The NHL 18 franchise mode has seen one significant upgrade in expansion mode, some other finer tweaks to the experience, and many areas left with some cleanup needed.
This is a very fun experience, and although you’re not drafting head-to-head against Vegas in the 32-team expansion draft I chose, it’s the next best thing in what equates to a second expansion draft occurring in the midst of the 2017 offseason — just after Vegas completed their draft. You select one unprotected player from each of the other 30 teams while leaving Vegas’ roster intact. I was able to build a very realistic roster consisting mostly of guys who will likely lead me to a last place finish in my division, which is to be expected for an expansion team. You can see my opening night lineup in the images above. The majority of these players were acquired in the expansion draft, with Andre Burakovsky, a RFA in the offseason, being a sign-and-trade deal I made with the Capitals that earned me a better deal than I would have had in giving up the compensation for him. The most promising player I acquired in the expansion draft was Columbus goalie Joonas Korpisalo, who will start off at our AHL affiliate, the Austin Bats (you get to make your AHL team too if you wish).
While it appears a fix is coming in the first patch, when you start an expansion team, you’ll be placed in the Central division regardless of what city you expand to. This led me to having to narrow down my original choices of Seattle, a second team in Toronto, Hartford, or Houston. I decided to go with Houston and made the Houston Hogs, complete with our new arena, Marathon Oil Place (The MOP!). I even made a mascot named “Hogston” — because I mean, of course I did.
When creating an arena, I was going to use the real life Toyota Center, but I’m glad I didn’t. Your arena will default to an arena of 0 years in age, and I would have ended up with an arena with a big Honda logo near center ice — that would have made the fictional folks at Toyota a bit upset.
This leads me a bit into one of the issues I have with this mode, and that is the inability to edit much of anything after you create your expansion team. Do you want to adjust the trim on your jersey, the color of your arena’s seats or the song played before a power play? Sorry, you’d have to start a brand new expansion save to do so.
NHL Entry Draft
After the expansion draft, a draft lottery takes place and a complete redo of the 2017 Entry Draft ensues. I got the 5th pick in the lottery with Vegas getting the 3rd pick. I was actually looking to move up to get the first or second pick, but wasn’t able to put a deal together that made sense (trade difficulty on hard, which I recommend). I was lucky in that my third choice fell to the fifth spot, and I quickly drafted 18-year-old Swedish C Elias Pettersson — who has a silhouette as a picture.
At the very least, I would like to see this series take their EASHL player creation and generate a picture from there. Obviously these players have a face on the ice, so capture that image and make it the image for their profile. It’s hard to believe this is not in the game yet.
After the entry draft, you proceed with the rest of the offseason signing free agents, making trades, etc. The AI teams were very aggressive in signing players and even making a few key trades that made sense — nothing earth shattering, but as an example, I saw my rebuilding Red Wings send C Frans Nielsen to the Penguins.
The free agents themselves are also very reluctant to sign with an expansion team, which felt very realistic. I had numerous players either refuse to sign with me, or even after asking for me to increase the offer significantly — to which I did on one or two occasions — they still chose to sign elsewhere.
Continuing With Franchise Mode Details
What I Like
- Another big addition to franchise mode is in-season contract extensions. This was a highly requested feature, and it’s nice to see it in the game now. You are able to negotiate extensions with players in the last year of their contract.
- Owner goals are similar to last year, but are realistic and a fun challenge.
- Trading seems very accurate on hard difficulty, and the trade block system has the appropriate teams as buyers and sellers who stick to their game plan during negotiations. One bug I noticed, at least in working through the offseason, was that the game kept resetting my own trade block which started negatively affecting player morale.
- I’m not an expert on how the NHL schedule is made, but for folks scoring at home, my Hogs open at home against Vegas. We then play them two more times throughout the year. I checked one other random Pacific Division team, the Los Angeles Kings, and noticed we only play them twice.
What Needs Improvement
- I do like the new menu layout for franchise mode. Like the game’s main menu, it’s much cleaner and easier to navigate and make sense of. There are some strange eye soars though, such as your expansion team’s merchandise appearing as just blank jerseys.
- I would like to see coaching staffs make their way into the game and for them to have an impact on my team. As it is now, I just have some dude standing behind my players that the camera will occasionally cut to.
- The news delivery in this game is very outdated and stale. This seems to be a constant with every single EA sports title out there, yet I personally believe it’s one of the most effective ways to get people involved in franchise modes. If given the proper attention, news will engage gamers with the stories happening around them.
- I do like NHL’s chemistry, but this is a feature that needs significant expanding. We see a lot of gamers get sucked into games with a strong story, and this is one of the major areas in which a sports title can bring folks into a franchise mode experience and engage them to keep interest high.
- Goalie equipment should be changing when a goalie is on a new team. This is especially important in a year when franchise mode’s most prominent addition is an expansion mode.
- I wish EA would stop tracking stats that simply don’t match up well with their sim engine. We see this in the Madden series with stats like ‘catches allowed’ and ‘tackles for loss’, and in the NHL series, it’s ‘takeaways’ and ‘giveaways’ which will see you leading the league in both categories by a country mile, or a few kilometers for our Canadian readers.
- I would love for Connected Franchise Mode to make its way back into this series. While I know leagues wouldn’t play every single game like how many Madden leagues do, I do think leagues could setup a schedule where folks play three games a week, sim in between, and then play each game in the playoffs. Another option would be to allow for CFM’s to choose a short season length.