NHL 09 by a MILE.
NHL 09 by a MULE.
NHL 09 all the way.
I started with NHL 96 all the way until NHL 2002 or so.
Then I played 2K3 until 2K7.
But NHL 08 pulled me back to EA Sports and 09 is hands down the best hockey game I've ever played. I did give 2K9 a chance by playing the demo, but that game blows and it's an insult to hockey.
Please for the love of God, dont even waste your money renting NHL2K9, unless you are in need of an expensive coaster. NHL09 from EA is the best NHL game that money can buy IMHO