Improved Sabres still surrounded by many question marks

Improved Sabres still surrounded by many question marks

Improved Sabres still surrounded by many question marks

The 2014-15 NHL season is here and as the puck is set to drop at First Niagara Center, a number of questions surround the Buffalo Sabres.

Are they really trying to finish last in order to draft Connor McDavid? Will the goaltending hold up? How long will Sam Reinhart be kept up? Did they improve enough – or maybe too much – in the offseason to move out of the league’s basement?

All of the questions work off of last year’s 30th place finish that eventually led Tim Murray to the selection of Sam Reinhart at the 2014 Draft. The Sabres were historically bad in 2013-14, scoring the fewest goals in the league by a wide margin, trading away the fact of their franchise and even working through an ugly internal divorce only weeks after bringing in a new management team.

Buffalo Sabres Season Starts tonight 10/9/14. Are you Ready?

Buffalo Sabres Season Starts tonight 10/9/14. Are you Ready?

Whether you’re talking about the on-ice product, the hockey department or even the Twitter account, the 13-14 season was one to forget for the Sabres.

Things started turning around once Ted Nolan and Tim Murray were brought on. Nolan brought about a noticeable change in attitude from the players while Murray was the hard lining general manager that fans had pined for. Murray didn’t take long to make his presence felt, shipping off Ryan Miller, Steve Ott and Matt Moulson at the trade deadline and bringing back an extra 2015 first round pick along with a host of additional assets.

Buffalo Sabres Hockey

Buffalo Sabres Hockey

The next stage of the rebuild is now on his doorstep as Moulson is back on a five-year deal, Brian Gionta is back in Western New York for three seasons and Josh Gorges spurned a move to Toronto and waived his no-trade clause to come to Buffalo. Chris Stewart is healthy and Reinhart will play at least nine games in Buffalo before returning to junior. Murray also signed Andrej Meszaros to give his blueline even more depth this season.

But where does this leave the mission to draft a generational talent in this year’s draft? It might not have made as big of an impact as some think.

The Sabres are no doubt a better team on paper than they were last season. That improvement will be reflected on the ice as well. However, they are now without a goaltender in Ryan Miller who anchored the team with goaltending that was five percentage points above league average. That’s nothing to scoff at, and while Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth are more than capable NHL goaltenders, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a slight decrease in the department.

Another factor to consider is the sheer amount of ground the Sabres need to make up compared with the rest of the league. They were a full 14 points worse than the 29th place Florida Panthers and scored 39 fewer goals than those same Panthers. While the offseason moves Murray made were strong, I’m not sure if they’ll account for seven more wins and 40 goals.

What is undoubtedly true is the improvement the Sabres have undergone on the blueline. Tyler Myers will likely pair with Gorges to start the year while Meszaros will pair up with Buffalo’s blue chip prospect, Rasmus Ristolainen. The bottom pair will likely be some combination of a possession savvy Mark Pysyk, Andre Benoit and Mike Weber. Compared to last year’s top six which prominently featured Weber, Jamie McBain and Henrik Tallinder, the Sabres should see a great deal of improvement from this unit.

Gorges isn’t truly a top pairing defenseman, but he should maintain the steady veteran presence that has allowed Myers to thrive in certain situations. Putting Myers in a situation to succeed is an important factor for the season as there are still a few steps left before he can be considered and elite defenseman. Ristolainen will be an interesting case as he’ll get a full dose of NHL action this season. He showed well in his professional debut last year but didn’t come out of his shell until he spent a lengthy stint in Rochester. Now he’ll be playing a top-four role alongside another NHL veteran who should provide some stability as he continues to blossom.

The rest of the defensive corps is going to be interchangeable. Pysyk is a victim of circumstance in some ways as his skill set certainly lends itself well to a more prominent role. However, continuing to give the former first round pick minutes is the true key for the young defenseman. Weber and Benoit will likely be the primary pair of rotational players depending on the lineup Ted Nolan is looking for on a night-to-night basis. Keep an eye out for Jake McCabe and Tyson Strachan to work in as well depending on injuries or even merit-based promotions. Nikita Zadorov is in Buffalo for the start of the year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him return to London after nine games.

Up front the Sabres boast some promising forward lines. Moulson has shown tremendous chemistry with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford and that trio will be expected to carry the load offensively. Reinhart is starting the year between Cody Hodgson and Brian Gionta but once his nine-game audition is over any number of players could step into that role; including Mikhail Grigorenko.

Zemgus Girgensons could also fill in for Reinhart once he’s set back but he’ll start the year on a very heavy line, centering Marcus Foligno and Chris Stewart. That line has the potential to play a strong role in Buffalo’s offensive attack and Girgensons offensive progression playing in a slightly more beneficial role is worth tracking.

Buffalo’s fourth line will be a combination of a number of names that’s likely to change on a near weekly basis. Brian Flynn, Torrey Mitchell, Cody McCormick and Nicolas Deslauriers are the four most likely to battle for playing time but once Patrick Kaleta and Johan Larsson are healthy, things could change quite quickly.

Without doubt, the Sabres are a better team today than they were at any point last season. But is a full year of Moulson coupled with the addition of Stewart and Gionta enough to make up that 40-goal deficit from last year? In turn, is the duo of Enroth and Neuvirth enough to at least keep the team’s goals against and save percentage at the same level or better? Or perhaps will the two factors negate one another?

I expect Sabres fans will have a pretty good idea of where their team stands once the calendar hits November. The team is certainly going to be better. But will they be good enough to climb out of the basement

Buffalo Sabres Fans

Buffalo Sabres Fans

Buffalo Sabres Pre-Season Camp

Buffalo Sabres Pre-Season Camp

Buffalo Sabres Pre-Season Camp

A number of intriguing storylines greet the Sabres as they open training camp and preseason for the 2014-15 season. The Sabres are deep within a rebuilding phase that took a massive step forward at the 2014 NHL Draft. The selection of Sam Reinhart followed by a trio of skilled forwards in the second round continued a trend of building through the draft for the franchise.

Reinhart is going to be a carefully watched and cultivated asset who will be a focal point for much of, if not all of the preseason slate. The expectation is that he’ll see plenty of ice in the team’s tuneup games and perhaps into the first nine games of the regular season. Sending Reinhart back to junior appears to be the preferred path for most fans and pundits as the best course of action for the season. Given that the Sabres aren’t expected to contend this year and allowing Reinhart to improve in a situation where he will not only play big minutes but also at a level where he’ll most certainly dominate.

Another highly touted Sabres prospect that has been garnering plenty of attention through the first few practices is Mikhail Grigorenko. A well documented change to his offseason program has yielded a heavier, more defined frame for the former first round pick. WIth it has come an improved work ethic and skating skillset. While Grigorenko was more a victim of poor asset management in the last two years, his skating did need improvement. He had a strong initial showing in Washington and dressed for a second-straight night against Carolina.

The plan for Grigorenko may again be hazy as his improved play has started to garner some attention for NHL minutes to start the year. After finally clearing his junior eligibility it was believed that Grigorenko was destined for a quality season in the AHL. Now, he could potentially be in line for yet another opening weekend in the NHL, which could be a blessing or a curse. At this point it seems that the safe route is the smarter one for Grigorenko as the ability to play important minutes in a more controlled setting is probably best for his development. However, if he’s able to finally break out of his shell at the NHL level, the Sabres will have yet another blue chip prospect in their stable.

My opinion is to at least start Grigorenko in Rochester while Rienhart gets his obligatory nine-game tryout. Once Reinhart is returned, Ted Nolan can determine if Grigorenko is capable of filling a top-nine role for the Sabres. Playing in the top-nine is an important distinction as Grigorenko and the Sabres simply aren’t aided by the young Russian filling a fourth line role.

Beyond the two young prospects, the Sabres forward corps should be fairly easy to fill out. Brian Gionta, Matt Moulson, Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford, Zemgus Girgensons, Chris Stewart, Marcus Foligno and Cody Hodgson will all have roles in the top-nine for the Sabres. Beyond that sits a large group of players vying for no more than five roster spots. Matt Ellis, Torrey Mitchell, Nicolas Deslauriers, Patrick Kaleta, Brian Flynn and Cody McCormick are all battling for a fourth line role and it’s more likely the Sabres keep only one extra forward as opposed to two.

Should Reinhart start the season in Buffalo, one of those players will be the odd man out. Upon being returned to Kootenay, that spot could either be filled by a player from Rochester or one of the many forwards the Sabres already boast. Ultimately, at least one player from that latter group will be sent to Rochester to start the season but it isn’t unrealistic to see a pair sent down together.

Ellis may be the most likely to be sent back as his mentoring skills translate well to the minors and his skill set provides the Americans with a quality two-way player. Mitchell, Flynn and McCormick should be safe and Deslauriers debut last season and a strong preseason could cement him in the line up. That leaves Pat Kaleta as a borderline player who I would ultimately keep in Buffalo. He serves a role as a grinder and is a superb penalty killer no matter where he’s playing. He’s in a contract year and will serve a role for the Sabres. If and when Reinhart is sent back, a player like Mitchell or Flynn could easily slide up to a third line role which would clear the log jam on the fourth line.

Defensively the Sabres have plenty of names but few spots. Tyler Myers, Josh Gorges, Andrej Meszaros and Mike Weber are all but assured to be playing in blue and gold this season. It seems likely that Andre Benoit and Weber will split duties as the team’s sixth and seventh defenseman throughout the year. That leaves two or three empty spots for prospects.

Pencil in Rasmus Ristolainen for one of those spots, likely alongside Meszaros. Additionally, Mark Pysyk will probably play the season in Buffalo with Chad Ruhwedel serving as the first recall from Rochester. Nikita Zadorov could also see a nine-game tryout like Reinhart before being sent back to London. Ultimately I don’t see Zadorov (or Reinhart) benefitting from playing a full season in Buffalo, especially if Connor McDavid is to remain in their crosshairs all year.

The roster is fairly well shaped already and there are a host of quality prospects expected to debut in Rochester this season. Grigorenko ought to be a key player for the Americans as should William Carrier (acquired in the Ryan Miller trade). Additionally, Joel Armia, Jake McCabe and Johan Larsson will all receive big minutes for the Americans on a team that will likely be winning many more games than the Sabres.

Nathan Lieuwen, Andrey Makarov and Matt Hackett will split time in the Rochester crease as Jhonas enroth and Michal Neuvirth are set in stone to anchor Buffalo’s crease.

The remainder of the preseason is set to appear on TV locally which will give fans a chance to see the future Sabres in action alongside those players who will play a major role this season. The roster should be trimmed again quite soon, but there will be plenty to keep an eye on even as Ted Nolan gets closer to naming his 23-man roster.

Eichel nabs MVP honors at CCM All-American Prospects Game

Eichel nabs MVP honors at CCM All-American Prospects Game

Eichel nabs MVP honors at CCM All-American Prospects Game

Buffalo played host to an impressive array of draft eligible prospects last week including a pair of players expected to be picked in the top-five.

Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin headlined the 2014 CCM All-American Top Prospects game as the city of Buffalo and First Niagara Center played host to the event for the second time. The game will remain in Buffalo again next season as well.

A light crowd took in the game as many seats were left empty despite the Sabres distributing tickets to season ticket holders this year. Despite the presence of the draft’s second most sought after player (and the third depending who you ask) marketing for the event was light and the crowd reflected that. However, the hockey didn’t disappoint.

Eichel was dynamic throughout the game and created opportunities from puck drop. He finished the night as the game’s MVP after finishing with a goal and an assist. It was the goaltenders who stole the show to start. Luke Opilka and Mike Lackey were phenomenal through the first 20 minutes as they consistently turned away high-quality chances. As the pair made the first period a goaltending duel, Teams Olczyk and Grier made the final 40 minutes a shootout. Alec Baer finally broke the scoreless tie just five minutes into the second period and Brendan Warren answered for Team Olczyk just over a minute later.

Baer and Warren’s tallies would be the only goals surrendered by Opilka and Lackey as they gave way to Ryan Bednard and Ryan Larkin midway through the second. The cold goaltenders didn’t have much time to settle in as Eichel combined with Jeremy Bracco for a pretty goal midway through the period. Karch Bachman would add another tally for Team Grier while Tom Novak scored for Team Olczyk to bring the score to 3-2 after the second.

Eichel would eventually register the game winning goal as three third period tallies from Team Grier iced the victory. Eichel and Bracco each had two points and Eichel’s game winner and dynamic play helped preserve MVP honors.

Next for this group of players will be an important year with their respective clubs. Many will be positioning themselves for spots on the US World Junior Championship roster as they work through their season in junior or NCAA.

For Buffalo, their relationship with USA Hockey continues to blossom. HARBORCETNER is set to host the NHL Combine and will most certainly hold most, if not all of next year’s All-American Prospects Game participants. The next US bid for the World Junior Championships will likely see Buffalo as the host yet again as the city’s proximity to Canada and love of hockey helped draw record crowds in 2011. Another key will be ensuring next year’s event sees a better turnout.

Unfortunately the Sabres didn’t do too much public outreach for the event as it is truly a USA Hockey property. However, the Sabres had an opportunity to shout from the rooftops that two of the draft’s top three prospects were going to be playing against each other at First Niagara Center. The team’s president often preaches about the hockey IQ in Buffalo and this is the type of game that not only allows the region to show off that supposed IQ, but to grow it as well.

This is also an issue that lies with the game itself. It’s a very new event without the name recognition or prestige of the CHL Top Prospects game. While this year’s game boasted a pair of lottery picks, that isn’t the case each and every year. USA Hockey and their respective hosts need to continue to promote the fact that there are elite players playing each year to ensure that American hockey fans take notice of this very cool event. Perhaps we are still a few years off from seeing arenas with more fans than empty seats, but the process is certainly in motion.

One thing is for sure, the on-ice product in each event has been spectacular and that doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.

Bauer Supreme MX3

Bauer Supreme MX3 Hockey Stick

Bauer Supreme MX3 Hockey Stick

The standard of excellence in stick design and innovation has been Bauer’s exclusive territory for some time. While other manufacturers have established a strong foothold in the market, Bauer’s line often signifies a step forward in terms of innovation.

The Supreme has always been tailor made for players with powerful shots and the new Supreme MX3 carries on that tradition. Whether you’re looking to unleash heavy slapshots or strong one-timers, this is the perfect stick.

One of the newest features on the MX3 is the Power Sense 2 blade. This combines a host of technological features into an all-new blade that promotes feel without compromising durability. The blade is developed by integrating SENSE layer materials with Bauer’s signature TeXtreme carbon wrap. This combination allows for Bauer to trim weight from the blade profile while maintaining normal balance and a soft feel. The new construction allows Bauer to capture the best of both worlds – feel and durability – in the blade. This feature can be found throughout Bauer’s line as the APX2 and Nexus 8000 sticks will also boast the new blade construction.

Bauer has also managed to institute a brand new durability feature throughout the build of the stick. The eLAST resin system keeps the stick from losing its pop over time. This addresses a number of pitfalls as it pertains to the breakdown of composite sticks. First, it keeps the stick from gaining flex after each skate. Especially for powerful shooters, having a stick go from a 110 flex rating to an 85 over a matter of weeks or months (depending on use) can have an enormous effect on your play. BY reducing this breakdown, Bauer is ensuring their sticks will not only stay in use longer but it ensures your performance won’t suffer as a result.

Bauer MX3 Sticks

Bauer MX3 Sticks

The second benefit of the eLAST resin is the reduction of micro-fractures. As the name indicates, these small cracks in the carbon can spread and grow into larger cracks and eventually cost you a stick. By working to reduce that from developing, Bauer is buying a bit more time between stick purchases.

This is an impressive addition from Bauer as it’s rare to see any sort of durability addition advertised with such vigor. While all companies are working to keep their sticks on the ice longer, the introduction of eLAST may represent the most impressive attempt yet.

Bauer’s Supreme MX3 stick is a great step forward for Bauer’s stick line and perhaps stick design as a whole. Any time a quality improvement is made in the name of durability, the stick will be worth purchasing.

Stamkos with the NEW MX3 on the Driving Range

Stamkos with the NEW MX3 on the Driving Range

NHL’s Top Prospects will see plenty of Buffalo

NHL’s Top Prospects will see plenty of Buffalo

NHL’s Top Prospects will see plenty of Buffalo

Buffalo Sabres management has made no mistake about their desire to funnel all of the NHL’s top talent through Western New York.

In the coming weeks and months, Buffalo will play host to the CCM All-American Prospects Game, the NHL Scouting Combine and an Erie Otters home game. Meanwhile, just over the border, St. Catharines will play host to the CHL Top Prospects game this season. That means the top three (if not more) draft prospects for the loaded 2015 draft will be trekking through Buffalo at least twice before next June’s draft. This is a very exciting time for hockey fans in Buffalo.

Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin will be first up as the All-American Prospects game rolls through on September 25. The pair represent two thirds of the Draft’s top three prospects and Eichel will be making a strong push to unseat Connor McDavid as the consensus number one pick. Tickets for the event are on sale now and if the last All-American Prospects game serves as a barometer, good seats will be available.

McDavid is next up on the docket as his Erie Otters come to town on October 22. For those of you who haven’t made the short trip to Erie to se McDavid, this will be your golden opportunity. The Otters are loaded with prospects not named McDavid, but the highly touted “Next One” will obviously be the main attraction.

If October 22 doesn’t happen to work out, you can also catch the Otters in Erie throughout the winter or on any of their visits to face the Niagara Icedogs. In addition to Erie’s regular season visits, McDavid will likely be a hop and skip over the border participating in the BMO Top Prospects game on January 22.

The beauty is that all of these events are happening less than 30 minutes from downtown Buffalo. Expand your hockey radius to Erie and consistent viewings of McDavid can be had in less than a 90 minute drive on a weekly basis.

NHL’s Top Prospects will see plenty of Buffalo

NHL’s Top Prospects will see plenty of Buffalo

All of this is in addition to what will be happening on the ice at First Niagara Center and Blue Cross Arena. Buffalo boasts the league’s deepest and most intriguing prospect pool and a great deal of those players will be on display nightly between both the Sabres and Rochester Americans. So even if the Sabres’ season quickly deteriorates into a mission to pick first overall, there will be plenty of quality hockey being played around the Queen City.

This will be an exciting year in hockey for fans in Buffalo, NY. With so many different teams and players making cameos, Western New York is strengthening its reputation as a hockey Mecca.

CCM Pre-Season Sale

CCM Pre-Season Sale

CCM Pre-Season Sale

Don’t miss the opportunity to save big on CCM gear while also coming away with some free swag while you’re at it.

Saturday marks the CCM Pre-Season sale at Great Skate featuring 15% off all CCM gear. Early arrivers will get their choice of some excellent free swag like hats, t-shits, wristbands and lanyards. Five lucky people will also win a pair of tickets to this week’s CCM All-American Prospects Game at First Niagara Center.

Tomorrow’s sale will feature two of the most impressive skates on the market today – the RBZ and the brand new Tacks. Players will also save big on products like the CCM RBZ Superfast stick, the brand new and the more accurate Tacks twig as well. The brand new SuperFast stick will be on sale as well, which will provide an excellent opportunity to get a brand new product at a phenomenal price. (Not valid on MAP items.) See more information on this sale please click here.

The CCM RBZ SuperFast sticks feature CCM’s awesome speed channels that were once again redesigned for the newest stick. While the Stage 2’s Freak Channels added an impressive spring to shots and passes, the SuperFast has improved the performance of its blade 50% over the Stage 2. That is a considerable improvement considering the overarching popularity of the Stage 2.

A return to the Tacks line has allowed CCM to diversify their offering in skates and sticks alike. The Tacks skate and stick both utilize a feature called the Attack Frame. While it differs greatly between the two products, the feature sets them apart from the other gear. The Tacks stick is stiffened throughout to offer a more responsive and accurate performance as the blade has been strengthened to reduce twisting and torsion during shooting. Similarly, the Attack Frame on the Tacks skate provides a stiffer, more responsive boot to add explosiveness for all skaters. The stiffer frame allows for a better first step, allowing players to accelerate that much faster.

Another product that will be featured in tomorrow’s sale is the groundbreaking CCM Resistance helmet. Specially designed to decrease and protect against lateral and torsional impacts, the Resistance helmet is perhaps the most technologically advanced product on the market today. CCM’s terrific RBZ protective line will be available as will the ultra-comfortable CL gloves.

The added incentive to win tickets to Wednesday’s game should draw fans and players alike as the annual prospect showcase is expected to feature a number of elite NHL prospects. Among the players expected to play in this year’s game are Noah Hanifin and Jack Eichel. Both have been projected as top-three prospects in the 2015 Draft with Eichel being mentioned in the same breath as phenom Connor McDavid as a potential first overall pick.

NHL Expansion is on the Horizon

NHL Expansion is on the Horizon

NHL Expansion is on the Horizon

Change is coming to the NHL. Recent reports indicate that expansion could grace the league as early as the 2016-17 season. Depending on which report you’ve read, as many as four teams could be added to the mix.

Bringing the league’s numbers to 34 teams would result in a terrific financial windfall for the owners but would likely result in a watered down product for a period of time. While it may not take the league (and sport as a whole) nearly ten years to bounce back in terms of on-ice quality, adding four more teams would almost certainly result in a significantly watered down product.

Considering the last round of expansion came in the midst of the dead puck era, the NHL struggle with an inferior product up through the second most recent lockout. While the game has certainly enjoyed a nice surge in popularity recently, I wonder what the addition of that many jobs would do to the talent pool. It stands to reason that lesser skilled players could result in a surge in goal scoring should the rules be enforced properly, but I’m not overly interested in seeing the league try and fill upwards of 130 more jobs with AHL-level players for the next few years. It seems far more feasible to add a pair of teams to not only limit the impact on the player pool but to also ensure the league isn’t spreading itself too thin.

As of now cities like Toronto, Las Vegas, Seattle, Quebec City and Kansas City have been floated as potential homes for an NHL franchise. Many reports say that Seattle is atop the league’s wish list and Toronto’s size and corporate presence all but ensures financial stability. Further, Quebec City’s new NHL arena will be done soon and there are some deep pocketed owners ready to bring a team back. Vegas has received a ton of press in recent rumors and it appears Sin City will be the next city to host a club while Kansas City sits well apart from the rest of the candidates.

I, for one, don’t see Las Vegas as a horrible option. Their minor league team saw fair support during their existence and if marketed properly I’m willing to be they would receive fair local support. Selling tickets won’t be an issue there as the casinos will be sure to gobble up most, if not all, of the suites along with plenty of normal seats as well. So long as a decent local following can be cultivated I could see Las Vegas as a viable option.

What works in Sin City’s favor is the lack of another big four franchise to pull eyes and interest from a potential hockey club. While it’s about as non-traditional as you can get, I think hockey could take hold in Vegas if the marketing is done right.

Seattle seems like a no brainer at this point. Their football and soccer fans follow their respective teams with rabid intensity and I wouldn’t be surprised to see hockey receive similar support as the on-ice product improves. The lack of a viable building makes things awfully complicated and may set Seattle up better for a relocated franchise as opposed to a new expansion club. Should the arena issue get solved soon, then perhaps the league will work to fast track Seattle and Las Vegas in an effort to balance the conference alignment.

Quebec is another option and a safe one, at that. Media giant Quebecor is backing the new arena and it seems like just a matter of time before the league is bringing back the Nordiques. Like Seattle, I could see Quebec as a strong candidate for a relocated franchise as well as expansion. However, I think Quebec makes more sense for relocation simply because expanding by two teams out west (Seattle and Vegas) would ensure the conferences are balanced.

I think the most ideal scenario for the league would be to relocate one of their struggling franchises while awarding expansion to two owners in each of the cities described above. This way Seattle, Las Vegas and Quebec City each get a team in some combination of expansion and relocation. It matters little who ends up with the relocated team so long as the ownership and conference balance is worked out properly.

Without much more to go on other than reports from anonymous sources, it’s hard to say how legitimate all of this is. Perhaps the league is going to stand fast and wait for Seattle’s arena. Perhaps they’ll make Seattle sit out until their building can be completed while other cities like Vegas and Quebec win new clubs.

Either way, the game is almost certainly set to grow in the next few seasons which marks an exciting time for hockey fans.

What they’re wearing: Sidney Crosby

What they’re wearing: Sidney Crosby

What they’re wearing: Sidney Crosby

With the NHL season creeping up and team training camps set to begin shortly, the league’s best will be outfitting themselves in some of the newest offerings from hockey’s equipment manufacturers. Sidney Crosby has been Reebok’s poster boy for nearly his entire career and the world’s best will likely continue to sport nothing but Reebok equipment heading into yet another year.  Here’s a look back on what he closed the 2014-15 season with:

Helmet: Reebok 11K – The 11K has been Crosby’s helmet of choice since he entered the league. It’s an incredibly comfortable helmet that features EPP padding with memory foam placed in strategic places for additional comfort and protection. The exterior can be hard to adjust to, but if it’s a design that grows on you, there are few superior helmets on the market.

Gloves: Reebok custom – Crosby wears a specially made pair of Reebok gloves that feature the 11K graphics package but a completely different construction in every other way. They’re long-cuffed and interesting but something is obviously working for the defending Hart Trophy winner.

Stick: Reebok RIBCOR – Reebok’s newest stick with specially tuned ribs is designed to help load up the puck for heavier shots. For a long time Crosby actually used a two-piece stick with wood blades but he finally made the switch to a one-piece a few years ago. Crosby uses a fairly straight blade to aid with faceoffs and his backhand – which happens to be one of the best in the league.

Skates: Reebok RIBCOR – Reebok’s newest skate is designed for explosiveness with strategically reinforced and stiffened areas that respond to a player’s every move whether they’re taking three quick strides to get up to full speed or deftly maneuvering in traffic. As a 200-foot player, Crosby’s needs are certainly addressed with the features of the RIBCOR skate.

CCM Tacks Stick Brings the Power

CCM Tacks Stick Brings the Power

CCM Tacks Stick Brings the Power

CCM is all about explosiveness these days. The new SuperFast stick, the Tacks skate and now the Tacks stick.

With a focus on adding power and explosiveness to a player’s game, CCM has built a lightweight stick with a mid kick point that should allow heavy shooters to get even more behind their shots. Meanwhile, CCM added a new feature to the blade to ensure the additional torque and power created by the shaft is channeled through to the puck.

The Tacks stick’s mid kick point is geared towards players who like to load up shots and really let them rip. Unlike sticks with lower kick points that promote a quicker release, the Tacks stick allows a player to really lean in and load up powerful shots. While this development favors players who like to blast slap shots it doesn’t mean that forwards who play with a bit more finesse won’t see terrific results either.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of the stick is the upgrades made to the blade. CCM has reinforced and strengthened the blade on this stick with a feature they refer to as the AttackFrame. This provides an extra stiff construction that features reinforcements that run throughout the interior of the blade. This addition means the blade with twist and flex far less than other sticks on the market. That means increased accuracy for sharpshooters and additional durability for players whose sticks take a beating on offense and defense.

CCM Tacks Stick now available at Greatskate.com

CCM Tacks Stick now available at Greatskate.com

Eliminating blade torsion will be a welcome improvement for every player as the stiffer blade ought to stay true in terms of accuracy for a longer period of time. However, adding this much to the blade creates the risk of losing feel for the puck. CCM had to be very careful with how they positioned the reinforcements – much like what Warrior executed so well with the Dynasty AX1 – as to not create a dead blade that didn’t translate any feel or responsiveness to the player’s hands.

One terrific feature of the AttackFrame is that it will be part of the entire Tacks stick line. So even if you’re shopping at a lower pricepoint, you’re sure to reap the benefits of CCM’s new feature without having to stretch for the pro model stick.

As someone who prefers a durable stick to one that is ultra-light, the Tacks stick provides a little bit of both as it weighs in well below 500 grams while sporting design features that should not just translate to your stick handling and shooting game but also be able to last through the rigors of a season.

Bauer is at Their Best With Nexus Protective Line

Bauer is at Their Best With Nexus Protective Line

Bauer is at Their Best With Nexus Protective Line

The three families of equipment feature by Bauer encompasses every fit and style a player could need. While the Vapor APX2 and Supreme NXG equipment caters to a tighter, more anatomical fit, the Nexus line provides a more traditional, loose fit from the shoulder pads down through the shin guards.

Of the three collections, the Nexus not only fits more players – thanks to its wider design – but it is also the most protective of the three. The three major pieces – shoulder pads, elbow pads and shin guards – each prominently feature EPP foam in strategic areas for maximum protection with additional HD foam inserts throughout.

Bauer Nexus 8000 Shoulder Pads

Bauer Nexus 8000 Shoulder Pads

The Nexus 8000 shoulder pads feature a nearly full EPP construction with poly inserts in the sternum and spinal areas. Bauer has placed additional HD foams down the spine for extra protection. There is ample protection featured throughout and the unit even features a removable belly pad extension. These shoulder pads offer a comfortable fit with free-floating bicep guards that move independent of the rest of the unit.

Moving down to the elbow pads, Bauer has produced a product with three individual anchor points. The EPP construction is shared with the shoulder pads and the asymmetrical design promotes the overall protection of the gear. The Nexus elbow pad also features a very mobile bicep guard that increases mobility and comfort.

Bauer Nexus 8000 Shin Pads

Bauer Nexus 8000 Shin Pads

With the Nexus shin guard, the majority of the EPP protection is on the back portion as the thermoformed shin and knee caps are made of durable, injected plastic. The EPP calf wrap provides full wrap-around protection while the knee sling is of a fully anatomical design to ensure a snug fit.

Each piece has a classic look and feel and that translates into the fit no matter what size you wear. While it may lack the flash of the APX2, the Nexus protective equipment features a clean design and the most quality protection of the three lines Bauer produces. Even for those players who prefer the Vapor skates or the Supreme stick, the Nexus protective line certainly serves as the flagship for Bauer’s protective equipment.