2014 NHL Trade Deadline Primer

2014 NHL Trade Deadline Primer

2014 NHL Trade Deadline Primer

Just over seven days separate 30 general managers from the feeding frenzy that is the NHL trade deadline. Of course, recent years have resembled a salad bar more so than an all-you-can-eat buffet. While the blockbusters that fans and media love have become rare, the action at the deadline will still be there.

There are already a host of names floating around the rumor wires as real and make believe insiders and sources report on the whispers they hear about the players who will end up being moved in the coming days. Marquee names like Ryan Miller and Ryan Callahan are making the rounds with fans of contending teams are waiting to see what their GM can poach from the annual swap meet.

The 2014 deadline ought to provide a few fireworks specifically because of teams like the Sabres, Islanders and Oilers. All three are sliding towards the draft lottery in hopes that they win the right to pick first overall and each will likely unload some stars prior to the deadline.

Based on many reports, Edmonton appeared to be very close to dealing Sam Gagner to Los Angeles prior to the Olympic break and Gagner is still said to be on the block along with Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky. The Oilers could certainly market a few of their other young stars in hopes of shoring up their blueline, but their five-year rebuild will likely continue into yet another draft lottery where their number of top-3 selections will grow to four after winning the draft lottery three years in a row (2009-2012).

Losing John Tavares will likely ensure that the Islanders begin playing for 2015 as they’ll try to get a king’s ransom for Thomas Vanek and Andrew MacDonald as the two pending free agents will attract plenty of attention from teams battling for playoff positioning. Moving the two may also allow Garth Snow to protect his 2015 first round pick as Vanek and MacDonald could potentially net a first round pick each, giving Snow a security blanket, of sorts, for this year when he may need to give up his potential lottery pick to the Sabres as part of the Vanek/Moulson deal.

Buffalo is expected to be very busy as Miller, Moulson and Steve Ott are all expected to be moved and each has their own market value as the deadline approaches. A few teams are said to be interested in Miller, although the number who will likely make a legitimate offer won’t likely eclipse five. My gut tells me he ends up in Washington where George McPhee is on the hot seat and his team’s goaltending has kept them from playoff contention this year.

Ott and Moulson are said to have many more suitors and exactly where they end up is anyone’s guess. I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see Moulson end up in Ottawa where Tim Murray not only knows the prospect pool that he’d be gaining talent from, but his time with the organization may make negotiations go a bit quicker. Ott’s landing spot could be quite literally anywhere as his game can adapt to a number of different styles and any contender would be interested in adding an energy player like him. My money would be on a Western team, but that’s about as far as I would go in terms of guessing his destination.

It’s also rumored that Ryan Callahan will likely be skating in a new city after the deadline and he’d also add the two way element that so many teams find valuable. While trading Callahan may be expected, I’m fully expecting to see at least one big trade that catches everyone off guard. It could be something similar to the Marian Gaborik trade last year that saw a host of players swapped between New York and Columbus. Regardless of who is moved, count on at least one of those to catch you off guard before the day is out on the 5th. Also keep an eye on the trade wire in the days leading up to the deadline as a few moves could easily come prior to next Wednesday.

Recapping the 2014 Olympic Tournament

Recapping the 2014 Olympic Tournament

Recapping the 2014 Olympic Tournament

In the end, the deepest, most talented team prevailed. Canada repeated their 2010 ice hockey sweep by capturing gold on both the men’s and women’s side in Sochi.

While the women’s result was always going to come down to the United States and Canada, the men’s tournament represented a much different picture with five squads with strong chances for a medal with that number ballooning to six or even seven depending how the rosters were analyzed.

The women’s tournament was one filled with many firsts. Not only did a new format take over, but a first time medalist prevailed in the bronze medal game as Switzerland came out ahead after a wild third period. While the rest of the field is still well behind the sport’s two superpowers, the rest of the world is slowly catching up. No longer is the wide gap between the Americans and Canadians bridged by just the Swedes and the Finns. Russia is making strides and the Swiss officially established themselves on the international stage.

It will still take some time for teams like the Swiss to get close to the US and Canadians – and the Finns may suffer a setback with Nora Raty’s retirement – but the fact that there are signs of parity is encouraging.

On the men’s side an entertaining group play round turned into a somewhat stunning  elimination playoff as the Latvians knocked off a trendy darkhorse in the Swiss before putting a scare into Canada – despite the Canadians dominance throughout the game. Slovenia also surprised many in wining not one but two games to find themselves in the quarterfinals as well.

The rest of the tournament played out as many expected. The US victory over Russia was perhaps a slight surprise as was the virtual no-show by the Slovakians. The end result was certainly easy to predict as the Canadians didn’t just have the most talented roster, but their gameplan shutdown their opponents when it mattered most. The Finns, US and Swedes could barely muster any offense against Canada and the result was a second-straight gold medal for a nation whose dominance at the World Juniors in the early 2000s is showing on the Olympic stage now with talents like Crosby, Price and Toews leading the way.

While my prediction of the final four was accurate, I ultimately missed on the medal order. However, I’m quite pleased that I not only foresaw Finland’s run to the medal round, but accurately predicted the bronze and gold medal matchups.

Whether or not the NHL decides to send players to the 2018 Games is yet to be determined. The 14-hour time difference will make games nearly impossible to watch live and there will certainly be other reasons (owners) that will make the decision a tough one. However, the game took center stage once again and it would be a shame to not see the NHL represented once again.

While an NHL filled Canadian roster will be an early favorite in 2018, there is plenty of impressive talent working up on the American side and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the US playing for gold in Korea.

Most Outstanding Player

Men – Teemu Selanne: Teemu Forever. He was named the tournament MVP and proved that he is still an ageless wonder. This has been a terrific farewell tour for him and earning another Olympic medal is a nice way to start his home stretch.

Women – Maire-Philip Poulin: She was the hero in 2010 and was again the hero in 2014, scoring the tying and winning goals for the Canadian women.

Most Outstanding Goaltender

Men – Tuukka Rask: Had Rask not fallen ill prior to their game against Sweden perhaps the Finns would have played for gold. Regardless, Rask was dominant throughout the tournament and although Carey Price is wearing gold, Rask’s play was more valuable to his team than Price’s.

Women – Florence Schelling: She carried her team to bronze and was phenomenal in doing so. Her skills in net will make the Swiss a threat to medal in 2018.

Biggest Surprise

Slovenia’s success in their first Olympics was not only a surprise but a breath of fresh air. They hung with the Russians in their first game and then dispatched the Slovaks on their way to the top seed in the first qualification round. Their win over Austria put them another upset away from the medal round. While they were easily dispatched by Sweden, Slovenia proved that they weren’t just going to lay down in their first Olympic games.

Looking Ahead

I’m willing to bet that the NHL ends up sending their stars to the 2018 Olympics despite the challenges of the massive time change, owners apprehension and the chance that the World Cup of Hockey will be back on the table prior to the 2018 Olympics. It just seems foolish to not put the NHL’s stars on an international stage like this when the opportunity presents itself. It’s almost like free marketing in that way.

On the Ice: Warrior Covert DT2 gloves

On the Ice: Warrior Covert DT2 gloves

On the Ice: Warrior Covert DT2 gloves

Warrior’s Dynasty (previously Franchise) glove line has long been a favorite at nearly every level of the game. Now, Warrior has a counterpart to their classic four-roll glove.

The Covert glove line that was introduced last year is built on more of a tapered, anatomic fit as compared to the more traditional fit of the Dynasty gloves. Now that the Covert line is a year old, Warrior has started making some interesting changes to the line. One, is a special Limited Edition “World Tour” line for this year. The Limited Edition glove is designed with the Olympics in mind as the special edition colors that are available include Canada, the United States, Finland, Sweden, Russia, Quebec and a blackout version of the US and Canadian gloves.

This line compliments the typical colorway availability in the DT2 glove and offers players a chance to get a unique pair of one-off gloves. While including Quebec is a somewhat odd choice when the rest of the designs are Olympic inspired, but the powder blue glove with a white cuff was too much to turn down and those were the pair I picked off the shelf.

Out of the Box

These are a good looking pair of gloves. The design standard on the line is basic but includes sharp edges that defines the graphic package in each color. The Quebec glove is just powder blue and white, so there is not contrast color on the back of the hand. However, the white trim surrounding the area where a contrast color would go helps the glove to pop.

The DT2 uses Warrior’s Polygiene liner that not only wicks away moisture but also battles odor to keep your gloves clean and smelling fresh for a longer period of time. The Polygiene liner also utilized the Chillwave feature which keeps your hand cool which helps to work in unison with the Polygiene liner for a clean, fresh interior.

As a former lacrosse player, I really like when a glove fits tight on my hand. I’m not overly comfortable wearing a loose fitting glove like a Dynasty or Bauer Nexus as the back of my hand is often separated from the back portion of the glove. The Covert offers a tight, snug fit without limiting mobility in the hand or wrist while playing. The fingers and knuckles are a little tight the first time you put these on, but bending the fingers back and over will help to break the glove in and after a couple of ice times you’ll be all set.

On the Ice

As someone who not only prefers a tighter fitting glove, but coming from a pair of gloves that didn’t fit perfectly, I immediately noticed how much more comfortable I was stick handling, passing and shooting with the new gloves. I had gone from a pair that would sometimes feel perfect but other times would be far too loose for my liking. There’s no wiggle room here (no pun intended) as the fit and build of these gloves allow for a snug, comfortable skate.

The change was so drastic that during warmups I actually was hitting the puck too hard while stickhandling because the gloves moved in perfect unison with my hands.

After a few icetimes I haven’t had a moment where I was trying to adjust how my hands felt on the fly or feeling that I didn’t get good wood on a pass or shot because my wrists felt as if these were slipping out of my gloves.

The gloves only required a pair of games to feel broken in as I did spend a little time breaking in the fingers and knuckles prior to my first game, so that may have sped up the break in process. I’m not only pleased to have made the decision to get an upgrade with my gloves, but choosing an anatomically designed pair will be something that goes a long way for me game-to-game.

Olympic gear watch

Olympic gear watch

Olympic gear watch

As hockey equipment has evolved, the ability for players to swap out gear for special events has been a growing trend. Goaltenders are the easiest to pick out as they sport different helmets and pads for events like the Winter Classic each season.

The Olympics are not immune to this change as skaters need to switch over to gloves and pants that align with their country’s colors and some goaltenders choose to wear new equipment as well to match their nation’s colors.

It will be pretty easy to notice which goaltenders have made changes as their new gear will certainly stand out as opposed to what they wear on a nightly basis in the NHL. Most players will likely wear a shell over their team-issued pants to remain as comfortable as possible and skaters have likely had a chance to break in their Olympic gloves for at least a week.

There will be some other changes that may or may not stand out to fans as they’re watching the games aside from the simple color change that a player’s gear will undergo. Like the NHL, the IIHF has specific equipment standards and those standards must be followed by all players.

In the crease, some equipment manufacturers choose not to pay the fee to the IIHF so their company logos can be shown during play. Vaughn is a company that has long been logo-less in international play and that trend will likely continue this year as Tuukka Rask and Jimmy Howard are both heading to Sochi without the Vaughn branding on their equipment.

Ryan Miller’s gear was changed over to red, white and blue using a special aftermarket product that will keep him from breaking in new equipment for the short tournament. As you’ll notice, Miller’s pads (and gloves) still have the Vaughn logos showing but he’ll likely need to have those covered up.

As the games continue small things like that will probably become more obvious and one feature of the 2010 games in Vancouver seems to have carried over to Sochi. Forwards, who will have small Sochi logos on the front and back of their helmets, will have an interesting change made to their gloves.

An interesting rule was created heading into the 2010 Olympics which limited the size of manufacturer logos on the cuff of player gloves. This meant that the size of the font needed to be reduced from the relatively large font found on the ice in NHL games and on the shelves in stores.

It also made for some confusing visuals as the smaller logos looked out of place on the ice (check out Brian Rafalski’s gloves in the bottom portion of this picture). Easton decided against putting their logo in the smaller font and swapped out the Easton font for each country’s name with a smaller Easton logo on a different part of the cuff. Warrior and Bauer followed suit with the rule and based on action from the women’s games early on, it appears that the rule is back for 2014.

One other big change will be the handful of players using Bauer’s OD1N equipment. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Towes, Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Henrik Lundqvist were all tabbed to test the revolutionary gear that Bauer is comparing to a concept care. The player skates will stand out most as their peculiar design is like nothing that’s ever been worn before.

The OD1N line is designed to save massive amounts of weight that will ultimately give players more boost and stamina on a game-to-game basis. While it’s unexpected to be seen in stores anytime soon, keep an eye on those players to see if their game receives a noticeable boost.

If you notice any other distinct differences in something a player is wearing, leave a comment here or on the Great Skate Facebook page. It’s interesting to see some of the new and exciting products that companies will release around this time.

Predicting the Olympic Tournament

The Olympic break is finally upon us and, depending on logistics, could be the last Olympics that features NHL players representing their countries.

Each team will have fairly limited practice time given the short time period between the NHL break and beginning of the Olympic tournament. This could serve as an early benefit for some of the assumed underdogs who have fewer NHL players making the hop across the Atlantic, but even those players will need to take breaks from their respective national teams for the Olympic tournament. The games will officially open on February 8 and the tournament will run until February 23.

There are some changes between the 2010 and 2014 games in which the IIHF allowed the 2010 men’s and women’s tournaments to be played on NHL sized rinks as opposed to an international surface. The Sochi ice will be nearly 15 feet wider than the ice most of the participants are used to and that adjustment could also come into play as the tournament moves along.

One interesting feature of this year’s tournament is the pool seeding. Based on the 2012 IIHF World Championships, there are decidedly difficult pools that were determined by the IIHF World Rankings. The US and Russians highlight an impressive Group A that includes Slovakia and Slovenia, a group that will not provide an easy out for anyone. Group B is headlined by the defending gold and bronze medalists in Canada and Finland, respectively. Norway and Austria round out the group as the Norweigians are no longer the new kid on the block for the tournament. Group C is filled out by Sweden, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Latvia. That is perhaps the one group which could produce a surprising upset given the Swiss’ propensity to play big in international events.

Group B may be the easiest to prognosticate with Groups A and B each having a pair of darkhorse teams that could cause trouble for the favorites.

Group A

While the United States’ run to a silver medal in 2010 was impressive, they’re faced with an equally difficult road to a first round bye this year. Ryan Miller’s preliminary round dominance helped the Americans over Canada and to a top seeding for the quarters. It will take an equally impressive performance in goal (from Miller or Jonathan Quick) and the requisite goal support to lift the US over Russia this year. The US roster has more elite talent this year compared to what may be described as a more complete team in 2010. While leaving Bobby Ryan out was a surprise to many, the US roster still has some impressive talent in their top-six.

The Russians enter the tournament as the hometown favorite with plenty to prove after a disastrous showing in Vancouver. While goaltending and defense show as potential weak spots on the roster, the firepower they boast at forward makes them an immediate contender regardless of who is in net. Should Semyon Varlamov maintain a consistent level of play, he could easily elevate the Russians to the top team in the tournament.

Both the Americans and Russians will need to be aware of the Slovakians in pool play. The Slovaks made a strong run to the bronze medal game and a fourth place finish in Vancouver on the back of a veteran lineup. While some of the old guard has moved on, a number of their young stars have come into their own at the NHL level. They will not only prove to be a tough team to defeat but certainly a squad which will make noise in the quarterfinals.

Slovenia is brand new to the Olympic tournament and boasts just one NHL talent; Anze Kopitar. While Kopitar is truly a world-class talent, he will need a ton of help to lift the Slovenians to victories in Sochi. While I doubt that they escape pool play with a victory, their appearance alone in the tournament is a major victory for their national program.

Outlook: The group winner will likely come down to the US and Russia although I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see the Slovaks steal at least one point from one of those two squads in preliminary play. Preliminary Standings: Russia (2-1-0-0), United States (2-0-0-1), Slovakia (1-0-1-1), Slovenia (0-0-0-3). Records are listed in order of Win-OT Win-OT Loss-Loss. Three points are awarded for a regulation win, two for an OT win and 1 point for an OT loss.

Group B

The Canadians earned an easy berth in their pool considering some of the veteran talent that the Finns will have at this year’s tournament. The Canadians are an all-star team. There is no other way to describe the wealth of talent they’ll bring to Sochi. While goaltending was expected to be a question mark for the tournament, one of Carey Price, Roberto Luongo or Mike Smith will be able to carry the load for the stacked roster in front of them.

Goaltending is the precise strength for the Finnish national team as each of their three goaltenders would start for just about every country in this year’s Olympic Games aside from, perhaps the Swedes or Americans. Tuukka Rask is likely the starter but Antti Niemi and Kari Kehtonen are equally capable of stealing a game on a nightly basis. There are some impressive, young talents on this roster that is still anchored by the old guard entering the tournament. If they get hot, they’ll be very difficult to beat.

While Norway was thoroughly dominated in what turned out to be the strongest pool in the 2010 games (Canada, US and Switzerland), they enter the 2014 games with a stronger international resume and the experience of having played in an Olympic tournament just four years earlier. While they’ll surely see little success against the Canadians or Finns, I can see them stealing a preliminary round win over Austria before facing another superior opponent in the quarters.

Austria, like Slovenia, is a new kid on the block. The presence of NHL players on the roster could give them a slight edge over the Norwegians in terms of depth. That NHL talent might just put them over the edge when it comes to their showdown with Norway. But with a pair of teams with very few players in North American leagues, it’s hard to pinpoint where each will end up.

Outlook: This should be cut and dry. The Canadians will likely seize the first seed in the quarters while neither Austria or Norway will threaten Finland. The real key is if the Finns will get help elsewhere to snag the fourth first-round bye. Preliminary Standings: Canada (3-0-0-0), Finland (2-0-0-1), Norway (0-1-0-2), Austria (0-0-1-2)

Group C

This is an interesting group as the Swedes will certainly enter the tournament as the prohibitive favorite amongst their three opponents. Sweden’s roster is an impressive collection of two-way talent with a ton of depth in the middle of the ice. Henrik Lundqvist will carry the load in the crease and I expect the Swedes to present a serious challenge for gold.

A few interesting roster choices makes the Czech Republic a borderline group. While there are plenty of NHL names on the roster, they are bringing quite a bit of age along with them, notably, Petr Nedved and Jaromir Jagr. While Jagr has proven to be an ageless wonder, some of the other roster choices perplexed those in the hockey community. The Czechs will live and die with Ondrej Pavelec which, depending on your opinion of him, could be a precarious way to go about the tournament.

I expect the Swiss squad to surprise people this year. Jonas Hiller is beyond dialed in at this point and they have seemingly progressed each and every year on the international stage. While they won’t likely pull any Belarussian surprises on the Swedes, I can definitely see them upsetting the Czech’s on their way to the elimination round. If Hiller isn’t at his best the Swiss will struggle. But if he continues the play he’s displayed this season, I’d expect them to grab a few wins.

The Latvians wind up in a very challenging group and their path through the preliminaries may only be topped by the Slovenians. While fans in Buffalo will certainly be excited to see Ted Nolan behind the bench and Zemgus Girgensons on the ice, I doubt that the Latvian’s compete level will do enough to get them a win in the opening round.

Outlook: Sweden takes this group running away with the Swiss stealing a win off the Czech’s and slotting in the second spot in the group. The Latvians will likely be fourth with the Czech’s in third somewhat by default. Preliminary Standings: Sweden (3-0-0-0), Switzerland (2-0-0-1), Czech Republic (1-0-0-2), Latvia (0-0-0-3)

Elimination & Medal Round

Based on my loose prognostications I have the Canadians, Russians, Swedes and Finns advancing with a first round bye, although the US and maybe even Switzerland could be in the conversation for a bye depending on their goal differential. Where I think a curveball might be thrown is in the path to the medal round.

While the Canadians and Swedes will certainly advance to the medal round games, I could see the Russians or Finns upset along the way. I am hopeful that the Americans will be one of the four teams playing for a medal with Switzerland being my surprise pick to advance to the final four. From there I expect the depth of the participating teams to win out with the Canadians defeating Sweden for gold in 2014.

Medal Predictions:

Gold: Sweden

Silver: Canada

Bronze: United States

Choosing between a cage or shield

Choosing between a cage or shield - Greatskate.com

Choosing between a cage or shield – Greatskate.com

All players get to the point when they have the opportunity to choose between a cage and a shield (or no facial protection). Typically that time is when you reach adult recreational leagues.

Most adult leagues allow anyone over the age of 18 to play, which means that when players reach 18 years of age, they’ll finally have the choice of taking off their cage and upgrading to a visor should they choose that route.

When it comes down to comfort and overall vision, the visor takes the cake every time. There’s nothing snapped up around your chin and nothing to obstruct your view of the ice. When it comes to safety, however, the cage wins out every time. Despite owning an Oakley visor, I wear a cage for all of my games.

The reason I choose to go with a cage is strictly motivated by safety. I’ve see too many players get caught with sticks or pucks (I’ve caught a puck in the mouth myself) to justify wearing a visor. In addition, my vision isn’t all that bothered by a cage either. Perhaps it is because I grew up playing goalie and a player’s helmet offer so much more in terms of peripheral views as it is. Regardless, a cage is the choice for me.

However, you may be in a different position.

Determining if you want to wear a cage or visor comes down to little more than personal preference. If you’re comfortable with just a visor on, then you shouldn’t even think twice about wearing one. You’ll love the comfort that comes with little to obstruct your view of the ice. Picking that visor is where the decision making process will begin.

There are a number of companies making visors today, but Oakley and Bauer stand above the rest in terms of quality and durability. Most visor purchases will come down to brand and design as each company offers a handful of different options. Great Skate offers both the Bauer and Oakley models in a straight or aviator cut that is more of a personal preference for the wearer. The aviator is a more stylized model with a curved bottom line which could affect what you look at depending on how focused you are on the bottom of the visor and the ice. The straight models are what’s seen a bit more often in the NHL as a majority of players opt for the simple look with their visor.

Bauer recently introduced the Pro Clip visor line which utilizes all of their normal visor models but with a quick release, tool-less shield replacement when it comes time to start using a new visor. It’s an interesting development as putting a visor on a helmet falls somewhere between rocket science and flying on the difficulty scale.

The one thing about the Pro Clip visors that I’m curious about is how often do they need to be changed? It would be somewhat worrisome if they consistently need to be replaced as a lack of durability would certainly be an issue.

If a visor isn’t what you’re looking for, there are a ton of options for cages at Great Skate, including the CCM 580 which is a popular choice amongst a great many collegiate player. The Bauer RE-AKT titanium is a high-end model that offers a super lightweight option. However, the CCM might be the best designed cage out there. Bauer and Reebok each have a decent option for their helmets, but the CCM offers a good view of the ice and also passes the mirror test with flying colors.

One other option, of course, is the full face shield. The Bauer Concept is a design that’s been around forever and has gained popularity in recent years and anti-fog treatments have made these far more manageable to use.

If you’re considering making a switch to a visor or simply looking to pick up a new cage, keep this in mind as you’re making your choice at Great Skate.

Sabres decision on Grigorenko shows flaws in NHL/CHL agreement

Sabres decision on Grigorenko shows flaws in NHL/CHL agreement

Sabres decision on Grigorenko shows flaws in NHL/CHL agreement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for picking out goalie sticks

Tips for picking out goalie sticks

Tips for picking out goalie sticks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Buffalo Sabres press conference introducing Tim Murray & Craig Patrick

The Buffalo Sabres press conference introducing Tim Murray & Craig Patrick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ranking the Winter Classic goalie masks

New York Rangers Winter Classic Goalie Mask

New York Rangers Winter Classic Goalie Mask

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

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

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

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