Connor McDavid has always been worth the price of admission, that’s really never been a topic of debate. However, the McDavid show took center stage in Buffalo on Wednesday, October 22 as the Erie Otters topped the Niagara IceDogs 8-4 at First Niagara Center.
As the Sabres are in the midst of a full organizational rebuild, the team took the opportunity to play host to an Otters home game, giving Sabres fans a chance to see McDavid play on the Sabres’ home ice. The phenom didn’t disappoint, putting up a goal and three assists and dazzling the crowd throughout the night.
To see McDavid play in person is nothing short of a visual treat. His speed, vision and hands are so far above that of anyone else at the junior level that the chance of a highlight each shift far surpasses the 20% chance that the NHL’s 30th place team will have of drafting him in June.
Wednesday marked my fourth time seeing McDavid play in person. The other three occurrences came in Erie and he has put up 13 points in those four games. To say he’s on another level doesn’t even begin to explain his on-ice exploits at times.
For example, on a penalty kill Wednesday night, McDavid took a loose puck in the Erie end and proceeded to create a partial breakaway all by himself. He didn’t score on the break, but the move he used to create the scoring chance was the most mesmerizing thing I’ve ever seen done on an ice rink. The First Niagara Center crowd reacted as expected with a roaring “Oh!” after the deke to free up the scoring opportunity.
Given the thin seasons the Sabres have suffered through lately, the reaction elicited by McDavid was almost as impressive as the play on the ice. He was the center of attention the entire game and he performed like someone well aware that all 11,000 fans were there to see him play.
There are well over 70 games left to be played by each NHL franchise and those sitting in the basement – including the Sabres – are likely dreaming of McDavid donning number 97 for them a year from now. Sabres fans have been to McDavid, Jack Eichel and even Noah Hanifin this fall and the team’s minor league club will take to the First Niagara Center ice at the end of October to give the fans a full preview of what the future may hold.
The divide between fans talking about tanking the season or rooting for the first pick is broad. As someone who knows the likely end game for this particular Sabres roster, I have never rooted for my team to lose. It’s an awful feeling to root against your favorite team and I could never turn off the TV or leave the arena happy with a loss. However, knowing that this roster is built more for a last place finish rather than a playoff spot makes the losses easier to handle. It’s one thing to accept a loss and quite another to root for a loss. I certainly count myself as part of the former but McDavid’s on-ice exploits even had me feeling goosebumps and hoping the Sabres leave the draft lottery with the first pick. He’s that good and that inspiring.
If you have the chance to go see him play live, do it. Don’t wait, don’t hesitate and don’t miss the chance to truly see him dominate. He’s going to be a star in the NHL but to see someone with world-class skill absolutely dominate a game like he does at the OHL level is a rare treat that every hockey fan should get to experience.
A number of intriguing storylines greet the Sabres as they open training camp and preseason for the 2014-15 season. The Sabres are deep within a rebuilding phase that took a massive step forward at the 2014 NHL Draft. The selection of Sam Reinhart followed by a trio of skilled forwards in the second round continued a trend of building through the draft for the franchise.
Reinhart is going to be a carefully watched and cultivated asset who will be a focal point for much of, if not all of the preseason slate. The expectation is that he’ll see plenty of ice in the team’s tuneup games and perhaps into the first nine games of the regular season. Sending Reinhart back to junior appears to be the preferred path for most fans and pundits as the best course of action for the season. Given that the Sabres aren’t expected to contend this year and allowing Reinhart to improve in a situation where he will not only play big minutes but also at a level where he’ll most certainly dominate.
Another highly touted Sabres prospect that has been garnering plenty of attention through the first few practices is Mikhail Grigorenko. A well documented change to his offseason program has yielded a heavier, more defined frame for the former first round pick. WIth it has come an improved work ethic and skating skillset. While Grigorenko was more a victim of poor asset management in the last two years, his skating did need improvement. He had a strong initial showing in Washington and dressed for a second-straight night against Carolina.
The plan for Grigorenko may again be hazy as his improved play has started to garner some attention for NHL minutes to start the year. After finally clearing his junior eligibility it was believed that Grigorenko was destined for a quality season in the AHL. Now, he could potentially be in line for yet another opening weekend in the NHL, which could be a blessing or a curse. At this point it seems that the safe route is the smarter one for Grigorenko as the ability to play important minutes in a more controlled setting is probably best for his development. However, if he’s able to finally break out of his shell at the NHL level, the Sabres will have yet another blue chip prospect in their stable.
My opinion is to at least start Grigorenko in Rochester while Rienhart gets his obligatory nine-game tryout. Once Reinhart is returned, Ted Nolan can determine if Grigorenko is capable of filling a top-nine role for the Sabres. Playing in the top-nine is an important distinction as Grigorenko and the Sabres simply aren’t aided by the young Russian filling a fourth line role.
Beyond the two young prospects, the Sabres forward corps should be fairly easy to fill out. Brian Gionta, Matt Moulson, Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford, Zemgus Girgensons, Chris Stewart, Marcus Foligno and Cody Hodgson will all have roles in the top-nine for the Sabres. Beyond that sits a large group of players vying for no more than five roster spots. Matt Ellis, Torrey Mitchell, Nicolas Deslauriers, Patrick Kaleta, Brian Flynn and Cody McCormick are all battling for a fourth line role and it’s more likely the Sabres keep only one extra forward as opposed to two.
Should Reinhart start the season in Buffalo, one of those players will be the odd man out. Upon being returned to Kootenay, that spot could either be filled by a player from Rochester or one of the many forwards the Sabres already boast. Ultimately, at least one player from that latter group will be sent to Rochester to start the season but it isn’t unrealistic to see a pair sent down together.
Ellis may be the most likely to be sent back as his mentoring skills translate well to the minors and his skill set provides the Americans with a quality two-way player. Mitchell, Flynn and McCormick should be safe and Deslauriers debut last season and a strong preseason could cement him in the line up. That leaves Pat Kaleta as a borderline player who I would ultimately keep in Buffalo. He serves a role as a grinder and is a superb penalty killer no matter where he’s playing. He’s in a contract year and will serve a role for the Sabres. If and when Reinhart is sent back, a player like Mitchell or Flynn could easily slide up to a third line role which would clear the log jam on the fourth line.
Defensively the Sabres have plenty of names but few spots. Tyler Myers, Josh Gorges, Andrej Meszaros and Mike Weber are all but assured to be playing in blue and gold this season. It seems likely that Andre Benoit and Weber will split duties as the team’s sixth and seventh defenseman throughout the year. That leaves two or three empty spots for prospects.
Pencil in Rasmus Ristolainen for one of those spots, likely alongside Meszaros. Additionally, Mark Pysyk will probably play the season in Buffalo with Chad Ruhwedel serving as the first recall from Rochester. Nikita Zadorov could also see a nine-game tryout like Reinhart before being sent back to London. Ultimately I don’t see Zadorov (or Reinhart) benefitting from playing a full season in Buffalo, especially if Connor McDavid is to remain in their crosshairs all year.
The roster is fairly well shaped already and there are a host of quality prospects expected to debut in Rochester this season. Grigorenko ought to be a key player for the Americans as should William Carrier (acquired in the Ryan Miller trade). Additionally, Joel Armia, Jake McCabe and Johan Larsson will all receive big minutes for the Americans on a team that will likely be winning many more games than the Sabres.
Nathan Lieuwen, Andrey Makarov and Matt Hackett will split time in the Rochester crease as Jhonas enroth and Michal Neuvirth are set in stone to anchor Buffalo’s crease.
The remainder of the preseason is set to appear on TV locally which will give fans a chance to see the future Sabres in action alongside those players who will play a major role this season. The roster should be trimmed again quite soon, but there will be plenty to keep an eye on even as Ted Nolan gets closer to naming his 23-man roster.
Change is coming to the NHL. Recent reports indicate that expansion could grace the league as early as the 2016-17 season. Depending on which report you’ve read, as many as four teams could be added to the mix.
Bringing the league’s numbers to 34 teams would result in a terrific financial windfall for the owners but would likely result in a watered down product for a period of time. While it may not take the league (and sport as a whole) nearly ten years to bounce back in terms of on-ice quality, adding four more teams would almost certainly result in a significantly watered down product.
Considering the last round of expansion came in the midst of the dead puck era, the NHL struggle with an inferior product up through the second most recent lockout. While the game has certainly enjoyed a nice surge in popularity recently, I wonder what the addition of that many jobs would do to the talent pool. It stands to reason that lesser skilled players could result in a surge in goal scoring should the rules be enforced properly, but I’m not overly interested in seeing the league try and fill upwards of 130 more jobs with AHL-level players for the next few years. It seems far more feasible to add a pair of teams to not only limit the impact on the player pool but to also ensure the league isn’t spreading itself too thin.
As of now cities like Toronto, Las Vegas, Seattle, Quebec City and Kansas City have been floated as potential homes for an NHL franchise. Many reports say that Seattle is atop the league’s wish list and Toronto’s size and corporate presence all but ensures financial stability. Further, Quebec City’s new NHL arena will be done soon and there are some deep pocketed owners ready to bring a team back. Vegas has received a ton of press in recent rumors and it appears Sin City will be the next city to host a club while Kansas City sits well apart from the rest of the candidates.
I, for one, don’t see Las Vegas as a horrible option. Their minor league team saw fair support during their existence and if marketed properly I’m willing to be they would receive fair local support. Selling tickets won’t be an issue there as the casinos will be sure to gobble up most, if not all, of the suites along with plenty of normal seats as well. So long as a decent local following can be cultivated I could see Las Vegas as a viable option.
What works in Sin City’s favor is the lack of another big four franchise to pull eyes and interest from a potential hockey club. While it’s about as non-traditional as you can get, I think hockey could take hold in Vegas if the marketing is done right.
Seattle seems like a no brainer at this point. Their football and soccer fans follow their respective teams with rabid intensity and I wouldn’t be surprised to see hockey receive similar support as the on-ice product improves. The lack of a viable building makes things awfully complicated and may set Seattle up better for a relocated franchise as opposed to a new expansion club. Should the arena issue get solved soon, then perhaps the league will work to fast track Seattle and Las Vegas in an effort to balance the conference alignment.
Quebec is another option and a safe one, at that. Media giant Quebecor is backing the new arena and it seems like just a matter of time before the league is bringing back the Nordiques. Like Seattle, I could see Quebec as a strong candidate for a relocated franchise as well as expansion. However, I think Quebec makes more sense for relocation simply because expanding by two teams out west (Seattle and Vegas) would ensure the conferences are balanced.
I think the most ideal scenario for the league would be to relocate one of their struggling franchises while awarding expansion to two owners in each of the cities described above. This way Seattle, Las Vegas and Quebec City each get a team in some combination of expansion and relocation. It matters little who ends up with the relocated team so long as the ownership and conference balance is worked out properly.
Without much more to go on other than reports from anonymous sources, it’s hard to say how legitimate all of this is. Perhaps the league is going to stand fast and wait for Seattle’s arena. Perhaps they’ll make Seattle sit out until their building can be completed while other cities like Vegas and Quebec win new clubs.
Either way, the game is almost certainly set to grow in the next few seasons which marks an exciting time for hockey fans.
With Free Agent Frenzy set to open the checkbooks will be ablaze with action around the NHL. There will be different approaches taken by different teams as competitors will be looking for a player to push them to the next level, Cup contenders will want to fill that last missing piece and even some of the league’s bottom feeders will be actively looking to reshape their rosters.
The 2014 free agent class lacks premier names but certainly contains fair quality across the board. Here are a handful of names at each position that will be worth tracking starting today at noon.
Ryan Miller: Miller cost himself some serious money with a substandard playoff performance in St. Louis. He’s a systems goaltender through and through and it seemed as if he was out of his depth behind St. Louis’ roster. While he’s searching for a contender, the shallow market may leave him without many options. He’d thrive on a club where he’d see steady action each night while still being supported by a strong cast of forwards and defensemen. I don’t think he’ll be on the market long before making his choice.
Jonas Hiller: Hiller looks as if he’ll have a few options available to him on the open market, but like Miller, he’s still going to be picking from a pared down pool of suitors. Hiller’s play was once flirting with world class status before a depreciation led him out of Anaheim. While he isn’t the world beater that shutdown the Sharks and frustrated the Red Wings in the mid-2000s, he’s still a very capable goaltender who will get a fair look.
Ilya Bryzgalov: Bryz has been on a carousel the last few seasons and perhaps this summer will allow him to finally get off. He wasn’t spectacular in Edmonton or Minnesota last year, but he found a bit more stability than he had in Philadelphia, which is certainly a major improvement. I doubt that he would be in line to snag a starting job in free agency, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team looking for a quality backup who can handle upwards of 30 games give him a ring.
Justin Peters: Peters has toiled in the Carolina system for what seems like an eternity. He was stuck behind Cam Ward during his better seasons and never found a way to stick in the NHL permanently. Anton Khudobin’s arrival pushed him further down the depth chart and now he finally has a chance to look elsewhere. The thin market will make things tricky, but a team like Philadelphia or even the Lightning, who are looking for a quality backup, could give him a chance for a full year in the NHL.
Martin Brodeur: Retirement seems like the better option for Brodeur at this point as his play has taken a sharp nosedive in recent seasons. He says he wants to backup on a contending team and see somewhere in the 25 games neighborhood. I don’t seem many contenders seeing Brodeur as a viable option to carry that much weight during the year, I wonder what type of interest he gets once free agency opens this afternoon.
Matt Niskanen: The cream of the defensive crop seems to have a very similar feel in terms of playing style. Matt Niskanen appears to be the one player set to get the biggest payday after a very impressive run with the Penguins and talks of a long term, big money deal have been circulating for a few days now. Niskanen is a quality puck mover who will most certainly receive far more money than he’s likely worth, but his play last year justifies the asking price.
Christian Ehrhoff: A late entrant after being bought out on Sunday, Ehrhoff sported one of the league’s better possession metrics despite playing on the league’s worst team. He still has plenty of miles left and can contribute in all situations with big minutes. Don’t be surprised to see him cash in handsomely.
Anton Stralman: In almost the exact same boat as Matt Niskanen, Stralman is likely going to receive a major payday after providing the Rangers with high-quality second pair minutes during their Cup run. Interestingly, his Corsi percentage remained consistent when he was away from Marc Staal while Staal’s percentage plummeted if he was away from Stralman.
Dan Boyle: His age plays a factor here but his skillset is still highly sought after. He’s still a phenomenal puck moving defenseman who will instantly upgrade any powerplay he’s a part of. I’m interested to see what kind of money he gets if a bidding war breaks out for his services. It’s been reported that he’s expecting to get a two-year deal, so if a team is really desperate, they could break the bank on a short term deal to lock up his services.
Brooks Orpik: Every team wants a rugged stay-at-home defender and while Orpik has put on quite a few miles over his career, he’s going to be looked at as a quality asset by a number of teams. Now that he has a Cup ring, I wonder if he is desperately seeking a team on the verge of a championship or if he’s content with cashing in on one more solid contract moving forward.
Paul Stastny: Consider Stastny the consensus crown jewel of this year’s free agent crop. That may be an indictment of the overall class, but shouldn’t be a condemnation of his talents. In fact, playing a complimentary role to such talents as Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon last year probably did more for him than anything else. He’s going to get a healthy payday and provide a team with solid play in a number two center role.
Dave Bolland: Bolland might be the most curious member of this class simply because of his contract demands. He’s a terrific center who can provide quality depth in a second or third line role. I’m not sure he’s worth $5 million, however. I’d expect a team looking to take a step forward would be willing to throw that type of money at him but I think that they’ll ultimately be disappointed in the investment.
Milan Michalek: The exodus out of Ottawa continues as Michalek is set to hit the open market. He’s a consistent goal scorer who would likely thrive playing a complimentary role on a competing team. He still has plenty of miles left on his tires and could almost serve in a similar role to what Marian Gaborik did for the Kings in this year’s playoffs. That might be too specific of a role to find, especially with teams out there looking to snag a first line scorer.
Brad Richards: A buyout casualty, his name hasn’t been overly active since the Rangers exercised their right to terminate his contract. It’s surprising because he has the ability to be a quality contributor for any number of teams. He can still play on the power play and in a top-six role for all 30 teams. If he ends up getting picked up at a discount, I suspect there will be a very happy coach an GM out there.
Thoams Vanek: Vanek, like his former Buffalo teammate Ryan Miller, didn’t do himself too many favors with his play in the postseason. He was phenomenal with the Islanders and carried his play to Montreal to close the regular season. However, he was quiet in the playoffs and could have possibly cost himself a long-term deal. All bets have him heading to Minnesota and I’d suspect that’s where he lines up, even if it’s at a lower rate than originally expected.
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.
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 round two begins I’d like to offer my prognosticating skills up to you all once again for the four series that will set the stage for the Conference Finals. After missing only two series in the first round (ignore that I lost both of my Cup predicted teams) I fully expect to go 0-for-4 with my second round predictions.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Ottawa Senators
The Penguins sudden issues in goal have made them quite vulnerable. Their six-game triumph over the Islanders only lasted that long thanks to the stumbling play of Marc-Andre Fleury. While Tomas Vokoun provided enough stability to close out the series, he can’t be instill all that much confidence in Penguins fans.
Ottawa rolls in off a five game drubbing of the Canadiens in which they received brilliant goaltending and timely scoring from all over their lineup. They face a scary, deep, talented Penguins team which creates matchup nightmares on both sides of the puck. I don’t expect the Alfredsson line to be nearly as effective as they were against Montreal, nor do I expect the Senators to be able to effectively shutdown Pittsburgh’s scorers. However, Craig Anderson provides a decided advantage in net. Penguins in 6
Boston Bruins vs. New York Rangers
Fresh off a pair of grueling six-game series, both of these teams will be fighting some major fatigue in the second round. One interesting thing to watch will be the durability of each team’s top defensemen. Zdeno Chara was run well over 60 minutes over the past two games out of necessity while the Rangers trot Dan Girardi (and Ryan McDonagh) out for a million minutes by choice.
This series will be all about who is conditioned better and who is capable of surviving beyond another physically grueling series. Goaltending will play a major role here and I like Henrik Lundqvist better than Tuukka Rask. However, I think the Bruins have more firepower than the Rangers and that might just give them the edge. Bruins in 7
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Detroit Red Wings
The second Original Six showdown of the second round pits a pair of heated rivals against one another. This is a nice treat for hockey purists as the Wings will be heading east next season and severing many of their former divisional rivalries.
To be Frank, the Blackhawks are nearly impossible to matchup against and they’ve been getting steady goaltending along the way. While the Wings have been riding a nice wave of positive momentum, the Blackhawks are a much different beast than the Ducks were. While Jimmy Howard has been sensational, I’m not sure the Wings will be able to insulate him the way they did against Anaheim. Blackhawks in 6
Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks
A nice little regional matchup that pits a perennial playoff disappointment against last year’s Cup champs. The Sharks have flown under the radar this year but have opened plenty of eyes after sweeping the Canucks. While they have plenty of question marks around them, San Jose has two solid scoring lines and have gotten great goaltending from Antti Niemi.
The Kings scrapped their way through the first round and will need to find some more offense if they hope to get back to the Conference Finals. Jonathan Quick has been stellar yet again and Los Angeles did a great job stifling the Blues. I wonder how they’ll deal with an impressive offensive lineup like the Sharks boast, however. Sharks in seven
Manufacturers bring top-end sticks to childhood favorite
Knee hockey is one of the numerous things that makes hockey what it is. Not many sports have a portable, miniature version that can be played just about anywhere.
Just think back to travel tournaments and the countless hotel hallways you were expelled from when playing knee hockey. Knee hockey just happens to be a portion of hockey culture that makes our sport so incredibly unique.
Not unlike the full size version of the sport, knee hockey has seen a number of advances in recent years. Manufacturers now make miniature nets (not necessarily a new development) which inevitably saves desks, tables, chairs and hallway radiators from the beating that comes along with the game. In addition, the days of dipping your straight-blade plastic stick in boiling water to create a curve are over. Now you can choose a mini stick from a plethora of choices that are near mirror images to the full size sticks made by hockey’s biggest manufacturers.
Warrior, Bauer, CCM, Reebok and Sher-Wood all have created their own composite mini sticks complete with curves and identical design patterns to that of the full size retail sticks you use on the ice. What these sticks do is add a little style and extra performance to a rec-room or travel tournament classic.
Reebok not only has a mini composite version of their new 20K stick, they also introduced a composite goal stick that is patterned after the 11K composite goal stick that is being used throughout the NHL – this follows previous miniature versions of the O-Stick and A.I.9. CCM also produced a mini composite of their premier stick with a mini RBZ. Like the 20K, the mini RBZ also sports the same markings and art that the top model does – although it doesn’t provide some of the technological advances that the full size stick does.
Both CCM and Reebok have their own net models as well which can be set up in your basement or rec room to add even more of an ice element to each knee game.
Bauer actually has a Vapor APX and TotalOne NXG for you to choose from while Sher-Wood’s collection spans the entire NHL. So, for those of you who are nostalgic for the straight plastic, team-branded sticks of the past, perhaps the Sher-Wood team models would provide a nice transition.
While I can’t attest if the composite mini sticks can add performance to your knee hockey game as their full-size cousins do for ice hockey, I can say they bring a cool wrinkle to a game that you should never need an excuse to play.
I, for one, am seriously considering setting up a knee hockey rink as part of my man cave in the very near future.
If you were one of many hockey fans across North America glued to a TV set or phone waiting for trades
to break, today might have dragged. A flurry of action over the past five days dried up a significant
amount of the presumed trade targets entering the deadline. However, a few GMs managed to not
A handful of minor trades in the early afternoon did little to set the market before Tampa Bay sent Cory
Conacher and a draft pick to Ottawa in exchange for Ben Bishop. While this wouldn’t end up as one of
the day’s biggest trades it was significant enough to get the ball rolling.
The flurry of trades that came down prior to the 3:00 deadline were punctuated by deals that saw
established scorers Marian Gaborik and Jason Pominville moved along with a list of role and depth
acquisitions. What was most surprising was seeing the surging Columbus Blue Jackets come away as the
day’s most active team.
Columbus made four separate moves that included the day’s biggest blockbuster in which they acquired
sniper Marian Gaborik. The Jackets sent a handful of pieces to the Rangers in exchange for Gaborik in a
move that gives them a lethal weapon on the wing less than a year removed from trading Rick Nash to
Columbus’ deal is the most earth shattering for a few reasons. First, Gaborik had been mentioned here
and there in rumors but wasn’t truly expected to move, especially compared to a player like Ryane
Clowe (who also ended up in New York). The second reason this is so surprising is that the Blue Jackets
entered the year with a new makeup after trading Nash and with every expectation to continue their
rebuild, their recent success turned them to a buyer and they went out and bought one of the most
expensive options on the market.
What shouldn’t be ignored with this deal is what the Rangers got in return. After not re-signing Brandon
Prust and trading two key depth forwards to Columbus in the Nash deal (Dubinsky and Anisimov) the
Blueshirts managed to gain a skilled depth forward (Derick Brassard) and a gritty winger (Derek Dorsett)
to go along with a late draft pick and a highly touted defensive prospect (John Moore). Add those three
to Clowe and the Rangers managed to get a little tougher despite losing a major offensive weapon.
While they gave up the most talent, they may not have lost the trade.
The next biggest deal of the day came out of Minnesota, where the Wild brought in a skilled scoring
winger in Jason Pominville. A solid two-way player, Pominville is effective in all situations (including the
PK) and is signed through next season at a relatively affordable $5.3M cap hit. Going back to Buffalo was
a plethora of pieces that includes two draft picks and two prospects.
The Wild get a lot more skill for their top six and Pominville should offer plenty of support to at roster
that already boasts Parise, Heatley, Koivu and PM Bouchard. The added bonus that Pominville doesn’t
hit free agency until next summer means that they can hopefully stretch this talent beyond this year’s
playoff push. Despite mortgaging quite a bit of talent, this was a strong move for the Wild as they look
to win now.
Buffalo is going all-in with their rebuilding mode, acquiring Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett with
Minnesota’s first round pick this year and a second round pick next year. The picks will be extremely
valuable for Darcy Regier as he holds 11 total picks in the first two rounds of the 2013, 2014 and 2015
drafts combined. Whether or not he uses those picks remains to be seen, but that is plenty of currency
for a GM who will most certainly be looking to wheel and deal in the offseason.
One interesting trade was the Bishop for Conacher deal. The Lightning spent a few assets to acquire
Anders Lindback over the summer before realizing that he may not be the answer long-term. All the
while, they went and gave the Senators an even better return for Bishop than what Ottawa paid for
him at least year’s deadline. While Steve Yzerman did good work to address his troubled goaltending
situation, he gave up quite a bit for two different pieces at the same position.
Meanwhile, Bryan Murray is probably laughing his way to the bank as he effectively traded a second
round pick for Cory Conacher and an additional fourth round pick. Conacher is going to have an impact
on the Senators roster for the foreseeable future (unless he regresses from this hot rookie year) all while
not costing Murray much of anything – as he still has Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner to protect the
The majority of the major moves at this deadline came in the days prior to April 3. The acquistions of
Iginla, Morrow and Murray makes the Penguins the immediate winners based on their return and the
fact that they sacrificed very little to acquire those three players. Of course, if the Pens don’t hoist the
Cup, they won’t be the long-term winners of this deadline.
Still, Ray Shero put his team in the best position to succeed by acquiring the three players he did. While
his top defensive prospect and a first round pick went out the door, not all that much went along with it.
Credit is due to Shero for the way he maneuvered prior to the deadline and for the roster the Penguins
will enter the playoffs with.
Overall I’d have to say the Penguins come away as the big winner while the Rangers (surprised?) aren’t
far behind. If New York can get Clowe re-signed with the money they saved from Gaborik they will have
a bevvy of talented players to fill out the lines below the Nash-Richards power line.
I’m not sure if I can count the Bruins as winners for snagging Jaromir Jagr, but 68 should give Boston
a nice boost entering the playoffs. That type of savvy veteran can’t be overlooked on a team that is
already so incredibly talented.
If there are any losers at this deadline I’d be so bold to say that it is the Blues. While St. Louis did a great
job bringing in two solid veteran defensemen, they didn’t address their questionable goaltending (even
though they only allow 20 shots per game). While Leopold and Bouwmeester are great talents, the Blues
already boasted an impressive defensive corps. I wonder if these two trades will be enough to vault the
Blues into a playoff spot.
The one thing that does need to be remembered with the deadline is that you can’t truly declare a
winner until the Stanley Cup has been raised. In addition, many of these trades full value won’t be
realized until the draft picks have been used. When you take that into account, some of these moves
won’t have full value for at least two years. However, the Kings made some waves last year and went on
to win the Cup, with that in mind be sure to look back at what moves this year’s Cup winner made at the