CCM/Reebok changeover

CCM/Reebok Hockey  Changeover

CCM/Reebok Hockey Changeover

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

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

Of course, their line offered, in some ways, a direct competition to the equipment being built and sold by Reebok. Instead of having the two companies fight for attention and players, they altered the landscape they operate on. CCM will maintain their status as a brand leader for elite equipment while Reebok will take a step back to focus on youth and junior equipment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CCM Tacks Hockey Gear

CCM Tacks Hockey Gear

CCM RBZ Superfast Hockey Sticks

CCM RBZ Superfast Hockey Sticks 

CCM Resistance Hockey Helmet

CCM Resistance Hockey Helmet

CCM Ribcor Hockey Sticks

CCM Ribcor Hockey Sticks

Reebok Hockey

Reebok Hockey

 

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.

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.

Bauer Days are coming to Great Skate

Bauer Days are coming to Great Skate

Bauer Days are coming to Great Skate

Great Skate will be hosting a Bauer Days event on Saturday, August 16 from 12pm until 4pm. The event will give players a chance to get an up-close and personal look at all of Bauer’s gear for the upcoming season with some great deals on hockey’s most cutting edge equipment.

A 15% off sale on both hockey gear and goalie equipment during the #BauerDays event gives you a chance to restock your bag with the best from Bauer’s trio of equipment lines or the pair of groundbreaking goaltender lines. Whether you’re looking for the impressive anatomic fit of the Supreme TotalOne NXG gloves, the classic look and feel of the Nexus skates or the new-and-improved APX2 protective line, Bauer Days will not only allow you to check out the latest and greatest, but the discount ensures you’ll get your new gear at a great price.

Bauer events have always been a can’t miss for hockey players. The ability to get a peek at some of Bauer’s newest gear while also having the opportunity to test out others is a highlight of the offseason. Then, there’s the swag.

The first 200 players to arrive at the event will receive a free Bauer swag bag and the first 200 parents will receive a free Bauer coffee mug. There are few things cooler than branded merchandise from an equipment manufacturer. Of course, you can’t beat free either.

Be sure to get to Great Skate early on Saturday morning to lock up your swag bag or coffee mug and be the first to experience Bauer’s impressive line of gear.

What’s in a Bag?

Grit HTSE Hockey Tower Wheeled Bag

Grit HTSE Hockey Tower Wheeled Bag

Most people probably don’t think about their hockey bag very often. After all, it’s just a vessel to help carry your equipment from point-a to point-b. But there’s actually a bit more to hockey bags today than their utilitarian predecessors of years past.

Bags these days come in all shapes and sizes. Some can be carried like a backpack, some have wheels, some have a spot that will carry a stick, some have fans built into them and some are simple, basic bags that evoke a classic look while still sporting some modern amenities.

Some bags, like Grit’s HT1 Hockey Tower resemble airplane luggage with their vertical construction, wheels, pull handle and compartmentalized interior. These are pretty much the Cadillac of hockey bags that basically shrink a locker stall down to a manageable size. These are ideal for younger players who might have some trouble lugging the weight of their equipment but also appeal to a wide audience who prefer the orderly organization of their gear to the chaotic heap of jerseys, socks and pad that little traditional carry bags.

Backpack bags have also gained popularity in recent years and some of the backpack style hockey bags even come with wheels and a pull handle. These bags, like the Easton Stealth RS bag, feature a similar interior layout to the Grit tower bag as there are specific areas to store each piece of equipment. While it doesn’t feature the storage areas that the Grit bag does, the Easton – along with the Bauer and Reebok models carried by Great Skate – feature dedicated skate pockets and additional areas to store tape and tools.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the back pack bags. I feel as if they don’t maximize the space necessary to store gear. However, I’m also a fan of a traditional, no frills bag that has a pocket or two for tape and my extra accessories (screwdriver, etc.). The next time I go looking for a new bag, the Warrior Pro and Bauer team carry bags will be at the top of my list. They feature a basic construction with a very durable outer and inner materials that help prevent cuts and holes from developing. The Warrior bag is particularly nice as it features internal skate pockets and a vented mesh top to help keep your gear dry. Both also feature a clean, professional look that is low on extra graphics and high on function.

Warrior Covert Carry Hockey Bag

Warrior Covert Carry Hockey Bag

Last, but certainly not least, are goalie bags. Goalie bags can be tough to pick out based on how you pack your gear. Many goalies put their pads in their bag which necessitates even more space. While I’m partial to carrying my pads, I still need a spacious bag to fit all of my equipment. Great Skate offers a number of goalie bags from Reebok, Bauer, Warrior and Vaughn. In fact, Great Skate offers a wheeled and non-wheeled Bauer model along with wheeled versions from Reebok and Warrior. However, for my money, the Vaughn BG 7400 bag takes the cake. This is a spacious, well-designed bag that features reinforcements in all the right areas and a great exterior look. It comes with a removable wash bag and can easily fit a goaltender’s full locker with ease.

Be sure to consider all of your options as you’re searching for a bag for the upcoming season.

Free Agent Frenzy Watch List

Free Agent Frenzy Watch List

Free Agent Frenzy Watch List

With Free Agent Frenzy set to open the checkbooks will be ablaze with action around the NHL. There will be different approaches taken by different teams as competitors will be looking for a player to push them to the next level, Cup contenders will want to fill that last missing piece and even some of the league’s bottom feeders will be actively looking to reshape their rosters.

The 2014 free agent class lacks premier names but certainly contains fair quality across the board. Here are a handful of names at each position that will be worth tracking starting today at noon.

Goalie

Ryan Miller: Miller cost himself some serious money with a substandard playoff performance in St. Louis. He’s a systems goaltender through and through and it seemed as if he was out of his depth behind St. Louis’ roster. While he’s searching for a contender, the shallow market may leave him without many options. He’d thrive on a club where he’d see steady action each night while still being supported by a strong cast of forwards and defensemen. I don’t think he’ll be on the market long before making his choice.

Jonas Hiller: Hiller looks as if he’ll have a few options available to him on the open market, but like Miller, he’s still going to be picking from a pared down pool of suitors. Hiller’s play was once flirting with world class status before a depreciation led him out of Anaheim. While he isn’t the world beater that shutdown the Sharks and frustrated the Red Wings in the mid-2000s, he’s still a very capable goaltender who will get a fair look.

Ilya Bryzgalov: Bryz has been on a carousel the last few seasons and perhaps this summer will allow him to finally get off. He wasn’t spectacular in Edmonton or Minnesota last year, but he found a bit more stability than he had in Philadelphia, which is certainly a major improvement. I doubt that he would be in line to snag a starting job in free agency, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team looking for a quality backup who can handle upwards of 30 games give him a ring.

Justin Peters: Peters has toiled in the Carolina system for what seems like an eternity. He was stuck behind Cam Ward during his better seasons and never found a way to stick in the NHL permanently. Anton Khudobin’s arrival pushed him further down the depth chart and now he finally has a chance to look elsewhere. The thin market will make things tricky, but a team like Philadelphia or even the Lightning, who are looking for a quality backup, could give him a chance for a full year in the NHL.

Martin Brodeur: Retirement seems like the better option for Brodeur at this point as his play has taken a sharp nosedive in recent seasons. He says he wants to backup on a contending team and see somewhere in the 25 games neighborhood. I don’t seem many contenders seeing Brodeur as a viable option to carry that much weight during the year, I wonder what type of interest he gets once free agency opens this afternoon.

Defensemen

Matt Niskanen: The cream of the defensive crop seems to have a very similar feel in terms of playing style. Matt Niskanen appears to be the one player set to get the biggest payday after a very impressive run with the Penguins and talks of a long term, big money deal have been circulating for a few days now. Niskanen is a quality puck mover who will most certainly receive far more money than he’s likely worth, but his play last year justifies the asking price.

Christian Ehrhoff: A late entrant after being bought out on Sunday, Ehrhoff sported one of the league’s better possession metrics despite playing on the league’s worst team. He still has plenty of miles left and can contribute in all situations with big minutes. Don’t be surprised to see him cash in handsomely.

Anton Stralman: In almost the exact same boat as Matt Niskanen, Stralman is likely going to receive a major payday after providing the Rangers with high-quality second pair minutes during their Cup run. Interestingly, his Corsi percentage remained consistent when he was away from Marc Staal while Staal’s percentage plummeted if he was away from Stralman.

Dan Boyle: His age plays a factor here but his skillset is still highly sought after. He’s still a phenomenal puck moving defenseman who will instantly upgrade any powerplay he’s a part of. I’m interested to see what kind of money he gets if a bidding war breaks out for his services. It’s been reported that he’s expecting to get a two-year deal, so if a team is really desperate, they could break the bank on a short term deal to lock up his services.

Brooks Orpik: Every team wants a rugged stay-at-home defender and while Orpik has put on quite a few miles over his career, he’s going to be looked at as a quality asset by a number of teams. Now that he has a Cup ring, I wonder if he is desperately seeking a team on the verge of a championship or if he’s content with cashing in on one more solid contract moving forward.

Forward

Paul Stastny: Consider Stastny the consensus crown jewel of this year’s free agent crop. That may be an indictment of the overall class, but shouldn’t be a condemnation of his talents. In fact, playing a complimentary role to such talents as Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon last year probably did more for him than anything else. He’s going to get a healthy payday and provide a team with solid play in a number two center role.

Dave Bolland: Bolland might be the most curious member of this class simply because of his contract demands. He’s a terrific center who can provide quality depth in a second or third line role. I’m not sure he’s worth $5 million, however. I’d expect a team looking to take a step forward would be willing to throw that type of money at him but I think that they’ll ultimately be disappointed in the investment.

Milan Michalek: The exodus out of Ottawa continues as Michalek is set to hit the open market. He’s a consistent goal scorer who would likely thrive playing a complimentary role on a competing team. He still has plenty of miles left on his tires and could almost serve in a similar role to what Marian Gaborik did for the Kings in this year’s playoffs. That might be too specific of a role to find, especially with teams out there looking to snag a first line scorer.

Brad Richards: A buyout casualty, his name hasn’t been overly active since the Rangers exercised their right to terminate his contract. It’s surprising because he has the ability to be a quality contributor for any number of teams. He can still play on the power play and in a top-six role for all 30 teams. If he ends up getting picked up at a discount, I suspect there will be a very happy coach an GM out there.

Thoams Vanek: Vanek, like his former Buffalo teammate Ryan Miller, didn’t do himself too many favors with his play in the postseason. He was phenomenal with the Islanders and carried his play to Montreal to close the regular season. However, he was quiet in the playoffs and could have possibly cost himself a long-term deal. All bets have him heading to Minnesota and I’d suspect that’s where he lines up, even if it’s at a lower rate than originally expected.

CCM Retro Flex pads

CCM Retro Flex pads

CCM Retro Flex pads

After a lengthy vacation from the crease, CCM returned last year with a new entry into the goaltending market. The Extreme Flex pads not only represented CCM’s first official entry into the goaltending world again but it also brought about a pad with some impressive new features.

CCM developed a pad with a soft, flexible boot that allows the pad to sit a bit lower than it’s stiffer Reebok cousins. While the rest of the pad shares many of the same traits as the Reebok pads, the flexible boot and softer face (complete with knee rolls) provides a much more traditional pad than the P4 or current XLT is.

Upon first release, the pad offered a different option for goalies who weren’t as fond of Reebok pads while still providing the option to wear equipment produced by the legendary Lefevre design team. The marriage of Lefevre and Reebok/CCM pads doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon, but this and the former Reebok Larceny remain as the only pads constructed by Reebok or CCM in recent years with a different take than the flat faced look that helps to define Reebok.

CCM took things a step further this past year as they provided a new design option for EFlex users. The RetroFlex pad has the same construction as the original EFlex but with a basic, vertical stitch graphics package. The only color options on the pad, outside of the face of the shin, will be the knee rolls, outer roll and the darts between the knee rolls.

Jonathan Bernier wore the RetroFlex all season and looked particularly good in his vintage colored RetroFlex pads at this year’s winter classic.

Outside of the aesthetic differences between the EFlex and the RetroFlex, there are no other changes between the two. They’re both inspired by more flexible products in the boot while still utilizing the modern core design that can be found in pads like the Reebok XLT and others.

If you find yourself stuck deciding between the EFlex or the RetroFlex, it’s likely a simple decision between a true retro look over a slightly more contemporary graphic on the face of the pad. While I prefer the EFlex simply due to the design options available, the RetroFlex is a beautiful pad. Especially for those netminders who prefer a classic look.

Skip the painter with Bauer’s NME artwork

Skip the painter with Bauer’s NME artwork

Skip the painter with Bauer’s NME artwork

There’s no easy way to keep up with goalie mask art. If you or your child change teams regularly, a brand new paint job can look out of place after just one season of use. Not to mention, many artists charge an arm and a leg for paintjobs and if you choose the wrong one, you’re more than likely going to lose the factory warranty on your mask. Luckily, Bauer has thought of a solution to this conundrum.

Bauer’s NME3 and NME5 goal masks comes with a number of stock designs that feature a wide range of colors, patters and artwork that provides a custom look that will match a number of team’s uniforms.

These designs range from vintage inspired looks right up to designs that mimic the graphics on Bauer’s equipment line – the Reactor, for example. While the colors available are somewhat limited, most of the designs are generic enough that they will match nearly every team’s uniforms. For example, the flame graphic features a red graphic flame against a basic black background. Whether you’re playing for a team with Blackhawks, Devils or even Red Wings uniforms, you won’t run into any issues.

The center racing stripe and vintage jersey stripe graphics play the best in terms of design, but the more creative designs like the Reactor or USA graphics offer a more unique take on the practice.

Taking advantage of what Bauer offers at the junior or youth models of the NME 5 and NME 3 gives you a chance to pick up a mask with unique artwork (as opposed to the basic white or black) without needing to break the bank on a custom paint job.

Bauer reigns supreme at the Stanley Cup Final

Bauer reigns supreme at the Stanley Cup Final

Bauer reigns supreme at the Stanley Cup Final

Bauer reigns supreme at the Stanley Cup Final as the equipment giant can claim it is getting the most usage in each major gear category at the Final.

The only close category is sticks, which is the only category in which Bauer doesn’t hold over 50% of the usage. Their 42% share still towers over the next closest manufacturer (Easton) who slots in at 17%. It shouldn’t be too surprising to see the stick category as the most diverse in terms of usage as every manufacturer offers a number of similar, elite products. In fact, Bauer’s dominance in the category is based on their three different lines as opposed to one singular product as is seen by the overwhelming number of players wearing Vapor skates.

One other category that isn’t illustrated above is goaltender equipment. With David LeNeveu currently serving as the Ragners’ backup, there is a 50-50 split between Vaughn and Bauer users. If and when Cam Talbot returns, Vaughn will hold the majority (Quick and Jones) with Bauer and Reebok each having one goaltender wearing their equipment.

To further break down the goaltending category, Lundqvist and Talbot each wear Bauer helmets, Jones wears Pro’s Choice and Quick uses Sportmask.

These are always fun graphics to look at just to see the vast diversity of equipment used by each player. Try to figure out who is wearing what over the rest of the series so you can line up individuals with the graphic above.