With the hockey world going into lockdown in March, right as the playoffs were about to kick off, I turned to EA Sports NHL 20 for my hockey fix. Using Sportlogiq data, I decided to rework the overall system and assign new attributes to every NHL player based on their real-life performance. In the final part of this 5 part series, I go away from numbers-heavy analysis. Instead, I’ll discuss how the current overall system could be changed and upgraded in future NHL titles.
Over the last few months, I’ve seen a lot of numbers in this whole exercise. And I mean A LOT of numbers. I also spent many hours tweaking player attributes and seeing how each rating affects the final overall. Now, are the ratings I came up with perfect? Of course not. The biggest takeaway from the exercise is that I believe player attributes are in need of a shake-up.
They need to show the uniqueness of each player. Right now, good players are too similar since they need to have solid ratings everywhere in order to get high overalls. Ryan O’Reilly is a Selke winner and will probably be in the running for the award for the foreseeable future. EA gives him a 93 Defensive Awareness, which is very good, but it’s also the same as Connor McDavid and just one point higher than Leon Draisaitl. They’re all amazing players, but O’Reilly is clearly the superior defender of the three. These kinds of differences need to be reflected better.
And I have a few ideas how.
As I mentioned throughout this series, it’s extremely tough to boil things down to one number for skaters. How can you really compare an electric skater with defensive deficiencies like Cale Makar or Quinn Hughes with a player like Niklas Hjlamarsson, who has a big defensive impact on the game but has never topped 30 points in a single season? There are so many different ways to be an effective hockey player that grading everyone on the same scale, giving the same weight to attributes for everyone, and boiling it down to a single number is just an inherently flawed process. I understand the appeal of it, but it needs to be deeper if they truly want to mirror the real-life players accurately.
I have two ideas on how to solve this.
The easy way to do this would be to split a player’s overall in two and give out his offensive and defensive ratings. You could have Player A with 60 offense and 90 defense who would be a great fit on a bottom 6 and penalty kill but struggle if asked to play an offensive role, and Player B with 90 offense and 60 defense, whose talents would go to waste on a checking line but thrive in a top 6 role.
That would be a good start, but I think we can go deeper. EA could take a page from their own book and take inspiration from Madden 20. In Madden, players are rated on multiple archetypes, which allows you to see how they fit in your team. For example, a quarterback with high accuracy and a weak arm would be rated high if you run a scheme that focuses on short, quick passes, but wouldn’t be well ranked if you’re looking to throw 50 yards down the field on every play.
The same logic could easily be applied to hockey. Right now, the game limits every player to only one archetype. You’re either a power forward, a sniper, a playmaker, etc. What about showing how good a player is at each archetype instead? Like the overall changes I made in Part 2 and Part 3, this would make each player more unique. It would allow EA to rate players’ strengths and weaknesses more accurately with more flexibility on the final numbers. Elite defense would no longer be a requirement for a high overall.
This would give a much better picture of each player. Sidney Crosby would grade out as elite in just about every archetype, which would be pretty accurate. Phil Kessel would have a high Sniper rating, but his Two-Way and Grinder attributes would be very low. You could even have elite Grinders or pure defensive specialists. It would lift some of the restrictions that exist with the single-number system currently in place and make every player much more unique.
Using real-life data to create more dynamic, unique, and varied goalie attributes was a lot of fun. Naturally, I hopped on franchise mode shortly after finishing it up and simmed the 2019-20 season a few times to see if I broke the game or not. After five season sims, I noticed a strange trend: the total absence of load management and timeshares in net.
Only four teams did not play their highest overall goaltender for an average of at least 60 games: the Coyotes, Rangers, Sharks, and Golden Knights. Vegas barely squeaked in this list as Fleury averaged 59.6 appearances despite having one of the league’s best number two in Robin Lehner. They are rated 86 and 85 overall respectively in the new system, why not take advantage of this to keep both players fresh throughout the year?
Around the league, Tuukka Rask averaged over 65 appearances. Ben Bishop averaged over 60 appearances. Pekka Rinne even saw an average of 66 games a year. All three are aging goalies with extremely capable backups, and none of them has topped the 60-game mark over the last 3 seasons and wouldn’t have this year even if they started every remaining game.
So, what about introducing a more in-depth stamina system? Stamina could go down after each start and gradually go back up with each day off. For example, if you decided to start a goaltender on both halves of a back to back, he would be slower and more sluggish in the second game because he wasn’t allowed to rest. Same thing if you gave your franchise goalie 30 starts in a row without a breather, his effectiveness would gradually go down due to fatigue.
True workhorse like Carey Price and Connor Hellebuyck would have the ability to stay effective for longer stretches of time and could recover stamina quicker. Rask would have lower stamina, so it would be important to have a quality backup to share starts with him so he remains effective throughout the year. This would also allow high-end backups like Anton Khudobin and Jaroslav Halak to be rated highly, but with lower stamina, so they could not handle a starter’s workload without seeing their play dip due to fatigue throughout the year and thus would be better suited as quality number 2 goalies.
For those who have played MLB The Show, this system must sound familiar to you. It is similar to how the game manages stamina for pitchers. Starters can play effectively for longer than relievers. You also can’t bring out the same player every game without getting a dip in performance. Now, this is more extreme since starting pitchers play about once every five games on average while NHL goalies can play closer to 75% of their team’s games, but the idea remains the same.
It would also be interesting to be able to have better control over workload distribution between your two goalies. For example, if you were in charge of the Predators, maybe you’d want to split games more evenly to give the younger Saros more playing time to show he could potentially be Rinne’s successor, while also allowing Rinne to stay fresh for an eventual playoff run.
If you manage the Golden Knights, you’re blessed with two elite goaltenders in Marc-André Fleury and Robin Lehner. More control over the game split would let you take advantage of that and play them on a near 50-50 split if you want, giving you a fresh goalie between the pipes nearly every game instead of having Lehner sit on the bench for about ¾ of the year.
A system like this would add another layer of dynamism to the gameplay. It would be a good change from the systematic “starting goalie plays 60 games, backup plays 20” logic that is currently dictating the game’s engine and allow the player an extra level of control and customization over their franchise experience. It would also make true workhorses more valuable and have a clearer difference between starters and backups, other than purely their overall.
Unlike skaters though, I do think grading goalie on just one scale and have one final Overall number makes sense. Every goalie’s aim is the same: stop pucks. They don’t have multiple ways of possibly accomplishing that goal in the same ways that skaters do, or at least not as dramatically different.
This concludes the NHL 20 Overall Overhaul project. Big thank you to everyone who helped on this project and to everyone who enjoyed and even used the new ratings themselves. Now, it’s time to get ready for real hockey to come back after what seems like an eternity!