At SB Nation, it’s Video Game week, and what more appropriate topic to discuss than the NHL series of games published by EA.
Ever since 1991, when “NHL Hockey” was published for the Sega Genesis, the series has seen yearly installments, all complete with roster updates, different mechanics, and gameplay changes (or sometimes no changes at all, thanks EA). Personally, my first version of the game was NHL 99’, featuring Eric Lindros on the cover, for the Nintendo 64, though as is indicated in the title of this article, my favorite version has to be, without a doubt, NHL 06.
The 2006 and 2013 versions (the latter of which had Claude Giroux on the cover) were both candidates, but in the end, NHL 06 just has more nostalgic value. Back in the day, I owned this game for the Playstation 2, though the version I’ll be looking through today is the Gamecube edition.
NHL 06 is an interesting release because of the timing in relation to the NHL season. Since this was the first game to release after the 2004-05 lockout, for whatever reason there are some players included in the game who didn’t actually play in the 2005-06 season. The most notable example of this would be Mark Messier, who is in the game as a free agent despite retiring before the season’s start.
He announced his retirement on the 12th of September, and the game came out in North America on the 6th, so that would explain it since downloadable updates, or even roster updates in general, were not a thing yet. Eric Lindros also exists as a free agent, even though he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in August. He is always a must-sign on my career mode saves here.
Additionally, the game only includes NHL roster players. This is especially notable when looking at the Flyers, since they called up quite a few players from the Calder Cup winning Phantoms such as Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Therefore, they are missing from the game. Additionally, the 2006 draft class is missing, as the game was released early to boost sales. Therefore, there is no Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the default forward lines that are given to us at the start of the game.
It was obvious that the Deuces Wild line was going to be rated highly. With a 95 overall, Peter Forsberg is one of the best forwards in the game, and Simon Gagne is one of the best young scorers. Mike Knuble serves as the perfect compliment to the line given the game’s chemistry system. If you match players of similar skill level in the correct positions, with one of each player type per line (playmaker, scorer, grinder), players get a bonus to their overall rating. The ratings matter both in terms of how easily it will be to use them in the game, but also that players with an 85 overall or higher rating are able to perform certain skill moves that essentially result in an automatic goal if you pull them off correctly.
Because of the absence of AHL players, more fringe guys on the roster fill out the starting 12. This is why you have Turner Stevenson and Jon Sim in the bottom six. They aren’t too bad, but considering that Patrick Sharp is a scratched player automatically, it is a bit baffling.
Things are less good on the defensive side of the roster. Offensive defenseman Kim Johnsson is paired with everyone’s favorite slow 90’s era defensive specialist Mike Rathje, who doesn’t have a terrible rating, but both he and Derian Hatcher are awful to play as since they are slow as molasses. I always replace them with Dennis Seidenberg and John Slaney.
In this game as well is the edition of the “hero” line, which only is used once your team makes it to the playoffs, but the game automatically takes what it thinks is your five best players, and puts them on a line. I find that as seasons go on, it’s just a line with five forwards, which can lead to me conceding a lot of goals.
Lastly, the goalie of choice for the Flyers in NHL 06 is Robert Esche, who is pretty good in this game. Obviously, the NHL developers wouldn’t have known that Esche would only compile a 0.897% save percentage in 2005-06, and he did have a much better season in 2003-04. I tend to stick with Esche in this game since he is certainly a solid choice in net.
With an 85 overall team rating, the Flyers are tied in that regard with Columbus, Dallas, Tampa, and Vancouver, and while they aren’t elite in this version, they are in the top 50% of ratings. With exciting young players such as Patrick Sharp and Simon Gagne, they are incredibly fun to build a dynasty around, and I have many good memories of winning the Stanley Cup with them.