Floating changes to the NHL Draft Lottery

Floating changes to the NHL Draft Lottery

Floating changes to the NHL Draft Lottery

As the talent at the top of the NHL Draft continues to rise each year the topic of tanking to ensure higher odds at the first overall pick is becoming a hot topic. While the current system is designed to give the 30th place finisher the best opportunity to pick first, there is a better chance that team picks second given the odds.

With next year’s draft featuring a pair of generational talents at the top of the prospect pool, rumors and chatter have abounded regarding change to the lottery system in hopes of curbing the practice of tanking.

There doesn’t seem to be a good system that is strictly based off the order of finish in the standings. The system floated by Elliotte Friedman a few weeks back included a few nuances that wouldn’t only decrease the 30th place finisher’s chances but take into account a number of seasons as opposed to the one that had just passed.

However, it’s a fairly nuanced system that points towards even more complicated and convoluted systems for determining the first overall pick while preventing teams from taking nosedives to the bottom of the standings.

One idea I’m particularly fond of is a version of something similar I heard on NHL Network Radio a while back. If I’m not mistaken the original thought came from Mike Brophy, so direct the appropriate praise to him for the genesis of this idea.

The plan would be to still reward the worst teams with the highest picks in each year’s draft. You can’t have parity and turnover within the league unless you follow such a pattern. It also ensures that bad teams will improve – or should improve if you’re the Oilers – by picking high. In a league driven by revenues, perennial basement dwellers will eventually see lots of red ink if they can’t bring in players to overhaul their roster.

My plan would include the league’s five worst teams – although this could be expanded if necessary – in a competition to determine who wins the first overall pick. I stress the term win because this would be a standings-based competition that would be evaluated on each team’s performance after a certain point in the year. This way you can’t simply hit the brakes on your year, sell off your assets and wait to see what the lottery balls do for you once the season wraps. Meanwhile, if you finish 30th you’re still assured to draft high enough to get some help.

The competition wouldn’t affect the regular season schedule, nor would it be a separate postseason tournament – although that would rule. It would simply be standings based just as each division race is determined. Whichever team ends the year with the most points after the competition begins wins the first overall pick.

Beginning this competition, let’s call it the NHL Draft Challenge, would likely be the toughest thing to determine. You could either run it over a certain number of games each year to ensure similar results each season or you could run it from the first game after the fifth worst team is eliminated.

There are a few issues with this portion of things, I know. First, the team in fifth on March 1 could wind up finishing ninth by the end of the year. Just as the team in 12th could nosedive and wind up 4th by the end of the year. This lends credence to using a set number of games each year towards the end of the regular season. The last 10 games for the league’s five worst teams, for example. That not only provides a concrete definition of the games being considered, but it also can provide a failsafe for those teams who surge or regress in the final weeks of the year.

Ideally this would be something that you would track in realtime. Almost like the NASCAR standings. That way each night the teams in the running are truly competing for that top pick as opposed to simply evaluating the standings once the year is out. If that means you need to expand this beyond the bottom five teams, so be it. But I’d rather determine the participants by a certain point in the year – probably shortly after St. Patrick’s Day – and officially begin the NHL Draft Challenge at that time.

That way, as the end of the season approaches the teams in the cellar would have something to play for over their final 10 games. The team with the best record would win the first pick. I’d also reward the second and third place finishers in the Challenge with the second and third overall picks. The rest of the draft order would be determined by order of finish in the standings. This way you reward the teams who succeed in the challenge while not completely handcuffing the 30th and 29th place teams if they’re truly horrible.

One way to avoid that would be to install a sliding scale, of sorts. This Challenge could still encompass the five, seven, ten or even fourteen non-playoff teams but rather than using a set number of games a point percentage of games once a team had been eliminated. While teams who are eliminated on the final week or weekend may need to be excluded, it would eliminate some of the confusing elements to picking the participants. This way teams eliminated later could still be part of the Challenge while not being at a disadvantage in terms of the number of games they could play upon their elimination from playoff contention.

One other wrinkle this would add would be regarding the trade deadline and impending free agents. There is the potential to limit the number of true sellers at the deadline because of the potential interest in grabbing that first pick. Simply selling off UFAs for draft picks would be far less prevalent than true hockey trades so that even the league’s worst teams maintain some competitiveness.

Obviously there will still be sellers as a team like the 2013-14 Sabres who know they need to build through the draft will still value trades like the one that sent Matt Moulson to Minnesota. But I’d assume that some teams may hold onto certain players in the event they believe they can land the first pick.

This isn’t a perfect system. Picking the right time to choose the teams who would be participating and not excluding teams who may enter the bottom five later in the year would complicate matters. But it would also add excitement and interest for the teams and fans who would otherwise be wallowing through a 29th or 30th place season.

Here’s the rundown of the system once again:

–          The league’s bottom five teams would compete over their final 10 games to determine who wins the first overall draft pick

o   The number of teams could be expanded if necessary.

–          The number of points accumulated in the standings over those final 10 games would determine the winner

–          The competition would occur in real time as each of the final 10 games are played by each participating team

–          The top three finishers in the Draft Challenge would win the top three picks. The rest of the draft order would be determined by order of finish in the standings.

–          Teams that qualify for the Challenge would be determined once the fifth worst team was officially eliminated from the playoffs.

–          If the point percentage system is used, the Challenge would begin for each team once they were eliminated from the playoffs

o   Under that system, the percentage of points earned vs. available would determine the standings for the Draft Challenge

o   Teams eliminated on the final weekend or week of the season may not be eligible for participation depending on the number of games they’d have remaining

Bauer APX2 gloves preview

Bauer APX2 gloves preview

Bauer APX2 hockey gloves preview

Bauer’s APX line has been adopted by countless professionals and elite players around the world since its first introduction. Bauer responded to the popularity by taking feedback on the equipment, retooling certain aspects and releasing new and improved versions under the name APX2 in 2014.

Among the pieces of equipment that has undergone change is the APX2 glove. The APX2 still features the tapered fit and slots in alongside the anatomically designed Supreme and traditionally designed Nexus equipment lines. The APX2 features a streamlined new look and colorway breakdown compared to last year’s model. It also features a number of technical advances that shouldn’t be ignored.

Bauer managed to shed upward of 30% of the weight off the APX2 to make it that much lighter than it’s predecessor and direct competitors. Additionally, Bauer has introduced the Quattro+ Palm system that’s designed to help wick moisture away. The new palms are full of tech and also feature matching team colors to a number of the gloves. This is an interesting choice given the widespread popularity of the typical beige color seen on most gloves. When I think of colored palms, Claude Giroux immediately springs to mind from late last season when he was trying out orange palmed gloves. I thought he looked silly and the concept definitely has the ability to look odd, especially if the palm sharply contrasts the glove itself.

Bauer also added Proron XRD foam to the back of the hand to increase protection from pucks and sticks. It’s an addition that brings Bauer’s favorite new feature into their glove line. It seems like a wise choice considering adding the material to their helmets and other protective lines has been nothing but a boon for the company.

The Bauer APX2 gloves will be on the shelves soon and will make for a great addition to your bag heading into next season.

Great Skate OT Challenge

OT challenge

Picking OT goal scorers has become one of the best games to play amongst friends in recent years. The prevalence of the practice has expanded to countless online contests, many of which are run through Twitter.

Now you have the opportunity to win a $10 e-gift card to Great Skate by participating in our own OT Challenge.

The Great Skate OT Challenge will run for the rest of the playoffs and will be done exclusively via the Great Skate Twitter account @greatskate. The rules are simple and not unlike many other OT guessing games out there.

First, you must follow the Great Skate Twitter account and be sure to retweet the game instructions that were sent out yesterday. Second, make your picks by tagging them with #GreatSkateOTChallenge. You should pick one player per team. If you guess the right play you’ll be entered into a drawing to win the $10 gift card.

Keep your eyes on the scores of all the remaining playoff games as each one will give you the opportunity to win gift cards that could go towards you next new equipment purchase. 

Eastern/Western Conference playoff preview and prediction

Eastern and Western Confrence playoff preview and predictions

Eastern and Western Confrence playoff preview and predictions

Western Conference playoff preview and prediction

Now that the season has finally wound down the real fun can begin. The NHL Playoffs begin on Wednesday evening as three different series kick off the 2014 postseason.

While the Boston Bruins claimed the President’s Trophy this year, the Western Conference boasts four of the league’s top five teams based on the final point standings. The West has been regarded as the stronger conference this season, but there’s a strong possibility that the team coming away with the Clarence C. Campbell Cup will have taken a savage beating to get there.

Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild

The Avalanche used a late run and a backslide by St. Louis to sneak into the top spot in the Central Division. The surge not only lifted the Avs to a division title but also out of a first round showdown with Chicago. They’ll face Central Division rival, Minnesota, who finished with a stranglehold on the first wild card position in the West.

Minnesota worked through a goaltending carousel in order to capture what would have previously been considered the seventh seed under the old playoff format. They finished seven points clear of Dallas and wound up with a nice cushion in the standings as Dallas and Phoenix fought for the final position.

What to Watch For

Colorado has been powered by their young core that features three top-three selections. Matt Duchene (3rd overall 2009) is on the shelf with an injury but captain Gabriel Landeskog (2nd overall 2011) and Nathan MacKinnon (1st overall 2013) have kept the ship on course over the last few weeks. While Duchene won’t likely factor in this series, the Avs have solid scoring depth and have received stout goaltending for much of the season.

Minnesota features a more veteran laden lineup with a few elite talents that power their engine. Ryan Suter is their minute eating stalwart and his fellow free agent classmate Zach Parise headlines a forward group with plenty of offensive pedigree. There may be some question marks in the crease, but the players playing in front of Ilya Bryzgalov can skate with just about anyone in the league.

Colorado is the favorite entering the series despite Duchene’s absence. While I think that Suter’s ability on the backend and Minnesota’s ability to match a great deal of Colorado’s lineup will keep the series close, I think that the Avs have enough depth to really give Minnesota fits. If the Wild’s scorers are able to get free it could be a long series. But if cast behind Landeskog and MacKinnon

Between the pipes:

COL: Semyon Varlamov

MIN: Ilya Bryzgalov

Edge: Colorado. Varlamov is going to get some votes for the Vezina and could potentially be a finalist. Bryzgalov’s resurgence in Minnesota has been nice to see after the rough ride he got in Philadelphia the last few years. While his play has improved, his countryman has been a rock for the entire year.

Colorado in six

Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues

Things couldn’t have ended much worse for the Blues as they’ve seen a bevvy of injuries underscore an ugly losing streak that knocked them from the top spot in the west and into an incredibly challenging series against the defending Cup champs.

Chicago enters the series a little banged up as well with both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are nursing injuries of their own. The Blackhawks dropped the season series against the Blues but seem to have had their number lately, winning their last two meetings quite decisively.

What to watch for

This series is going to hinge on two things for the Blues: their goal scoring and goaltending. Ryan Miller has had a rough streak to end the season and has plenty of Blues fans questioning why they spent so much to acquire him. He hasn’t gotten much goal support despite the incredible puck possession the Blues exhibit each night. St. Louis has been shutout in three of their last six and they’ll need superhuman goaltending from Miller or Brian Elliott if they expect to get by the Hawks. But hoping to win four 1-0 games wouldn’t work if Dominik Hasek was in net.

As for the Blackhawks, they have the depth to be a very scary team even when Toews and Kane aren’t at 100%. If those two return and dominate this will be a very short series. If they remain hobbled the onus will fall on Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to carry the load. Given their collective skillset it shouldn’t be an issue.

The Blues will need to hope they heal up quickly if they plan on advancing past the first round. Should they get healthy prior to the series I could see them matching Chicago player-for-player should Toews and Kane not see considerable minutes. Depth scoring will likely drive the series as I expect each team’s top guns to be locked down for the duration of the series. If that is the case I’d say the Hawks come away winners.

Between the pipes:

STL: Ryan Miller

CHI: Corey Crawford

Edge: Chicago. On paper you might choose Miller over Crawford but the former has hit the skids hard as of late and Crawford is the proud owner of a Cup ring. Whether or not both teams return to full health, Miller will have far more to prove in the series and I expect the Blackhawks to be victorious.

Chicago in six

Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars

This is expected to be a series that advanced stats fans watch very closely. The Ducks finished the year with below average possession numbers while the Stars were quite respectable in that department. Many who track advanced stats closely see the Stars as a legitimate threat to the Ducks in the first round despite how the standings shook out.

Anaheim has a solid blueline and a pair of world-class scorers in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Getzlaf is probably going to finish second to Sidney Crosby in the Hart Trophy voting while Perry continues to pour in goals like it’s going out of style. Bruce Boudreau will have a tough choice to make in net as Jonas Hiller has been okay but not tremendous this year. Meanwhile Frederik Andersen and John Gibson are both viable options to roll with. However, the youth of the latter two makes them tough to roll with right off the bat.

Dallas saw a major roster overhaul kickoff last summer and the result is a playoff berth. Pairing Tyler Seguin with Jamie Benn has created a scoring duo that can run with any team’s top line across the league. Seeing if they can outscore Getzlaf and Perry will be fascinating although their success may hinge on Kari Lehtonen’s performance. If he’s on, I expect the Stars to pull the upset.

What to watch for

Anaheim needs sound goaltending and I suspect that Hiller isn’t the solution to that particular issue. While he’s started the majority of their games this season, it would appear as if Andersen or Gibson could be the direction to follow. I would assume that Hiller starts but is given a very short leash to operate on. Goal scoring won’t be a problem for the Ducks as they have a very deep lineup, but they’ll be relying heavily on their netminders to advance.

What could serve as Dallas’ Achilles Heel is their depth. It’s not so much that it’s lacking but I don’t know how well it matches up with what Anaheim will roll out. If Benn and Seguin are locked down, I’ll be interested to see where their goal scoring will come from.

This is setting up to be a home team series as line matching and locking down scorers will likely drive each team’s respective game plan and success.

Between the pipes

ANA: Jonas Hiller, Frederik Andersen, John Gibson

DAL: Kari Lehtonen

Edge: Dallas. Lehtonen is always one wrong move away from injury but he’s been very steady for the Stars all year. While Hiller could be described as dependable, he hasn’t been outstanding and, in turn, hasn’t inspired much faith with his play. Lehtonen is the constant here while the Ducks are in limbo.

Ducks in seven

San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

It’s safe to say this series is precisely why the NHL switched back to the divisional format. The opportunity for the Sharks, Ducks and Kings to see each other in the postseason along with other rivalries like the Canadiens and Bruins and Penguins and Flyers were the blueprint. It’s safe to say that this one shows they might have gotten things right.

The Kings did their thing yet again, cruising through the regular season and locking up a playoff spot relatively early on. Their goaltender captured the Jennings Trophy and they made some adept moves at the deadline to strengthen their depth, particularly up front, and they appear to be poised for another run.

San Jose isn’t easy to ignore as their up and coming stars have taken over from the old core that couldn’t get over the hump in the early 2000s. The fact that the old core still remains adds to the ridiculous talent pool the Sharks boast as Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Joe Pavelski compliment Joe Thornton, Partrick Marleau and others.

What to watch for

The Sharks talent up front features two lines that would be the top line for a majority of the teams around the league. The fact that they are able to spread that talent over not two, but three lines speaks to the roster they’ve built. I think they are left wanting on the back end to an extent and while they have some elite talent on the blue line (see Vlasic, Marc-Edouard) that might be the only weak spot they have.

Los Angeles has the talent to completely blow games open with their dominant puck possession style. They boast a likely Selke Finalist in Anze Kopitar, an explosive scoring winger in Jeff Carter and a number of complimentary pieces that rounds out their top nine. They also have Justin Williams, who has proven to be beyond clutch come playoff time. Their blueline is sound and I’d definitely give their group the edge over San Jose’s blueline in terms of a head-to-head comparison.

This has all the makings for a knock down, seven game series which the winner will likely crawl, not walk, away from. I really have no idea who I’d favor between the two teams, although a recent Cup and the edge in net likely favors the Kings.

Between the Pipes

SJS: Antti Niemi

LAK: Jonathan Quick

Edge: Los Angeles. While Niemi has had a great year, Quick’s has been better. He captured the Jennings Trophy (with some help from Martin Jones) and already has a Conn Smythe Trophy to his record. He’s been terrific yet again this year and there’s no reason to think he isn’t good for at least one series win this spring.

Los Angeles in seven

Eastern Conference playoff preview and prediction

A pair of Eastern Conference series kick off this year’s postseason and while the East may not be as deep or talented as the West, their best teams can run with anyone in the league.

Boston and the Penguins are the favorites to come out of the East but I won’t be surprised to see one, or both, upset along the way.

Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings

Detroit extended their impressive playoff streak to 23 seasons despite battling a ridiculous number of injuries down the stretch this year. While most of their walking wounded are preparing to return, the level of health the team will be playing at is certainly going to be a focal point.

Boston, meanwhile, captured the President’s Trophy and steamrolled the East on their way to a 117 point season. The Bruins bully their way around with an impressive combination of size and skill throughout their lineup.

What to watch for

Patrice Bergeron is going to win the Selke Trophy again and he’s going to garner votes for the Hart Trophy as well. He’s not an offensive powerhouse but his positive puck possession numbers make his line a lethal trio to handle. Offseason acquisition Loui Eriksson was beat up a bit this season but if he can return to full health for the playoffs he’d present the Bruins another tremendous scoring option. The obvious story along the blueline is Zdeno Chara but his countryman Andrej Meszaros has proven to be a terrific deadline acquisition for Peter Chiarelli and has shored up what was already a strong group.

The Wings get a nice treat in their first year in the East with a berth against last year’s Cup finalists coming off a stretch run where their playoff streak was in jeopardy due to a number of injuries. Pavel Datsyuk is back on the ice but isn’t likely back to full strength just yet. Henrik Zetterberg appears to be somewhat close to a return. However, even if he does make it back for this series, what sort of condition will he be in?

Detroit’s youth will have to carry them to victories as players like Gustav Nyqusit, Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco will be looked to as important cogs to any success the Red Wings will have. The key for Boston will be to lean on the Red Wings defensive corps. They’re a youthful bunch who could be targeted by the Bruins, especially at the TD Garden when Claude Julien has the last change.

Between the pipes

BOS: Tuukka Rask

DET: Jimmy Howard

Edge: Boston. Jimmy Howard is a terrific goaltender but Tuukka Rask happens to be better. Rask is a lock to win the Vezina and I expect him to steal at least one game on his own this series.

Boston in five

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens

If the San Jose/Los Angeles series is the perfect example of the division format I’d argue that this series is the antitheses of that. Both teams are talented groups with a handful of exciting players dotting each roster. However, there’s no real meat to the matchup itself.

The Canadiens feature a tremendous goaltender and nice depth up and down their lineup. They might be a little thin on the blue line and their five-on-five scoring leaves you wanting but when you have a forward group that features Max Pacioretty and Thomas Vanek on the same line, it’s likely that you have something working in your favor. Finding scoring beyond those two could prove to be a challenge.

Tampa Bay suffered what could be a major blow at the end of the year as Ben Bishop went down with an injury and is a question mark for this first round series. Steven Stamkos is on a level that few other NHLers can reach and will be a major factor for the Bolts in this series. Like the Canadiens, Tampa will rely on their secondary scoring to advance past the first round.

What to watch for

Montreal’s power play is tremendous. Vanek and Pacioretty are both lethal scorers and PK Subban is equally potent from the point. However, if that top line gets shut down by the Lightning, the Canadiens could be in a lot of trouble. However, their special teams are phenomenal and could certainly wind up as the difference maker in this series.

If Ben Bishop doesn’t come back in time to make a difference in this series the Lightning could be cooked before the first puck drops. Even if he does return, his physical condition could make him more of a hindrance than a benefit. Tampa will need to match Montreal on special teams and their young stars will need to shine.

I believe Tampa Bay has a little more depth than Montreal up front. Should that depth start producing early I could see the Lightning coming away with the win. However, Bishop’s status likely condemns the Lightning to an early exit which is unfortunate considering the season they enjoyed.

Between the pipes

TBL: Ben Bishop, Anders Lindback

MTL: Carey Price

Edge: Montreal. If Bishop was at full health this would be a dead heat. Both Price and Bishop are going to garner attention for the Vezina and have been two of the league’s best goalies this year. Lindback has been quite streaky and represents a significant drop off when compared to Bishop.

Montreal in five

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

At some point the Blue Jackets will catch a break. Their first playoff appearance in franchise history saw them face the Red Wings who were in the middle of a run where they played for back-to-back Cups. Columbus was overmatched by a Red Wings roster that is starting to tail off when compared to this year’s team. Now the Blue Jackets are treated to a showdown with Sidney Crosby and co. in the 2014 first round.

While the Blue Jackets have some nice pieces, Ryan Johansen immediately comes to mind, they don’t have that cornerstone talent you can look to for a big performance. They score by committee and are a team that defines the whole being greater than the sum of it’s parts. They have a number of exciting young talents to keep an eye on, but lacking that big gun could hurt them in the end.

The Penguins come as advertised. They have one of the best forward groups in the league that is top heavy with offensive dynamos like Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and others. They’re blueline is a little thin and Marc-Andre Fleury is surrounded by question marks. Their shortcomings are well documented but they’re often overshadowed by their strengths.

What to watch for

If Columbus hopes to compete in this series they’ll need to have all four lines rolling with their top nine chipping in on a regular basis. If they’re able to quiet one of Pittsburgh’s top units they’ll have a punchers chance based on the overall depth they possess.

The Blue Jackets certainly have the edge in net and the mental makeup of Fluery heading into this series is going to be something to focus on. He is likely operating on a short leash even with an unstable situation behind him. However, even if Fleury struggles, Tomas Vokoun was part of last year’s Eastern Conference Final appearance. I find it hard to say that they don’t have enough talent and fire power to get past Columbus.

Pittsburgh will wind up taking this series simply because they have too many heads to contain. While the Blue Jackets feature a lineup with more than one line that can score, the Penguins take that to a whole different level.

Between the pipes

PIT: Marc-Andre Fleury

CBJ: Sergei Bobrovsky

Edge: Columbus. While I’m not the biggest fan of Bobrovsky, he’s shown much more promise and success than Fluery this season. While Fleury benefits from playing behind what almost equates to an All Star team in some respects, Bobrovsky handles a more difficult workload. While I see the Penguins taking the series, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in spite of Fleury.

Pittsburgh in six

New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers

It may not be the Flyers and Penguins, but this series still boasts some nice background to build on. While neither squad started the year well, each rallied hard to not only qualify for the post season but avoid a serious push at a wild card position.

The Rangers come in with the edge in net but I’d argue that the Flyers have the edge in terms of talent up front. I suspect that a lot of New York’s success will come from the ability to match Ryan McDonagh and friends against Claude Giroux. If Giroux’s line is stymied the Rangers will have a lot of success in this round. If not, watch out.

Philly doesn’t necessarily live and die with Giroux, of course, but he’s clearly their MVP. While the Rangers probably have the stronger blue line, I don’t think the Flyers will be outdone with their ability to shutdown New York’s top scorers thanks to Sean Couturier. It sets things up for a chess match of line matching and shutdown players as both coaches have specific targets they need to hone in on.

What to watch for

The Rangers are an interesting case as they have a number of recognizable names but don’t boast the scoring depth like many other teams in this year’s playoffs. Martin St. Louis hasn’t caught on as of yet and his struggles highlight a forward group with big names but lack big numbers. If Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello are shutdown, the Rangers may struggle to score goals.

Philly has the most dynamic line between the two teams and Giroux, Jakub Voarcek and Scott Hartnell are a lethal trio who will be difficult to contain. They’ll see a whole lot of McDonagh and Craig Berube will need to be clever to try and work them away from that matchup. They also have a potential question mark in goal. While Steve Mason seems to have shaken the poor play that chased him from Columbus, exactly how well he will play remains in limbo.

The Rangers may luck out with the question marks in goal and the thin blue line the Flyers will ice. If they can get players not named Nash and Zuccarello scoring this could be a quick series. If not, watch the Flyers advance.

Between the pipes

NYR: Henrik Lundqvist

PHI: Steve Mason

Edge: New York. Lundqvist probably won’t walk away with any hardware this season but he’s a perennial Vezina Candidate for a reason. Mason happens to be good but that’s probably where the scale stops. While Lundqvist can be relied on to steal a game it’s more likely that Mason will be relied on not to lose a game.

Rangers in seven

Stay tuned here for more previews and predictions as each series progresses.

New trim, technology headlines the return of the Synergy this summer

ew trim, technology headlines the return of the Synergy this summer

New trim, technology headlines the return of the Synergy this summer

It’s the stick that started it all. The Easton Synergy revolutionized the game both on and off the ice when it was first introduced and now the legendary name is coming back as Easton is prepared to launch the new Synergy HTX line this summer.

Last seen in the form of the ST 16, the Synergy returns to the ice with new technology designed to create a more responsive blade that creates more velocity off the toe. Easton refers to this technology as Hypertuned and Hypertoe.

The Hypertuned technology sees Easton specifically match stiffer blades to stiffer stick flexes to ensure that the blade responds properly to the type of player that uses each flex. For a player that prefers a stiff stick, the blade’s stiffness will match giving that player a stick with a uniform feel from the flex down to the blade. The same goes for softer flex sticks being paired with softer blades. This differs greatly from sticks of the past which uses a uniform blade construction that offered a different response with each type of flex profile.

In addition, the blade itself has gone under a makeover as Easton’s Hypertoe technology introduces a tapered ribbing to the blade that’s designed to add velocity as the puck comes off on a pass or shot. The blades are easier to load up thanks to the dual lies that Easton utilizes, making the new Hypertoe a benefit to anyone using the stick.

The ultimate goal with the Hypertoe isn’t just to add velocity but to make it easier to load the blade to shoot in a combination that serves to increase your shot without any additional effort. It’s a trait that’s been introduced on a few of Easton’s recent products but it should add even more on the HTX as the Hypertune technology ensures a more uniform feel throughout.

The HTX has been popping up here and there around the NHL this season and will officially be on the shelves in June.

A honky tonk hockey roadtrip

A honky tonk hockey roadtrip

A honky tonk hockey roadtrip

Last month I shared some thoughts on making a trip to catch a junior hockey game. For those who live close enough to a major junior team, it’s an affordable, worthwhile trip to take. I recently returned from another type of hockey trip that’s a little larger in terms of scale.

I traveled to Nashville to take in a Predators game at Bridgestone Arena. It marked the third NHL game I’d seen in a building besides First Niagara Center and the fifth NHL venue I have attended. Technically it was the six as I saw the Penguins play at Mellon Arena while I witness a hockey game at their new home, the CONSOL Energy Center. The other arenas I’ve been to are Air Canada Centre, Rogers Arena and then FNC, CONSOL and Mellon.

The trip to Nashville was centered around a larger trip to take in the sights and sounds of Music City. But the game served as the main event with visits to local watering holes and music venues serving as a nice compliment to the game itself.

When it comes to sports road trips I’m a complete novice. Luckily Nashville has more than enough to keep you occupied during the day and night. Broadway is packed to the gills with bars that feature live music every night and you’ll be hard pressed to find a poor act, especially at the larger joints. We saw at least two acts each of the three nights we were out and none of them disappointed. In addition, the Midtown area provides a much different vibe with a more laid back vibe at each of the patio bars along that strip.

But Broadway is not only where the live music is bountiful but where Bridgestone Arena resides. It makes for an awesome pre and postgame atmosphere as the bars are full with Preds fans at all times and almost the entire arena empties to that one strip.

Bridgestone itself is an attractive building with open concourses and an interesting layout. Like First Niagara Center, Bridgestone has a large entry atrium with the ticket office, team store and access to each level right as you walk in. I really like this type of layout because you’re not funneled into a cramped space upon walking in the front door. You know where you are and you have options as to where you can go.

The sightlines in the arena are nice as the seating bowl isn’t arranged in an odd manner and the focus is on the game. Perhaps the coolest thing is that the press box isn’t separated from the 300 level. I very nearly ran over David Poile in the first intermission and Seth Jones was chatting with a couple fans when I walked by in the second intermission. It’s certainly an odd setting to have visiting scouts, scratches and other media personalities wandering around the concourse. I didn’t notice any fans asking for autographs, which is honorable, but it did seem as if they weren’t afraid to approach anyone they recognized.

As for the fans, they’re terrific. The Preds promote a loud, college-like atmosphere at their games. The fans are engaged from the drop of the puck and stay loud the entire night. The Preds help to promote this by keeping in-game promotions to a minimum, keeping the focus on the game you’re watching and primarily using pump-up videos and music between whistles. This means the Kiss Cam, Blooper reel and fans on the video board shots are saved for intermission. I can’t express how much I enjoyed that. Replays were queued up almost immediately, from multiple angles after nearly every stoppage and there was only the odd fan shot prior to play beginning.

The Preds led for most of the game and the 4-3 shootout win for the home side was back-and-forth, which helped keep everyone interested for the duration of the contest. There was one pump up feature I grew tired of after two periods and it was the combination of a movie clip and a “make some noise” graphic that was used consistently. While it served to keep the crowd raucous, it got old after a while.

I should point out that I did not make the trip to see my hometown team, but simply a game at the arena. This isn’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, but the new NHL schedule provides for a home-and-home for every team in the league. That means your hometown team plays at least one road game in every arena if you must see them on any future trip.

Nashville is quite a haul from Buffalo, especially if you’re driving. But cities like Columbus, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Toronto and every New York are a manageable drive from the Nickel City. Boston, Philly and Washington DC aren’t too far away either. That’s ten teams within a reasonable drive from Buffalo that would make a terrific road trip for any fan. Find a hotel close to the arena or an entertainment district, snag a set of seats (aftermarket or box office) and hit the road.

STX’s entry into hockey market starts with a pair of elite sticks

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A well known powerhouse in the lacrosse world, STX has jumped head first into ice hockey this year as their new stick line has hit the shelves.

 

STX wasted little time getting their name onto people’s tongues in hockey circles as Matt Moulson was sporting an STX Prototype stick for a good portion of the season. With the release of the Stallion 500 and Surgeon 500 now official, Moulson graduated to production model of the Stallion since his arrival in Minnesota.

 

Geared towards elite level players, the Surgeon and the Stallion share a number of visual similarities to the Easton Stealth and Mako sticks. The Stallion looks like a near replica of the Stealth RS stick while the Surgeon’s graphics package is very similar to that of the Mako.

 

The Stallion’s focus in on power transfer and balance in order to allow players to maximize the power they can get behind each shot. STX has implemented a high balance point to keep the stick from feeling blade heavy while limiting the affect that change has on the flex profile. In addition to moving the balance point up the shaft, STX also built the Stallion with what they call the Power Flex Shot Profile; a constant flex profile designed to increase the load you can place on the stick while shooting.

 

While the Stallion is referred to as the power tool, the Surgeon is more of a precision device. The Stallion and Surgeon share a very similar relationship to that of the TotalOne and APX. While the Stallion’s uniform flex profile promotes power and strength, the Surgeon is built with a dual flex profile to complement a quick release while also allowing for a player to load up the stick for a powerful shot.

 

This Precision Flex Shot Profile also features a high balance point but gives a little more feel for those players seeking a quick release for their shots. The Surgeon’s blade is softer than that of the Stallion for enhanced puck control and feel.

 

Both sticks utilize a grip finish that is lighter and has more of a matte finish than most other sticks on the market. This ensures that they’re not cumbersome with weight which has been a downfall of many sticks that have come out as a challenge to the traditional powers in recent years.

 

There are also expectations that STX will be releasing a glove in the near future and while there has been no concrete news or sightings during gameplay, it will be interesting to see what type of technology STX pulls from considering their lacrosse background.

Both sticks can be found both in store and online at  www.greatskate.com.