I’ll be honest, since I no longer work at EA, my fondness for the NHL series has wavered a lot. Back in the day, FIFA and NHL were the two sports franchises I played the most. When I was in university, my friends and I would swap between the two games until the early morning hours. I loved being a proxy part of the NHL team while at EA and some of the people I used to work with still manage the game’s marketing and communications.

The NHL 21 Key Art, featuring Alexander Ovechkin

A new era needs hype

But we’re almost into August and we still haven’t heard anything about the next game in the franchise, the first on the Series X|S and PlayStation 5. Older NHL games would launch in September, but with last year’s pandemic, NHL 21 launched in October. Chances are NHL 22 is also scheduled for October, especially as the real NHL season begins October 12.

If we use October 8, 2021, as the most logical date for NHL 22 (that’s the Friday before the start of the season), that only gives us about 70 days until the game’s launch. Realistically, that’s plenty of time for a sports game to do its marketing push. I think I’ve written here before that sports games don’t need more than three months to market their next game. 90 days is more than enough time to release weekly or bi-weekly content around the game that will satisfy the existing community and potentially catch the eyes of those who aren’t in the know.

But for the NHL series, NHL 22 is an important transition for the series. Unless something drastic happened, this is the first year on Xbox Series X|S and Sony PlayStation 5. At the same time, the long rumor that the NHL series is finally getting off the Ignite Engine and using Frostbite should finally come true.

We don’t need a repeat of NHL 15

As it stands, the rumors/fears that NHL 22 on new consoles is a repeat of NHL 15 when it launched on new consoles back in 2014 is something EA needs to confirm or refute. I have no knowledge of this, but I do honestly think that NHL 22 on Series X|S and PS5 will be fairly barebones. You’ll get the core modes but don’t expect anything new or groundbreaking outside of the presentation.

Meanwhile, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions will just be last year’s game with a few minor changes. I don’t expect too much change from the presentation side of things. I’m pretty confident that the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions of NHL 22 will probably be where most people will play. 

Additionally, I don’t think we’ll see cross-play, even between console generations. If NHL 22 on X|S/PS5 uses a different engine from One/PS4, then cross-play won’t be possible. As the older generation version of NHL 22 is where most will play it, the lack of cross-play between generations is going to hurt the online communities on Series X|S and PS5.

On the flip side of that, if NHL 22 doesn’t use a new graphical engine in order to allow for cross-play then you’re only going to anger a different set of players. The Ignite engine is on its last legs and EA can’t afford to launch NHL 22 for new consoles using an aging engine. It won’t justify buying the game for new consoles when they can still play the older games on the stronger hardware.

A prime opportunity wasted

An overview of the first round of the NHL Entry Draft

Last week’s NHL Expansion Draft and NHL Entry Draft were two golden opportunities to announce the next EA SPORTS NHL title. A new team enters the league while a new era of hockey video games enters the gaming landscape. But they missed that boat completely. There aren’t any real cross-promotional events upcoming where EA could put a new game in front of the most amount of hockey-loving eyes. 

The more we don’t hear anything, the more I fear the game isn’t ready or that we really are getting a barebones product. I don’t want that and it’s really important that EA start messaging something. Heck, even just vague tweets to tease something would suffice. It sucks when their community manager is inactive on Twitter and the only stuff the official account tweets about are about updates to Hockey Ultimate Team for NHL 21

The clock is ticking

EA SPORTS PGA Tour is a game scheduled for 2022 but we already know more about it than we do NHL 22. While it’s odd to make so many announcements this early, they have made sense. When The Masters was taking place, announcing that Augusta is exclusive worked. Again, EA can make this work in two months, but I still wish we got something. This is a great opportunity to under-promise but over-deliver, but that window is quickly closing.