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.
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.
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.
As time continues to tick down towards the opening ceremonies at the 2014 Winter Olympics, hockey fans are gaining more interest in which players will be representing their country at the Sochi Games.
After an impressive and surprising silver medal effort in Vancouver, the United States will come to Sochi with much higher expectations and a much more impressive roster. With an impressive amount of defensive depth and a bevy of talented goaltenders to choose from, the biggest challenge will be determining who will be scoring the goals for the Americans next February.
I expect to see a few roster spots turnover for the US team this time around, but the same strong core will return up front:
David Backes (A)
Ryan Callahan (C)
The offensive engine for the United States will be powered by Patrick Kane, Zach Parise and Phil Kessel. Those three bring a different level of electricity to the ice and they should thrive on the big surface where they can escape from the high traffic areas they typically encounter on the NHL pad.
As of now I have Kane skating with Joe Pavelski and Dustin Brown. Brown is riding shotgun for the offensively gifted duo and his muck and grind style should result in a few ugly tallies throughout the tournament. Pavelski is going to play a major role for the United States as they’re woefully thin at center from top to bottom.
The Kane, Pavelski, Brown trio should combine will with Parise, James VanRiemsdyk and Phil Kessel to form a top-six with plenty of scoring acumen. While my penciled in top line has a little bit of two-way responsibility (Brown and Pavelski), my second unit won’t be entering the Selke race any time soon.
I also take a slight stretch by placing VanRiemsdyk at center. This isn’t his natural position but I love the idea of he and Kessel feeding off their preloaded chemistry from the regular season. Parise is the outsider in a sense, but he’s such a great talent that I doubt he will struggle to run up some points with that pair.
My third line is something of a set of sleepers. Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny and Bobby Ryan as all American veterans from various international tournaments and Stastny and Ryan will be returning for their second Olympic games. Stastny was going to be off my list until his stunning play at the Worlds changed my mind. Putting him with two battleships like Pacioretty and Ryan should allow him to serve as playmaker to the two snipers.
Lastly comes the grind line. The Americans succeeded in Vancouver thanks to their goaltending, physical play and plenty of gutty leadership. Veterans like Chris Drury and Jamie Langenbrunner weren’t expected to be major contributors but the pair brought more to the table than was expected. A trio of 2010 vets should bring the same attitude to the table in Sochi.
Ryan Kesler, Ryan Callahan and David Backes are all first or second line players for their respective NHL squads and they all happen to be world class defensive forwards. Playing an overly physical game on the big ice in Russia is going to be a risk/reward game plan and these three are talented enough to find a healthy balance. When it comes to shutting down the countless superstar lines from Canada and Russia, these three will likely earn the toughest task. I don’t know if I could think of a better set of forwards to handle such a task.
Derek Stepan is my extra forward and he makes my team based on the fact that he can play center. The US is so thin at center that they need all the help they can get. Stepan is a shifty, dangerous forward who can step in as a pivot and produce if necessary. If he makes the team, most of his minutes will come on the wing. But when needed, he can slide inside.
This roster is contingent on a couple of factors. First; the staff needs to feel confident that one of those top three lines is capable of playing a little bit of defense. The Backes, Kesler, Callahan line is a shutdown dream but the rest of the forwards are more of the one-way variety. Second, the health of certain players (Kesler to be precise) will weigh heavily on how the roster comes together. Bearing that in mind, here are a few watch list players to keep an eye on:
TJ Oshie – A dynamic winger who has some strong two-way ability. Oshie is young but has shown great promise in St. Louis’ defensive system. He was may final “cut” but could easily find his way on the roster.
Brandon Dubinsky – Think of Dubinsky as Kesler Light. He’s a solid two-way player who can fill a shut down role. If defensive responsibility is at a premium, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him.
Alex Galchenyuk – A darkhorse, but someone to keep in mind. He’s incredibly talented and there’s no reason to think that he wouldn’t have a place on this roster. I doubt that he’d see time as a center, but if he has a big start to the season, he could be a possibility.
The day is nearing in which the hockey world will be graced with the RBZ Stage 2 stick and the new RBZ skates. As the company prepares to launch the next step in a line that has boomed with popularity, Great Skate had a chance to take an inside look at both the RBZ Stage 2 stick and RBZ skate.
A small group of guys got the full treatment from our CCM reps as they had a full lineup of the RBZ skate to choose from and about two-dozen RBZ Stage 2 sticks to choose from. The skate was quite informal, just shooting and passing in warm up suits and eventually things morphed into a center ice three-on-three scrimmage. What I did notice from spinning around the ice is that the RBZ skate is the real deal.
We got a brief rundown of some of the changes and improvements to the RBZ skate as compared to the U+ line that came before it. The RBZ has a full composite boot and is built with a little more pitch for a better angle of attack and increased agility. The skate is also built 4mm higher than previous skates. This factors with the aggressive pitch to give the skater a better radius for tighter turns and cuts.
The composite boot allows for a lighter build that increases your power on the ice. They also run a little larger than you might expect. I’m a size 12 shoe and typically wear a 10 or 10.5 in a skate. The pair of RBZs that I had on yesterday were 9.5 and fit quite well. As a side note, the skates I had were EE width which gave them a little play in the ankle and arch but it wasn’t too noticeable on the ice. There’s no doubt that a slightly more narrow boot would give a more snug fit.
On the ice the skate is light and responsive. I found myself making effortless cuts and I felt that my stride was powerful. I took a few hard laps and in-zone skates during the ice time to see how the skate felt in more of an in-game setting and they were great. Bear in mind that these were basically out of the box and right onto the ice. The wider boot may have factored into this, but I didn’t feel any ill effects from wearing a brand new skate without any sort of break in period.
As for the sticks, I have to say the Stage 2 stole the show. I’ve used an RBZ and I loved the pop that you get off the blade. The Speed Channels aren’t a gimmick and the hot blade they’ve created is something you feel on the ice. The original RBZ did have one drawback and that was the balance. It was a blade heavy stick and there was a strange sensation when using it because of the center of gravity.
With the Stage 2 this isn’t an issue. In addition to a new graphic scheme, CCM worked out the weighting issues so that this already incredibly light stick has the balance and feel you would expect.
I was fairly accurate – or as accurate as I could be – when shooting and the upgraded speed channels gave my slap shot a noticeable pop. When you consider the few shortcomings the original RBZ and factor in the changes made for the Stage 2, the word upgrade almost doesn’t do it justice.
Keep your eyes peeled for the new RBZ skate, Stage 2 stick and the Reebok Ribcor to hit the shelves at Great Skate later this summer. You won’t want to miss out on picking up these new models.
One very interesting development this year was Bauer’s acquisition of the Messier helmet line. The agreement brought the Messier line’s groundbreaking SEVEN technology to an already well received family of Bauer helmets.
In addition to the IMS 11 and IMS 7.0, there are fingerprints from the Messier line all over Bauer’s new helmets. The new technology and introduction of Poron XRD foam into the RE-AKT and IMS 9.0 are great new additions and have really separated the Bauer line into a league of their own.
I recently picked up an IMS 9.0 for trial on the ice and I’ve had a few icetimes with it since getting it. There aren’t many things wrong with this helmet.
First things first, it has a perfect mix of soft, conforming padding in specific areas that mixes well with the harder HD foam in high-impact zones. I’ve found that the HD foam on many top end models make the helmet somewhat uncomfortable and the softer, more traditional set up that is so popular in the NHL doesn’t have the varied protection that I value. The IMS 9.0 finds that happy medium.
Poron XRD is supple by design. There are two large panels on either side of the helmet to help with side impact collisions. The Poron XRD actually wraps around the entire helmet (giving 360 degrees of protection) but is plainly visible just behind your temples. In addition, the brown and the back of the head have soft pads that keep the helmet snug against your head. The key here is that it’s not just a pillowy pad. It’s closer to the heat molding memory foam that still offers excellent protection.
The Poron XRD plays very well with the Vertex Foam that takes the place of traditional EPP foam that is found in such helmets as the 5100 and 4500.
The single adjustment location on the crown of the helmet is somewhat unusual, but it doesn’t work any differently from the old double wing adjustment from past Bauer helmets. One super awesome feature is that the mounts for the j-clips or visor on the side of the helmet have been embedded into the temple pads. This keeps those pesky little pieces of hardware in the same spot and makes switching out cages and visors much easier.
The only adjustment I have had to make it to the height of the helmet. I was previously wearing a 5100 which sat low on my head and brow. The 9.0 sits higher on my head, thus feeling a little different than my old 5100. This wasn’t a surprise for me, however. The construction of the helmet indicates that the 9.0 (and likely the RE-AKT) would rest a little higher on a player’s head than some older helmets. The beauty of this is there isn’t a decrease in how safe I feel in the helmet.
In all, I love the feel and I haven’t expressed any doubt over the protection of this helmet. It’s definitely worth a serious look the next time you’re considering a new helmet.
For this Q&A we have tabbed Keith Perera from Warrior Hockey. Keith handles the stick business for Warrior and can be found on Twitter @warriorstickguy. His Q&A gives some very cool insight to his role with Warrior, some interesting pro requests and where Warrior’s unique graphics and nicknames come from.
Great Skate: Your Twitter account says you’re the “Warrior Stick Guy”. More or less that sounds like just about every hockey player’s dream job. Tell us a little bit about your day-to-day work.
Keith Perera: Stick Guy is a moniker I stole from an old colleague at Mission Hockey. He actually had “Stick Guy” on his business card! I was the “young skate guy” at the time, so I always remembered it. My day-to-day in simple terms is planning out the product line for future global releases, working with the development team on future technology, crafting the story behind every technology and informing the sales and marketing groups on our stick product and direction. PMs also work closely with our dealer base and players to come up with new products or technologies that are not currently met in the market. Making better products to make players better is our main objective.
GS: As a guy born in Montreal, raised in LA and now working in Michigan, what type of hockey background do you have?
KP: I have a very unique hockey background. I was born in Montreal where my passion for hockey developed. I moved to LA at a young age, a couple years after the Gretzky trade, and experienced the hyper-growth of our game through ice and roller hockey. I started working in a hockey shop at 16yrs old, managed it through college, and got a job at Mission Hockey’s Warranty Department after college. Worked my way up the ranks to Skate Product Manager (PureFly) and had a short stint in the golf business before landing at Warrior where I began as PM for Sticks/Protective/Goalie. It’s been a wild ride, but I’ve been very fortunate to have amazing mentors along the way. Our industry is a great one.
GS: Lefty or righty?
KP: Right Handed but I shoot Lefty.
KP: I’m using an old Toews Pro pattern…like if E28 and W03-Kopitar had a baby. When using retail pattern, I float between Kopitar and Kovalev…I’m not very good, so I always blame my sticks 🙂
GS: Velvet Grip, Nipple Grip or basic finish?
KP: I’ve always been an Innovative guy, from the beginning when we used to sell them in our store …so I love the old Polarfibre grip feel. But these days I use a Matte clear finish with diamond texture (have I mentioned yet that I love my job?).
GS: Do you work with NHL professionals too? If so, what are some of the crazier requests you’ve gotten from the pros you work with.
KP: I do work with Pros sometimes. Warrior has an amazing team of Pro Reps that have the relationships and are very skilled at figuring out what a pro player needs for their sticks. Most of my work is done from the standpoint of guiding the Pro Sales Team on direction for what we showcase in pro to help promote our new retail sticks at any given time during the season. Craziest request: Without a doubt – Ryan Smyth asking us to make a graphite blade “look like wood”…I call it “flesh blade”- it’s kinda gross.
GS: Who is/was your favorite NHLer to work with? Who was the toughest?
KP: It’s a tie: Best two guys ever… Nicklas Lidstrom and Teemu Selanne for skates. Selanne is probably the nicest guy I’ve ever met and Lidstrom is purest form of class. Toughest…no comment.
GS: What struggles, if any, have you dealt with working for a company that – when Warrior first jumped into hockey – may not be considered a “traditional” hockey manufacturer?
KP: Great question. The biggest challenge for Warrior, is what I call, the “post-launch hangover”. We blew out the doors with an amazing marketing buzz and on-ice product recognition (bright colors/crazy graphics) and it really helped us become the fastest growing hockey brand in this industry’s history. After that, Dealers and Consumers wanted more from us and needed a reason to buy Warrior for performance and less for standing out in a crowd. In the last two years, we have been working very hard to give that reason to the consumer. Our product line has become very focused, very simple, and very high in performance. Gone are the Dragons and Kroniks. I can honestly say that Covert and Dynasty lines of product are the very best Warrior/Innovative have made in relation to performance, game-improvement and durability – ever.
GS: Warrior has two very cool sticks on the market, the Covert and the Dynasty. Which suits your game best, and why?
KP: I know this is a total bail-out move, but I like both for very specific reasons: The Covert’s low kick is ideal for me since I take mostly wrist shots in my beer league. I love the feel of the True1 construction. I like the Dynasty’s AxySym since I can really feel the recoil power on slap shots during our company morning skate. In a more relaxed environment, I have the time to wind up for a slap shot and it feels amazing. Again, I’m not a very skilled player, so I need all the time I can get!
GS: Both stick lines are full of groundbreaking features, which stood out to you the most during the development process and now that it has hit the market?
KP: Dagger Taper for me is probably the tech that stands out the most. It’s a very simple visual and tangible concept that takes advantage of our manufacturing ability to achieve the very best performance gains for a player. True1 allows Dagger Taper to really flex down in the area where, in the past, fuse joints used to be. We took that “dead flex area” and made it active and lively which most players need. Dagger allows flex with very little effort; a true game-improvement feature that we were fortunate enough to get a patented. The feature that is the most “under the radar” is probably TwinSpar. Adding those two carbon structures to our blades has made huge improvements on our blade durability and pop-life…it’s a great under the hood feature that most people enjoy the benefits of but rarely actually see.
GS: I personally love my Dynasty AX1, what has been the type of feedback you’ve been getting on both the Covert and Dynasty?
KP: The Covert has been a joy. The performance benefits to players and the quick-release has been awesome to see, especially for players using DT4 and DT5. The Dynasty was a huge surprise for me. I honestly didn’t expect so many people to love the feel of the mid-kick and how smooth the stick is to load and release. It’s really a great time at Warrior.
GS: I noticed Mikhail Grigorenko of the Buffalo Sabres using a white Covert. Will more colors be available to the retail market, or is that a custom option only?
KP: More colors will be available in our retail line with the intro of our New Covert later this year (more info to come later). Right now, an all-white stick similar to Grigo is available on the customizer.
GS: Going back to the Dolomite and some of Warrior’s earlier stick models, you guys have always had some cool nicknames and artwork for the features you develop. Who comes up with the taglines and logos for these?
KP: It’s a collaboration between myself and our stick designer, Isaac. He has been with Innovative/Warrior since the beginning of both companies and has been amazing to work with…he’s a technically and aesthetically creative force. We are both a little quirky and it certainly shows in some of the graphics we worked on in the past. Our graphics now have become a little more simplified from far, but if you still look closely we always sneak some unique details in there (mid kick logo is a great example). We are Warrior, always will be…so we embrace being different and having fun all the while building legitimately high performing product and technology.
GS: Both the Dynasty and Covert unveiled some very cool features to the stick world. What can we expect from Warrior in the coming months and years?
KP: I was just saying this to one of our sales guys…it’s a very very exciting time at Warrior. We have built an amazing product foundation with Covert and Dynasty. We have learned a lot along the way for what our consumer expects from us and how we can deliver product that will always challenge that. Our company was started in a Princeton University dorm room, by a kid from Michigan who thought that the Lacrosse industry was too old and “too set in their ways”. He made a Titanium shaft that shook the industry and changed the game…that spirit lives in everything we do.
Today marks the opening day of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs. This begins a month-long saga that will lead to one team hoisting the Stanley Cup. While most expect the Blackhawks and Penguins to cruise through to the Cup Finals, don’t count any team out. This is the best tournament in all of sports and the uncertainty surrounding the outcome of each period, game and series makes it such.
Pittsburgh vs. New York Islanders
Pittsburgh is on the top of the heap of everyone’s favorite to advance to the Cup Finals. Looking at their roster as it compares to the Islanders (specifically in this series) you can see why so many are expecting them to advance. Last year, on my personal Sabres blog (twointhebox.com), I expected the Islanders to
make the playoffs. I was one year off but I think this is an organization on the rise. However, I don’t think they’re deep enough to run with the Penguins. Simply put, the Penguins have too many horses. Pens in 5
Montreal Canadiens vs. Ottawa Senators
A very interesting matchup and the first of two Northeast Division showdowns. Ottawa has begun to tail off lately as I believe their injuries are beginning to catch up. This could be a very interesting series to track but I wonder if the Senators youth could bite them here. This will certainly be a battle and I do believe that Montreal will be in for a dogfight. Montreal in 6
Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers
A week ago the Rangers were staring a first round series with the Penguins square in the face. Fast forward to the start of the first round and they’re looking at the Southeast Division winner, a much more comfortable matchup. The Caps are talented but I feel that the Rangers have built the momentum they’ve been searching for and will roll through the first round series. Don’t count out Ovie & Co. but I don’t see them advancing. Rangers in 6
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto has started to skid and skid hard. I don’t think they’re as talented as their finish showed and I don’t think they will fare well in a seven-game series with the Bruins. Boston’s struggles shouldn’t be ignored but I think they will have at least one more round to work them out. Bruins in 4
Eastern Conference Champion: Montreal over Pittsburgh in seven games.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild
Minnesota made the postseason by the skin of their teeth and are rewarded with the league’s best team. While the Blackhawks goaltending is the only looming question mark, I don’t think the Wild will have the depth to truly test the Blackhawks. Blackhawks in 5
Anaheim Ducks vs. Detroit Red Wings
All playoff series rely on goaltending, so it is hard to say that one will need better goaltending than another. However, if Anaheim’s tandem is off they are a very average team in net. If Hiller or Fasth are on top of their game, then it is an entirely different story. This will be a very interesting series to track. Wings in 7
Vancouver Canucks vs. San Jose Sharks
It seems like these two teams are perennially meeting in the postseason. Fans in San Jose keep waiting for this franchise to take the next step but opening with the Canucks probably isn’t the way to do it. The Canucks are deep and talented. I think the Sharks are preparing to retool in some areas of their roster and may make a quick exit. Canucks in 5
Los Angeles Kings vs. St. Louis Blues
The Kings swept the Blues last year when Brian Elliott fell apart in the second round. I like the Blues – and as a Sabres fan I’d like the pick in the Leopold trade to be a fourth – but I wonder if they can hold up this year now that they’ve shored up their depth in many areas. At the end of the day this is the defending champs and I think that gets the job done in this room. Kings in 7
Western Conference Champion: Vancouver over Chicago in seven games
Stanley Cup Champion: Vancouver over Montreal in six games