NHL 11 will be EA Sports's 19th annual release in the NHL franchise. The game was released on September 7th, 2010. A Wii version of the long-running franchise was rumored, but turned out to be NHL Slapshot, EA's first Wii hockey game.
A XBLM/ PSN demo of the game became available on August 17th in North America and August 18th in Europe. It features a taste of the newly-implemented Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT) feature as well as allow the player to play the last period of a Blackhawks- Flyers game as part of the Battle for the Cup mode. Players will be able to unlock bonus Ultimate Team card packs for the full retail release.
The cover athlete for NHL 11 has been confirmed to be 2010 Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP) winner Jonathan Toews, captain of the Chicaco Blackhawks. Curiously, his teammate (and fellow 2010 Stanley Cup champion) Patrick Kane was featured on the cover of NHL 10.
Identical twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks will be on the cover in Sweden and Mark Streit of the New York Islanders will be on the cover in Switzerland for the 4th consecutive year.
On May 21, 2010, EA Sports and the Canadian Hockey League announced that they had reached an agreement for a four-year licensing partnership, starting with NHL 11. The game features all three leagues that make up the Canadian Hockey League: the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League, and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Those three leagues combine to make up what is arguably the most prestigious junior hockey league in the world. Four of the last five athletes to be featured on the franchise's cover played in the CHL (Patrick Kane, Dion Phaneuf, Eric Staal, and Vincent Lecavalier). While players in the CHL are considered professionals, they will not be compensated for their appearance in the game. Teams also will not gain any financial benefit as they are using their appearance as more of a promotional tool to raise popular awareness of junior hockey.
The Canadian Hockey League will be completely integrated into the game, including the popular Be a Pro and Be a GM modes. The game will feature all sixty CHL teams as well as official logos, jerseys, and league structures. The game is confirmed to feature the MasterCard Memorial Cup (the annual CHL championship) and the names and likenesses of real-life CHL players. It is also rumored that the game will feature the real arenas found around the Canadian Hockey League.
New Physics Engine
Henrik Zetterberg demonstrates the new physics engine against his will.
In an interview with the Official Xbox Magazine, creative director David Littman confirmed that broken sticks had made their way into the game and are a product of the game's new physics engine, which will further the unpredictability of games played in NHL 11. Over the past few years of the franchise, there has been an emphasis on matching the unpredictability of real-life hockey and the tradition continues in the 2010 iteration. When a stick breaks, the player will be able to get a stick from a teammate, get a stick from the bench (or get off the ice entirely), or keep playing the puck with only their hands and feet (in accordance with NHL rules, of course). In addition to broken sticks (which Littman said the team didn't want to put into the game until they could "do it right"), Littman used examples of face-offs and getting around defensemen as situations in which the new physics engine will play a major role. Littman also mentioned that the game will rely less on canned animations as a result of the integration of the physics engine.
The new physics engine has revolutionized the way hits are handled in the game. No longer are hits canned animations. No two hits will be exactly alike, as they are derived from real-life physics based on the players' heights, weights, angles, speeds, and strengths. Hits are still tied to the right analog stick, with hip checks available when the player clicks the stick in. The physics engine is based on the one found in Fight Night Round 4 and has been in development for years, according to producer Sean Ramjagsingh.
NHL 11's face-off system will not feature Nicolas Cage.
Face-offs are much more engaging and dynamic than in previous years. Faceoffs have been totally overhauled, allowing for forehanded or backhanded grips as well as various ways to win the face-off: cleaning passing to a teammate, tying up the opposing center, or winning the draw forward to start a rush. Players are also able to shoot directly from the faceoff, allowing them to recreate Mario Lemieux's famous goal where he did just that. The face-off controls are organically integrated into the controls for the rest of the game. For example, players shoot off the face-off the same way they shoot during other parts of the game and they win the draw forward by using the deke controls. Players can also clear the puck off the face-off by using the same puck-dumping controls as in the rest of the game. However, in the interest of maintaining the flow of the game, players will not be kicked out of the face-off circle for being too anxious to win the draw.
While players still have a face-off rating and it has an impact on their performance in the face-off circle, face-offs now have a strategic component. The strengths and weaknesses of different approaches are as follows:
- Tying up the opposing center is favored over backhand grips.
- Winning the draw cleanly with a backhand grip is favored over stick lifts.
- Stick lifts are favored over forehand grip attempts.
- Forehand grip attempts are favored over tie-ups.
- Winning the face-off forward is relatively weak, especially against tie-ups.
- Shooting/clearing the puck off the draw is not favored over any other approach and requires precise timing.
Hockey Ultimate Team (EA Ultimate Hockey League)
The coolest digital collectible card game on ice.
A past feature for the Madden and FIFA franchises, NHL 11 is the first EA hockey title to feature Ultimate Team. Essentially, it is a mode where a player earns virtual trading cards which determine the composition of his or her team. The player then uses this team and plays against AI or online human opponents. Playing through these games earn more currency (EA Pucks) to buy better cards (via auctions and card packs) to more effectively customize a player's team. Players can also purchase card packs with Microsoft points, but producers have asserted that this will be wholly optional and that players can grow their team simply by playing the game. Players are also able to trade cards with one another. Players will need to be connected to EA's servers to play Ultimate Team. This is to protect the integrity of the league. Xbox Live Silver members will still be able to play the offline tournaments, but an internet connection is required.
The mode will be integrated into a league, the EA Ultimate Hockey League (EAUHL). The EAUHL will have a "pre-season", regular season, post-season (playoffs), as well as an off-season.
The demo of NHL 11 is being considered as the EAUHL's pre-season and, if players complete the offline tournament available in the demo, they will be rewarded with a card pack in the full game. Players can earn an additional card pack with the demo by inviting a friend to try the game, as well. Completing the tournament included in the demo will upgrade a player's bonus pack.
The regular season for the EAUHL lasts for a real-life month. Players pit their teams against one another over Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network to determine their ranking for the playoffs. Depending on players' performance in the regular season, they will be placed into one of three playoff brackets: Amateur, Pro, or Elite. The playoffs occur during the first three days of the following month, but players are still able to play ranked games for the next season of EAUHL. Players who do well in the EAUHL post-season are rewarded with arena banners and on-ice logos to show off their accomplishments.
After a EAUHL season (including playoffs) is over, all players will be able to get two packs of cards for free to represent the league's off-season: a Free Agent Pack and a Draft Pack. The former will include two player cards and one contract card; the latter will include a player card and two training cards. Types of cards:
- Jersey - Players will assign different jerseys to be their home and away jerseys, neither of which is dictated by the logo chosen
- Arena - Allows players to determine the size of their team's arena as well as the rink dimensions (NHL or international)
- Head Coach - Gives your entire team an attribute boost on the ice
- Training - Apply to one player to improve his attributes
- Contract - Apply to one player to extend his stay with your EAUHL team
No word on if game-used patch cards will be in the game.
Player cards list players' attributes, as well as their capacity for improvement (as you can only apply so many training cards to one player card) and how many games they have left to play. Players have two different numbers on their cards: a contract number and a career number. The contract number indicates how many more games they will play for your team before needing a new contract and the career number indicates how many more games they can play before the card becomes unavailable for use on your roster. Players demand salaries appropriate to their abilities and the league will feature a salary cap.
Bunsen burners not included.
Chemistry will play an important role in NHL 11's Ultimate Team feature. Forward and defense lines (not including powerplay and penalty kill lines) get chemistry boosts or penalties based on how a player configures the players. Players from the same league will play better together and players from the same real-life team will get an even bigger boost. Other considerations are the combination of player types (sniper with playmakers, etc) and if the player is at their natural position (a left-winger playing right wing versus a center playing center).
A Jonathan Toews-controlled celebration.
It is also confirmed that NHL 11 will introduce user-controlled celebrations, a feature that some of EA's soccer games have seen in the past. The game will also see the inclusion of disallowed goals, a dramatic part of real-life hockey that has yet to be included in a hockey video game. According to the game's producers, any goal that goes into the net off a skate will be taken to video review in the game. Equipment, goalie pads in particular, will also be more customizable.
Returning Features and Improvements
EA Sports Hockey League
Something something talkin' 'bout PRACTICE something something.
The popular EA Sports Hockey League (EASHL) returns in NHL 11 with various changes. Teams are able to customize their jerseys for the first time. Also, the league's structure has been revamped to be something comparable to the EAUHL. Every month, teams will compete online to get themselves placed in one of three divisions: Amateur, Pro, or Elite. Each division will hold a single-elimination playoff at the end of the month.
EASHL in NHL 11 also features a practice mode, in which you and your teammates can play a scrimmage versus AI and/or teammates. Teams can also do AI-free practice to get better at various situations in a controlled environment.
NHL 11's EASHL will also feature an option to only play against teams using human-controlled goaltenders.
Be a GM
Be a GM now features Restricted Free Agents, Pre-Season (in which minor and junior league players can try out for the NHL team), seven draft rounds as opposed to NHL 10's five, and improved AI for computer-controlled teams. AI-controlled teams will be less likely to trade top talent and there will be more movement in the minor leagues. Good players will also be less likely to sit in the free agent pool unsigned. GMs can trade draft picks up to six years in advance, whereas in NHL 10 GMs could only trade picks from the next NHL Entry Draft. GMs are able to trade five assets at a time, as opposed to the three-asset limit in previous games. Players drafted from CHL teams will abide by real-life rules, only being allowed to play a limited number of NHL games before they become ineligible to go back to their junior club.
Be a Pro
Players will start as an undrafted twenty-year-old CHL player trying to make one last impression in the MasterCard Memorial Cup. Players choose a CHL team to compete with and play through the tournament with said team. Their draft position will depend on their performance in the tournament and, for the first time, players aren't guaranteed to be selected in the first round. The RFA/UFA rules apply to Be a Pro as well.
In addition to the introduction of the CHL, EA Sports's contract with the American Hockey League, the professional hockey league that serves as a developmental league for adult players aspiring to reach the NHL, has been extended until the 2013-14 season. EA's NHL series has featured the AHL since NHL 08 .