As far as card-collecting modes in sports games go, Hockey Ultimate Team in NHL 22 is hardly the highest profile one that you’ll find. Simply by virtue of being part of a game with smaller player base, HUT may always find itself taking a backseat to the ones in more popular games like MUT in Madden 22, FUT in FIFA 22, MyTeam in NBA2K22, and even Diamond Dynasty in MLB The Show 21. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that HUT doesn’t have its share of fans and reasons why those fans keep coming back to the mode every year. With a lot of ways to play both online and offline, and the usual enjoyment of shuffling lineups based on your own arbitrary preferences, the mode has shown in the past that it can compete with the big boys in this realm.
That’s certainly not to say, however, that HUT was ever perfect. There were hopes with NHL 22 that both larger concerns with how things worked in the past and smaller quality of life issues would get attention this year. Unfortunately, the mode hasn’t received any sort of large-scale overhaul and at least cosmetically appears mostly the same as last year. Still, the introduction of X-Factors to the mode creates a new level of strategy that didn’t exist before. While there might not be any new ways to play that weren’t already in earlier editions of the series, there have been some valuable refinements to the existing ways to play that seek to keep the mode from ever becoming too stale.
But do the changes achieve their goal and manage to significantly improve the HUT experience in NHL 22? Let’s take a look at some different areas of the mode and evaluate what’s new in HUT, what’s been improved from last year, and what parts could still use some improvement as we look ahead to future installments.
Without question, the biggest change to HUT in NHL 22 is the same one that has impacted most other modes as well and that’s the implementation of the kind of X-Factors that have been a part of Madden in recent years. They have been designed to help make the best players in the NHL actually feel that way when you are controlling them by highlighting the particular set of skills they possess. These X-Factor cards can be obtained in HUT through packs, sets, or auctions, but they generally start off about 10 OVR points lower than their base card, making it necessary to improve your X-Factor players by unlocking tiers.
This can either be done using coins, cards, or collectibles depending on the tier so it will take some time to accrue the means to eventually take your X-Factor players to their full potential. As you ascend the tiers, you’ll not only increase the OVR of the player, but you’ll also start to add additional superstar skills to the card.
Anticipating that people would naturally want to stockpile players that have X-Factors and superstar abilities on their HUT teams, the developers have made the smart decision to limit the number of these players you can have on your team during any given game. As of now, you’re limited to only 25 ability points on your team (though this number may increase as we get deeper into the game’s cycle), forcing you to make some difficult decisions about which players you want to use to make the most of your team’s skills.
The restrictions achieve their intended goal of leveling the playing field for those who might not be able to procure X-Factors as quickly as others by ensuring that as long as you’re using all of your allotted ability points, then you should never be at too much of a disadvantage in a game (unless you happen to be playing a team with higher OVR players than you across the board, of course).
It may only be a small quality of life improvement (and one that FIFA has used for years now), but HUT has made it easier when opening packs to prepare for auction any cards you might not want in your collection. By sending cards to your trade pile, you can easily find them again within the auction tab to put them on the market. To make the process even easier, you can also compare prices of the same card that others have already put up for auction to better decide what kind of price you want to put on your own card.
The new trade pile also allows you to quickly relist any cards that didn’t happen to sell on the market at the same price you had them up for previously. This may be somewhat of an overdue addition that only helps bring HUT’s auctions up to speed with EA’s other sports games, but there’s no denying that it does make using the auctions less frustrating and time-consuming than it had been in the past.
Synergies have been a staple of HUT for years now, but this year the developers have made the decision to eliminate team synergies, which is probably for the best since most people usually leaned on the same ones, and it translated to a lack of variety among teams. That leaves only player synergies and, perhaps to make up for the loss of team synergies, there have been more of these added so you can provide a boost to your team in certain areas — provided you can fulfill the synergy requirements.
As for those requirements, all synergies now require five players with the same synergy to unlock that particular enhancement. This should in theory create some diversity in the kinds of synergies that teams choose to activate, creating some healthy balance across HUT. That said, it’s still expected that many will lean on skating synergies to give players a bit of a coveted speed boost.
People that prefer to play their HUT offline will be happy to know that Battle Squads has made some significant changes that should help those who may be unable to log in every day to play. The biggest of these is that you’re now able to refresh available opponents whenever you like instead of having to wait each day for a new set of teams to play. With four new opponents to face with every refresh and eight refreshes at your disposal, it’s theoretically possible to play all 30-plus games for the week in just one day if you happen to have the time.
This is really a godsend to anyone who might need to go out of town for a weekend but doesn’t want to miss the chance to play all of of their games so they can receive better rewards at the end of the week. You can also choose the period length of your Battle Squad games, and though you will receive fewer Battle Points for playing shorter games, it gives you the opportunity to play a game when you might be short on time.
Sets & Seasonal Rewards
While the concept of exchanging your cards by completing sets is hardly new to NHL 22, there are some different sets this year that are valuable additions to the mode. One small but meaningful tweak is that some sets now require players with a minimum OVR rather than simply a tier (gold, silver, bronze). For instance, a new upgrade set allows you to trade in eight players with an OVR of 80+ in order to receive a players pack with at least five gold players, including one that’s guaranteed to be 82+ OVR. This helps to ensure that you get some return on your investment and alleviates any concern that you could trade in higher gold players only to get a lesser gold player from a re-roll set.
NHL 22 has also thankfully added a customization items exchange set where you can send things like celebrations or jersey numbers that you don’t want and receive not only packs but a choice of customization items. This way you can select ones that you might prefer instead.
There have been some welcome changes as well to the rewards you can receive just for logging in regularly and completing your daily challenges. The mode’s monthly rewards have been replaced by seasonal rewards that will give you more time than the previous month to stockpile collectibles and decide which set(s) you want to complete. With more variety to choose from among the sets now, you can make strategic decisions based on whether you want to save those collectibles and exchange them for a larger reward (like a power-up icon choice pack or a pack that’s guaranteed to contain an 85+ OVR player) or settle instead for maybe completing a few of the smaller sets for the chance at grabbing something good in packs. A lot of these decisions will likely depend on how many seasonal reward collectibles you’re able to snag before the season comes to an end.
What Needs Improvement
For all of the improvements that NHL 22 has made to the HUT mode, the one area where there hasn’t been much innovation at all relates to how you play games. All of your favorite ways to compete may have returned this year, but it would be nice if there were some new way to see your assembled team in action. Granted, HUT does provide some options depending on if you prefer offline (where your marquee options are challenges and Squad Battles) or online play (where you’ll likely to gravitate to either HUT Rivals or HUT Rush), but there’s still some territory that could be further explored.
On the offline side, they could add some kind of season mode where you have to play NHL teams and then receive rewards based on your final record. Online options could include a proper draft mode to even the playing field akin to Battle Royale in MLB The Show‘s Diamond Dynasty. These absences are not as glaring as they could be though thanks to the HUT Rush mode (that you can play either online or offline) having constantly changing formats to always keep things interesting.
This would appear to be a year of refinement rather than reinvention for HUT. They’ve taken the existing framework of the mode and addressed a number of concerns and issues that people brought up last year in order to create a more rewarding experience overall. This has come at the expense of anything all that ground-breaking being introduced this year though, which can’t help but be somewhat disappointing. It’s appreciated that elements of HUT work better than they did previously, and the new X-Factors add a new strategic element in building your lineups, but the hope is that next year will see HUT get more of an overhaul than it has received in NHL 22.