As for the game play itself, I found the game very hard to get used to. I started out on the hardest difficulty and was thrashed 3-0 in my first game. shots were 70-25 me and not once was a really able to get a good scoring chance. The computer hooked and slashed the hell out of me making it impossible to enter the zone, and every time I made a pass, my teammates would skate away from the puck after I had passed it, which was frustrating. The three goals were all tap ins on one timers which I now remember was the only way you could really score before the skill stick was introduced in 2007. The next game I set the difficulty to Medium, the next step down. Lost 4-3 in OT after getting a 3-0 lead. A lot better but the hooking and slashing was still bad. Upped the penalties and a majority of the game was played with specialty teams. The game really had no balance.
As for the game modes, the franchise was great as you created a virtual GM and had news stories released after bad losses or good wins. Was a cool feature at the time that today's games don't have either. the rest of the usual suspects are here with play now and all that, but this was also the first game to feature online mode with head to head games. Of course I could not play this since servers are long gone and I am sure there would be no one else playing it.
Overall I enjoyed my stroll down memory lane and the best part about it was looking at rosters and player ratings and asking myself if that player ever lived up to their rating or what happened to certain players. My Avalanche was stacked this year in what many had labeled us Cup favorites with a roster consisting of Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Rob Blake, Paul Kariya, and Teemu Selanne. Ultimately injuries and bad goaltending lead to the teams failure and the beginning of the end in Colorado. It is always fun to see how sports games hold up over time and what features they had that today's games don't or are touting as "new". It is fitting that I would use NHL 2004 for Retro Wednesday when EA is planning on shedding more light on NHL 15 next gen today. Make sure to stay tuned for my impressions on what they release later today!