Back in 1993 when I was 14 years old, my dad brought home a PC game titled "NHL Hockey" for play on our brand new computer (this was a year before EA put the game out as "NHL94" for the consoles). It was the first game I ever owned - my parents weren't big on letting me have a Nintendo yet because I'm pretty sure they didn't want me to be able to relate to any of my schoolmates - and I was completely blown away by it's "realism". Nintendo Ice Hockey this was not! 24 actual NHL teams including the new teams from Anaheim and Ottawa?! Real actual players that I could trade for each other? Sounds that now-a-days sound like loud static with the odd "honk" of an air horn mixed in? It was cutting edge stuff! I was hooked on both Electronic Arts as a gaming company and this NHL game as the greatest thing in my life next to Tanya S. who was suddenly a lot more attractive to me in grade eight than she was in grade seven.
17 years later on the release day of Electronic Art's NHL11 I find myself in a crowd of about 25 some odd die-hard video hockey fans - all of them seem to be about the same age as me which is both a relief and kind of shaming to me all at the same time - who couldn't wait much past 10 AM for our video game store to open so we can grab out copies of the latest version of EA's hit hockey juggernaut and take them home to pop into our respective video game systems.
And yes, I did take the day off work for this... and Wednesday as well. Five hours and one annoyed girlfriend who lost all access to the TV later, it was so worth it!
NHL11 is the greatest hockey video game you'll ever play. While I won't review the game outright (there are many other great sites that have done that very well for me) I will go over the virtual Dallas Stars in the game and what to expect when you fire up "Be A GM" mode and virtually fire Joe Nieuwendyk (sorry HappyGirl) to put yourself in control of the Stars.
First things first, the original roster in the game has some quirks to it.. the biggest is that Mike Modano is *nowhere* to be found. Even better if you go to the part of the menu where you try to download the roster it tells you there is no roster to download. What you gotta do is play an online mode - like say a shootout - and download the latest roster that way and then make sure to save it after you I would assume win the shootout.
So your (my?) Dallas Stars are rated an 86 overall. The Red Wings have an 89 rating, the defending champion Blackhawks are all at 88 and the real kicker to all of this is that the Calgary Flames are rated an even 90, so maybe ratings aren't exactly a strong point in the game.
My first official step as GM is to look over my roster to see who I have... Thanks to EA picking up the Canadian Hockey League license this year names like Scott Glennie, Matt Tassone, Hubert Labrie, Tomas Vincour, Alex Theriau, and Tristan King are all over my roster as prospects. Glennie is actually signed to a three year contract.
Sorry Jack Campbell fans, he hasn't played a second in the CHL yet so away from the game he stays for now! Doesn't mean you can't make him before you fire up the GM mode though...
No Mike Modano on the Stars roster even though this game has me starting on June 20th.. mainly because of said roster update. That of course means I have Adam Burish (rated a good 79 with an ever better 84 speed) and Andrew Raycroft (rated a respectable 77) on my team as well as Kari Lehtonen and his shiny new contract that Niewy signed him to before I gave him the virtual boot. Kari is rated an 84 which is one better than Carey Price of Montreal and four points better than Dan Ellis (I'm lower rated than K. Lehtonen #DanEllisProblems).
Brad Richards of course is my highest rated forward at 87... 87 seems kinda low for a guy 7th in league scoring last year, but if you look around at other like Ryan Kessler and Anze Kopitar, it seems pretty consistent. Brenden Morrow (85), Mike Ribeiro (84), Loui Eriksson (83) and James Neal (83) round out your top five forwards.
Trevor Daley is at 82 to be the Stars highest rated d-man?! As a Stars fan I kinda laugh, but as a gamer I'm thankful the Stars have any defensemen rated over 80. The guy I feel most bad for is Hawks defenseman Brian Campbell who at 81 is rated worse than Daley.
Jamie Benn by the way is also rated 82 which does seem kind of low but he along with Glennie, Neal and Labrie are all "B-" prospects which when you consider Taylor Hall himself is an "A-" prospect, it's not too bad.
Now you can sign Neal as quickly as you want..
New to NHL11 is the restricted free agent system, which means you too can play out the whole James Neal drama this summer - although again playing with the roster update, Nick Grossman is signed to his three year deal. You have to qualify your RFAs and then hope a computer GM doesn't go all Kevin Lowe on you and sign the most promising ones. Thankfully though, there is no virtual Tom Hicks in the game and with over 11 million dollars of cap space fitting in Neal, Niskanen and Tassone won't be an issue.
Also EA has made it handy as to what contracts are one way and which are two way deals. Seeing Jamie Benn with a two way deal while Fabian Brunstrom has a one way deal right below him just doesn't seem right.
A day into free agency, the Atlanta Thrashers tried to sign James Neal to a three year deal worth 3.455 million a year which I of course matched.
The draft you take part in does have the Stars picking 11th, but again if you're hoping to trade up to grab Taylor or Tyler or maybe want to right a wrong and get Cam Fowler at 11, no dice. Without the roster update these kids aren't able to be drafted and with the update, they are already on Edmonton, Boston and Anaheim respectively. Want to know how lame the draft ends up being? Benjamin Conz was the Oilers top overall draft pick. In real life he went completely unpicked in the 2010 draft. I have an OK draft with the biggest "name" I could get Michael D'Orazio ... a pretty good two way defenseman.
Sometimes it mirrors real life, most times it doesn't...
In the end as I went through my summer, I didn't do much with the roster much like the real GM Joe did. Jere Lehtinen - at least in the game - is returning and I'll happily welcome him back. Fabian Brunnstrom was on my trading block all summer while Bryan Sutherby was not and yet the only trade offers I got were for Sutherby. Go fig.
Even though it wasn't for lack of trying, I wasn't able to make that trade for the top four d-man we so desperately need - The Oilers for whatever reason refused the five trades I tried to make for Sheldon Souray, then these trades all involved Fabian, so maybe that was the problem. I entered preseason games (yes, there actually preseason games in this year's game! Next year I want a 'training camp' complete with rookie hazing EA!) with pretty much the roster the real Dallas Stars have now and managed to pull off a decent 2-1-1 record in games against the other Pacific division teams. Things are looking up I start to think.
Then just before the season starts I get a message from "my boss" ... He tells me he's got an eye on the future and long-term plans of this franchise, so with that in mind in his laying out of expectations for me he'll be happily surprised if we make the playoffs, but not angry if we don't.
Maybe this game is more realistic than any of us truly give it credit for!