Gift Guide: Apparel

Gift Guide: Apparel

Gift Guide: Apparel

Hockey apparel wasn’t always as prevalent or as readily available for purchase as it is today as there was a time not too long ago that branded apparel was very hard to come by. Now every manufacturer has a bevvy of hats, t-shirts and sweatshirts adorned with their logo and products. The same goes for hockey lifestyle brands like Gongshow which cater exclusively to hockey players.

In the event that you haven’t found the right gift for the hockey player you’re shopping for, take a look at the hockey apparel at Great Skate. Great Skate’s hockey apparel includes products from CCM, Bauer, Easton, Gongshow, Reebok, Warrior and many others.

Whether sporting it at the rink or just when they’re hanging out, products like Bauer hoodies and CCM hats are always a go-to for hockey players of all ages. What’s even better is that these great gifts can be found without worrying about breaking the bank.

The Bauer New Era 3930 hat might be the hottest item of the year as it’s nearly impossible to walk into a rink without seeing one or two of the great looking hats. CCM’s national pride inspired hats are also popular with every age group and they have a very cool set of knit winter caps out for this holiday season. Another great hat for the cold winter months is the Great Skate Bauer winter hat. It’s warm, attractive and sports the very cool Great Skate logo on the front.

In the event that the player you’re shopping for isn’t a hat guy (or girl), there are plenty of other apparel options available with Great Skate. For example, Warrior’s hockey t-shirts are expressive and unique. They also happen to share many similarities with other popular athletic apparel shirts that are popular on the market today. Given that so many hockey players have to trudge through sub-30 degree temperatures and snowy sidewalks, a hoody is always a great option for a gift around the holiday. You can find Bauer hockey hoodies along with many other outerwear options from nearly every manufacturer at Great Skate

A pair of personal favorites happen to be the Bauer softshell jacket and the Easton Synergy midweight jacket in case you need a little more protection from the elements.

These products represent a small portion of the terrific hockey apparel at Great Skate that could check off the gift needs of any hockey player on your shopping list no matter how young or old they happen to be. Whether shopping online or at our store you’ll be sure to find what you’re looking for.

Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers

Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers

Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers

Hockey is almost tailor made for stocking stuffers. Well, aside from 40” leg pads, and sticks that don’t lend themselves well to wrapping paper. But take those out of the equation and there may not be a better sport for finding stocking stuffers than hockey.

Training aids like the Smart Hockey Training Ball or the Green Biscuit Training Puck are the perfect size to slip into a stocking and are even better gifts since they can be used at home or at the rink with ease.

Of course every hockey player needs tape and there never seems to be enough of it no matter how many rolls you buy. Toss a few rolls of white or black tape into a stocking with a couple rolls of clear tape for a fail-safe gift that will never need to be taken back because it was the wrong size. One note on buying tape, double check the color the person you’re buying for uses as hockey players are a finicky bunch when it comes to superstitions like the color of their tape.

There are even some cool accessories from the hockey apparel at Great Skate. For example, Bauer’s skate lace bracelet would make for a very cool, unique stocking stuffer that many hockey players would love to have.

Some of the hockey stocking stuffers at Great Skate are a bit more practical than a skate lace bracelet or even a composite mini stick. Everyone loves having sharp skates but sometimes you’re running too behind to get a sharpening taken care of. A Sweet Stick solves that problem as the pocket-sized blade re-edger can fit into a side pocket of a bag and be used in a pinch when a sharpening is out of the question. Another skate-related accessory that makes for a great stocking stuffer are Elite skate guards. These are the exact same skate guards used around the NHL and offer protection for skate blades while also preventing rusting. The Elite skate guards can be found in many different colors to match the team of the player you’re buying for.

One newer item that could make for a nice addition in a stocking this holiday season is the Tacki-Mac stick grip. Great Skate carries three different versions of the Tacki-Mac grips and each provides a pre-cast, tacky butt end for a stick. Colors and styles all vary but these are becoming more and more popular as they’re designed to extend the life of gloves while offering more grip and command than a regular tape buttend offers.

If you find yourself without a few extra stocking suffers as the holiday season wraps up, check with a Great Skate sales associate to help round out the final items on your shopping list this year.

Gift Guide: Gift Cards

Gift Guide: Gift Cards

Gift Guide: Gift Cards

Not all the items on a hockey player’s wish list can be picked up in one shopping trip. Maybe you know a goalie who is hoping for a new Bauer NME 8 mask or a defenseman who is hoping the STX Stallion stick will help bring a bit more power to their slap shot. While you may not be able to check off a box that big you can certainly help to check it off by picking up a Great Skate gift certificate.

Gift certificates at Great Skate Hockey are available in any denomination you can think of and serve as the perfect gift for the player whose wish list is a little too long. A Great Skate gift certificate also absolves you of having to pick the right colorway on the new Warrior Dynasty AXLT gloves. Rather than picking the wrong color or the wrong size of an item, why not buy a gift card and let the player pick themselves?

That’s the beauty of picking up a gift card at Great Skate. If you’re unsure of the size or style a certain someone wears, you can sang a gift certificate for the amount you were going to spend and let them pick out the present on their own.

This is an especially effective practice when it comes to tricky items like skates and helmets. In fact, if you’re planning on getting a stick as gift for someone you may be better off grabbing a gift certificate lest you know the proper hand, flex, lie and blade pattern you need to buy. It may seem a little odd to think that you would need to consider each and every one of those factors when buying a stick, but never underestimate the intricacies of a hockey player’s preferences.

If you think that a Great Skate gift certificate will allow the hockey player on your holiday shopping list to get the gift they really want this year, you can stop into our store to pick one up.

Great Skate Black Friday Sale

Great Skate Black Friday Sale

Great Skate Black Friday Sale

Starting on Friday November 28, 2014 for 12-hours, receive 25% off your purchase at both Great Skate and Greatskate.com. If you are going to be shopping online you can take advantage of early shopping and In-Store pickup.When shopping online please use Promotional Code BLACKFRIDAY (Please note that your discount will be deducted at the time of shipping)

Great Skate will be opening a bit early on Friday morning starting at 6am, so if you or someone you know is out shopping at Best Buy, Target, and Kohl’s tell them to stop by and check out our great deals. Choose from all major manufacturers such as Bauer, CCM, Easton, STX, Reebok, Warrior, & Vaughn. If a Bauer ToalOne MX3 stick is on your list this year you won’t find a better deal than at Great Skate!

Don’t forget to ask about our door buster deals such as Bauer Vapor X70 Sticks at $29.98, Warrior HB AX3 Hockey bags $19.98, All Composite Mini Hockey Sticks $19.99 . How can you beat these deals?

When it comes down to Fit, Feel, Performance, Dedication look no further than Great Skate. Stop by Friday morning at 3395 Sheridan Drive / Amherst / NY / 14226. If you aren’t from WNY give us a call at 1-800-828-7496. As always some restrictions may apply (MAP) This will Exclude minimum advertise price item. see the full offer here

Take advantage of this sale today. It won’t last long. GAME ON!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Teams going with more custom looks with alternate uniforms

Teams going with more custom looks with alternate uniforms

Teams going with more custom looks with alternate uniforms

The Pittsburgh Penguins took to the ice in their new third jerseys on Wednesday night, marking yet another alternate uniform to grace the NHL’s growing collection of jerseys.

While those fans who collect jerseys and add all the newest duds to their collection each year are abundant, I’ve noticed something even cooler than the jerseys themselves in recent years. As teams get more creative with their marketing strategies, implementing more unique designs and traits to third jerseys is a growing trend. Unique socks – which are always cool to add to your practice or pick-up arsenal – special pants or pant covers and even different decals for the helmets are all common for teams who add alternate jerseys.

The Penguins and Islanders have taken that to the next level by adding new gloves to their alternate uniforms that work perfectly within the design of the overall uniform. The Islanders decision to add white fingers to their gloves is interesting and unique. It took some adjusting, but now seeing the entire uniform in use makes me think there is more than enough room for more contemporary designs when it comes to alternate jerseys (Buffalo excluded).

Pittsburgh’s gloves, however are a real treat. As their new uniform hearkens back to their Cup wins in the early 90s as do the gloves. Leaving no detail unnoticed, the Penguins are donning black based gloves with basic white trim just as their team gloves looked back in the 90s.

This is an awesome addition. Many “throwback” uniforms feature the team’s normal or slightly altered gloves that use the same colorway. Not this time. The Penguins went full-on 1991 with their look and it really helps bring everything together.

Luckily virtually every company features a basic black and white colorway with their gloves. Which means that you can replicate the Pens’ look with relative ease. The Bauer Nexus, Warrior Dynasty and CCM 4Roll Prime both offer a vintage look and feel, especially if you’re going the black and white route.

If you’re thinking of switching your look around for the upcoming year, consider grabbing a pair of alternate Reebok Edge Socks and a pair of gloves that give a vintage feel to bring it all together.

What They’re Wearing: Matt Moulson

What They’re Wearing: Matt Moulson

What They’re Wearing: Matt Moulson

Matt Moulson is the poster boy for STX’s entry into the NHL after he took to the ice with a prototype STX stick early last season. As STX’s line was refined and officially launched, Moulson added another unique piece of equipment to his arsenal, the yet to be released STX gloves. Not much has changed this season as he is still sporting the STX gear as he takes his second turn with the Sabres.

Skates: Bauer Vapor APX2 – Mouslon’s choice in skate is similar to that of many other NHLers. The APX2 is perhaps the most impressive of Bauer’s line and suits the skating and playing style of a wide spectrum of NHLers. A lightweight skate built to promote speed and explosiveness with a  stiff, durable boot.

Gloves: STX Stallion – While STX doesn’t have a true flagship for either their stick or glove line, the Stallion is the model Moulson has chosen for each. The STX Stallion glove is built for a power player with a happy medium between the traditional fit of a four-roll glove and the snug anatomical benefits of a tapered glove. A goal scoring winger, Moulson benefits from the traits of the glove that compliments his strengths shooting the puck.

Stick: STX Stallion – A stick formulated for power players who need more control and pop from their shots and passes, the Stallion has been Moulson’s choice for over a calendar year. The stick features a solid construction designed to take a beating at the NHL level while still helping to load up heavy shots each and every night.

Helmet: CCM V08 – Moulson’s choice in helmets is pretty basic. The CCM V08 utilizes traditional VN foam and is a very popular choice amongst NHLers. As it has been described in this space many times, the V08’s good looks and comfortable fit and feel make it a go-to choice for countless NHL players.

STX Gloves

STX gloves

STX Gloves

STX burst on the scene last year with the Surgeon and Stallion sticks and a goal scoring poster boy in Matt Moulson. In addition to debuting the sticks to the world early in the 2013-14 season, Moulson eventually unveiled the STX glove line towards the end of the year.

Now the rest of the hockey world gets to experience the STX Stallion and STX Surgeon gloves.

STX carried over the traits of the stick line to the design and function of their gloves along with the naming of the two models. Both the Stallion and Surgeon gloves can be considered an elite level product much in the way Bauer’s Nexus, Vapor and Supreme lines offer pro-line equipment defined by various traits.

With such a rich tradition in the sport of lacrosse, the assumption was that any protective equipment created by STX would draw from that background. It would appear that both gloves draw inspiration from the design of lacrosse gloves.

STX Stallion Hockey Gloves

STX Stallion Hockey Gloves

In a world where hockey gloves typically utilize a two-piece finger construction, the Stallion and Surgeon both feature three-piece construction for the index, middle and ring fingers. While this isn’t an exclusive design to STX gloves, it certainly indicates their desire to create a pair of responsive products. The three-piece fingers are enhanced with a tapered design on the Stallion glove for an even more advanced feel.

From the outset, the Stallion line has been about power and control. The Stallion stick is built for players with heavy shots who want a tough, durable stick that loads up heavy slap shots. The Stallion glove shares these traits in many ways. Much in the same way, the Surgeon is built for a player with a more precise style of play.

Built between the happy medium of a traditional four-roll and tapered fit, the Stallion will give solid mobility with a snug, responsive fit. The back of the hand is built on a more traditional design to still provide mobility although the cuff and fingers share more traits with a tapered glove.

The Surgeon glove takes the tapered traits of the Stallion and goes even a step further, pulling from design features of anatomically built glove. The backhand provides a far more snug and precise fit and feel and the cuff features a tapered fit.

Another pair of features that both the Surgeon and Stallion gloves feature is the M2 Knuckle and cable Flex Thumb. These also could be considered as a tie to STX’s lacrosse heritage.

STX Surgeon Hockey Gloves

STX Surgeon Hockey Gloves

The M2 Knuckle is simply a way to construct the fingers to allow a slight increase in range of motion. While adding to finger dexterity isn’t necessarily a groundbreaking feature, the M2 Knuckle is one of those small features that you might not notice but actually makes a big impact on your play.

The Cable Flex Thumb sounds like something lifted right off a lacrosse glove. Unlike hockey gloves, lacrosse gloves don’t require the one-piece, hard shell thumbs that are the norm on hockey gloves. This means that lacrosse gloves function far differently when it comes to any sort of movement related to your thumb. While the Cable Flex thumb hasn’t eliminated the protective one-piece shell, it sounds like STX has found a way to incorporate some of those features into both gloves.

STX’s new hockey gloves strike me as a pair of products that will appeal to a wide range of players. While neither will likely attract purists who exclusively wear Warrior Dynasty or Bauer Nexus gloves, both the Stallion and Surgeon offer features and benefits that will set them apart from nearly every product on the market today.

The STX Surgeon and STX Stallion hockey gloves go on sale now, keep your eyes peeled.

Connor McDavid dazzles during his trip to Buffalo

Connor McDavid dazzles during his trip to Buffalo

Connor McDavid dazzles during his trip to Buffalo

Connor McDavid has always been worth the price of admission, that’s really never been a topic of debate. However, the McDavid show took center stage in Buffalo on Wednesday, October 22 as the Erie Otters topped the Niagara IceDogs 8-4 at First Niagara Center.

As the Sabres are in the midst of a full organizational rebuild, the team took the opportunity to play host to an Otters home game, giving Sabres fans a chance to see McDavid play on the Sabres’ home ice. The phenom didn’t disappoint, putting up a goal and three assists and dazzling the crowd throughout the night.

To see McDavid play in person is nothing short of a visual treat. His speed, vision and hands are so far above that of anyone else at the junior level that the chance of a highlight each shift far surpasses the 20% chance that the NHL’s 30th place team will have of drafting him in June.

Wednesday marked my fourth time seeing McDavid play in person. The other three occurrences came in Erie and he has put up 13 points in those four games. To say he’s on another level doesn’t even begin to explain his on-ice exploits at times.

For example, on a penalty kill Wednesday night, McDavid took a loose puck in the Erie end and proceeded to create a partial breakaway all by himself.  He didn’t score on the break, but the move he used to create the scoring chance was the most mesmerizing thing I’ve ever seen done on an ice rink. The First Niagara Center crowd reacted as expected with a roaring “Oh!” after the deke to free up the scoring opportunity.

Given the thin seasons the Sabres have suffered through lately, the reaction elicited by McDavid was almost as impressive as the play on the ice. He was the center of attention the entire game and he performed like someone well aware that all 11,000 fans were there to see him play.

There are well over 70 games left to be played by each NHL franchise and those sitting in the basement – including the Sabres – are likely dreaming of McDavid donning number 97 for them a year from now. Sabres fans have been to McDavid, Jack Eichel and even Noah Hanifin this fall and the team’s minor league club will take to the First Niagara Center ice at the end of October to give the fans a full preview of what the future may hold.

Connor McDavid dazzles Buffalo

Connor McDavid dazzles Buffalo

The divide between fans talking about tanking the season or rooting for the first pick is broad. As someone who knows the likely end game for this particular Sabres roster, I have never rooted for my team to lose. It’s an awful feeling to root against your favorite team and I could never turn off the TV or leave the arena happy with a loss. However, knowing that this roster is built more for a last place finish rather than a playoff spot makes the losses easier to handle. It’s one thing to accept a loss and quite another to root for a loss. I certainly count myself as part of the former but McDavid’s on-ice exploits even had me feeling goosebumps and hoping the Sabres leave the draft lottery with the first pick. He’s that good and that inspiring.

If you have the chance to go see him play live, do it. Don’t wait, don’t hesitate and don’t miss the chance to truly see him dominate. He’s going to be a star in the NHL but to see someone with world-class skill absolutely dominate a game like he does at the OHL level is a rare treat that every hockey fan should get to experience.

CCM/Reebok changeover

CCM/Reebok Hockey  Changeover

CCM/Reebok Hockey Changeover

Keep your eyes peeled this season. You’re going to start seeing more and more CCM products around the rink and on television.

While they never technically left, CCM’s return to the rink just over five years ago was a notable milestone for the manufacturer. Part of the Reebok family (which also took over Koho, Jofa and Titan in the early 2000s), CCM has a strong presence in today’s equipment landscape. Sticks like the RBZ SuperFast and the return of the Tacks skate have elevated CCM to new heights in equipment design and innovation.

Of course, their line offered, in some ways, a direct competition to the equipment being built and sold by Reebok. Instead of having the two companies fight for attention and players, they altered the landscape they operate on. CCM will maintain their status as a brand leader for elite equipment while Reebok will be entry level to mid-price point in senior, junior and youth equipment.

That means that players who previously used Reebok equipment in the NHL will be wearing more CCM just as products like the Ribcor stick will now be sold with CCM branding as opposed to Reebok. The quality certainly won’t change, just the window dressing.

It’s still a cool development, particularly with the strength Bauer has shown in recent years and the obvious push coming from CCM. The RBZ stick line is beyond revolutionary and both the RBZ and Tacks skates are excellent products which offer a true challenge to Bauer.

There is one other front that could see CCM grow even more and that’s in the crease. The Reebok goal line is still being worn by quite a few netminders and exactly what will come of the Reebok goal collection doesn’t seem as clear as the player line. However, the CCM Extreme Flex goal pads are a monster hit and continue to find their way into more and more locker rooms in the NHL and beyond.

The CCM goal mask line was far superior to that of the models released by Reebok a few years prior and the same can be said for many other aspects of CCM’s goal equipment line. Perhaps the only sector Reebok truly had an edge in was skate design. The Reebok skates – both goalie and player – have been quite popular since their inception and while the RBZ and Tacks are phenomenal skates, models like the Ribcor are still elite in their own right.

While many of CCM’s products may be seen as superior to begin with, the company ought to see a boost thanks to the quality in skate design that Reebok has established.

At the end of the day this transition doesn’t change much in terms of the big picture. In fact, based on equipment that I’ve personally used, much of CCM’s elite level gear is superior to begin with. So while there will be more exposure and equipment choices for CCM, the product quality certainly isn’t going to change. Simply put, this is a wise decision to allow a growing industry leader get that much bigger.

As the changeover continues, players will see more and more Reebok products change over to CCM. In the meantime, have fun scavenger hunting for the CCM logo in places you’re not used to seeing it.

CCM Tacks Hockey Gear

CCM Tacks Hockey Gear

CCM RBZ Superfast Hockey Sticks

CCM RBZ Superfast Hockey Sticks

CCM Resistance Hockey Helmet

CCM Resistance Hockey Helmet

CCM Ribcor Hockey Sticks

CCM Ribcor Hockey Sticks

Reebok Hockey

Reebok Hockey

 

Great Skate Blog NHL: Eastern Conference

Great Skate Blog NHL Preview: Eastern Conference

Great Skate Blog NHL Preview: Eastern Conference

Metropolitan Division

Pittsburgh PenguinsUntil proven otherwise, the Penguins boast the world’s best player and another dynamic superstar who is likely in the top-5. Changes behind the bench and along the blueline defined Pittsburgh’s offseason and as the reigning division winner I expect to see much of the same from the Pens. Marc-Andre Fleury is perhaps their biggest question mark but his play was far more stable last year than in 2012-13. The Penguins still sit atop the Metro Division and will be in the President’s Trophy conversation if Fleury plays well.

New York RangersThe Rangers seem to have found a way to improve but stay nearly the exact same team as last year. They unloaded the contract of Brad Richards, re-upped with their key core players and made some interesting signings. They also let a key player walk in Anton Stralman and will not be without Derek Stepan for a number of weeks. They still have the world’s best goaltender and an impressive blue line. The addition of Dan Boyle ought to give their power play a nice jolt and should Stepan return from injury in full form, they’ll be a formidable opponent again this year.

Columbus Blue JacketsA slightly tumultuous offseason followed a very promising 13-14 season for the Jackets. Another serious injury to Nathan Horton is likely to shelve the forward for some time while Ryan Johansen remains unsigned. Sergei Bobrovsky has proven that he wasn’t just a one year wonder and has been dominant at times for Columbus. This is still a team whose parts don’t eclipse the sum of its whole. Johansen is the star in waiting and Horton is perhaps their biggest name and it looks as if they’ll be without each to start the year. However, I still count on the Jackets to improve and finish third in the Metro.

Philadelphia FlyersClaude Giroux could wrap himself in bubble wrap each summer and manage to get injured ahead of camp. This year’s ailment is far less severe than the cut tendon he suffered last year, but he probably won’t be 100% at the start of the year. As is always the case, the Flyers will live and die with their goaltending. Steve Mason, despite his improvement last year, still doesn’t represent a confidence inspiring goaltender and if his play is average the Flyers will be as well. Philadelphia made an interesting decision in parting ways with Scott Hartnell and they could have a little trouble scoring goals in some areas. I still expect to see him in a wild card spot, but they’ll be battling down to the wire for it.

New York IslandersThe stats say that even with average goaltending the Islanders would have been an average team last year. The arrival of Jaroslav Halak should represent the improvement between the pipes that the Isles need to improve in the win column. John Tavares headlines a young, talented forward group who will be able to provide the necessary goal support for their new netminder. There may be a few defensive question marks that remain but the Isles have a lot of youth to be excited about. I’m expecting to see them finish just shy of the wild card.

New Jersey DevilsLike the Islanders, the Devils should have been far better than their record showed last year. However, their inability to win a single shootout cost them a number of wins and a number of precious points in the standings. In fact, those shootout losses accounted for more than enough points to make the playoffs had they found a way to win. Ultimately I think the Devils fall short of a playoff berth this year. Not because they haven’t improved but because they’re in a deep division that will be tough to succeed in.

Washington CapitalsI’m expecting regression for the Capitals this year. They overpaid both Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen and I’m not sure they represent the defensive improvement the Capitals need. Niskanen will likely rack up power play points as he feeds one timers to Alex Ovechkin but I still think he was able to cash in on a big year on a great team. The Capitals still have a number of holes to fill and I don’t think they plugged each of them last year.

Carolina HurricanesCarolina wasn’t going to be a great team before Jordan Stall was injured. With Staal on the shelf for upwards of four months, the Hurricanes are closer to the Connor McDavid sweepstakes than they are to competing for a playoff spot. Depth and goaltending are among the biggest question marks they will deal with and with rumors of Eric Staal being available via trade doesn’t help those who are worried about the outlook for the Canes.

Atlantic Division

Boston BruinsMuch in the same way the Penguins will likely earn the Metro Crown, the Bruins enter the year as the prohibitive favorite in the Atlantic. No team has demonstrated that they’re better over the course of a season and I don’t expect that to change this year. While Zdeno Chara is beginning to show signs of aging, the Bruins are far too well constructed for that to be a major issue. The Bruins will have the first seed in the east at the end of the year and will likely be the team who is predicted to represent the East in the Cup Final.

Tampa Bay LightningThe Bolts bolstered their lineup this offseason with some very smart moves. Anton Stralman is a possession driving two-way defenseman and Jason Garrison will add another dynamic to the power play. Ryan Callahan will be on board for a full season and should Steven Stamkos stay healthy he’ll likely lead the league in goal scoring. It’s possible that the Bolts would have knocked off the Canadiens in the playoffs had Ben Bishop been healthy and he’ll be a big part of any success Tampa has this season. They probably don’t have enough to get by Boston in the Atlantic, but I won’t be surprised to see them in the conference finals.

Montreal CanadiensPK Subban is under contract, PA Parentau is in the fold (coming over in a great trade for Marc Bergevin) and Carey Price is still Carey Price. I still wonder about their play at center, but the Habs were impressive down the stretch last year and managed to knock off the Bruins on their way to the conference finals. I think Tampa took more steps forward this offseason, so I don’t see Montreal’s spot in the standings changing at all, but they’ll most certainly be a playoff team.

Detroit Red WingsThere’s a strong possibility that the standings in the Atlantic are the exact same this year. The Red Wings are still a strong club but they’re aging. They have a quality goaltender, one of the game’s most dangerous two-way players and a supporting cast that doesn’t have too many holes. They’re still flimsy on the blueline and it seems that their Eastern Conference rivals have done more to improve in the offseason. They’re still a full head better than Ottawa, Toronto, Buffalo and Florida which means they’ll be in the thick of the wild card race.

Toronto Maple LeafsToronto has been funny to watch the last couple seasons. They overachieved and took Boston to seven games two years ago. Then they couldn’t maintain last season and were on the outside looking in. The Leafs will live and die with Jonathan Bernier, Phil Kessel and James van Reimsdyk. I’m waiting to see if Jake Gardiner has a breakout season or if he’s stuck in the dog house again. There is some quality talent in Toronto and if the chips fall right they could certainly leap frog Detroit for a wild card spot.

Ottawa SenatorsI don’t see the Senators being a very good team this year. In fact, they are going to rely heavily on Craig Anderson to win them games based on their offseason work. Not only do I expect to see them miss the playoffs, I have a sneaking suspicion that Bobby Ryan will head out the door in free agency in the summer. Kyle Turris and Ryan should form a nice duo up front and Erik Karlsson remains one of the elite offensive defensemen in the world. However, there isn’t too much depth on the roster and I see this year as a step back for the Sens.

Florida PanthersDale Tallon still has plenty of work to do in Southern Florida. Aaron Ekblad is a very nice addition. He, along with other lottery picks Jonathan Huberdeau and Sasha Barkov will help drive the club. The Panthers do have some very impressive talent on their roster but it ultimately feels incomplete in some areas. Roberto Luongo’s presence alone should account for a number of wins and while the Panthers may not make any progress moving up in the Atlantic, I can see them beating out at least two teams from the Metro in the conference standings.

Buffalo SabresThe Sabres were woefully short on goal scoring last year. They also happened to be woefully short on defense, the power play and penalty killing. Before and after Ryan Miller’s departure the goaltending was strong, but that was really one of the few silver linings from last year. The Sabres did a lot of work to bring in more veteran support and skill and that will account for a few things. First, a full year of Matt Moulson and Brian Gionta will help in the locker room and on the scoreboard. Drew Stafford and Chris Stewart are both in contract years and have looked motivated in the preseason. The defense corps is an interesting group as Ted Nolan is going to have some very difficult decisions to make regarding his lineup. The Sabres lone competition this season will be for last place, although the hockey should be a bit more tolerable this time around.