EA Sports has made some important improvements in NHL 13 that make this year's version a more enjoyable experience.
After playing the early-release version since Friday, I can say that this is the most complete NHL game EA Sports has ever made. There is certainly enough replay value to keep you interested in this game for a long time, even if you're not a huge hockey fan.
Let's look at the three best improvements the NHL series has made since last year.
The goalies in NHL 13 move more fluidly than they did in NHL 12. Goalies were a major point of emphasis in last year's game, and as a result, they became much more involved in the action. The changes did not make the game better, and there were far too many goalie-interference penalties.
This season, there are fewer interference penalties and more real-life animations that make goalies smarter, quicker and better equipped to stop the easiest ways to score (cross-crease passes, wraparounds, etc.).
Goalies are much better using their gloves, which means it's now more difficult to score glove side, especially when you fire a slap shot.
They are also unbeatable in some situations.
Sometimes you will have a wide open net, and the goalie will dive across the crease and saves the shot. The goalies are able to move across the crease far more quickly this season. Cross-crease passes and odd-man rushes are not as easy to score with this time around because when you pass across the crease to a player with an open net, the goaltender will often poke-check the puck away.
The improved skill these goalies have is really cool and frustrating at the same time. Overall, the game is more fun when it's harder to score because it makes each goal scored even more satisfying.
However, prepare for some low-scoring games, especially when playing on the harder difficulty settings.
The Ultimate Team mode in NHL is not as good as it is in the Madden NFL and FIFA games from EA Sports, but there were some solid improvements made this season.
Most importantly, players never retire. Players in ultimate team used to retire when you played a certain amount of games with them, but now you can just add games by giving them player-contract cards. This is the same system that FIFA and Madden use.
This is a great improvement, because if you are lucky enough to find a great player in an ultimate-team card pack, you will be able to keep him forever or sell him on the auction block later for tons of pucks (Ultimate Team currency).
A different version of this mode is in Madden NFL 13, and it's a great addition to the NHL franchise, as well.
This mode allows you and all your friends to be in one GM-mode league. This is great for people who don't live near their friends but want to enjoy GM mode together. It's a bit like the online dynasty mode that you find in the NCAA Football series.
There's also a mobile app that will be available when the game releases that will allow you to make trades and other moves in your league even if you're nowhere near your Xbox 360 or Playstation 3.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL lead writer at Bleacher Report. He also was the organization's on-site reporter for the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in Boston.