NHL 14 is great. As usual, EA Sports has—for the most part—put out a solid game that's likely destroyed healthy relationships, rendered social lives nonexistent and cut the average gamer's real-life productivity by at least 200 percent.
That's not to say the game doesn't have its flaws or features that leave the user ready to throw his controller through a TV from time to time. Now that it's been a few weeks since the game's release, it's time to start dissecting things for EA Sports to improve upon as the franchise continues next year.
It seems as though every time an awesome feature is added...there's one oversight with the potential to ruin it all.
Countless offensive zone chances have come to a halt because the CPU just laid a big hit on the opponent's player that caused a fight, and there's nothing for the challenger to lose, really. There's not going to be a two-minute instigator penalty. There's no 10-minute misconduct for the player that decided to skate across the ice and try to beat on the opposing player that just dished a huge hit.
Without any penalties in play for instigating a fight or acting like a goon, an opponent can use fighting to put a stop to a scoring chance, give their players a rest on an icing call or take out a star player without paying any consequences.
The new work on the physics engine is awesome, and while the improvements to the fighting system are long overdue, the mode still needs work. If the game is going to stay true to reality, there needs to be consequences to vigilante justice.
Dump the Puck
There may not be a stranger sight to see in NHL 14 than when a team seemingly passes the puck back and forth between the red line and the opponents blue line hoping an entry to the offensive zone will open up.
It's one thing when the CPU employs this tactic, but it's terribly frustrating when an online opponent decides the idea of dumping the puck in and possibly losing it sounds just awful, and there eventually is an offensive zone entry that leads to a quality scoring chance from all the neutral zone passing.
Making the dump and chase a more effective tactic can only add to the realism of the game. It would make solid board play much more vital to success, something that holds true in ice hockey at most levels.
Correct Interference, Boarding and Icing Once and For All
It seems like we've heard the same, tired message from EA Sports producers: Interference penalties are fixed this time.
Well, they're not. There's still blatant interference and boarding calls that go uncalled. These are the sort of calls that rarely go unnoticed in the NHL.
The frustration of hitting the wrong player and getting called for interference fails in comparison with getting plastered to the boards from behind in the defensive end, losing the puck and giving up a goal.
Equally difficult to understand is how it's still possible for user-controlled teams to manipulate icing. Often times a player will stop skating by the goal line when they could easily play the puck and wait for it to cross for icing. This is not icing in any professional level of hockey.
Oh, and when it comes to goaltender interference, someone needs to tell the NHL producers that when a goalie is rendered unable to make a save because of contact, it isn't always a penalty. Sometimes the goal is waved off, and things carry on at even strength.
Glitches are tough to deal with and to an extent understandable, assuming a patch eventually comes through to fix them. When the game comes out with programmed flaws that don't properly reflect the rules of the sport, however, it can take its toll on the game's reputation.
Enhance Training Camp/Preseason
Honestly, without any sort of roster competition, what's the point of having the preseason in various career modes?
EA Sports' Madden series caught on to this and added expanded rosters in Madden 12. While the preseason may not hold the same weight in the NHL, it's still a proving ground for fringe NHL players and a chance for organizations to get a look at players eligible to still play in the CHL before they decide whether or not to return them to their junior club for the season.
There's the potential to have camp and the preseason become an enhanced part of the "Living the Life" mode too. Maybe a player is faced with specific goals in the eight preseason games the team will play. If they don't look good early on, maybe they're sent to AHL training camp before the preseason comes to a close.
Get KHL Licensing
Before the Kontinental Hockey League, there was the Russian Super League, a league that appeared in NHL 09 and expanded the possibilities of bringing a lot of former NHL players back into the fold in "Be a GM" and "Be a Pro" modes.
With more and more players with NHL experience entering the KHL, it's clear that EA Sports could benefit a lot from figuring out an agreement that all parties could live with.
The NHL probably doesn't want to see it, but if money is a driving factor, there's no doubt that Hockey Ultimate Team mode, a moneymaker for EA Sports, could benefit greatly from the infusion of KHL players.
The exhibition matches could be an amazing experience too. Imagine SKA St. Petersburg facing off against Ilya Kovalchuk's former team in New Jersey. Or how about the KHL All-Star team taking on the NHL All-Stars?
Add NHL, AHL Coaches to the Game
While we're on the licensing note, it seems strange the NHL series still hasn't included real head coaches in their games. This is another opportunity to enhance HUT content that could benefit EA Sports, while users can enjoy employing their favorite bench boss in various modes of the game.
Real coaches have been a part of other EA Sports titles for years now, and it's the sort of minor presentation detail that can really push a sports game to another level.
Real Mask Art for Goaltenders
We see amazing artwork on professional netminders helmets all the time. A lot of goalies switch things up from year to year too. It was once a reality in NHL 97, and the modern-day possibilities could be endless.
Money and licensing are sure to hinder this from being a feature again, but here's an idea: Make masks available as in-game content that's available for purchase to cancel out any licensing fees. Hardcore gamers would no doubt pay for a goaltender mask upgrade pack, and this could help pay the players and artists involved. Everybody wins.
At the very least, it'd be really nice to see a few more options than just the generic masks made available. It's so redundant to see the starting, backup and third-string goaltenders all wear the same mask for a team in "Be a GM" mode.
Have your own ideas? Make sure your voice is heard in the comments section below!