NHL 13: Simulating an Entire Season with EA's Newest Offering

Rob KirkCorrespondent IIOctober 8, 2012

NHL 13: Simulating an Entire Season with EA's Newest Offering

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    The world of video games has become a multi-billion dollar industry. There are certainly plenty of 40-year-olds living in their parents' basement who are the stereotypical gamers.

    The gaming craze has gone outside of the conventional "mainstream" though, as the sports video games have caught the fancy of the general population as well.

    Athletes and celebrities are some of the most high-profile members of the gaming world and help increase the popularity of some of the big name video game franchises.

    With the only NHL action in the foreseeable future existing only on video game consoles, I'll take a look at what the egg-heads at EA Sports have calculated with their newest hockey game: NHL 13. Based solely on the individual player ratings and with no outside interference from yours truly, we'll see how the cards fall and who will win it all.

    I haven't adjusted any of the ratings, though I did modify the top three draft picks, Nail Yakupov, Ryan Murray and Alex Galyenchuk, so that they could actually see the ice in their rookie years.

    I also took over control over all operations of each franchise so that there wouldn't be any absurd trades throughout the course of the season. Sorry, I just don't think the Capitals would trade Alex Ovechkin to San Jose for Jason Demers in spite of what the Playstaion GM thinks.

    While some people believe that video games have become so advanced that they can be virtual reality simulators, I don't subscribe to such a theory.

    While it's fun to predict and play out a "real-ish-istic" scenario, there are just far too many variables over an 82-game season that just can't be accounted for. While talent typically rises to the top, the parity in the NHL means that if a team, player or more importantly a goalie get hot, it can mean the difference in a first-round exit or a Stanley Cup run.

    Forget about the questionable rankings, or about how underrated Cal Clutterbuck's shooter rating is, this simulation is just for fun. After all, it's the only NHL hockey we may see for a while. Enjoy now!

Regular Season

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    So before you declare shenanigans on my regular-season results, please understand that I am a Red Wings fan. If you follow hockey at all, you are keenly aware of the Red Wings' current streak of consecutive playoff appearances.

    About two thirds of the way through the simulation, I noticed Detroit loitering precariously close to the .500 mark. Confident that video game Mike Babcock would rally the lads for a late-season push, I looked on with considerable frustration. It was not to be. The streak is over, and the Wings went golfing.

    Their opponents in the 2013 Winter Classic, the Toronto Maple Leafs, enjoyed the opposite, ending their streak of postseason absences.

    In fact, the Leafs took the top seed in the Eastern Conference, with an odd twist. The New York Rangers had more regulation wins (50-45) but Toronto had a crazy number of overtime losses (16-3) and therefore took the top seed in the Eastern playoff bracket.

    In a couple of surprises, the Southeast Division was well represented, with three teams making the postseason (Carolina, Washington and Florida).

    Conversely, the typically tougher Atlantic Division had only the New York teams represented in the postseason. The Northeast had three entries as well, with Buffalo and Montreal joining the mighty Leafs in the playoffs.

    Notable teams missing: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston and New Jersey. Don't shoot the messenger!

    Over in the Western Conference the Chicago Blackhawks ran away with their division and the conference for that matter. They took the President's Trophy with the NHL's best record and 119 points.

    Nashville, St. Louis and Columbus....cough, hack, choking on sip of soda...Yes, that Columbus made the playoffs and not Detroit.

    Defending champion Los Angeles had a much stronger regular season in defense of their Stanley Cup, winning their division just ahead of Dallas.

    Minnesota, winners of the summer free-agent bingo, swiped the Northwest Division from perennial winner Vancouver, and was joined by division rival Calgary in the playoffs.

    Dallas, which finished with the same number of wins as Los Angeles but one loss behind, rounded out the playoffs with the eighth seed.

    Notable Western Conference absentees: Detroit, Vancouver, San Jose. Again, I pushed the button and this is what came out.

Playoffs

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    With the surprises that were seen in the regular season, I expected the playoffs to add some regularity. Not that I am opposed to Columbus or the New York Islanders making the postseason, but there were obviously some surprises there.

    The first round saw some stunners, as Dallas knocked out President's Trophy winners Chicago in only six games. Los Angeles turned in their crowns at the hands of, you guessed it, the sentimental favorite Columbus Blue Jackets in seven games.

    Other first-round winners in the West were Minnesota, the only high seed to win in the first round, and St. Louis, which took out fourth-seeded Nashville.

    In the East, the Islanders celebrated their return to the playoffs by eliminating Southeast Division champ Carolina in a seven-game thriller. Top seed Toronto breezed past the eighth-seed Montreal in a throwback playoff matchup. Two-seed New York took out Florida, and five-seed Buffalo took out Washington.

    The reseeded second round out West had the highest seed Minnesota matched up against the Cinderella Stars from Dallas. The Wild needed seven games to put away the upstarts from Texas. Columbus kept the dream alive by taking out St. Louis in six games.

    The Maple Leafs took out the Islanders in six games, and in the lowest scoring series in history, the Rangers swept Buffalo behind three 1-0 shutouts and a 2-1 series-clinching win over the Sabres. Vezina finalists Ryan Miller and Henrik Lundqvist were on point as defense ruled the day and the second-seeded Rangers advanced.

    Each conference final went the distance, with New York-Toronto and Columbus-Minnesota each playing seven games.

    The Rangers clinched with back-to-back heart-stopping overtime wins to claim the Prince of Wales Trophy.

    In the Western Conference the Wild survived a near-historic collapse as the underdog Blue Jackets clawed their way back from a 3-0 series deficit. Minnesota were able to advance to the franchise's first Stanley Cup Final with a game-seven shutout from goalie Niklas Backstrom.

Stanley Cup Final

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    In a glorious matchup of each No. 2 seed, the New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild met in an epic Stanley Cup Final.

    With both teams welcoming new faces to the fold, the offseason maneuvers paid off for both clubs. While both were coming off grueling, seven-game conference final matchups, both the Rangers and the Wild were at full strength with no injuries to report.

    Game 1: The Rangers opened up the Final in the friendly confines of Madison Square Garden and were promptly shut out, 2-0. Minnesota netminder Niklas Backstrom was the hero as he stopped 40 Ranger shots. Henrik Lundqvist was almost as sharp, stopping 34 of 35 shots before the Wild added an empty-net goal.

    Game 2: Backstrom continued his wizardry with a 31-save shutout as the Wild took the second Rangers home game, 1-0. Lundqvist was sharp again but a Mikko Koivu power-play goal in the first held up as the teams headed to Minnesota.

    Game 3: The Rangers overcame two two-goal deficits and kept their hopes alive with a 4-3 away win.

    Nick Backstrom's shutout streak held until midway through the second period as a fluky shot from Marian Gaborik found its way between his pads.

    The Rangers score two third-period goals, and Lundqvist stood on his head as the Rangers survived a frantic final minute to take the third game.

    Game 4: Minnesota got off to a bad start, spotting the Rangers two first-period goals before pulling even early in the third courtesy of hometown hero Zach Parise.

    The teams exchanged counter-punches and end-to-end rushes before Rick Nash got the game-winner with five minutes to play. The series headed back to New York tied 2-2 with no home team winning a game.

    Game 5: The road warriors ruled the day again as Minnesota took the fifth game, 3-1. Backstrom stole the show on Broadway again with 38 saves as the game's top star. Back to Minnesota with the Stanley Cup polished and ready.

    Game 6: Henrik Lundqvist made sure the Stanley Cup would be headed back to the big apple as he returned the favor with a 37-save masterpiece.

    The Wild stopped short of throwing the kitchen sink at King Henrik in the third period, but the raucous Minnesota fans were sent home unhappy again. Game seven. Madison Square Garden. Get your popcorn ready.

    Game 7: An early goal from Ryan Callahan would carry the Rangers through a cautious first two periods with fine goaltending play keeping the scoreline down.

    A third-period power-play marker from Rick Nash with six minutes left brought on a flurry of action from the Wild. Henrik Lundqvist was spectacular though, as the Rangers took the only home win of the series 2-0.

    A remarkable Stanley Cup Final featuring two goalies with a GAA under 1.50 each. Each game had the outcome in question well into the third period, and the Rangers win their fifth Stanley Cup and first since 1994.

Awards

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    Even though the Stanley Cup Final matchup was plausible, the end of year awards were pretty hit and miss.

    What wasn't taken into account was Marián Gáborík's rotator-cuff injury, as the New York Rangers' sniper finished at the top of the scoring race.

    Here are your season-ending awards:

    • Stanley Cup Champions: New York Rangers
    • President's Trophy: Chicago Blackhawks
    • Clarence Campbell Bowl: Minnesota Wild
    • Prince of Wales Trophy: New York Rangers
    • Art Ross Trophy: Marián Gáborík
    • Hart Memorial Trophy: Marián Gáborík
    • James Norris Trophy: Tom Gilbert......yes, Tom Gilbert
    • Lady Byng Trophy: Marián Gáborík
    • Calder Trophy: Brendan Smith
    • Conn Smythe Trophy: Henrik Lundqvist
    • Vezina Trophy: Ryan Miller
    • William Jennings Trophy: Minnesota: Nicklas Backstrom/Josh Harding
    • Bill Masterson Trophy: Willie Mitchell
    • Frank Selke Trophy: Pavel Datsyuk
    • Ted Lindsay Award: Ryan Miller
    • Rocket Richard Trophy: Alex Ovechkin

    With all due respect to Tom Gilbert, I think we can agree that the Norris Trophy will probably end up on someone else's mantle. I'm not sure how EA Sports calculated the criteria for the Masterson Trophy, but we'll give Willie Mitchell the benefit of the doubt there.

    For some more statistical nerd-age, here are the top five scorers. The absence of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Steven Stamkos is particularly odd, especially since Crosby is the highest-rated player in the game. Cover boy Claude Giroux finished in the top 10, but I want my superstars to lead here.

    1. Gaborik        36 G   59 A   95 PTS
    2. Ovechkin      51 G   39 A   90 PTS
    3. Spezza         25 G   62 A   87 PTS
    4. B. Richards   27 G   60 A   87 PTS
    5. Parise           37 G   48 A   85 PTS

Season Summary

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    In summary, it was hard not to hit the reset button or do a best-of-five scenario, picking what I thought would be the most likely scenario.

    In the end, though, I deferred to the first simulation. In reality, very few seasons go the way we want them to. For long suffering fans, optimism turns to the "here we go again" as their collective hearts sink with their team's failure.

    Anything and everything can happen in sports, and it often does. That is part of what makes the NHL and any sport the ultimate in reality television.

    There are no predetermined outcomes and there is often a surprise ending. Even in Hockeytown, where the playoffs are a foregone conclusion, the magic can't last forever.

    I'm not saying to drop any cash on the outcomes that a Playstation decided, but in reflection, any of these things that were simulated could actually happen. Except for you, Tom Gilbert. Sorry.

    I wasn't too thrilled with the absence of Crosby, Malkin and Stamkos in the scoring race. If there is anything close to a sure thing it's that these guys produce at what has been described by some as a "video game level."

    To not see them among the league-leaders in the actual video game was a little frustrating, but illustrates parity at the players' level too. I know, it's weak. They should be there.

    When hockey finally returns it will be time to shut the PlayStation and Xbox off, temporarily at least. Though the game offers incredible realism and a fun distraction in the absence of the NHL, it is far from the real thing.