“A stick,” said Kevin Davis, president and CEO of Bauer Performance Sports, “is not just a stick.”
Naturally, hockey’s best players serve as a powerful lobby in dictating whether a piece of equipment becomes a hit or an afterthought.
Just like a stick is not just a stick, a rink is not just a rink. The 200-by-85-foot surface is as much an equipment proving ground as it is a stage for performance. NHLers, as finicky with their sticks as a violinist is with a bow, repeatedly dial in their approvals and annoyances for every piece of gear.
Because of feedback from the sport’s best players, manufacturers can produce equipment for the mass market that’s been distilled through its experts. Such high-level on-ice research and development cannot be duplicated in focus groups.
Downstream, in the eyes of a 14-year-old youth player, an NHLer’s use of a particular stick, for example, is the ultimate definition of cool.
“It’s incredibly impactful,” Davis said. “It doesn’t help us to bring a new stick to the marketplace if it won’t be used in the NHL. That wouldn’t meet anybody’s needs. You have to get that validation.”
One of the newer items in NHL rinks was a product of feedback from players and equipment managers. Players complained that ice conditions varied from rink to rink. Some sheets are hard. Others are softer. A blade perfect for Edmonton’s Rexall Place, for example, would be a poor fit for the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
At the same time, equipment managers voiced their concerns regarding one of their nightmares: when a player loses an edge. Crisis mode takes place. The player must leave the ice. The equipment manager hustles to replace the steel. Depending on the situation of the game, the player might miss a shift before the repair takes place.
The result is Bauer’s Lightspeed Edge Holder. If a player loses an edge, the mechanism allows the equipment manager to remove the steel with a trigger and pop in a replacement. The change can take place in seconds on the bench. The player doesn’t have to miss a shift. A coach doesn’t have to send out a different power-play unit because his half-wall quarterback is in the back getting a blade replaced.
On the Bruins, David Krejci, Gregory Campbell, and Jordan Caron use the Lightspeed Edge Holder. Equipment manager Keith Robinson keeps their replacement steels in a sleeve next to the stick rack. Robinson is lobbying other players to consider the product.
In the mass market, a youth player who breaks a blade might be out of commission until the closest pro shop works its magic. By carrying a replacement steel, the player wouldn’t miss a shift.
“This was a concept we had previously been working on,” said Craig Desjardins, Bauer Hockey’s general manager of player equipment. “But [NHL feedback] reinforced the need and the desire for players to adopt that part of the game.”
In September, Bauer Hockey released the Vapor APX2 stick for sale ($259.99 at Pure Hockey). NHLers played a part in the final product. Their feedback helped the Exeter, N.H., company develop the APX2 with a higher kick point to give shooters more muscle behind their slap shots.
Last spring, before it was available for purchase, the stick was in the hands of some of Bauer’s sponsored players, including silky Capitals pivot Nicklas Backstrom.
But any buzz Backstrom helped to create around the stick paled compared to a video Bauer released last month. It featured Patrick Kane, one of Bauer’s pitchmen. Bauer pitched it as hidden camera footage of Agent 88, referring to Kane’s number.
The video showed Kane with a puck seemingly glued to his blade. Kane picked his way through a maze of rubber without ever losing touch of his puck. Kane never bumped against any of the other pucks. Only at the conclusion of the 90-second clip does the stick’s name flash across the screen.
The video went viral. On Google, when users type in “Patrick Kane”, “stickhandling” is the first suggestion that pops up. The clip was the exclamation point on the stick’s rollout.
“We used to be able to run a video of one of our athletes that could be on the Web for the season. Now, if it’s on there for more than two days, it’s stale,” Davis said. “We have to be out there with a constant flow of new stuff. That’s the age kids are living in. When we’re creating new product stories, they want to go deep in tech and spec. But they also want to have some fun with it and see what the best players in the NHL are using, what the best players at their local university are using. We have to blend all of that stuff in. The one thing that’s crucially important is speed and keeping up with the flow of newness. If your website gets stale and your product stories get stale, kids will lose interest.”
Davis picks up his smartphone to make a point. Today’s typical 14-year-old player is buying clothes, songs, and games on the phone. That player is texting teammates on the gear they’re using. He or she is not just sold on performance. It’s not enough for a stick to snap off pucks quickly.
Memo to the National Security Agency: We know you have them, so please forward all clips of Paul Holmgren’s incoming calls to the e-mail address below. The BS meter must be blaring full tilt when opposing general managers, while trying to stifle their chuckles, ask Holmgren how they can rip off — er, help — the Flyers boss.
The heat, after all, is not on Craig Berube, who replaced Franklin native Peter Laviolette as Flyers coach on Monday. Laviolette’s three-and-out ouster was Holmgren’s move — one that, in hindsight, he should have made last year.
On Monday, Holmgren acknowledged having a “fleeting thought” about firing Laviolette at the end of the 2013 season. Whenever a GM has any doubt about his coach, it’s a sign that a change must take place.
Consider the lineup Laviolette sent out March 9 at TD Garden against the Bruins: Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Wayne Simmonds, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Matt Read. All are go-to forwards. Yet the Flyers submitted a gutless 3-0 loss. After the game, they held a players-only meeting. It was just one of the markers Holmgren should have recognized and interpreted as a need for change.
They could have entered 2013-14 with a new coach. Now they’ll have to fight their way back up the loaded Metropolitan Division. On Tuesday, in their first game under Berube, the Flyers beat the sad-sack Panthers, 2-1. But the Flyers scored the winning goal only after Tim Thomas pulled his groin on Couturier’s first shot and couldn’t reposition himself for Braydon Coburn’s winner. Steve Mason had to turn back 33 shots, including a handful of Grade-A chances.
In times of crisis, rival executives call with honey in their voices but approach with knives behind their backs. Holmgren has a history of bold moves in peacetime. Holmgren wheeled Mike Richards to Los Angeles and Jeff Carter to Columbus before their signatures dried on their contracts.
With the Flyers already in survival mode, you can bet the inquiries are starting on Holmgren’s prized young assets: Simmonds, Couturier, Jakub Voracek, Schenn, Scott Laughton, Anthony Stolarz, and Samuel Morin. The returns will be disguised as immediate reinforcements when, in reality, they are anchors.
In an ideal rebuild, Holmgren’s best chip would be Kimmo Timonen, who has no-movement protection but might welcome a deal to a winner. Timonen’s return, however, would be prospects and picks. Holmgren isn’t interested. Unless Berube straightens out the team, Holmgren won’t be around to deploy them.
Peter Laviolette’s dismissal in Philadelphia could trigger a string of similar moves. It happened in 2011-12, when St. Louis’s coaching change was the first of eight that season. The Blues lit the powder keg on Nov. 6, 2011, by replacing Davis Payne with Ken Hitchcock. The moves that followed: Kirk Muller for Paul Maurice (Carolina), Dale Hunter for Bruce Boudreau (Washington), Boudreau for Randy Carlyle (Anaheim), Randy Cunneyworth for Jacques Martin (Montreal), Darryl Sutter for Terry Murray (Los Angeles), Todd Richards for Scott Arniel (Columbus), and Carlyle for Ron Wilson (Toronto). This season, Mike Yeo could be second to go after Laviolette if the Wild don’t play with more urgency. An owner who commits $196 million to two players (Zach Parise and Ryan Suter) would think nothing of dismissing the coach.
Weird to see old friend Michael Ryder wearing No. 17 in New Jersey for two reasons: First, it was the old number of Ilya Kovalchuk, the former franchise man who bid farewell to the Devils and the NHL in favor of Mother Russia. The Devils wasted little time giving Kovalchuk’s digits to Ryder. Second, Ryder had worn No. 73 in Montreal, Boston, and Dallas, his three previous stops. Devils boss Lou Lamoriello, who makes rotary phones look cutting-edge, is a traditionalist when it comes to numbers. Hence, Ryder’s high digits had to go. Lamoriello, however, made an exception with Jaromir Jagr. The future Hall of Famer was granted an exception to keep No. 68. Maybe Lou is a softie after all.
In his first two games at center, Tyler Seguin went 10 for 31 on the draw (32.2 percent). Even more concerning: Dallas’s first two games were at home, where Seguin could put down his blade last. Will not be surprised if coach Lindy Ruff eventually moves Seguin back to the wing, or at least puts out a second center for important faceoffs. In Buffalo, Ruff coached Paul Gaustad, one of the best draw men in the game.
Nashville’s Seth Jones, a right-shot defenseman, started his rookie season alongside left-shot partner Mattias Ekholm. But Roman Josi, Shea Weber’s partner, is out because of a concussion suffered in Nashville’s second game of the season against Colorado. On Tuesday against Minnesota, Jones took most of his shifts as Weber’s left-side partner. It’s not easy for any rookie to move to his off side. That coach Barry Trotz shifted Jones to the left underscores the confidence he has in the 19-year-old. Jones responded with a game-high 25:02 of ice time, skating mostly against Minnesota’s top line of Parise, Mikko Koivu, and Jason Pominville. Not bad at all.
Tough introduction for Josh Harding on Tuesday. Niklas Backstrom had to leave after Nashville’s Eric Nystrom barreled into Minnesota’s starting goalie. Harding’s first task was to stare down Nystrom’s penalty shot, and he unsuccessfully waved at the snap shot. In case of injury, the NHL should allow relief goalies to take warm-up shots. Pitchers in baseball are given all the time they need. The Wild are lucky Harding didn’t pop a groin muscle trying to stop Nystrom’s shot.
On Tuesday, the Islanders returned Griffin Reinhart, the fourth overall pick of the 2012 draft, to his junior club in Edmonton. The high-end defenseman was a healthy scratch for the Islanders’ first three games. The Islanders were happy with Reinhart’s training camp, but his contract situation (10 NHL appearances would have burned the first season of his three-year entry-level deal) and the play of the defensemen above him made him a spectator. Reinhart was not going to displace anybody from New York’s current six-pack of Travis Hamonic, Andrew MacDonald, Lubomir Visnovsky, Matt Donovan, Brian Strait, and Thomas Hickey. Reinhart was the second defenseman selected in 2012. Columbus tabbed Ryan Murray second overall.
The Jets are pleased with the play so far of 19-year-old Jacob Trouba. The smooth-moving rookie defenseman is already logging 20-plus minutes per game. It helps that Trouba has been paired with fellow American Mark Stuart. The ex-Bruin plays a stay-at-home game, which allows Trouba to roam up the ice . . . Trouba is one of six defensemen from the Class of 2012 who are seeing regular action this year. The others: Murray (Columbus), Morgan Rielly (Toronto), Hampus Lindholm (Anaheim), Olli Maatta (Pittsburgh), and Connor Carrick (Washington). All are 20 or under . . . On July 4, the Sabres bought out the last year of Nathan Gerbe’s contract. So far, Gerbe is making the transaction look foolish. Gerbe, who signed a one-year, $550,000 contract with Carolina, scored three goals through the Hurricanes’ first four games. Gerbe is riding shotgun with Jordan Staal and Patrick Dwyer . . . When, not if, the Sabres trade Thomas Vanek, the acquiring team will welcome the best tipper in the league. On the power play, Vanek likes to set up in the high slot to redirect pucks on goal. Goalies have little chance at repositioning themselves when Vanek’s redirects are on target . . . Sixteen scouts attended Thursday’s Bruins-Avalanche game. It’s never too early to file scouting reports on Paul Stastny, who is in the final season of his five-year, $33 million contract. Stastny gives the high-flying Avalanche depth in the middle. So far, Stastny is centering Alex Tanguay and Gabriel Landeskog on the No. 2 line. But Stastny would bring a good return if the Avalanche put the center on the market. Toronto is always looking for a top-line pivot . . . Winnipeg has 13 former first-round picks on its roster, including ex-Bruins Stuart (2003) and Blake Wheeler (2004). It’s about time that talent shows through . . . Tape on a player’s shaft isn’t always about feel or cosmetics. A heavy tape job hides the name of the stick manufacturer when a player switches twigs. Players under contract with one company regularly bolt for a rival. “I just like the feel,” said one player regarding his new stick, citing no specific differences between the two . . . Red Wings GM Ken Holland and House Speaker John Boehner share more than a resemblance. In their respective fields, Holland and Boehner are masters of the left-wing lock.
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Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.
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