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

Matt+Moulson+Minnesota+Wild+v+Phoenix+Coyotes+8tNuMAMulFyl

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.

Vaughn 1000 goalie pads

Vaughn VPG 1000 Velocity V6 Goalie Pads

Vaughn VPG 1000 Velocity V6 Goalie Pads

The newest member of the Velocity family is the V6. Vaughn shifted gears a bit in how they categorize their pads this year, as the V6 2000 and 2200 headline the set with the 1000 just below. This is a change from recent years as Vaughn was in the high 7000s with many of their new pads.

Numbers aside, the new 1000 is a continuation of a tremendous line at a competitive price point. Vaughn has included a number of new features in the V6 line in total and the 1000 has benefitted from many of these changes.

While some of the additions to the V6 that you see Jonathan Quick and Ryan Miller wearing aren’t featured on this pad, the 1000 continues Vaughn’s commitment to a somewhat traditional look with full knee rolls to promote flexibility in the upper portion of the pad. Outer knee and thigh breaks serve in the same manner as this continuation from past Velocity pads is a hallmark of the line in general.

What’s new for 2014 is Vaughn’s Pro Core design. It is a feature that utilizes a full length and width foam core to keep consistent form up and down the pad while still keeping a flexible fit and profile that allows the pad to break-in according to the style of play the goalie uses. Like with the Premier XLT, Vaughn is using bindingless landing gear to minimize friction and increase the sliding area on the knee and calf wing.

One interesting feature that actually makes the pads look odd in pictures is that Vaughn overstuffed the thigh rise, in a sense. While the build still conforms to the 11-inch requirement, Vaughn made sure to eliminate the taper that many pads have at the thigh, thus ensuring maximum five-hole protection.

The 1000 comes with Vaughn’s newest graphic, one that I feel is an improvement over the past few Velocity models. It is a simple design that gives the illusion of height in certain color combinations (mostly with a white base). It’s ultimately a sleek, simple design that looks great when a goalie is in his or her stance or a butterfly.

One of the best things about Vaughn’s production process is that they often maintain nearly every feature that can be found in their pro pads down through their price point models. They consistently build a quality product that is hard to beat when considering senior, intermediate or junior pads.

Junior Hockey trips

phenom named Connor McDavid

Otters boast another highly marketable feature in the form of a 17 year-old phenom named Connor McDavid.

There are 60 teams across the three leagues that make up the CHL. There are 16 more teams that make up the USHL and between the two leagues, they span across Canada and into 13 American states. Depending on where you live, you’re probably a lot closer to a major junior team than you think.

From Great Skate’s driveway you could make it to St. Catharines to see the Ice Dogs in 30 minutes or less. The Erie Otters are just about 90 minutes door-to-door while many of the OHL’s other clubs aren’t  much further away.

I was able to make three separate road trips to see junior hockey played this season, making two trips to Erie and another to St. Catharines.

The trip to see the Ice Dogs was particularly interesting as Niagara was playing their final season at Jack Gatecliff arena, which was originally built in 1938. The Ice Dogs will be moving to a new, state-of-the-art arena for the 2014-15 season and having the opportunity to see one of junior hockey’s last great barns was a special treat.

The intrigue of seeing a game played at the junior level is multifaceted. Young players, competing not only for their team’s success but their own futures adds to the narrative on a nightly basis. Each team has at least one established draft prospect who is often playing at another level as compared to his teammates and opponents. The fans a passionate and informed and the atmosphere is different than many professional games you may have seen.

Jack Gatecliff Arena has a small ice surface with no more than 10 rows of seating in the stands. Standing room fans pack in the tiny concourses and the low rafters and press box overhangs add to the intimate atmosphere. Only a handful of these smaller, “old school” buildings are left as more and more teams are moving into shiny, modern buildings with better amenities and a more professional set up.

If you’re looking to track down some of the older, more intimate arenas that are left, Stadium Journey has documented the homes of all 20 teams with full reviews of each building.

The trip to St. Catharines was mainly motivated by the chance to see hockey in a building that had maintained for so long. It was also motivated by the fact that the Ice Dogs are the closest franchise to Buffalo and if there was any team I’d latch onto each season, their proximity would play a major role.

My two trips to Erie were similarly motivated (proximity) but the Otters boast another highly marketable feature in the form of a 17 year-old phenom named Connor McDavid.

As many hockey fans are already aware, McDavid is expected to be the crown jewel of next year’s NHL Entry Draft and he’s already dazzled in his first two years of junior hockey. Seats are increasingly hard to come by in Erie as the local fanbase is augmented by visitors from cities like Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and more coming to see McDavid play. He’s worth the price of admission.

My first jaunt to the Erie Insurance Arena resulted in having to buy standing room only tickets for $17 each. The arena’s procedure for standing room landed us about seven rows behind the bench on the blueline, not a bad deal.

Instead of missing out on a seat the second time down, our group used the box office to buy tickets ahead of time in the section of our choice. We pad $16 to sit on the glass. Even without McDavid, the level of play far surpasses the price to get in the door at any arena, let along Erie.

What’s even better is that these trips are a piece of cake to plan. Many teams run cool promotional giveaways – we happened to be too late for the McDavid player posters they were giving away – and the tickets aren’t hard to come by if you buy them ahead of time. Another fun fact regarding those promotions, the player or players featured often sign autographs after the game to add to the unique souvenir.

You’re not going to be disappointed with your choice of a junior hockey road trip. The atmosphere is different than that of an NHL game, there’s rarely a bad seat in the house as the arenas are all right-sized for the crowd and the level of play is high. Maybe put together one or two for next season and grow from there.

MX3 Bauer Skates

MX3 Bauer Ice Hockey Skates

MX3 Bauer Skates

The newest alteration to Bauer’s Supreme line comes in the form of the TotalOne MX3.

Taking over the Supreme banner from the NXG skate, the new MX3 adds features that were originally unveiled with the APX2 line last year while also providing updates exclusive to the new line.

The MX3 features the TUUK Lightspeed Edge holder that features the trigger blade replacement system that came out on the APX2. Additionally, the MX3 also features Bauer’s revolutionary injected stability lace system. This is the square eyelet system that Bauer has developed to reduce or eliminate lace bite, allow the laces to glide through flat as opposed to twisting or catching and, finally, also providing for a better fit and forward flex for the skater. The square eyelets also remove the pesky round, metal eyelets of yesterday that could so easily rip out after excessive use.

Implementing the one-piece eyelet system was a no brainer for Bauer as they’ve taken such a committed approach to the anatomic design for the Supreme line. Further advances to the Curv composite upper design allows for the MX3 to provide a full 360-degree fit after the skate has been properly baked. This ensures a custom fit that’s an anatomically correct as possible.

Additional changes to the interior of the skate include a supple update to the HydraMax liner that’s already been a fan favorite from previous Supreme models.

Bauer has also developed a revolutionary new tongue system that allows a player to completely customize the shape and performance of their skate’s tongue. The 3Flex Tongue features Curv composite inserts that vary in stiffness depending on the type of flex you prefer. Much like a composite stick, the flex options are designed to act like a springboard as the player flexes forward and pushes off with each stride. Ultimately the goal is to provide a fully custom feel that allows the skate to spring backward as each stride is taken.

Another interesting feature is the features included in some of the lower models of the Supreme line. While only the MX3 offers the 3Flex tongue, HyrdaMax 2 liner and the Lightspeed Edge holder an number of features can be found on the 190, 180, 170 and 160. All four are capable of being fully baked, they each feature the Lightspeed Edge holder while the 190 and 180 also feature the Curv composite upper.

Overall the changes to the Supreme line are relatively minor compared to previous years. But the updates that were made provide an impressive upgrade to an already impressive line.

Words of advice on goal mask artwork

Words of advice on goal mask artwork

Words of advice on goal mask artwork

A perfectly painted goal mask is the single coolest source of expression in hockey. A painted mask can showcase team pride or provide personal insights. There are a host of mask painters around the world who span from do-it-yourself painters right up to world-renowned artists who are on the speed dial for multiple NHL goalies.

However, getting a mask painted isn’t as simple as the one or two-week turnaround that NHL goaltenders enjoy when they change teams or create new mask art. It is a somewhat lengthy process that should be properly researched before steps are taken to put paint to helmet.

First off, many masks are difficult to paint while others simply shouldn’t be painted at all. Most high-impact plastic molded masks aren’t properly rated to receive paint and even if you’re able to put paint on the mask, any warranties and certifications that accompany the mask will likely be voided.

Most manufacturers higher level masks are designed to take paint and maintain their structural integrity after. Proper research to determine which masks can and cannot take paint should be done prior to making any final decisions. In addition, many companies require painters to be properly certified to paint particular masks. For example, there are specific Bauer-approved painters who have the proper certifications or approvals to paint those masks. These certifications indicate that the artist knows how to properly prepare and paint the mask so the structural integrity isn’t compromised by the process.

If you have any concerns about the quality of the mask you’re thinking about painting or you’re unsure that the painter you were planning on using is properly certified to do the work, there are other avenues to take.

Most companies are now releasing masks with decorative decals already applied so the masks have some color to them right out of the box. Many of Bauer’s junior models feature these decal sets. There is also the option of finding a custom decal shop that could potentially create a high durability decal or sticker set for a helmet that would still have custom artwork but wouldn’t compromise the helmet itself.

This isn’t all doom and gloom, either. Going the decal route is probably the safest route to take in terms of adding custom decoration to a mask. However, if you know that your mask can take paint and you’ve found an artist to do the work, go nuts! Getting my mask painted in college was a very fun experience. It took a couple weeks for the work to be done and I couldn’t have been happier with the results.

My advice for anyone who is going to take this step is to stay involved with the artist. Even if you only have a general idea that you want to let them run with, be clear with what you’re looking for. This ensures you will be happy with the final product for years to come.

Reebok Premier XLT takes

Reebok Premier XLT takes

Reebok Premier XLT takes

Reebok took a very different direction with their newest set of pads. Part of the development of the new Premier XLT pads was to add features that promoted rebounds. But not in the traditional sense.

Reebok’s new ultra-lightweight pad features Crosslink Foam that actually adds life and power to the rebounds that come off the pads. This is designed to act almost like a springboard in order to kick pucks out of the danger zone and to allow for additional recovery time.

It’s an interesting feature as the traditional train of thought has long been to keep your rebounds close or eliminate them altogether. Typically, a big rebound that is kicked into the slot or the circles is in a prime danger zone for a goaltender. The Crosslink Foam should boot those pucks even further into the zone and ultimately further away from trouble. The ultimate goal is to give the goaltender more control over where the rebound is going. Having the ability to get a puck to the boards or into a dead area aside from the corner will provide a ton of recovery time that would otherwise be laying in a prime scoring area.

One of the coolest features of the XLT is the bindingleess inside edge and landing gear. Most pads, including previous Premier models, have nylon bindings that wrap around the knee and calf wing that make contact with the ice in the butterfly. The XLT eliminates these bindings, allowing for the crap and knee wings to be full jenpro. This may seem like a small change but it’s quite the opposite. Not only will binding less landing gear increase slides and provide a better seal with the ice, it makes the pad exponentially more durable. It’s not uncommon for the nylon and stitching that attaches to the wings to wear and fray faster than most other areas on the pad. Reebok adds seasons to the life of these pads by removing the bindings.

To further their tinkering with the interior of the XLT, Reebok also changed the design of their leg channel, making it shallow and open. Combined with an adjustable strapping system, Reebok is catering directly to goaltenders who like to strap their pads loose for more pad rotation and movement.

As is expected with new pads, Reebok also introduced a new graphic. For the first time in a few seasons, it doesn’t appeal much in terms of the mirror test. Perhaps this is because the Premier 4 graphic was so excellent, but the XLT graphic certainly leaves something to be desired. Aside from the aesthetic alterations, the XLT is an improved pad compared to that of previous Reebok releases.

At a time when new technology is creeping into goal pad design, Reebok has done a great job of putting that new technology to work in what may be considered an unconventional way.

Murray puts his stamp on Sabres rebuild with active deadline

Murray puts his stamp on Sabres rebuild with active deadline

Murray puts his stamp on Sabres rebuild with active deadline

It may have taken a late flurry, but Tim Murray put his stamp on the organization with a firm, aggressive series of trades around the 2014 trade deadline.

He got started early by sending Ryan Miller and Steve Ott to St. Louis on Friday and threw his hat in the ring with one of the earlier trades on Wednesday. Murray shipped Brayden McNabb, two second round picks and Jonathan Parker to Los Angeles for Hudson Fasching and Nicolas Deslauriers.

Murray’s punctuated his first deadline with two 11th hour deals involving three of this pending UFAs that ensured previous investments would continue to pay dividends. After finding a dance partner to take Matt Moulson (and Cody McCormick), Murray managed to flip Jaroslav Halak for a younger goaltender with term.

It was a productive deadline that provides the framework for the way Murray will shape the roster through the 2014 and 15 drafts. Two drafts that will see the Sabres make four (possibly five) first round selections.

Buffalo holds additional picks throughout the 2014 and 2015 second round and despite shipping two of them to Los Angeles along with McNabb, Murray came out even after pulling two second round picks in exchange for Moulson. I thought he put it well when he said the team was helped more by the two forwards acquired from LA.

While returning the two picks obtained for Robyn Regehr leaves Buffalo with nothing from that trade, the original acquisition that brought Regehr to Buffalo sees the Sabres come away with Fasching, Deslauriers and the draft pick that became Jake McCabe in exchange for Paul Byron, Chris Butler and Brayden McNabb. All-in-all it’s not the worst return ever.

The best return of the trade is seeing the Sabres manage to flip a position of strength for depth elsewhere. McNabb had been passed on the organizational depth chart by a number of younger talents and although he was still performing at a high level, he was an expendable talent. With Mark Pysyk, Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov and Jake McCabe all in the pipeline, the Sabres aren’t short on defensive prospects. Meanwhile, Fasching is already showing the ability to produce at a high level and Deslauriers provides additional size and depth down the wing.

Deslauriers also brings immediate help to Rochester as Murray is keeping his young, talented prospects away from the nosediving NHL franchise he is no presiding over. It’s the same strategy employed by Ottawa during his time there as the Senators kept their top prospects stashed on a talented Binghampton roster as opposed to a losing atmosphere as the parent club retooled.

Joining Deslauriers, for now, will be Rusty Klesla, an interesting addition to the Halak/Neuvirth swap from the Capitals. Klesla was once a talented, highly sought after blueliner but is a shell of the player who gained prominence in Columbus. Klesla will add even more stability to a very talented Rochester blueline and could certainly see some time in Buffalo as the season winds down.

The Neuvirth trade is all about upside and maximizing return. Trading Miller and Ott was an inevitability. By flipping Halak for two more bodies sees the Miller trade net Buffalo six assets in total as Neuvirth still has term on his deal. Neuvirth will step in as Jhonas Enroth’s backup but he’s certainly going to push for time. There was a period in which Neuvirth appeared to be ready to take over the crease in Washington before a regression saw him passed by Braden Holtby and Phillipp Grubauer.

Neuvirth’s a cheap backup who allows the Sabres to keep Matt Hackett and Nathan Lieuwen in Rochester without having to throw them to the fire that will be the rubber factory that is the Sabres defensive zone. If Ted Nolan and Jim Corsi can reshape Neuvirth he very well may earn a new deal come next summer. Worst case scenario is that he serves as a stop-gap into the 2015 offseason.

Giving up a third round pick along with Halak to swing the deal seems like an overpayment, but at some point the picks need to turn into players. If Neuvirth has to be that pick then so be it. Once again, it’s all about maximizing the return moving forward.

The last trade might be the most interesting as the market that shaped out over the course of the day significantly altered the expected return for many players who were on the block. Although Moulson wasn’t turned into another first round pick like what was originally spitballed when he was first acquired; the return washed out the loss of the picks sent to Los Angeles. Additionally, Torrey Mitchell is a far more serviceable bottom six forward – as if they needed any more – than what Cody McCormick was. That’s particularly true with John Scott and Zenon Konopka both on the roster.

Mitchell could easily fill a role on one of Buffalo’s top three lines but he might end up on the fourth line since Drew Stafford and Chris Stewart will each contend for top-six time while Matt D’Agostini and Brian Flynn both have earned their respective roles. Newly claimed Cory Conacher will get a look at top-six minutes in Moulson’s role and should get every opportunity to reclaim the potential he showcased in Norfolk and Tampa Bay.

It’s hard to proclaim the Sabres winners at the deadline simply because they’re in 30th place and there’s obviously no intention of changing that. However, Murray has positioned himself very well with four guaranteed first round picks and five more guaranteed second round picks in the next two drafts. He added two forwards, one of which is two years into his development, and another who’s showed tremendous growth since his draft.

Murray did his duty in moving five pending UFAs and flipping depth for an organizational need. It’s not a deadline that was going to produce immediate returns. The draft will not only yield an organizational cornerstone and serve as a springboard for additional trades. I give Murray full marks for the moves he made on Wednesday and for what he is set to do in the next 18 months.

Trade Deadline Recap: Winners and Losers

It’s safe to say the 2014 NHL Trade Deadline was an entertaining one. A flurry of late deals saw a significant number of big names change teams as contenders stockpile for the stretch run as the sellers fill their cupboards with picks and prospects for the future.

The toughest thing about declaring winners and losers at a trade deadline, draft or in free agency is that there are so many levels on which a deal can be judged. The New York Rangers are a better team today with Martin St. Louis, but the Tampa Bay Lightning will likely be the true winners of the deal as they picked up at least one first round pick that could become two.

Now, if the Rangers were to win the Cup the point would be moot. The Rangers would have accomplished what they set out to do by making this trade. That’s what is so fascinating about the deadline. You have winners and losers once the dust settles, but six months later the tables are turned and those losers are suddenly reaping the benefits of the trade they made at the previous deadline.

This year’s deadline produced a number of big trades and a handful of teams distinguished themselves when all was said and done on Wednesday.

Winners

Montreal Canadiens – The Habs needed to find additional scoring to bolster their top-six heading into the stretch run. If they hoped to compete with teams like Boston and Pittsburgh, additional offense was going to be key. They added a major piece for a low price, acquiring Thomas Vanek from the Islanders for just a second round pick and a prospect. It was not only a trade that addressed Montreal’s immediate need with the most coveted player on the trade block. Paying the minimal price they did to the Islanders makes this that much more of a great move.

St. Louis Blues – The Blues only made one trade, but it was a big one. They acquired Ryan Miller, who is expected to put them over the top in net along with some added grit and character in Steve Ott. They paid quite a bit for the pair, sending the Sabres a handful of pieces that included picks and players. However, the Blues unloaded Chris Stewart who never quite found his game in St. Louis and Jaroslav Halak, a goalie who didn’t pan out the way they expected when he was signed as a free agent. This trade should give the Blues the final pieces to make a serious push for the Cup, now they just need to find their way out of the ultra-talented Western Conference.

Buffalo Sabres – The Sabres are winners simply because of the way Tim Murray stocked his cupboards for the future. He unloaded five unrestricted free agents for players with term on their contracts and additional picks and prospects. The Sabres hold four first round picks in the next two drafts and that has the potential to grow to five if the Blues make the Conference Finals or re-sign Miller prior to the draft (a condition in the Miller trade). Buffalo is well positioned for a high pick in the 2014 draft and they hold two picks in what’s expected to be a deep draft in 2015. While they’re lurking near the bottom of the league today, these moves set them up well for the future.

Tampa Bay Lightning – Good on Steve Yzerman for unloading a headache and getting an impressive return for him. Clearly Martin St. Louis didn’t want to remain in Tampa and Yzerman was able to snag a first and second round pick with a trick set of conditions that could see another first round pick added to the stockpile. Ryan Callahan is a nice addition but I’d be very surprised if he chooses to re-sign in Tampa. The one thing the Bolts missed on was replacing some of St. Louis’ scoring with another addition. That could serve as a challenge for the rest of this season.

Minnesota Wild – Much in the way Montreal addressed their needs by paying a relatively low price, Minnesota did the same. Giving up two second round picks for Matt Moulson and only a fourth to bolster their goaltending depth with Ilya Bryzgalov was a nice way to manage the deadline for Chuck Fletcher. Byrzgalov represents a slight gamble compared to some of the other goaltenders on the market, but it was such a low price that he managed to avoid overpaying for a rental in net.

Losers

New York Islanders – This is an easy one. Garth Snow waited until the 11th hour to move Thomas Vanek and didn’t wind up with the value many expected him to fetch. In fact, he didn’t even get the same value he paid for the sniper. In the end, he turned Matt Moulson, a conditional (2014 or 2015) first round pick and a 2015 second round pick into a 2014 second round pick and Sebastian Collberg. Not a good end to the trade season for Snow and the Islanders.

Vancouver Canucks – Mike Gillis keeps finding new and interesting ways to surprise the hockey world. After blinking first at last year’s draft, he traded Cory Schneider for a first round pick in hopes of ending his team’s goaltending circus once and for all. Less than a year later Roberto Luongo is out the door for a relatively minimal return from the Florida Panthers. It’s an ugly situation in Vancouver that’s bound to get worse as they’ve gone from Western Conference contender to a team in retooling mode overnight.

Colorado Avalanche – They’re a borderline addition to this end of the list as they could have easily stood pat and moved forward with the team they have built. However, they decided to ship a second round pick to Calgary for Reto Berra, a goaltender who has upside but clearly hasn’t settled into the NHL game just yet. It’s a steep price to pay for a backup goaltender when other positions could have provided the Avs a bigger impact this season.

CCM going back to Tacks

CCM going back to Tacks

CCM going back to Tacks

The return is coming. CCM will be reintroducing the world to the Tacks line in the coming months as the manufacturer brings a new skate line to complement the RBZ line that burst onto the scene last year.

Already being used in the NHL, Nathan MacKinnon made the unofficial news official when he posted a picture of his new skates to his Instagram account earlier in the season. While MacKinnon’s picture simply added fuel to an already burning fire of rumors and whispers about the skates, the official unveiling of the line won’t come until July ‘14.

The Tacks, on the surface look like a combination of the RBZ and Bauer TotalOne in the aesthetics department. It’s a sleek skate with bright yellow graphics that pop off a basic black boot. The design of the boot has plenty of surface similarities to it’s cousin, the RBZ. Adding in a Speedblade 4.0 holder and Hyperglide blade provides even more similarity between the two skates. Additionally, you can deduce that the Tacks will share the aggressive stance and turning radius that the RBZ boasts.

The comparison to the TotalOne is simply drawn from the yellow trim on a black base. However, the Tacks will utilize a stiff carbon boot construction designed to add straight-line explosiveness. Two features, the AttackFrame and T6 Pro Core will combine to add stiffness and high-end performance for the wearer specifically for explosive acceleration.

Exactly where the skates will fall on the fit scale is an unknown as many specific details about the new line are still under lockdown. Understandably so as CCM is bringing back perhaps the most storied and celebrated skate ever and introducing new technology that will put it on the same level as the most popular skates in stores today.