most dominant goalie in NHL history. Hasek’s run between 1993 and 1999 was a clinic in goaltending excellence. You knew every year he was going to lead the league in pretty much every goaltending category and take home the Vezina Trophy. The one number that stands out from that run was his 13 shutouts during the 1997-98 season. It is one of just three seasons in NHL history after 1930 where a goalie recorded more than 12 shutouts in a season — Esposito’s aforementioned 15 shutouts, and Harry Lumsley with 13 during the 1954-55 season.

Unheard of for the era performances

8. Alex Ovechkin‘s 65 goals. The best goal-scoring of all time was at his best during the 2007-08 season when he scored 65 goals. It is not the most impressive single goal scoring season in NHL history, but when the era and goal-scoring climate at the time is taken into account is incredible. Only two other players in the league scored more than 47 goals that season, and the league was entering a stretch where Ovechkin was the only player capable of hitting the 50-goal mark.

9. Nikita Kucherov‘s 128 points. It had been 25 years since a player reached a point total like this. Between the 2012 and 2018 seasons the 100-point scorer had become nearly extinct in the NHL with only a few exceptions. The idea of someone scoring 128 points in 2019 just seemed unheard of.

10. Mike Green‘s 31 goals. Again, not the highest total ever for a defenseman, but Green’s 31 goals came during an incredibly low-scoring era in the history of the league, and he hit that mark in only 68 games! That is a 38-goal pace over 82 games.

11. Joe Thornton‘s 96 assists. Thornton is one of just five players in NHL history to record at least two different 90-assist seasons. His best performance came during the 2005-06 season (the year he was traded from Boston to San Jose) when he finished with 96 assists on his way to winning the MVP.  That total is 16th highest in NHL history. But again, the era matters. Of the top-20 assist seasons ever, 19 of them took place in the decade between 1982 and 1992 when scoring was at an all-time high. Thornton’s came 15 years after that.

Random oddities

12. Gordie Howe scores 15 goals at age 51. I just find this insane. There are only a small handful of players in the history of the league that have ever played a game over the age of 40, and the ones that do are generally not very production. Howe played a full season at the age of 51 and still scored 15 goals while doing so

13. Martin Brodeur appears in 78 games at age 34. The easiest job in the NHL throughout the late 1990s and 2000s was backup goalie for the New Jersey Devils. Brodeur was a workhorse that was going to play as many games as humanly possible, regularly appeared in more than 74 games. He hit his peak during the 2006-07 season he appeared in 78 games, as a goalie, at the age of 34.

14. Dave Schultz’s 479 penalty minutes. A record that will probably stand forever. The Broad Street Bullies were a, let’s call them, unique team.

15. Jimmy Carson and Bob Kudelski play 86 games. In the early 1990s the NHL briefly expanded its schedule to 84 games to allow teams to play a couple of neutral site games each year to help gauge interest in future expansion. Because of in-season trades Carson and Kudelski both ended up setting new single season records for games played in a season by each appearing in 86 games.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

A best on best mythical tournament: Players in their prime

Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) pushes the puck forward on a break-away as Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold, Pro Hockey Talk will be creating full rosters for an imaginary best on best tournament over the next few Thursdays. The first team created was a 23-and-under roster that would be fascinating to watch.

An NHL player usually reaches peak performance in his late 20’s and this roster is comprised of players in the prime of their career between the ages of 24 and 29. The combination of skill, size, wisdom and depth in this group will be difficult to match for any opponent. The most surprising part of building this team was seeing several superstars left on the sidelines.

Line Combinations

First line: Artemi PanarinNathan MacKinnonLeon Draisaitl

Thoughts: All three players are firmly in the conversation for the 2019-2020 Hart Trophy and the thought of them on the same team, let alone the same line would be highly entertaining. Panarin has established himself as one of the best passers in the NHL and having two lethal goal scorers alongside him should make for an explosive trio.

Second line: Johnny GaudreauMark ScheifeleNikita Kucherov

Thoughts: Both wingers don’t offer much size but Gaudreau and Kucherov are both electric players that have learned how to win in the corners despite their diminutive stature. Scheifele has long been one of the more underrated players in the league and should find instant chemistry with two players that possess elite on-ice vision.

Third line: Taylor HallMika ZibanejadMark Stone

Thoughts: Hall’s game has dipped since winning the 2018 Hart Trophy but still remains a top two-way forward. Zibanejad was one of the most controversial picks beating out the likes of John Tavares, Tyler Seguin and others. But No. 93 has improved his game since the New York Rangers acquired him in a one-sided traded.

Fourth line: Chris Kreider – Ryan O’Reilly – Jonathan Huberdeau

Thoughts: Kreider and O’Reilly have anchored shut down lines in the past but the addition of Huberdeau should add more offensive punch to a very responsible grouping. All three skaters play a disciplined, 200-foot game and could match up with any combination of forwards an opponent has to offer.

First D pairing: Roman JosiSeth Jones
Second D pairing: Victor HedmanDougie Hamilton
Third D pairing: Oliver Ekman-LarssonAaron Ekblad

Thoughts: It’s hard to find a flaw in this grouping of defensemen. These six players collectively possess all the attributes needed to shut down opponents and can quickly move the puck out of the defensive zone.

Starting Goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

Backup Goalie: Connor Hellebuyck

Just Missed: Aleksander Barkov, Erik Karlsson, John Klingberg, Tyler Seguin, John Tavares

Captain: Roman Josi

Alternate captains: Nathan MacKinnon, Leon Draisaitl

Analysis

It was surprising to see only one player on this team with a championship ring and just seven players have participated in a Stanley Cup Final. With that said, this team has experience in best on best tournaments at every level and have routinely been through the grind of an NHL regular season.

On paper, there are limited areas of concern. The team is comprised of players with diverse attributes to form an extremely well-balanced roster. It has several explosive goal-scorers in the top-six and responsible players in the bottom-six that have the ability to consistently produce on the offensive side of the ice.

In addition, the blueline is staggered with lockdown defensemen and two Vezina candidates guarding the crease.

One challenge for this team, and for any roster in a tournament of this nature, is the ability to find instant chemistry with line mates. In theory, Panarin can set up a few of the top scorers but does it work in reality?

Due to the balance of the roster and varied characteristics, I believe this team would have the inside track to winning this mythical tournament.

Surprising omissions

John Tavares: It wasn’t too long ago that Tavares was the most sought-after free agent in the summer of 2018, but it was challenging to find a spot for the Maple Leafs captain on this roster. It was a tight race between No. 91 and Mika Zibanejad for the third line center position, but the Swedish right-handed centerman has become one of the more dynamic players in the NHL. Tavares is a world-class player. He could easily slide back onto the roster and change the narrative with a dominant stretch when professional hockey returns.

Erik Karlsson: This Swedish defenseman used to terrorize the league with his smooth skating and incredible vision. However, Karlsson hasn’t looked like himself since being traded to the San Jose Sharks in September of 2018. He routinely crossed the 60-point plateau and set a career-high with 82 points in 2015-16, but injuries have slowed him down the past two seasons. This mythical tournament will require teams to perform at an incredibly high level and there is no room for someone who has not been at the top of his game.


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.