Eastern Conference second round preview and prediction

Eastern Conference second round preview and prediction

Eastern Conference second round preview and prediction

I managed to pull together a very respectable record in picking the first round series. Colorado’s late collapse on Wednesday kept me from a perfect record but I’m quite pleased going 7-1 over those eight series. I even managed to peg the length of a number of those series as well, a nice bonus to accompany the prognostication.

The East kicks things off tonight and the full second round will be up and running by this weekend. The NHL must be pleased once again as the divisional format produced an eventful first round and a few very enticing second round matchups.

Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens

Yet another storied rivalry that will grow thanks to the NHL’s new format. There’s a different type of hate between the fans in Boston and Montreal and there’s even a few rivalries on the ice.

This sets up as an interesting series that sees the Bruins pit the deep, physical lineup against the speedy, skilled group in Montreal. The Canadiens have some beef in their lineup, but from top to bottom their roster reflects differently than that of their opponents.

Both teams made quick work of their opponents in the first round as Montreal was the first team to advance with the Bruins not far behind. Boston’s series against Detroit was the last one to begin which shortened their break between series a bit. But Montreal’s sweep and Boston’s five-game series win will allow both squads to lick any lingering wounds before the next round.

They’re going to need their health, as well, as the Bruins can expect to drive to the paint in both ends and push their opponents around. Montreal will need to gear up to get knocked around during the series and will benefit from producing on the counterattack.

What to watch for

Montreal ousted Tampa in systematic fashion, benefitting from weak goaltending and a team with limited depth. Now they head to a series with arguably the league’s best goaltender a team with four terrific defensemen and at least three sound lines. Montreal will not only need to adjust to the level of competition but also  finding the proper match for Boston’s lines as the series progresses.

Boston should win this series. While the Canadiens have a great goaltender and some impressive talent atop their roster, there are holes that Boston can exploit along the way. First, I expect Thomas Vanek and Max Pacioretty to see a lot of Patrice Bergeron this series. While you could argue the Canadiens have other scorers, none function on the level of Vanek or Paciortetty.

Between the pipes

BOS: Tuukka Rask

MTL: Carey Parice

Edge: Boston. Only ever so slightly do I give Rask the nod over Price. This is primarily motivated by Rask’s postseason experience the last few years vs. that of Price. Both had strong showings at the Olympics and both have been strong thus far in the playoffs. I’ll take Rask ever so slightly above Price this time around.

Boston in six

Pittsburgh Penguins  vs. New York Rangers

The Penguins have the opportunity to take advantage of New York’s lengthy first round series with the Flyers. Scheduling constraints not only set the Rangers up with a back-to-back set for games six and seven but also puts them in a situation to see them play six games in eight days.

New York is going to be a darkhorse favorite for plenty of fans and pundits as the Rangers showed the ability to score in bunches (at times) while receiving timely goaltending. Meanwhile, the Penguins enter the second round this year much in the way they did in 2013. They clawed their way past a pesky lower seed in six games despite the better efforts of their goaltender to secure early tee times for the summer.

Marc Andre Fleury’s struggles continue to be amplified as the goaltender is looking at a third-straight postseason of a bloated goals against average and a sinking save percentage. He looked to have found his game in the deciding game six against Columbus before the Blue Jackets barrage almost tied the contest. Now, it’s likely that the fans and possibly his teammates are gripping their sticks a little tighter with concern over the play of the guy behind them.

What to watch for

This series is going to be all about goaltending for me. Can Fleury shake the cobwebs enough to string together a few  more wins? Can Henrik Lundqvist steal a game or two in order to put the heat on the Pens stars? Which goalie will take control of the series? It’s fun to think about because Lundqvist has been playing so well while Fleury’s play remains right around average.

The similarities between last year’s win over the Islanders and this year’s win over Columbus are unrelated when you consider the series that is upon these two teams. However, the same storyline now haunts the Penguins. While they dispatched a lesser opponent with a game to go, it never looked easy for the Pens. For a team with so much fire power that’s not necessarily something you want following you around.

Meanwhile, the Rangers simply need to find their offense. They exploded at times against the Flyers but were stymied just as much. This is a team that lives and dies with it’s top six and if Rick Nash, Brad Richards and friends aren’t firing on all cylinders it will be a quick series.

Between the pipes

PIT: Marc-Andre Fleury

NYR: Henrik Lundqvist

Edge: Rangers. Lundqvist was a rock throughout the first round. His game six hiccup came thanks to a number of odd-man chances for the Flyers and not so much weak or soft goals. While Lundqvist has a decided edge over Fleury in this series the jury is out on the Rangers ability to give him proper goal support.

New York in seven

Western Conference second round preview and prediction

There’s little doubt that the Western Conference boasted the better of the first round series now that the dust has settled. The Blues and Blackhawks lived up to expectations and the Kings-Sharks epic was must-see-TV. The Wild and Avalanche didn’t disappoint in their seven-game swing and the Ducks and Stars made things interesting despite not having much of a q-rating at the outset.

Now the challenge is to see if these two second round series can do the same. The Kings and Ducks certainly have the rival fan bases to make for an interesting series, but will it play out on the ice. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks and Wild rekindle their pleasantries from last year’s first round.

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild

The Blackhawks have had a little more time to rest after their battle against St. Louis and they certainly needed the time off. They played a very physical six-game set and with a couple stars already nagged up entering the playoffs. They’ll have the edge in terms of depth and in net and while this won’t likely be the five-game cake walk that last year’s series was, I expect them to advance past the Wild.

Minnesota enters this series after going the distance with Colorado. They probably should have gotten out of that series sooner than they did but the Avs managed to steal a couple games early on. While I don’t think fatigue will be a major factor for the Wild, it won’t help them in terms of the grand scheme of matching up with the Chicago juggernaut.

What to watch for

The Blackhawks just have to keep playing their game. They have a consistent three-line attack and a fourth line that is serviceable enough to keep the ice time relatively balance across the board. Corey Crawford was terrific in the latter half of their first series and should be able to carry over that momentum to this series. If the Blackhawks carry a 2-0 lead to Minnesota this could be a very short series.

Minnesota needs to find a way to check Chicago’s big guns. The Blues weren’t able to contain them as Kane, Toews and Sharp ran roughshod over them in the first round and can do the same if the Wild can’t keep them on a short leash. Depth scoring will be vital as the Wild’s top line will more than likely be neutralized for a good portion of the series.

Between the pipes

CHI: Corey Crawford

MIN: Darcy Kuemper or Ilya Bryzgalov

Edge: Chicago. This is an easy one. Crawford was the better of the two goalies between he and Ryan Miller in the first round and will be the same against Minnesota’s third and fourth string goalies (technically). Kuemper’s assumed head injury will likely push Bryzgalov in net to start the series and after dropping the first two games to Colorado I’m not sure what he will muster against the Blackhawks.

Blackhawks in five

Anahem Ducks vs. Los Angeles Kings

The Freeway Faceoff finally gets to take place in the postseason. The fan bases of these two teams simply don’t get along and while the rivalry may not be as heated on the ice, the arenas will be packed and loud for the entire series.

The Ducks, like the Blackhaws, have had a few days of while the Kings wrapped up their reverse sweep of San Jose. Anaheim played a heated series with Dallas and having the ability to unwind a bit from such a tense series should serve them well. While they aren’t laden with grizzled vets, the Ducks will certainly benefit from the time off.

Los Angeles could potentially enter the series mentally zapped. They just strung together four-straight wins while facing elimination to knock off their neighbors from NorCal in the first round. Erasing San Jose’s 3-0 lead wasn’t going to be an easy task and hopefully the Kings didn’t empty their tanks just getting out of the first round.

What to watch for

Anaheim hasn’t been a sterling puck possession team this year. They’ve had struggles in that neighborhood and are now about to face one of the league’s best possessions squads. The Ducks also stumbled upon some goaltending questions after the first round and it’s looking likely that Jonas Hiller may retake his crease. Of course, it’s also possible that John Gibson gets a call to take over against the Kings.

LA simply needs to do what they’ve done all year. They carry possession and dictate the pace better than nearly every other team. They can rely on their goaltender and so long as their offense remains hot they’ll be a very difficult out for the Ducks.

Between the Pipes

ANA: Jonas Hiller

LA: Jonathan Quick

Edge: Los Angeles. Quick was spectacular once game four began. While Hiller has stolen series in the past he also lost his crease to two rookies this year. Bruce Boudreau seemed hesitant to go back to him against the Stars and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see Boudreau go in another direction. Quick is the winner here no matter who plays for the Ducks.

Los Angeles in six

Floating changes to the NHL Draft Lottery

Floating changes to the NHL Draft Lottery

Floating changes to the NHL Draft Lottery

As the talent at the top of the NHL Draft continues to rise each year the topic of tanking to ensure higher odds at the first overall pick is becoming a hot topic. While the current system is designed to give the 30th place finisher the best opportunity to pick first, there is a better chance that team picks second given the odds.

With next year’s draft featuring a pair of generational talents at the top of the prospect pool, rumors and chatter have abounded regarding change to the lottery system in hopes of curbing the practice of tanking.

There doesn’t seem to be a good system that is strictly based off the order of finish in the standings. The system floated by Elliotte Friedman a few weeks back included a few nuances that wouldn’t only decrease the 30th place finisher’s chances but take into account a number of seasons as opposed to the one that had just passed.

However, it’s a fairly nuanced system that points towards even more complicated and convoluted systems for determining the first overall pick while preventing teams from taking nosedives to the bottom of the standings.

One idea I’m particularly fond of is a version of something similar I heard on NHL Network Radio a while back. If I’m not mistaken the original thought came from Mike Brophy, so direct the appropriate praise to him for the genesis of this idea.

The plan would be to still reward the worst teams with the highest picks in each year’s draft. You can’t have parity and turnover within the league unless you follow such a pattern. It also ensures that bad teams will improve – or should improve if you’re the Oilers – by picking high. In a league driven by revenues, perennial basement dwellers will eventually see lots of red ink if they can’t bring in players to overhaul their roster.

My plan would include the league’s five worst teams – although this could be expanded if necessary – in a competition to determine who wins the first overall pick. I stress the term win because this would be a standings-based competition that would be evaluated on each team’s performance after a certain point in the year. This way you can’t simply hit the brakes on your year, sell off your assets and wait to see what the lottery balls do for you once the season wraps. Meanwhile, if you finish 30th you’re still assured to draft high enough to get some help.

The competition wouldn’t affect the regular season schedule, nor would it be a separate postseason tournament – although that would rule. It would simply be standings based just as each division race is determined. Whichever team ends the year with the most points after the competition begins wins the first overall pick.

Beginning this competition, let’s call it the NHL Draft Challenge, would likely be the toughest thing to determine. You could either run it over a certain number of games each year to ensure similar results each season or you could run it from the first game after the fifth worst team is eliminated.

There are a few issues with this portion of things, I know. First, the team in fifth on March 1 could wind up finishing ninth by the end of the year. Just as the team in 12th could nosedive and wind up 4th by the end of the year. This lends credence to using a set number of games each year towards the end of the regular season. The last 10 games for the league’s five worst teams, for example. That not only provides a concrete definition of the games being considered, but it also can provide a failsafe for those teams who surge or regress in the final weeks of the year.

Ideally this would be something that you would track in realtime. Almost like the NASCAR standings. That way each night the teams in the running are truly competing for that top pick as opposed to simply evaluating the standings once the year is out. If that means you need to expand this beyond the bottom five teams, so be it. But I’d rather determine the participants by a certain point in the year – probably shortly after St. Patrick’s Day – and officially begin the NHL Draft Challenge at that time.

That way, as the end of the season approaches the teams in the cellar would have something to play for over their final 10 games. The team with the best record would win the first pick. I’d also reward the second and third place finishers in the Challenge with the second and third overall picks. The rest of the draft order would be determined by order of finish in the standings. This way you reward the teams who succeed in the challenge while not completely handcuffing the 30th and 29th place teams if they’re truly horrible.

One way to avoid that would be to install a sliding scale, of sorts. This Challenge could still encompass the five, seven, ten or even fourteen non-playoff teams but rather than using a set number of games a point percentage of games once a team had been eliminated. While teams who are eliminated on the final week or weekend may need to be excluded, it would eliminate some of the confusing elements to picking the participants. This way teams eliminated later could still be part of the Challenge while not being at a disadvantage in terms of the number of games they could play upon their elimination from playoff contention.

One other wrinkle this would add would be regarding the trade deadline and impending free agents. There is the potential to limit the number of true sellers at the deadline because of the potential interest in grabbing that first pick. Simply selling off UFAs for draft picks would be far less prevalent than true hockey trades so that even the league’s worst teams maintain some competitiveness.

Obviously there will still be sellers as a team like the 2013-14 Sabres who know they need to build through the draft will still value trades like the one that sent Matt Moulson to Minnesota. But I’d assume that some teams may hold onto certain players in the event they believe they can land the first pick.

This isn’t a perfect system. Picking the right time to choose the teams who would be participating and not excluding teams who may enter the bottom five later in the year would complicate matters. But it would also add excitement and interest for the teams and fans who would otherwise be wallowing through a 29th or 30th place season.

Here’s the rundown of the system once again:

–          The league’s bottom five teams would compete over their final 10 games to determine who wins the first overall draft pick

o   The number of teams could be expanded if necessary.

–          The number of points accumulated in the standings over those final 10 games would determine the winner

–          The competition would occur in real time as each of the final 10 games are played by each participating team

–          The top three finishers in the Draft Challenge would win the top three picks. The rest of the draft order would be determined by order of finish in the standings.

–          Teams that qualify for the Challenge would be determined once the fifth worst team was officially eliminated from the playoffs.

–          If the point percentage system is used, the Challenge would begin for each team once they were eliminated from the playoffs

o   Under that system, the percentage of points earned vs. available would determine the standings for the Draft Challenge

o   Teams eliminated on the final weekend or week of the season may not be eligible for participation depending on the number of games they’d have remaining

Bauer APX2 gloves preview

Bauer APX2 gloves preview

Bauer APX2 hockey gloves preview

Bauer’s APX line has been adopted by countless professionals and elite players around the world since its first introduction. Bauer responded to the popularity by taking feedback on the equipment, retooling certain aspects and releasing new and improved versions under the name APX2 in 2014.

Among the pieces of equipment that has undergone change is the APX2 glove. The APX2 still features the tapered fit and slots in alongside the anatomically designed Supreme and traditionally designed Nexus equipment lines. The APX2 features a streamlined new look and colorway breakdown compared to last year’s model. It also features a number of technical advances that shouldn’t be ignored.

Bauer managed to shed upward of 30% of the weight off the APX2 to make it that much lighter than it’s predecessor and direct competitors. Additionally, Bauer has introduced the Quattro+ Palm system that’s designed to help wick moisture away. The new palms are full of tech and also feature matching team colors to a number of the gloves. This is an interesting choice given the widespread popularity of the typical beige color seen on most gloves. When I think of colored palms, Claude Giroux immediately springs to mind from late last season when he was trying out orange palmed gloves. I thought he looked silly and the concept definitely has the ability to look odd, especially if the palm sharply contrasts the glove itself.

Bauer also added Proron XRD foam to the back of the hand to increase protection from pucks and sticks. It’s an addition that brings Bauer’s favorite new feature into their glove line. It seems like a wise choice considering adding the material to their helmets and other protective lines has been nothing but a boon for the company.

The Bauer APX2 gloves will be on the shelves soon and will make for a great addition to your bag heading into next season.

Junior Hockey trips

phenom named Connor McDavid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MX3 Bauer Skates

MX3 Bauer Ice Hockey Skates

MX3 Bauer Skates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CCM going back to Tacks

CCM going back to Tacks

CCM going back to Tacks

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Bauer OD1N Ice Hockey Gear

Bauer OD1N Hockey Gear

Bauer OD1N Hockey Gear

Never before has there been a public display of the technological capabilities of a hockey company like Bauer displayed on December 19.

Bauer unveiled the OD1N equipment line that is going to officially be put on display during the 2014 Winter Olympics by some of the world’s best players. Nicklas Backstrom, Claude Giroux, Patrick Kane, Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Toews will each wear the OD1N gear during the games in a public display of Bauer’s technological prowess.

The line of thinking in developing the OD1N line was inspired by the concept cars introduced at auto shows on a yearly basis. Just as a concept car shows the features a car company hopes to bring to market in coming years, Bauer is using OD1N to introduce technological advances they hope to bring to market in the coming years.

That’s the most interesting part of this entire line of equipment. There’s a chance that none of this gear ever goes on sale to the general public. For now, it will just be for the world’s elite.

It’s more than likely that some of the features begin to be seen in stores sooner rather than later. But some of the design features in the line seem to be something that will only ever be found in an NHL locker room.

For example, the OD1N protective gear is mapped to each player’s body using a special scanning suit and a 3D scanning tool. It provides for a fully accurate, 3D map of each player’s body which then allows Bauer to build each shoulder pad, elbow pad and shin pad to the exact measurements of each player’s body.

Bauer also developed a base layer that has high-tech foam reinforcing specific areas throughout the body. For example, the small of the back or the neck. By putting this foam on the player’s base layer, the shoulder, elbow and shin pads can have foam and plastic removed since the base layer is already providing that protection.

The though process is to eliminate redundancies in each piece of equipment to ultimately save weight between the shoulders and legs. Ultimately, Bauer eliminated four pounds of weight by combining high-tech foam and carbon along with the scaled back layers of foam.

By eliminating that much weight, Bauer has determined that this equipment will make a player a full foot faster than a competitor in a 50-sprint. That means someone wearing this gear could conceivably beat an opponent to a puck by a full foot. Which is a significant difference.

Weight reduction is the key to the entire line of equipment as the inspiration is that those four missing pounds translated over each and every shift over the course of the game equates to hundreds of pounds of weight savings that was previously sitting on the shoulders and legs of each player. Therefore, by saving each player that much weight, Bauer expects each player to not only be more explosive shift-to-shift, but have more endurance at the end of each game as the stress exerted by their bodies will be that much less.

This is reflected in the radical new OD1N skate in the form of a brand new carbon-composite blade holder that doesn’t conform to any traditional design standards. Instead of a hole in the middle of the foot, the OD1N has two large holes below the toes and heel with a small, rigid stabilizer in the middle.

Combined with the high-tech carbon boot, Bauer has managed to save a full half-pound in each skate with the new design. They equate that to over 1000 pounds of weight that doesn’t need to be lifted over the course of an entire game.

They didn’t forget about the goaltenders either. Bauer’s OD1N goal pad is 1/3 the weight of a traditional goal pad which is a drastic difference in weight which, like with the skate and protective gear, is built to take away hundreds of pounds worth of lifting that is typically done by a goalie in a game.

Bauer also claims that the OD1N pad can be tuned to the specific rebound control preferences of each goalie. That caught me by surprise because the build of the pad has only so many layers of foam (due to weight savings) that there are only so many spots where some sort of change could be made.

What is interesting to me, about this whole line, is the fact that there is no indication that any of this will ever be on the shelves in any store. Clearly the build of the skate and the weight reduction in the goal pads can be easily introduced to a retail model. However, the fine-tuned carbon-composite blade holder (which is said to only hold a certain number of sharpenings in each blade) may never see the light of day. The same could be said of the 3D mapping of the protective gear. However, selling the protective equipment in unison with the base layer would allow anyone to benefit from the weight and design features of the equipment.

Regardless if this equipment is five months or five years away from hitting the shelves, it will be cool to see Henrik Lundqvist in a funky new set of pads and the stars of Team Canada, Russia, Sweden and USA sporting some very interesting, new equipment.