Tag Archives: playoff

Great Skate OT Challenge

OT challenge

Picking OT goal scorers has become one of the best games to play amongst friends in recent years. The prevalence of the practice has expanded to countless online contests, many of which are run through Twitter.

Now you have the opportunity to win a $10 e-gift card to Great Skate by participating in our own OT Challenge.

The Great Skate OT Challenge will run for the rest of the playoffs and will be done exclusively via the Great Skate Twitter account @greatskate. The rules are simple and not unlike many other OT guessing games out there.

First, you must follow the Great Skate Twitter account and be sure to retweet the game instructions that were sent out yesterday. Second, make your picks by tagging them with #GreatSkateOTChallenge. You should pick one player per team. If you guess the right play you’ll be entered into a drawing to win the $10 gift card.

Keep your eyes on the scores of all the remaining playoff games as each one will give you the opportunity to win gift cards that could go towards you next new equipment purchase. 

Eastern/Western Conference playoff preview and prediction

Eastern and Western Confrence playoff preview and predictions
Eastern and Western Confrence playoff preview and predictions

Western Conference playoff preview and prediction

Now that the season has finally wound down the real fun can begin. The NHL Playoffs begin on Wednesday evening as three different series kick off the 2014 postseason.

While the Boston Bruins claimed the President’s Trophy this year, the Western Conference boasts four of the league’s top five teams based on the final point standings. The West has been regarded as the stronger conference this season, but there’s a strong possibility that the team coming away with the Clarence C. Campbell Cup will have taken a savage beating to get there.

Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild

The Avalanche used a late run and a backslide by St. Louis to sneak into the top spot in the Central Division. The surge not only lifted the Avs to a division title but also out of a first round showdown with Chicago. They’ll face Central Division rival, Minnesota, who finished with a stranglehold on the first wild card position in the West.

Minnesota worked through a goaltending carousel in order to capture what would have previously been considered the seventh seed under the old playoff format. They finished seven points clear of Dallas and wound up with a nice cushion in the standings as Dallas and Phoenix fought for the final position.

What to Watch For

Colorado has been powered by their young core that features three top-three selections. Matt Duchene (3rd overall 2009) is on the shelf with an injury but captain Gabriel Landeskog (2nd overall 2011) and Nathan MacKinnon (1st overall 2013) have kept the ship on course over the last few weeks. While Duchene won’t likely factor in this series, the Avs have solid scoring depth and have received stout goaltending for much of the season.

Minnesota features a more veteran laden lineup with a few elite talents that power their engine. Ryan Suter is their minute eating stalwart and his fellow free agent classmate Zach Parise headlines a forward group with plenty of offensive pedigree. There may be some question marks in the crease, but the players playing in front of Ilya Bryzgalov can skate with just about anyone in the league.

Colorado is the favorite entering the series despite Duchene’s absence. While I think that Suter’s ability on the backend and Minnesota’s ability to match a great deal of Colorado’s lineup will keep the series close, I think that the Avs have enough depth to really give Minnesota fits. If the Wild’s scorers are able to get free it could be a long series. But if cast behind Landeskog and MacKinnon

Between the pipes:

COL: Semyon Varlamov

MIN: Ilya Bryzgalov

Edge: Colorado. Varlamov is going to get some votes for the Vezina and could potentially be a finalist. Bryzgalov’s resurgence in Minnesota has been nice to see after the rough ride he got in Philadelphia the last few years. While his play has improved, his countryman has been a rock for the entire year.

Colorado in six

Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues

Things couldn’t have ended much worse for the Blues as they’ve seen a bevvy of injuries underscore an ugly losing streak that knocked them from the top spot in the west and into an incredibly challenging series against the defending Cup champs.

Chicago enters the series a little banged up as well with both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are nursing injuries of their own. The Blackhawks dropped the season series against the Blues but seem to have had their number lately, winning their last two meetings quite decisively.

What to watch for

This series is going to hinge on two things for the Blues: their goal scoring and goaltending. Ryan Miller has had a rough streak to end the season and has plenty of Blues fans questioning why they spent so much to acquire him. He hasn’t gotten much goal support despite the incredible puck possession the Blues exhibit each night. St. Louis has been shutout in three of their last six and they’ll need superhuman goaltending from Miller or Brian Elliott if they expect to get by the Hawks. But hoping to win four 1-0 games wouldn’t work if Dominik Hasek was in net.

As for the Blackhawks, they have the depth to be a very scary team even when Toews and Kane aren’t at 100%. If those two return and dominate this will be a very short series. If they remain hobbled the onus will fall on Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to carry the load. Given their collective skillset it shouldn’t be an issue.

The Blues will need to hope they heal up quickly if they plan on advancing past the first round. Should they get healthy prior to the series I could see them matching Chicago player-for-player should Toews and Kane not see considerable minutes. Depth scoring will likely drive the series as I expect each team’s top guns to be locked down for the duration of the series. If that is the case I’d say the Hawks come away winners.

Between the pipes:

STL: Ryan Miller

CHI: Corey Crawford

Edge: Chicago. On paper you might choose Miller over Crawford but the former has hit the skids hard as of late and Crawford is the proud owner of a Cup ring. Whether or not both teams return to full health, Miller will have far more to prove in the series and I expect the Blackhawks to be victorious.

Chicago in six

Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars

This is expected to be a series that advanced stats fans watch very closely. The Ducks finished the year with below average possession numbers while the Stars were quite respectable in that department. Many who track advanced stats closely see the Stars as a legitimate threat to the Ducks in the first round despite how the standings shook out.

Anaheim has a solid blueline and a pair of world-class scorers in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Getzlaf is probably going to finish second to Sidney Crosby in the Hart Trophy voting while Perry continues to pour in goals like it’s going out of style. Bruce Boudreau will have a tough choice to make in net as Jonas Hiller has been okay but not tremendous this year. Meanwhile Frederik Andersen and John Gibson are both viable options to roll with. However, the youth of the latter two makes them tough to roll with right off the bat.

Dallas saw a major roster overhaul kickoff last summer and the result is a playoff berth. Pairing Tyler Seguin with Jamie Benn has created a scoring duo that can run with any team’s top line across the league. Seeing if they can outscore Getzlaf and Perry will be fascinating although their success may hinge on Kari Lehtonen’s performance. If he’s on, I expect the Stars to pull the upset.

What to watch for

Anaheim needs sound goaltending and I suspect that Hiller isn’t the solution to that particular issue. While he’s started the majority of their games this season, it would appear as if Andersen or Gibson could be the direction to follow. I would assume that Hiller starts but is given a very short leash to operate on. Goal scoring won’t be a problem for the Ducks as they have a very deep lineup, but they’ll be relying heavily on their netminders to advance.

What could serve as Dallas’ Achilles Heel is their depth. It’s not so much that it’s lacking but I don’t know how well it matches up with what Anaheim will roll out. If Benn and Seguin are locked down, I’ll be interested to see where their goal scoring will come from.

This is setting up to be a home team series as line matching and locking down scorers will likely drive each team’s respective game plan and success.

Between the pipes

ANA: Jonas Hiller, Frederik Andersen, John Gibson

DAL: Kari Lehtonen

Edge: Dallas. Lehtonen is always one wrong move away from injury but he’s been very steady for the Stars all year. While Hiller could be described as dependable, he hasn’t been outstanding and, in turn, hasn’t inspired much faith with his play. Lehtonen is the constant here while the Ducks are in limbo.

Ducks in seven

San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

It’s safe to say this series is precisely why the NHL switched back to the divisional format. The opportunity for the Sharks, Ducks and Kings to see each other in the postseason along with other rivalries like the Canadiens and Bruins and Penguins and Flyers were the blueprint. It’s safe to say that this one shows they might have gotten things right.

The Kings did their thing yet again, cruising through the regular season and locking up a playoff spot relatively early on. Their goaltender captured the Jennings Trophy and they made some adept moves at the deadline to strengthen their depth, particularly up front, and they appear to be poised for another run.

San Jose isn’t easy to ignore as their up and coming stars have taken over from the old core that couldn’t get over the hump in the early 2000s. The fact that the old core still remains adds to the ridiculous talent pool the Sharks boast as Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Joe Pavelski compliment Joe Thornton, Partrick Marleau and others.

What to watch for

The Sharks talent up front features two lines that would be the top line for a majority of the teams around the league. The fact that they are able to spread that talent over not two, but three lines speaks to the roster they’ve built. I think they are left wanting on the back end to an extent and while they have some elite talent on the blue line (see Vlasic, Marc-Edouard) that might be the only weak spot they have.

Los Angeles has the talent to completely blow games open with their dominant puck possession style. They boast a likely Selke Finalist in Anze Kopitar, an explosive scoring winger in Jeff Carter and a number of complimentary pieces that rounds out their top nine. They also have Justin Williams, who has proven to be beyond clutch come playoff time. Their blueline is sound and I’d definitely give their group the edge over San Jose’s blueline in terms of a head-to-head comparison.

This has all the makings for a knock down, seven game series which the winner will likely crawl, not walk, away from. I really have no idea who I’d favor between the two teams, although a recent Cup and the edge in net likely favors the Kings.

Between the Pipes

SJS: Antti Niemi

LAK: Jonathan Quick

Edge: Los Angeles. While Niemi has had a great year, Quick’s has been better. He captured the Jennings Trophy (with some help from Martin Jones) and already has a Conn Smythe Trophy to his record. He’s been terrific yet again this year and there’s no reason to think he isn’t good for at least one series win this spring.

Los Angeles in seven

Eastern Conference playoff preview and prediction

A pair of Eastern Conference series kick off this year’s postseason and while the East may not be as deep or talented as the West, their best teams can run with anyone in the league.

Boston and the Penguins are the favorites to come out of the East but I won’t be surprised to see one, or both, upset along the way.

Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings

Detroit extended their impressive playoff streak to 23 seasons despite battling a ridiculous number of injuries down the stretch this year. While most of their walking wounded are preparing to return, the level of health the team will be playing at is certainly going to be a focal point.

Boston, meanwhile, captured the President’s Trophy and steamrolled the East on their way to a 117 point season. The Bruins bully their way around with an impressive combination of size and skill throughout their lineup.

What to watch for

Patrice Bergeron is going to win the Selke Trophy again and he’s going to garner votes for the Hart Trophy as well. He’s not an offensive powerhouse but his positive puck possession numbers make his line a lethal trio to handle. Offseason acquisition Loui Eriksson was beat up a bit this season but if he can return to full health for the playoffs he’d present the Bruins another tremendous scoring option. The obvious story along the blueline is Zdeno Chara but his countryman Andrej Meszaros has proven to be a terrific deadline acquisition for Peter Chiarelli and has shored up what was already a strong group.

The Wings get a nice treat in their first year in the East with a berth against last year’s Cup finalists coming off a stretch run where their playoff streak was in jeopardy due to a number of injuries. Pavel Datsyuk is back on the ice but isn’t likely back to full strength just yet. Henrik Zetterberg appears to be somewhat close to a return. However, even if he does make it back for this series, what sort of condition will he be in?

Detroit’s youth will have to carry them to victories as players like Gustav Nyqusit, Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco will be looked to as important cogs to any success the Red Wings will have. The key for Boston will be to lean on the Red Wings defensive corps. They’re a youthful bunch who could be targeted by the Bruins, especially at the TD Garden when Claude Julien has the last change.

Between the pipes

BOS: Tuukka Rask

DET: Jimmy Howard

Edge: Boston. Jimmy Howard is a terrific goaltender but Tuukka Rask happens to be better. Rask is a lock to win the Vezina and I expect him to steal at least one game on his own this series.

Boston in five

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens

If the San Jose/Los Angeles series is the perfect example of the division format I’d argue that this series is the antitheses of that. Both teams are talented groups with a handful of exciting players dotting each roster. However, there’s no real meat to the matchup itself.

The Canadiens feature a tremendous goaltender and nice depth up and down their lineup. They might be a little thin on the blue line and their five-on-five scoring leaves you wanting but when you have a forward group that features Max Pacioretty and Thomas Vanek on the same line, it’s likely that you have something working in your favor. Finding scoring beyond those two could prove to be a challenge.

Tampa Bay suffered what could be a major blow at the end of the year as Ben Bishop went down with an injury and is a question mark for this first round series. Steven Stamkos is on a level that few other NHLers can reach and will be a major factor for the Bolts in this series. Like the Canadiens, Tampa will rely on their secondary scoring to advance past the first round.

What to watch for

Montreal’s power play is tremendous. Vanek and Pacioretty are both lethal scorers and PK Subban is equally potent from the point. However, if that top line gets shut down by the Lightning, the Canadiens could be in a lot of trouble. However, their special teams are phenomenal and could certainly wind up as the difference maker in this series.

If Ben Bishop doesn’t come back in time to make a difference in this series the Lightning could be cooked before the first puck drops. Even if he does return, his physical condition could make him more of a hindrance than a benefit. Tampa will need to match Montreal on special teams and their young stars will need to shine.

I believe Tampa Bay has a little more depth than Montreal up front. Should that depth start producing early I could see the Lightning coming away with the win. However, Bishop’s status likely condemns the Lightning to an early exit which is unfortunate considering the season they enjoyed.

Between the pipes

TBL: Ben Bishop, Anders Lindback

MTL: Carey Price

Edge: Montreal. If Bishop was at full health this would be a dead heat. Both Price and Bishop are going to garner attention for the Vezina and have been two of the league’s best goalies this year. Lindback has been quite streaky and represents a significant drop off when compared to Bishop.

Montreal in five

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

At some point the Blue Jackets will catch a break. Their first playoff appearance in franchise history saw them face the Red Wings who were in the middle of a run where they played for back-to-back Cups. Columbus was overmatched by a Red Wings roster that is starting to tail off when compared to this year’s team. Now the Blue Jackets are treated to a showdown with Sidney Crosby and co. in the 2014 first round.

While the Blue Jackets have some nice pieces, Ryan Johansen immediately comes to mind, they don’t have that cornerstone talent you can look to for a big performance. They score by committee and are a team that defines the whole being greater than the sum of it’s parts. They have a number of exciting young talents to keep an eye on, but lacking that big gun could hurt them in the end.

The Penguins come as advertised. They have one of the best forward groups in the league that is top heavy with offensive dynamos like Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and others. They’re blueline is a little thin and Marc-Andre Fleury is surrounded by question marks. Their shortcomings are well documented but they’re often overshadowed by their strengths.

What to watch for

If Columbus hopes to compete in this series they’ll need to have all four lines rolling with their top nine chipping in on a regular basis. If they’re able to quiet one of Pittsburgh’s top units they’ll have a punchers chance based on the overall depth they possess.

The Blue Jackets certainly have the edge in net and the mental makeup of Fluery heading into this series is going to be something to focus on. He is likely operating on a short leash even with an unstable situation behind him. However, even if Fleury struggles, Tomas Vokoun was part of last year’s Eastern Conference Final appearance. I find it hard to say that they don’t have enough talent and fire power to get past Columbus.

Pittsburgh will wind up taking this series simply because they have too many heads to contain. While the Blue Jackets feature a lineup with more than one line that can score, the Penguins take that to a whole different level.

Between the pipes

PIT: Marc-Andre Fleury

CBJ: Sergei Bobrovsky

Edge: Columbus. While I’m not the biggest fan of Bobrovsky, he’s shown much more promise and success than Fluery this season. While Fleury benefits from playing behind what almost equates to an All Star team in some respects, Bobrovsky handles a more difficult workload. While I see the Penguins taking the series, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in spite of Fleury.

Pittsburgh in six

New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers

It may not be the Flyers and Penguins, but this series still boasts some nice background to build on. While neither squad started the year well, each rallied hard to not only qualify for the post season but avoid a serious push at a wild card position.

The Rangers come in with the edge in net but I’d argue that the Flyers have the edge in terms of talent up front. I suspect that a lot of New York’s success will come from the ability to match Ryan McDonagh and friends against Claude Giroux. If Giroux’s line is stymied the Rangers will have a lot of success in this round. If not, watch out.

Philly doesn’t necessarily live and die with Giroux, of course, but he’s clearly their MVP. While the Rangers probably have the stronger blue line, I don’t think the Flyers will be outdone with their ability to shutdown New York’s top scorers thanks to Sean Couturier. It sets things up for a chess match of line matching and shutdown players as both coaches have specific targets they need to hone in on.

What to watch for

The Rangers are an interesting case as they have a number of recognizable names but don’t boast the scoring depth like many other teams in this year’s playoffs. Martin St. Louis hasn’t caught on as of yet and his struggles highlight a forward group with big names but lack big numbers. If Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello are shutdown, the Rangers may struggle to score goals.

Philly has the most dynamic line between the two teams and Giroux, Jakub Voarcek and Scott Hartnell are a lethal trio who will be difficult to contain. They’ll see a whole lot of McDonagh and Craig Berube will need to be clever to try and work them away from that matchup. They also have a potential question mark in goal. While Steve Mason seems to have shaken the poor play that chased him from Columbus, exactly how well he will play remains in limbo.

The Rangers may luck out with the question marks in goal and the thin blue line the Flyers will ice. If they can get players not named Nash and Zuccarello scoring this could be a quick series. If not, watch the Flyers advance.

Between the pipes

NYR: Henrik Lundqvist

PHI: Steve Mason

Edge: New York. Lundqvist probably won’t walk away with any hardware this season but he’s a perennial Vezina Candidate for a reason. Mason happens to be good but that’s probably where the scale stops. While Lundqvist can be relied on to steal a game it’s more likely that Mason will be relied on not to lose a game.

Rangers in seven

Stay tuned here for more previews and predictions as each series progresses.

A honky tonk hockey roadtrip

A honky tonk hockey roadtrip
A honky tonk hockey roadtrip

Last month I shared some thoughts on making a trip to catch a junior hockey game. For those who live close enough to a major junior team, it’s an affordable, worthwhile trip to take. I recently returned from another type of hockey trip that’s a little larger in terms of scale.

I traveled to Nashville to take in a Predators game at Bridgestone Arena. It marked the third NHL game I’d seen in a building besides First Niagara Center and the fifth NHL venue I have attended. Technically it was the six as I saw the Penguins play at Mellon Arena while I witness a hockey game at their new home, the CONSOL Energy Center. The other arenas I’ve been to are Air Canada Centre, Rogers Arena and then FNC, CONSOL and Mellon.

The trip to Nashville was centered around a larger trip to take in the sights and sounds of Music City. But the game served as the main event with visits to local watering holes and music venues serving as a nice compliment to the game itself.

When it comes to sports road trips I’m a complete novice. Luckily Nashville has more than enough to keep you occupied during the day and night. Broadway is packed to the gills with bars that feature live music every night and you’ll be hard pressed to find a poor act, especially at the larger joints. We saw at least two acts each of the three nights we were out and none of them disappointed. In addition, the Midtown area provides a much different vibe with a more laid back vibe at each of the patio bars along that strip.

But Broadway is not only where the live music is bountiful but where Bridgestone Arena resides. It makes for an awesome pre and postgame atmosphere as the bars are full with Preds fans at all times and almost the entire arena empties to that one strip.

Bridgestone itself is an attractive building with open concourses and an interesting layout. Like First Niagara Center, Bridgestone has a large entry atrium with the ticket office, team store and access to each level right as you walk in. I really like this type of layout because you’re not funneled into a cramped space upon walking in the front door. You know where you are and you have options as to where you can go.

The sightlines in the arena are nice as the seating bowl isn’t arranged in an odd manner and the focus is on the game. Perhaps the coolest thing is that the press box isn’t separated from the 300 level. I very nearly ran over David Poile in the first intermission and Seth Jones was chatting with a couple fans when I walked by in the second intermission. It’s certainly an odd setting to have visiting scouts, scratches and other media personalities wandering around the concourse. I didn’t notice any fans asking for autographs, which is honorable, but it did seem as if they weren’t afraid to approach anyone they recognized.

As for the fans, they’re terrific. The Preds promote a loud, college-like atmosphere at their games. The fans are engaged from the drop of the puck and stay loud the entire night. The Preds help to promote this by keeping in-game promotions to a minimum, keeping the focus on the game you’re watching and primarily using pump-up videos and music between whistles. This means the Kiss Cam, Blooper reel and fans on the video board shots are saved for intermission. I can’t express how much I enjoyed that. Replays were queued up almost immediately, from multiple angles after nearly every stoppage and there was only the odd fan shot prior to play beginning.

The Preds led for most of the game and the 4-3 shootout win for the home side was back-and-forth, which helped keep everyone interested for the duration of the contest. There was one pump up feature I grew tired of after two periods and it was the combination of a movie clip and a “make some noise” graphic that was used consistently. While it served to keep the crowd raucous, it got old after a while.

I should point out that I did not make the trip to see my hometown team, but simply a game at the arena. This isn’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, but the new NHL schedule provides for a home-and-home for every team in the league. That means your hometown team plays at least one road game in every arena if you must see them on any future trip.

Nashville is quite a haul from Buffalo, especially if you’re driving. But cities like Columbus, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Toronto and every New York are a manageable drive from the Nickel City. Boston, Philly and Washington DC aren’t too far away either. That’s ten teams within a reasonable drive from Buffalo that would make a terrific road trip for any fan. Find a hotel close to the arena or an entertainment district, snag a set of seats (aftermarket or box office) and hit the road.

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.

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.

Holiday Gift Guide for skaters

Bauer Vapor APX Mini Stick
Manufacturers bring top-end sticks to childhood favorite

With the holiday season upon us, hockey players are going to be filling their lists with all sorts of gift ideas. Some may be in need of an upgrade of a certain piece of equipment while others may be hoping to get the newest technology in their hands.

As you prepare to begin your shopping this year, keep some of these ideas in mind for the hockey players on your list:

Sticks: There are some awesome deals on sticks out there currently along with some very cool new technology that has really set a number of manufacturers apart from the others. One very cool idea, especially for the holidays is the MyBauer program. It is a feature that Bauer offers which will allow you to fully customize a stick just like the pros do. From flex and pattern right down to your own name and number, it is a very cool, personal gift idea. The new Easton VSeries is a brand new line from Easton with some incredible features and a lightweight profile across the entire line. The V5E comes at a great price point and offers many of the benefits that the VSeries has introduced. There are also a ton of great deals on Warrior’s full collection, including the Dynasty AX3. The Dynasty line is a tremendous collection with some groundbreaking technology from a company that is making huge strides with their impressive stick technology.

Gloves: Of all the gloves on the shelves nowadays, there isn’t anything cooler than the exclusive Warrior Bonafide Winter Classic gloves. These are a special edition glove designed by Warrior to compliment the uniforms that will be worn by Detroit and Toronto in this year’s Winter Classic. Both gloves come in 13 and 14-inch models and are very basic, but classic in their look. These will be huge favorites this winter. The Warrior Covert DT2 gloves also slot in at a phenomenal price point along with the incredibly comfy CCM CL400 gloves. If you’re looking for more color options than Toronto or Detroit, those two models would be a great place to start.

One last piece to keep in mind is the Youth Hockey Package. If a family member is hoping to, or has already started playing hockey, this is a wonderful gift to give. It features every piece of equipment that you need to get started; including a helmet, pants, shoulder pads, skates, gloves, shin guards and elbow pads. All that’s needed is a stick, a skater and a rink and your new player is good to go.

Stocking Stuffers: Laces, tape and hockey apparel are always welcome presents for hockey players of all ages.

LaFontaine and Nolan return amidst Sabres shakeup

LaFontaine and Nolan return amidst Sabres shakeup
LaFontaine and Nolan return amidst Sabres shakeup

A pair of very familiar faces are back in prominent positions with the Sabres organization as Pat LaFontaine and Ted Nolan were brought back in the fold after a massive shake up at First Niagara Center.

LaFontaine takes over as the team’s President of Hockey Operations with Ted Nolan stepping in as the interim head coach. Both Ron Rolston and Darcy Regier were relieved of their duties prior to LaFontaine and Nolan stepping in.

Ousting Rolston seemed like an inevitable choice given Buffalo’s woeful record and the ugly way they went about earning it. Exactly when the axe was to fall on Rolston was left to guesswork due to Buffalo’s current campaign for the first overall pick. The heat was rising fast, however, as Buffalo’s string of first period flops and ugly losses was punctuated by an inability to draw any sort of redemption from the progression of the team’s young players. When a coach lauded for his ability to develop players isn’t even doing that, obviously there is a problem.

Regier’s departure is only shocking when you consider the scope of this shakeup. The construction of the roster left plenty to be desired and his quest to mimic the toughness of the Bruins ended up sacrificing the overall skill level of Buffalo’s forward group. Like Rolston, Regier’s departure was something that was expected at some point in the coming calendar year, the timing is what comes as something of a shock, as were his replacements.

Pat LaFontaine strikes me as a solid, sound choice as the team’s new President of Hockey Operations. His lack of front office experience doesn’t make him a glowing candidate for the position of GM and he said as much during today’s press conference. What LaFontaine brings is a fresh set of eyes to evaluate and hire the general manager who will guide the team through this rebuilding process.

His choice on the new GM will have a trickle-down effect on the team’s current interim head coach, Ted Nolan. The interim tag given to Nolan indicates that the new GM will have the ability to make the final choice on the coach and should the two not see eye-to-eye, the GM will be able to replace him. Given that the chain of command has yet to be completed, this makes a lot of sense.

Nolan’s success could certainly dictate whether or not he drops the interim tag, but there is no doubt that the new GM will have final say on his tenure this time around. Given that LaFontaine is ensuring the new chain of command falls as it should, I’m not reading too much into Nolan’s hiring at this point. In fact, I’m willing to wait to not only see who the new GM will be, but what his choice of head coach will wind up being. At that point it will be slightly easier to pass judgement. Nolan will simply be keeping the seat warm for the time being with the opportunity to earn a full time role should he prove capable.

This decision also allows the Sabres to continue forward with a clean slate. There was a growing trend of negative comments made about the culture in Buffalo – namely from Jordan Leopold, Andrej Sekera and even Jason Pominville. What they were specifically referencing can’t be confirmed as they could just as easily have been referring to the entire hockey department or just the attitudes in the locker room.

No matter where it stemmed from, there certainly seemed as if there was a recruiting problem at First Niagara Center; starting fresh in the hockey department should aid in erasing that stigma. By cleaning house, Terry Pegula and his staff are taking strides to eliminate any sort of negative perception that had become attached to the organization under the Regier’s regime. That may serve as the most important aspect of this decision.

Not only is LaFontaine a familiar face and Sabres legend, he has no connection to Regier’s management team. In fact, there are indications that LaFointaine (and Nolan to an extent) wouldn’t have returned has Regier stuck around. So clearly there was some disconnect between how Regier operated and how it was embraced league-wide. With LaFontaine clearly separated from that modus operandi, there should be some positive results when recruiting a new general manager, coach and perhaps even free agents.

That’s not to say that hiring LaFontaine will magically make every free agent want to play in Buffalo, but I have to think it will give them more confidence than they may have had in a GM who held his post for nearly two decades.

The long term results of this hiring won’t even begin to bear results for some time. But the time for a drastic change at the top of the Sabres hockey department seemed to be long overdue. Today marked a big first step forward with the next step hopefully to come soon in the form of a new GM.

What They’re Wearing: Cory Schneider

What They’re Wearing: Cory Schneider
What They’re Wearing: Cory Schneider

One of the best parts of the start of a new hockey season is all of the new goalie equipment that gets broken in during training camp and into the start of the season. New mask paint, pads and the like makes the first few weeks of the season fun.

While we are still a few weeks away from seeing all the new gear that goalies will be wearing, I wanted to take the chance to evaluate the gear worn by New Jersey’s newest netminder, Cory Schneider.

Mask: Bauer 961 – This is a classic throughout the NHL. It is a lightweight mask that offers great protection. It also has the iconic shape of Bauer’s design team that is reflected in products like the NME mask series.

Blocker & Glove: CCM E-Flex – CCM’s newest model that debuted this season. Designed by Lefevbre – the same guy who designs the Reebok line – the E-Flex is a great looking set that incorporates a number of design standards that have made Lefevbre designed equipment so popular over the years. Schneider specifically uses the one-piece cuff on the E-Flex catch glove as can be seen in this photo.

Pads: Vaughn Velocity V5: Schneider, like myself, is a fan of a softer, flexible pad. One of the few goalies in the league to use a double break on the outer roll of his pad, Schneider has what looks to be a very traditional set up for his leg pads (and his glove set too). While many NHL goalies use a number of special customizations on their pads, there doesn’t seem to be many on Schneider’s set. One interesting thing about his choice of an all-white design is he had been using a really cool color scheme earlier in the year before switching.

Stick: Warrior Swagger: Just a traditional white-based Swagger for Schneider. I’d personally would go blue with green trim if he’s keeping his pads all white, but that’s just my personal preference.

Skates: It is very hard to tell from the picture available on the web, but it would appear that Schneider is using one of the high-end models from Bauer. I’d venture a guess that they’re TotalOne skates or something similar based on the cowling and look of the boot. Leave a thought in the comments section if you have more information on this.

If you have a candidate for What They’re Wearing, please contact us on @greatskateblog or leave your recommendation in the comment section.