Sabres decision on Grigorenko shows flaws in NHL/CHL agreement

Sabres decision on Grigorenko shows flaws in NHL/CHL agreement

Sabres decision on Grigorenko shows flaws in NHL/CHL agreement

Mikhail Grigorenko’s initial decision to refuse this assignment to Quebec was the newest chapter in the winding tale of his poorly managed development with the Sabres.

The genesis of the awkward situation – the refusal to report to Quebec, the Facebook comment asking for time to think and final decision to report – stems back to the push to keep him in Buffalo at the start of last season. The well documented and mishandling of Grigorenko has resulted in two burned years of his entry level contract and what could be a growing rift between the team and player.

Although mishandling Grigorenko has become a spotlight matter for two straight seasons, the inability to do anything other than to keep him in Buffalo or send him back the QMJHL has not only handcuffed the franchise but also underscores a rule that requires changing between the NHL and CHL. Here’s some background reading on the agreement.

Whether or not Girgorenko could fill a role on the current Sabres roster is another argument, what’s obvious is that some sort of change needs to be made to the agreement. Specifically one that will provide teams with an opportunity to put certain players in the AHL despite them being under the 20-year old limit.

Something along the lines of the CHL exceptional player status would serve NHL teams the necessary leverage to move those players that are beyond the skill level of the CHL but not yet ready to play in the NHL. Ideally this would be a rule that wouldn’t be used on a yearly basis but only on the rare occurrence that a player is better served developing at the professional level.

Much like filing for exceptional player status, an NHL club – or perhaps a player’s agent – would petition some sort of board made up of NHL, CHL and maybe even AHL executives who would determine if a player was worthy of being granted access to play in the AHL.

It seems like a fairly obvious step to take. Every so often there are players who hop between the CHL and NHL to start a season but don’t fall in for a full time job with an NHL club. A simple petition and evaluation process to provide players the opportunity to grow, as opposed to completely dominating at the junior level, seems like a logical step to take.

The ultimate goal is to continue protecting the CHL from having their players poached too early while allowing those who are completely dominant a route to continue their development at the proper level. That doesn’t mean that Grigorenko would necessary be granted an exception to play in the AHL this season or last, but there would at least be an avenue to explore such an option rather than having the Sabres try to circumvent the rule by putting him on a conditioning assignment.

Hopefully this is something that is being discussed by the NHL and CHL in some form as Grigorenko’s situation has cast a spotlight on the flaws in the system, but the need to make a change isn’t a new development.

Tips for picking out goalie sticks

Tips for picking out goalie sticks

Tips for picking out goalie sticks

Not that long ago Bauer introduced the Vapor XXX composite goal stick to the market and forever changed the landscape of that particular niche of goaltending equipment.

While a few other entries served as a precursor to the Vapor, there wasn’t much out there in terms of a non-wood goal stick to purchase and use for goalies of any age. Today the goalie stick market is nearly flipped 180 degrees.

Each and every equipment manufacturer in the stick business has at least one line of full composite sticks to complement their traditional wood models. Some companies offer a number of lines that actually outnumber the traditionally built models they offer (Bauer).

When it comes to goal stick shopping, a few things need to be considered. The most important of which is durability and price point. While no two sticks are built the same, knowing that the one that works best for you is going to last longer than a few practices is vitally important.

Other factors that come into play are balance, weight, pattern and feel. With a plethora of composite sticks to consider when sorting through the stick rack, those factors become that much more important.

In my time playing net I’ve used a composite only a handful of times. Not once did I feel that I enjoyed the experience. Short of using the highest price point models, I found that the sticks I tried out were no lighter than the wood stick I have used my whole life, their responsiveness was anything but and the smooth composite finish was slippery to the touch.

That last point is an easy fix, of course. A little tape where the shaft and paddle meet will provide a tacky finish and even today nearly every model has some sort of grip applied to that area. Yet, the difference in feel between a wood and composite stick can be difficult to get past.

Keep in mind that I prefer to keep the shaft of my stick devoid of tape so that my hands can move up and down freely with just a good, solid knob at the very end to provide control with poke checks and puck handling. Many other goalies – like Ryan Miller – prefer some sort of homemade grip area where the shaft and paddle meet and the built-in grip that many composites have can eliminate the need to waste any more tape.

Another thing that helps with is vibrations caused by stopping pucks. Wood sticks, for the most part, pretty much absorb all vibrations caused by shots. But composites can suffer from something similar to a baseball bat with vibrations from a shot running up through the stick and into your hands. However, that’s something that is becoming less of an issue.

Advances in stick technology has provided a significant edge in many of the shortcomings composite sticks suffered from in the past. Most composites have shed weight in recent years and even the lower price point models are significantly lighter than the war clubs that preceded them. Yet, unless you’re aiming for the stars and the pro models, the weight savings aren’t all that much more than you find with pro model wood sticks.

The one primary advantage that I’ve found composites have over wood sticks is in durability. While you can certainly get a bad twig that breaks after 20 minutes of ice time, nearly every composite model out there will offer a longer life than wood sticks. While composites can snap at any moment, the well built ones don’t slowly deteriorate like a wood stick.

Wood sticks absorb water and will soften over time. As the blade of a stick deadens with age, rebound control will change and your puck handling (specifically passing) will suffer. Since a composite won’t suffer that sort of deterioration, you can count on them to give you a longer effective life after purchase.

Any sort of debate of wood vs. composite ultimately comes down to personal preference. There are plenty of guys and girls out there who swear by their composite sticks and won’t ever go back to a wood model. But then there are people like myself who prefer the feel you get with a wood stick and won’t change their tune.

A few other things to consider when planning on purchasing a stick:

– In many case weight and balance are more important than the curve or paddle length. If you’re able to easily move with the stick in hand and make normal goaltender moves, then that’s the stick for you. Just because you see NHL goalies using 27” paddles or big curves, doesn’t mean that is the type of stick you should use.

– Don’t buy a stick that you’ll need to cut down. Ideally a goalie stick is going to be just right for you when you purchase it. It doesn’t need to come to your chin or neck like a forward stick. Goal sticks are built with a specific balance point that will be altered if a portion of the shaft is cut down. Find a stick that fits you right, not one that needs to be altered.

– Buy at least two sticks at a time. The worst thing you can do is use two different sticks with drastically different patterns. When you find a curve and paddle length that you play best with, don’t mess around too much with it. Buy a second stick as a backup or practice stick and move forward with a unified arsenal of goal sticks.

– Try to use the more beaten up of your two sticks as your practice or warm up stick. If you have two identical sticks and one is more beaten up than the other, use that well worn stick for practice and warm ups. That will increase the longevity of your game stick and allow you to perform at a higher level.

Murray’s track record shows a strong hire for the Sabres front office

The Buffalo Sabres press conference introducing Tim Murray & Craig Patrick

The Buffalo Sabres press conference introducing Tim Murray & Craig Patrick

With Tim Murray named the new General Manager for the Sabres, the front office makeover has been completed nearly two months after it began with the introduction of Ted Nolan and Pat LaFontaine.

LaFontaine’s extensive search for a GM ran through a gamut of candidates before landing on Murray, who served as Ottawa’s Assistant General Manager prior to this appointment. While the process took far longer than expected or desired for many (including myself) it would appear that LaFontaine exhausted all options and vetted every candidate on his list to the fullest extent. While the original timeline was expected to only be a few weeks, I give credit to LaFontaine for conducting the search properly. If it indicates the type of work ethic LaFontaine will put into his position, I’m confident that the Sabres will be in good hands with him at the hockey department’s helm.

Murray also seems like a strong pick despite the early clubhouse leaders being names like Jason Botterill and Paul Fenton. A vast majority of Murray’s tenure in the NHL has seen him at the reigns of amateur talent evaluation and draft operations. He was part of a management team that scouted and drafted players like Joffery Lupul, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan in Anaheim before working with his uncle in Ottawa to draft players like Erik Karlsson, Jared Cowen, Jakub Silfverberg, Robin Lehner and others. One interesting thing I found when perusing the drafts of team’s he’s been with is that he’s had varying success in the middle rounds (like most GMs) and the Ducks swung and missed on back-to-back first round selections after Murray’s departure.

Pierre LeBrun has pointed out that Murray’s talent lies in talent evaluation and it would appear that his talents are particularly effective with younger players as his duties as Binghamton’s GM helped the Baby Sens win a Calder Cup just three years ago. Given the scores of picks and prospects the Sabres own, Murray appears to be a strong fit for guiding the Sabres through their rebuild.

Murray’s tenure as Buffalo’s General Manager begins at an interesting time, with the Olympics just a month away and just two months out from the trade deadline. Murray will need time to evaluate the organization, evaluate the talent depth from the junior level up through the AHL and then determining what assets he already has in the NHL as well.

It’s likely a tricky situation to find himself in as he’ll likely want at least a month to go through his own organizational evaluation before being in a situation to make any necessary decisions towards the future of the team’s future. That includes trading or re-signing Ryan Miller, Matt Moulson and Steve Ott among other decisions that will need to be made prior to the deadline.

I’m expecting a quiet January from Murray as he figures out exactly what he has in the NHL and AHL while also assessing the direction the team will be heading in the offseason. The Olympic break will prevent him from making any moves prior to the deadline, but it will also allow him an extra month to take a look at his prospects in junior and Rochester prior to the NHL getting back up to speed leading up to the trade deadline. The only real question mark about Murray is the role that he played in the trades made by the Senators in recent years and if he’ll be a strong presence at the trade tables when it comes time to negotiate for the Sabres.

Don’t expect to see any fireworks from Murray in the short term as I would expect and adept talent manager – as Murray is said to be – to take their time determining the strengths and weaknesses of their organizational depth. Certainly there will be fans who expect him to wheel and deal from the minute he settles into his new office, but that seems wildly unrealistic.

He’s going to be tasked with determining the solution to the Ryan Miller saga and he’ll likely be judged on that in the short term, particularly if Miller leaves for greener pastures. While the route he takes with Miller will likely shape his legacy, his actual effectiveness won’t be determined for at least two or three years as how he drafts might wind up being the most vital trait he brings to Buffalo.

While it’s important to get first overall selections and land generational talents, it’s equally important to have a GM who is capable of guiding the ship in the right direction. Murray’s knack for talent evaluation and strong drafting says a lot about his pedigree.

I’m certainly confident in the choice the LaFontaine and the Sabres have made with Murray and although it may be some time before he makes a significant move, I’m looking forward to seeing how Murray operates at the helm.

Ranking the Winter Classic goalie masks

New York Rangers Winter Classic Goalie Mask

New York Rangers Winter Classic Goalie Mask

I’m a freak for goalie equipment. I’d die to have unlimited access to different paint jobs, custom pads and the like. That’s what makes the NHL’s annual outdoor games so awesome.

There have been some pretty cool masks and gear sets used since the first Winter Classic in Buffalo back in 2008. While it is becoming tougher and tougher to one-up the previous year, each goalie has managed to put his own twist on the gear worn for the special outdoor contests each year.

The easiest and most common change is to simply get a special paint job done for the day. Few goalies have decided against any sort of change for the Winter Classic as most have a new mask painted for them at the very least. While there has been a handful to make no change between the NHL’s Winter and Heritage Classics, here is a ranking of those goalies masks from previous years (and this year’s Winter Classic):

  1. Henrik Lundqvist takes the cake for his mask and gear set up for the 2012 Classic. He went with a full makeover, sporting some vintage white pads and a new paintjob. The pads are only so-so, but the paintjob is phenomenal. The worn look on the mask and cage make this look perfect. A+ for the design and execution.
  1. Tukka Rask is second for his Green Monster mask. The tattered Yankees jersey was a nice touch and incorporating Fenway was cool. Too bad the mask didn’t get a chance to see the ice in the 2009 Classic.
  2. Dany Sabourin didn’t get to see the ice in the original Winter Classic. Had he played better leading up to the game, everyone would have been treated to his phenomenal throwback set up. The pads perfectly compliment the unique helmet. The paintjob isn’t as outstanding as the first two on this list, but the full look gets him in the top-five.
  3. Tim Thomas went with a pretty basic look for 2009. His pads remained but he had a commemorative paintjob done up. It was well executed and the Bruins portion looks great from a distance and up close. The eye black helped too.
  4. Top marks to Jimmy Howard and his Winter Classic mask. Ray Bishop does some excellent work and I love Howard’s mask. It’s clean, simple and works perfectly with the throwback uniform motif. He also has a nifty Santa mask but I doubt we see that on the 1st.
  5. Cristobal Huet could have gotten bonus points for his pads had he not worn them for the first half of the season. However, his special edition helmet looked awesome. A great paintjob incorporating the Wrigley marquee and the “Go Hawks” written on a car windshield (not pictured).
  6. Brent Johnson had a great set up for the 2011 classic. His pads and mask worked perfectly with the special uniforms. A well done setup that trumped the starter’s look.
  7. Ilya Bryzgalov’s best mask for the 2012-13 was barely been worn. His tiger helmet looks strange compared to the solid white-based lid he sported early on. His Winter Classic mask is busy, but an ode to Philly sports history. It looks great and is well executed, especially considering how much is going on the helmet. Add in his vintage Vaughn pads (and sick gloves) and you have a winner.
  8. Ryan Miller’s pads matched the uniforms the Sabres chose to utilize in 2008, so he didn’t need to make a change in that regard. His paint job looked cool, despite being partially covered. He gets points here for the paintjob and the use of the hockey sock hat. Those two combined sneak him into the top ten.
  9. I’ll give the overall edge on Toronto Winter Classic masks to James Reimer. Despite some cool features on Bernier’s mask, the blue cage just doesn’t do it for me. I love the sock stripes on the background of Reimer’s mask and the overall design looks great.
  10. Martin Biron chose to honor Gilles Gratton with his design for the 2012 classic. His brown Bauer pads will look great with the vintage uniform and the helmet. It’s a classic design that unfortunately wasn’t seen on the ice.
  11. A very basic design for Jonas Gustavsson’s Classic Mask. I like the use of the vintage white and the lines are all clean. No complaints in any sense for this mask but his pads are kind of average for a vintage colored set. Credit for Petr Mrazek’s wintry pads even if they don’t see any action in the NHL game.
  12. Michal Neuvirth had the better of the two helmets in the Washington Capitals locker room too. The white based design looked great and had all the right elements. A well done design for sure.
  13. Jonathan Bernier’s Maple Leafs Mask is pretty solid. DaveArt rarely misses the mark with his work. The overall look of the mask is cool, although I’m not fond of the painted cage one bit. It looks out of place and I could’ve done without it.
  14. If Marc Andre Fleury wore his most recent alternate mask and pads in 2011, he would be the runaway winner.  Sadly, he didn’t have those at his disposal then. The mask design looked good, but didn’t come close to matching the jerseys they wore at Heinz Field.
  15. Ty Conklin went with a special design on his helmet in 2008, he chose against it in 2009. However, the paintjob looked pretty good for the original classic. He would have been higher had he scored bonus points for matching gear.
  16. Semyon Varlamov’s helmet design was painted by Dave Gunnarson, the same artist who did the work on many masks on this list. The design isn’t bad, but it looks like a helmet you would find in Dick’s. It certainly doesn’t hold a candle to Neuvirth’s.
  17. Sergei Bobrovsky’s mask for the 2012 Winter Classic was somewhat similar to Lundqvist’s but didn’t offer the same wow factor.
  18. Michael Leighton had a simple, but solid design for his 2010 mask. It looked cool from a distance and the skyline was just as cool up close. It doubled as his mask the rest of the season, but it was a solid design for the Winter Classic.
  19. Marc-Andre Fleury is the only goalie to appear on the list twice. Again, his gear from last year was great and the helmet was pretty well done, just not great. However, his helmet from 2008 looked silly. The enormous 29 on the right side looked out of place while the Pens logo on the left just couldn’t make up for the number. An average design, at least no one needed to see it during the game.
  20. Carey Price’s mask for the 2011 Heritage Classic was all sorts of creepy and awful. I understand the look he was going for, but it just failed on so many levels. I blame the eyes. Price, however, was the only goalie in that game to don any sort of special equipment. So good on him for that.