The best game in the series yet, with a solid foundation for the next installment to grow on.
The "Good" of NHL 09: There are actually quite a lot of good things about the game. The most prominent one is the AI. No matter what difficulty you're playing on, the AI does anywhere from a reasonably good to a superb job of adapting to your style of play. A play that may get you a goal in the first period will most likely not work again. This is nice, as compared to other sports games where you can just run the same play over and over again without having any resistance. This makes scoring goals against the AI just that much more satisfying. Also, the controls are solid and all aspects of the game from passing to shooting to winning face-offs feel extremely natural. The graphics are also very, very pretty.
The "Bad" of NHL 09: The AI at times is so good it can feel overpowering. This can be a little frustrating because no matter how hard you try, the game can seemingly shut you down. Another thing that is bad is the amount of fluky goals that are scored, especially by the AI on the harder levels. I've had a goal scored against me where the puck bounced off one of my players away from the net only to hit another one of my players and go in. This would be acceptable and feel natural if it didn't happen at least once every game. On the whole, however, these are rather trivial complaints, and I'm sure that the next installment of the series should be able to fix them.
The "Ugly" of NHL 09: The fighting. Simply put, it's a joke, and it needs to be fixed. You can down someone or can be downed in as little as one punch. Also, there is a little phenomenon in the game I like to call the "sticky-back" where a shot will bounce up in the air and will land on the goalies back and literally seem to stick there.
In summary, NHL 09 is an extremely solid game which sucks you in. Even if you aren't a fan of the NHL or hockey in general, this game is still worth a purchase, and is one of the best sports games out there.