Rule changes to come for start of the NHL season

Rule changes to come for start of the NHL season

Rule changes to come for start of the NHL season

Imagine watching Wayne Gretzky without his jersey tucked into the side of his pants. If The Great One was playing in the NHL today, he’d have to choose between no tuck and a two minute penalty. Strict enforcement on uniform rules are one of many new rules the NHL will be taking a look at this season.

The rule on jerseys will prevent players from playing with their uniform tucked into their pants or even rolled up over their elbow pads. It is actually a rule that has been on record for some time, it just isn’t something that’s ever been enforced previously.

Now, with the specific motivation said to be injury related, the NHL will be giving players one warning during each game before hitting them with a two minute minor for delay of game. One thing to worry about is what happens if a player’s uniform gets pushed into their pants during the course of play? No matter how unintentional it may be, is this going to be a zero tolerance policy once the first warning has been levied?

Other portions of the uniform code cover not only the waist and wrist appearance of the jersey, but if pants are ripped along with other fine points of how a player should look. Not that I think it would have much impact, but I’m sure teams will be happy to have their entire jersey on display for televised games. Particularly for those watching who plan to buy a uniform. Why have the jersey bunched and obscured by a pair of pants when the full colors can be flying against the milky white ice?

There should be no reason that anyone is penalized for the jersey tuck by the time the regular season rolls along. Those who tuck will likely have adjusted by then and any potential violators should have had plenty of time to adjust to not tucking in their sweater. Some of the other rules, however, will be far more noticeable to the naked eye.

After shrinking the space behind the nets in 2005, the NHL will take away some depth from the goal in an attempt to provide some additional space to operate behind the goal.

This isn’t likely to make a major impact on a game-to-game basis, although there will be less ground to cover in an attempt to stuff wraparounds. Perhaps there will be a few goaltenders caught reaching as the season kicks off.

One facet of the 2013-14 season which every goalie will certainly have to deal with is the new restrictions on pads. The official rule deals with a complicated percentage of how much pad can cover the space above a goaltender’s knee but it pretty much works out to shaving two inches off the ever important thigh rise for most goaltenders.

This is part of the push to make goalie equipment more tapered and streamlined to a goaltender’s body as opposed to boxy and more of a one-size-fits-all look that many goalies utilize. There’s a possibility that some goaltenders are effected more than others, particularly those who rely on a large thigh rise on their pads. For the most part goalies will be dealing with pads which are two inches shorter.

Keep an eye on goalies who play more of a blocking, ridged style early in the year. These are often the players using bigger gear to fill space as they attempt to get as big as possible and to be hit by the puck. Athletic, mobile goaltenders may not be as adversely affected simply because they rely on movement and not their gear to make most of their saves.

The new visor rule has been well documented and is frankly a few years late. Another rule revolving around the helmets comes down on fighters. It is now an extra two minute penalty to remove your helmet prior to or during a fight. This is a practice promoted by many enforcers who don’t wish to break their knuckles against an opponent’s helmet.

The rule has already been skirted as the combatants remove each other’s helmets before beginning the fight in earnest. However, players who tried to follow Kyle Barch’s lead have been penalized anyway. While removing your opponent’s helmet seemed like an ingenious loophole, I gather that this is a rule here to stay.

2013-14 NHL Preview – Western Conference

2013-14 NHL Preview – Western Conference

2013-14 NHL Preview – Western Conference

Part two of our NHL preview takes you out West to the newly minted Central and Pacific divisions. The recycled names with plenty of new faces ought to produce some very interesting playoff races as many perennial powers are now grouped together.

The Central is led by the reigning Cup champion Blackhawks who will be joined by a pair of former Northwest Division foes (Colorado and Minnesota) and a newcomer from the East (Winnipeg).

  1. Chicago Blackhawks – The Cup champs remain relatively unchanged, although their goaltender has a brand new contract to go along with his Cup ring. There’s no reason the Hawks shouldn’t win this division running away. While there are some quality teams, the Hawks are in a class of their own by comparison.
  2. St. Louis Blues – Perhaps this seems high for the Blues but I have a great deal of faith in their system and their talent. While they don’t light up the scoreboard, they have a handful of players who I’d want on my team any day of the week. So long as they receive quality goaltending, this will be a playoff team.
  3. Minnesota Wild – The Wild enjoyed a nice run last season before injuries aided in their first round dispatch at the hands of the Blackhawks. I have faith that the Wild will build on their success last season and make yet another playoff run. If nothing else, they certainly can boast the best uniform set in the league.
  4. Nashville Predators – I’m hoping to see the Preds bounce back this season. Pekka Rinne is the real deal and with some increased scoring depth up front, there is no reason that Smashville shouldn’t see more playoff hockey come springtime.
  5. Dallas Stars – For the second straight season the Stars were wheeling and dealing during the offseason. A new coach, phenom and uniforms will debut in Dallas this year, but I’m unsure if they have enough to roll to a playoff berth. They’re getting there, just not this season.
  6. Winnipeg Jets – There are some nice pieces on the Jets roster. However I think they will ultimately fall short again this year. While the Central isn’t brimming with top teams like the Metro Division, I doubt that the Jets can sneak by enough clubs to find the postseason.
  7. Colorado Avalanche – The Avs are building an impressive core. Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog are three elite talents who need time to grow. This will be a contender sooner rather than later if their youth can be cultivated.

The Pacific Division might be the most intriguing of the four this season. The 2012 Cup Champions, 2011 Finalists and three more playoff seasoned squads make up this division. This will be a fun division to track during the year.

  1. Los Angeles Kings – Things weren’t the same for the Kings last spring, but that doesn’t mean they’re suffering a major regression. A great deal of the Cup team remains intact with only role players and replaceable parts finding their way to greener pastures. I expect the likes of Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar to again lead this deep squad on a playoff run.
  2. San Jose Sharks – The Sharks were a fine hockey club in 2012-13. Their veteran core still remains but the transition to their young stars is well underway. Further increasing the role of Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture will do nothing more than to galvanize the talent that is all over this roster.
  3. Vancouver Canucks – I found it odd that the Canucks fired Alain Vigneault because Vancouver’s offense was expiring only to hire a defense-first thinker as his replacement. While the Canucks may not employ the same defensive shell tactics used by the Rangers, the relationship between John Tortorella and some of Vancouver’s offensive weapons will be an interesting dynamic.
  4. Anaheim Ducks – Not only is this the final flight for the Finnish Flash but the Ducks will be bringing back their eggplant uniforms once more. The Ducks made major strides last season and I can only expect them to build upon last season’s success in 13-14.
  5. Phoenix Coyotes – I don’t expect this to be as close as the place in the standings may indicate. While the Coytoes are finally on firm financial ground, I think the talent above them in this division will be far too much to overcome. Perhaps they unseat the Ducks for a playoff spot, but I’m not going to hold my breath.
  6. Edmonton Oilers – The talent in Edmonton is beyond enviable. However, they seem to keep finding different ways to squander the royal flush they continue to be dealt. While there are plenty of things to be happy about with the improvement of the Oilers, I still think they’re a couple of years away from being a contender.

Calgary Flames – The Flames probably won’t be very good this season. They have major question marks in goal, at forward and on defense. They appear to be in phase one of a major rebuilding project and I’m not sure where the end of the line may be.

2013-14 NHL Preview: Eastern Conference

Bufalo Sabres

Buffalo Sabres – Ryan Miller

Even with a summer altered by last season’s lockout, it seems like it has been an eternity since the NHL has been in action. At long last, hockey has returned and the start of the NHL season is right around the corner.

The new divisional alignment that the league adopted for this season will probably be an awkward transition for most fans. Particularly those who were used to equating the Atlantic Division with teams like New York, Philadelphia or New Jersey. Now the Atlantic spans through Canada and all the way to the Gulf Coast. Then, of course, there is the oddly named Metropolitan Division which manages to incorporate the Tri-State Area with Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and Carolina. Perhaps it is time to abandon the geographical division names, no?

As for the 2013-14 season, the new playoff structure will bring old fans back to the days of the Norris and Patrick Divisions, while younger fans will have to adjust on the fly to the new playoff breakdown.

The Metro Division is choc-full of deep, talented teams who are likely to cannibalize each other on their way to battling for one of the four available playoff spots. Teams like the Islanders and Blue Jackets – who in a conference playoff structure would likely be clawing their way towards a 6-8 berth, are likely to be on the outside looking in once the season wraps. The Penguins, Rangers and Flyers have been perennial playoff teams and are now joined by the Capitals as the likely top four teams in the division.

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins – Even with Marc-Andre Fleury’s second-straight season of playoff struggles the Penguins still managed to roll into the conference finals before being dispatched by the Bruins last spring. Sidney Crosby and company won’t be much different entering this season and I expect them to snag the top seed in the Metro.
  2. Washington Capitals – George McPhee, aside from trading away one of his top assets in Filip Forsberg, has done a fine job building his club. While the Caps could get some pressure from the Rangers or Flyers, I expect Washington to own the second best record in the Metro.
  3. New York Rangers – While Glen Stather is still battling out with Derek Stepan over his contract, the Rangers have a new coach who should hopefully breathe life into their dormant goal scorers. Henrik Lundqvist is capable of carrying any team to the playoffs, and the Rangers top-six forwards make them a very strong club.
  4. New York Islanders – The Isles are my darkhorse playoff team in the East. They have some great talent up front and have matured nicely over the last few years. The new alignment will make things tricky but I have a feeling that they will beat out the Flyers for the final playoff spot.
  5. Philadelphia Flyers – I question the Flyers in two areas: defense and goaltending. Should Ray Emery and Steve Mason platoon effectively, I think the Flyers will be a tough out on an nightly basis. While the blueline has some holes that need to be plugged, this is still a team loaded with firepower. Ultimately I think the Isles sneak by for the division’s final spot.
  6. Columbus Blue Jackets – The Jackets have a nice roster make up with some quality talent in key areas. Whether or not Sergei Bobrovsky continues his Vezina form will say a lot for Columbus’ success this year. In such a talented division, I fear they’ll be on the outside looking in.
  7. Carolina Hurricanes – The Canes are a good team, no doubt about it. They also happen to be playing in what is likely to be the league’s toughest division. It will be an uphill battle for the Hurricanes this season and I just don’t think they have the horses to run with this division’s elite teams.
  8. New Jersey Devils – The Devils need some help. They’re missing a handful of key cogs despite having an embarrassment of riches in goal. Despite their strength between the pipes, I wonder if they have the talent to compete on a nightly basis.

The Atlantic Division, while not as rich in top-end talent as the Metro, there is the potential for a nasty battle for playoff positioning in this division. While the Metro’s hallmark is it’s talent, the Atlantic’s might just be it’s depth.

  1. Boston Bruins – This is a very good hockey team. It’s my opinion that the Tyler Seguin trade aids the Bruins far more than it will aid the Stars. While Seguin has the potential to be a superstar, Louis Eriksson is going to be a phenomenal addition to an already very talented team.
  2. Detroit Red Wings – The top two in this division will probably be interchangeable for most of the year. The popular opinion last season was the Detroit was heading towards a decline, they proved the opposite of that with yet another impressive run. They should have plenty of success in their new division, helping to elevate them to an easy playoff position.
  3. Montreal Canadiens – After the Bruins and Wings, there is a bit of a drop off with this division. Depending on team-to-team goaltending, injuries and other extenuating circumstances, any one of five teams could find themselves in the final two playoff spots. I think the Habs are the most talented of the remaining clubs and will find themselves in the postseason yet again.
  4. Tampa Bay Lightning – At some point the Lightning will figure out this goaltending thing, I’m sure of it. Whether or not Ben Bishop is their guy is yet to be seen, but I think that he gives them the best chance for success. Assuming he’s steady this year, I have little doubt that the Lightning have enough firepower to earn a playoff berth.
  5. Ottawa Senators – The Sens made a ton of changes this season and are coming off an impressive playoff run led, in large part, by Craig Anderson. The loss of Daniel Alfredsson shouldn’t hurt them much but I think the firepower of the Lightning will bump the Sens back a spot this year.
  6. Toronto Maple Leafs – A slight regression for the Maple Leafs should be expected this season. Acquiring Bernier was an interesting choice and I’m interested to see how he and James Reimer work as a platoon. While the new alignment shouldn’t hurt the Leafs, I expect them to be watching the playoffs from their couches.
  7. Buffalo Sabres – The Sabres have some nice pieces. They also have a ton of youth. While Ryan Miller in an Olympic year might be one of hockey’s greatest commodities, Buffalo’s rebuilding process will most likely keep them out of the playoffs.

Florida Panthers – Too many holes in South Florida, in my opinion. They have a number of impressive pieces but I’m willing to bet on another down campaign like they suffered through in 2012-13.

What they’re wearing – Derek Roy

What they’re wearing – Derek Roy

What they’re wearing – Derek Roy

For this month’s edition of What They’re Wearing, we take a look at one of the newest members of the St. Louis Blues, Derek Roy. Roy, who spent the bulk of his career in Buffalo, bounced to Dallas and Vancouver last year and signed a new deal in St. Louis this summer.

Roy has been an Easton guy for a number of years and he has become one of their most successful on-ice talents in recent seasons. It’s never a surprise to see him using their newest gear and last season was no exception.

Skates: Easton Mako

Roy was one of many players using Easton’s new, groundbreaking skate last year. A good number of Easton regulars were using the Mako and Roy was wearing it all year. Here’s a solid shot of Roy sporting the footwear.

Derek Roy wears the NEW Easton Mako Hockey Skates

Derek Roy wears the NEW Easton Mako Hockey Skates

Gloves: Easton EQ Pro

Roy’s a playmaker who favors the open mobility of a four-roll glove. The EQ Pro is built with a very traditional construction that doesn’t restrict movement and provides plenty of wrist mobility. While it may not be the best looking glove – very low without any graphics or extra trim – this is a full-nylon glove with quality protection and fit. You can expect to see Roy transition to the new Easton Pro next season like many Easton players did for the end of the year and postseason.

Helmet: Easton E400

This is the more basic VN foam liner model that Easton produces which is appealing to many pros as they often side with the VN built helmets as opposed to some of the more technologically advanced models.

Stick: Easton Stealth RS

It was hard to tell if Roy was using a V9 series prototypes during last season. All photos I found of him had him sporting a Stealth RS model. I think it’s a good bet that Roy will be using a V9E next season as he follows the progression of the Easton product line. The V9 and V9E are now available in stores if you’ve yet to get a look at the newest models.

New Covert goes further undercover for Warrior

Warrior Covert DT1LT Senior Composite Hockey Stick - 85 Flex

Warrior Covert DT1LT Senior Composite Hockey Stick – 85 Flex

Plenty of players took the ice with Warrior’s Dagger Technology on the Covert line-up last season. Warrior’s elite model, the DT1 was one of the most popular sticks on the market last year.

The Covert is back for another run with new and improved technology geared to push it to the next level.

The DT1 LT and ST models are ready to find their way to stores, giving players a pair of options when it comes to picking a new stick for the upcoming season.

Both sticks utilize Dagger 2 Technology, which is designed to improve the revolutionary flex-improving technology that was a major part of the Covert’s success in 2012-13. The Dagger 2 further enhances the flex and kick point, providing more kick on shots. In addition, the twinspar technology that was built into Warrior’s blades last season have been extended up into the Dagger tip as an addition compliment to the Dagger 2 features.

The Twinspar EXT is similar, in a way, to the thinking behind the Reebok Ribcor technology. By strengthening the kick point of the stick, Twinspar EXT serves as an additional piece of stick technology that is included as a way to increase kick.

Specifically, the new DT1 line includes the LT and the ST models. The LT is built with features to lighten the shaft and blade in order to promote increased balance and better performance. On the other hand, the ST has a stronger, reinforced design that is perfectly designed for stronger players looking to put more behind their shots.

Other features that are back for 2013-14 are the carbon plated blade and Aramid sole which are both carry over features from previous models designed for durability and longevity of the product.  As someone who had the opportunity to see Warrior’s new technology at work with the Dynasty last season, I fully expect the new Covert line to surpass the innovations introduced last year.

Sabres prepared to defend Traverse City title

Sabres prepared to defend Traverse City title

Sabres prepared to defend Traverse City title

You can’t say the Sabres haven’t won anything. They enter this year’s Traverse City Prospect Tournament as the defending champions after their triumph in 2011.

Buffalo’s title defense was delayed after last season’s lockout and they may benefit from the delay as they are prepared to ice a scary talented roster for the 2013 tourney. Mikhail Grigorenko will lead Buffalo’s other top prospects including; Joel Armia, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov and others in search of another tournament championship.

Sending stacked rosters isn’t necessarily something that only the Sabres participate in. Each team manages to send a combination of pro ready prospects, new draft picks and players who have seen pro ice time to the tourney. It just so happens that Buffalo makes sure to construct a roster of their best prospects.

In 2011 the top line of Luke Adam, Marcus Foligno and Zack Kassian bullied their way through the rest of the tournament and claimed the first championship the franchise has ever seen.* Considering that Armia, Girgensons, Grigorenko and Larsson are amongst those participating, I think the Sabres are betting on bringing back another championship.

In addition to Girgensons, Grigorenko and Larsson – all who played professionally last year – Buffalo has a pair of NHL defensemen (Chad Ruhwedel and Mark Pysyk) to skate along with another NHL-ready player in Ristolainen.

Traverse City Tournament provides in live action for an organization’s prospects prior to the start of preseason action. For those players who aren’t expected to see time in the preseason – mostly newly drafted junior players – it serves as a way for coaches and scouts to see their new players live.

Even though the tournament serves more as an evaluation tool, it is still a nice point of pride for the winning club. It almost serves as verification that one team owns a better prospect pool than the others in some ways. For Sabres fans, this should offer a nice barometer for seeing how Darcy Regier’s recent investments are developing.

One benefit from the tournament is putting brand new prospects in a team setting with some of the older members of the group. This not only allows players like Nick Baptiste to see how Pysyk carries himself, it gives Pysyk a leadership opportunity that would otherwise be missed in the regular season.

That type of locker room and off-ice growth is a valuable fringe benefit that goes along with the on-ice play each of the prospects get over the course of the tournament. Although it didn’t seem to do too much for guys like Adam or Kassian in 2011, perhaps the inclusion of an established talent like Pysyk indicates the Sabres are hoping for him to take the reins.

Like the Sabres, the other participating clubs don’t shy away from using their big guns. The Stars will have Jack Campbell, Radek Faksa and Valeri Nichushkin among others on their roster, proving that each team is indeed out to impress during the event.

Buffalo’s participants include a handful of very intriguing names who will be very interesting to watch. Seeing Johan Larsson in a Sabres jersey for the first time will be cool and having the chance to see him skate with someone like Girgensons will be particularly exciting.

Fans are likely hoping to see Armia and Grigorenko skate on a line together – Kris Baker from Sabres prospects points to Dan Catenacci as their linemate, which I fully endorse – and having the chance to see Ristolainen playing in North America is also encouraging. Obviously those five are the marquee names wearing blue and gold but they’re not the player’s I’m most interested in seeing during that weekend.

Catenacci is one of my favorite Sabres prospects and I’m very hopeful that the 2013-14 season serves as a major stepping stone for him moving forward. An NHL callup isn’t what I’m hoping for, so much as a great growth year that prepares him for a solid NHL career. Colin Jacobs found his footing as a shootout specialist in his Rochester debut and I’m hopeful that he can evolve his game now that the Sabres invested a contract in him. Logan Nelson could also push for a professional deal if he has a strong showing, and the Coon Rapids, MN native has an offensive side that would be great to see flourish.

In addition to Jacobs and Nelson, I’m waiting to see if Brady Austin grows into a late-round sleeper and I’m also hoping to see Justin Kea explore the physical side of his game.

A few of those names are boring, long-term prospects who don’t carry the pedigree of the big names who will likely grace Traverse City and First Niagara Center during this season. But they’re also prospects who appear to have solid value given their draft status.

Depth in the prospect pool is something each and every team at the Traverse City Tournament shares. I’ll be keeping my eye on the depth players while waiting to see if Buffalo’s big guns earn another title.