Tag Archives: ice hockey

Many factors to consider with helmet safety

Many factors to consider with helmet safety
Many factors to consider with helmet safety

There’s something very important that has been overlooked recently in virtually every facet of sporting culture; helmets alone don’t prevent concussions.

That can be a bit unnerving to read and think about because if the helmet you’re wearing can’t prevent you or your child from getting a concussion, how can you be at ease? Don’t worry, the helmets on the market today are the most technologically advanced helmets ever made and offer protection from a wider variety of injuries than ever before. The point that needs to be considered is that the helmet alone won’t prevent from concussive impacts.

Plenty of research has been done in this field and a great deal of it paints the picture that all the bells and whistles in the world won’t limit the impact and results of high speed collisions. Helmet’s like the Bauer RE-AKT and CCM Resistance have added groundbreaking features that help keep the head protected from both direct and rotational impacts experienced during a hockey game. This was a big step forward in both design and safety as limiting the effect of an impact against a player’s head.

So what does this all mean? Does it mean that you’re no safer with a mop bucket on your head versus a state of the art helmet like the IMS 11.0? Of course not. But simply picking the most expensive helmet you can find and expecting your problems to be solved is far from the solution as well.

When it comes to buying a new helmet, comfort and fit are just as important as the protective qualities of the helmet. I have a handful of helmets in my locker and they all offer a different fit. There is one that I don’t ever wear because it doesn’t provide a snug, safe fit that will keep me protected. The helmet in question is a CCM V08. It’s a phenomenal helmet that is wildly popular at the NHL level that simply doesn’t fit my head. It looks great and I was incredibly excited when I got it. And then I found out it wasn’t going to fit and I’ve never worn it on the ice.

Meanwhile, my Bauer IMS 9.0 is the most comfortable helmet I’ve ever owned. It sits a little higher on my head than other helmets, but the combination of HD foam, Poron XD foam and other protective elements provides a great fit that I know provides adequate protection.

CCM Resistance Hockey Helmet
CCM Resistance Hockey Helmet

Obviously none of that means that if I was to hit my head on the ice the wrong way I wouldn’t be concussed, because the most likely result of that would indeed be a concussion. The key is that I made sure to try on a number of different sizes of helmets with a Great Skate sales representative before making a decision. I tried on different makes and models of helmets before settling on the one that had the best overall fit and, therefore, offered the most overall protection.

After making my purchase I’ve made sure that all the hardware is up to par and that the helmet is stored properly. This ensures it dries properly after games and the padding will stay intact. BY making sure the hardware is taken care of means that I won’t lose a screw halfway through a game. Proper maintenance and care for your helmet is just as important as finding the right helmet with the right fit. If padding is falling out of your helmet due to poor care, it’s time to reconsider how you store and take care of your equipment. Furthermore, if padding is falling out of your helmet, it’s probably time to get a new one.

Helmet Protection
Helmet Protection

It can be worrisome to hear that as different and protective a helmets can be, that they all can’t prevent against concussions. New helmets are able to lessen many impacts – and in turn help to reduce concussive impacts – but many times concussions aren’t avoidable. It’s important to do all the necessary research when you’re planning to buy a new helmet. Know your pricepoint, know the style you want and then make sure to find the model that fits you best.

Take some time to fully evaluate the helmet you wear. Maybe you’ll find that the fit isn’t idea or that some of the interior padding has deteriorated. If that’s the case, take the time to research a replacement before heading to Great Skate for a new lid.

New Vapor Sticks

Bauer Vapor 1X Grip Hockey Stick
Bauer Vapor 1X Grip Hockey Stick

I’ve always been slightly confused by Bauer as they release new editions of their wildly popular gear and their newest stick line is no exception. The new Bauer Vapor 1X stick represents the manufacturer’s newest release in what is likely their most popular line of equipment.

While details on the 1X are slim, it will come with a number of new features that includes an improvement on the AERO SENSE blade core that helped to define the APX and APX2 sticks. The Pure Shot blade profile remains for not only the 1X stick but also the X900, X800 right down to the X600 price point model.

Bauer is also introducing a new taper system for the X line of Vapor sticks. Called QRT Taper technology, the new feature has vague details online but it is expected to create a lower, more responsive kick point than ever before. Popular features like the monocomp construction and eLast technology remain vital parts of the design process as Bauer continues to strive for a steady balance of performance and durability in the stick line.

Of the new features in the 1X stick, the QRT Taper technology is one of the many (along with the AERO SENSE II blade core) that can be found in every model in the line, not just the highest model. While the overall weight and performance of the 1X – and the X900 to a lesser extent – will be unparalleled, a wider range of players will have the opportunity to benefit from the new breakthroughs Bauer has made in stick design.

This new ideal of including more features in lower model sticks, not only allows manufacturers to introduce their breakthroughs across a wider demographic, but more players are able to use them. Thus, the word of mouth on the impressive returns players are getting from different pieces of equipment even if they’ve never made a big purchase for something like the 1X.

Bauer Vapor 1x
Bauer Vapor 1x

Bauer also shifted gears with the graphics package on the 1X stick. A white and silver base dominate the look with touches of black trim worked in strategically. It gives off a sleek feel more so than the darker APX models which used far more charcoal grey and black and less white and silver in their designs. As someone who appreciates the look of a lighter graphics package, I have no complaints about the new look of the 1X stick. For those players who preferred the previous models, the X900 and lower models all sport the very familiar Vapor design features that have grown popular in recent years.

Bauer vapor 1X Hockey Stick
Bauer vapor 1X Hockey Stick

More details will come available soon as the Vapor 1X stick launch date draws closer. Stay tuned for more information on the 1X and the rest of the Vapor stick line and be sure to stop by Great Skate to demo the new stick before you buy it.

Gift Guide: Apparel

Gift Guide: Apparel
Gift Guide: Apparel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gift Guide: Gift Cards

Gift Guide: Gift Cards
Gift Guide: Gift Cards

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

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

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

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

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

Great Skate Black Friday Sale

Great Skate Black Friday Sale
Great Skate Black Friday Sale

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

What They’re Wearing: Matt Moulson

What They’re Wearing: Matt Moulson
What They’re Wearing: Matt Moulson

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

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

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

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

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

Connor McDavid dazzles during his trip to Buffalo

Connor McDavid dazzles during his trip to Buffalo
Connor McDavid dazzles during his trip to Buffalo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connor McDavid dazzles Buffalo
Connor McDavid dazzles Buffalo

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

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

CCM/Reebok changeover

CCM/Reebok Hockey  Changeover
CCM/Reebok Hockey Changeover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CCM Tacks Hockey Gear
CCM Tacks Hockey Gear
CCM RBZ Superfast Hockey Sticks
CCM RBZ Superfast Hockey Sticks
CCM Resistance Hockey Helmet
CCM Resistance Hockey Helmet
CCM Ribcor Hockey Sticks
CCM Ribcor Hockey Sticks
Reebok Hockey
Reebok Hockey

 

Great Skate Blog NHL: Eastern Conference

Great Skate Blog NHL Preview: Eastern Conference
Great Skate Blog NHL Preview: Eastern Conference

Metropolitan Division

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atlantic Division

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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