Last season, when the NHL rolled out new Reebok uniforms, the "upgrade" flopped. They were too tight. They ripped. Sweat rolled off the jerseys and drained into gloves and skates.
This year, the NHL is hoping the next round of equipment tweaks will be more successful.
On June 11, the Goalie Equipment Working Group - general managers Doug Risebrough (Minnesota), Garth Snow (Islanders), Jim Rutherford (Carolina), and Brett Hull (Dallas); goalies Martin Brodeur (New Jersey), Rick DiPietro (Islanders), and Ryan Miller (Buffalo); and skaters Dany Heatley (Ottawa) and Mike Cammalleri (then Los Angeles, now Calgary) - convened in Toronto to address what could be done to shrink goaltenders, without resorting to hunger strikes.
The result? Knee pads and clavicle protectors will be trimmed for the 2008-09 season.
Because most goalies play the butterfly style, shooters would see the following: a netminder standing tall with his legs spread, inviting them to go five-hole. But as soon as a player shot the puck, the goalie would drop into the butterfly and close the opening, aided by 6 or more inches of knee protection on top of 38 inches of pads, all to protect a net that is only 6 feet wide.
"A lot of goaltenders wear extraneous flaps," said Glenn Healy, the director of public affairs for the NHL Players' Association. "It's like an airplane wing. You push a button and, 'Whoop.' It all accordions down so there's no room to score down low. Take a pad that's 38 inches. Put two of them back to back and you're covering the entire bottom part of the net plus 4 inches."
The group concluded that the knee pad could be limited to 2 1/2 inches in length without compromising goalie safety. With less blocking area low, skaters have a better chance of scoring five-hole.
"Particularly with goaltenders, the cardinal rule is, 'Don't get beat five-hole,' " said Healy, a former goalie. "You get beat once, fine. If you get beat twice, you're done. You're sitting on the bench. If you can plant a seed of doubt in the goaltenders that you can get beat there and you're vulnerable in that spot, the head worms start going. And once they start going in a goaltender's game, he's in big trouble."
Meanwhile, torso protection will be contoured. The clavicle protector, previously allowed to be 7 inches long, will become smaller, although Healy didn't have exact dimensions of the new piece. All goalies have been apprised of the changes and equipment manufacturers are making the alterations so netminders will have their new gear for training camp in September.
The reduction of the Michelin men won't be the only advantage for shooters in 2008-09. In the next few weeks, more than 100 NHLers will test the Thermablade Elite II, the heated blades that were introduced in February to a 10-player group. Four Bruins are taking part in the trial run. Marc Savard, who had expressed interest in the system previously, is expected to be one of them.
According to Sam McCoubrey, Thermablade's vice president of sales and marketing, the new model features more robust electronics that will give players 75 minutes on a two-hour charge (the blade plugs into a standard electric outlet). The concept is that heated blades (approximately 41 degrees, powered by battery and a microprocessor in the skate's undercarriage) reduce friction and vibration between the skates and ice, giving players quicker starts, tighter turns, more speed out of turns, and greater efficiency that will lead to more energy late in games. Nashville forward Martin Erat, who wore the previous model last season, said he had better speed coming out of corners.
Based on feedback after this summer's trial, the NHL will decide whether to approve Thermablade (retail price: $299.99) use leaguewide. One concern has been how heated blades might impact ice conditions.
"The expectation is that by early September the league will have made that decision, in large part based on feedback from players," McCoubrey said. "They need to do tests to confirm there's no negative impact on the ice. And there isn't. We've done enough testing and have had enough players use them at this point."
More shooting space. Better skaters. Evolution continues.
Earning incentive bonusesLast Tuesday, No. 1 overall pick Steven Stamkos signed a three-year, entry-level deal with Tampa Bay. Stamkos will earn a base salary of $875,000, but his annual cap hit will be $3.725 million because of potential bonuses, giving the forward a cap number greater than all but seven Bruins.
is often a bit of a reach
Stamkos, however, will likely have a hard time attaining all of his bonuses, given how difficult reaching those incentives can be.
Case in point: Phil Kessel and his $2.2 million cap hit. Kessel, who earns a base salary of $850,000, is entering the final season of his entry-level deal. Through two NHL seasons, Kessel has not qualified for any of his bonuses.
In 2008-09, Kessel could reach some of the incentives. He can earn an additional $212,500 if he scores 20 or more goals, a bonus he came one goal short of earning last season. Kessel can also make $212,500 if he records 35 or more assists, and another $212,500 if he scores 60 or more points. Naturally, Kessel is no longer eligible for the $212,500 bonus for making the All-Rookie team. While Kessel is in range of hitting the previously mentioned bonuses, it's unlikely - although the Bruins certainly wouldn't mind if he proves the contrary - that he will earn a $500,000 bonus by being named the Selke Trophy winner as the league's best defensive forward.
Conclusion: Under the collective bargaining agreement, high-end rookies carry significant cap numbers. But other than exceptions named Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, the bonuses can be hard to reach.
BY THE NUMBERS
THE LISTIn one of the stranger statistical wrinkles, nine of the 10 top faceoff winners in 2007-08 came from the Eastern Conference, with only ex-Bruin Joe Thornton cracking the top 10 from the West:
1. Mats Sundin, Toronto 945
2. Bobby Holik, Atlanta 877
3. Rod Brind'Amour, Carolina 851
4. Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay 815
5. Marc Savard, Boston 802
6. John Madden, New Jersey 786
7. Joe Thornton, San Jose 785
8. Eric Staal, Carolina 767
9. Chris Drury, Rangers 746
10. Jason Spezza, Ottawa 729
Speak up"Lots of golf. Not a lot of pars."
Boston College coach Jerry York, who hits the links at Oakley Country Club in Watertown, on his summer game
Etc.Waiving goodbye: Had the Bruins assigned Glen Murray to Providence instead of buying out the right wing, they would have cleared all of the 35-year-old's $4.15 million salary from their 2008-09 cap number. Also, if the Bruins projected interest around the league in Murray, they could have promoted him in hopes of a club claiming him on reentry waivers at half the cost of his remaining salary. There is a precedent for teams tucking away high-priced veterans in the AHL for cap purposes. Last season, Philadelphia assigned defenseman Denis Gauthier ($2.1 million annual cap hit) to the Phantoms. In 2005-06, New Jersey dumped ex-Bruin Dan McGillis and the defenseman's $2.2 million yearly cap hit in Albany. This maneuver doesn't take place regularly for two reasons: First, owners are rightfully annoyed at spending millions on AHLers. Second, wiping out troublesome contracts by sending veterans to the minors can send up red flags for unrestricted free agents and their representatives. "It certainly may give an agent and a player reason to pause," wrote agent Matt Keator in an e-mail. "But in the end, if the team and deal feel right, then the player will sign with the club. Once a player is locked into a contract, then it is all about trusting the team to treat its employee fairly within the rules of the [collective bargaining agreement]."
Loose pucks: Somewhat surprising that no team has signed ex-Bruin Bryan Smolinski. The 36-year-old Smolinski, last seen centering Montreal's crash trio (arguably the most effective threesome against the Bruins in the playoffs) between back-cracker Steve Begin and Tom Kostopoulos, could be an inexpensive one-year pickup for third- or fourth-line duty. Smolinski might have to go the tryout route to earn an NHL job come October . . . No word on who will become the next coach in Portland, Buffalo's new AHL affiliate. Sabres general manager Darcy Regier was on vacation last week . . . Three of the candidates for the Islanders' head coaching job are from Massachusetts: Providence coach Scott Gordon (Easton), ex-Bruins boss Mike Sullivan (Marshfield), and former Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella (Concord). GM Garth Snow is from Wrentham and, like Gordon, is a former goalie . . . Blake Wheeler, who impressed at Boston's development camp, is working out alongside current NHLers at the University of Minnesota, his alma mater. Later this month, Wheeler is hoping to skate with future teammate Mark Stuart, also a native Minnesotan . . . Thanks to all who expressed their condolences to linemate Kevin Dupont regarding the recent death of his mother, Frances. Stick salute to all from the Bruins organization who attended the services in Bedford. No denying that hockey people are the best.
Bubble Bruin: If there is one Bruin who benefited more than others when Glen Metropolit signed a two-year, $2 million contract with Philadelphia, it was Nate Thompson. The Providence captain, who signed a one-year, $500,000 extension last Monday, projects to be an NHL energy forward/penalty killer, with making the big club out of training camp his top priority. "I like my chances right now," said Thompson. "I have to come into camp in shape and have a good camp. Nothing is set in stone. I've got to go in and still win a spot. I like being part of the Bruins' organization. They're going in a great direction right now with all the young talent and making the playoffs last year. It's real exciting to be part of this organization. It's up and coming. I like my chances, but I've got to go into camp, play my game, and hopefully it all works out." Thompson, a native of Anchorage, is working out with a group that includes fellow Alaskans Scott Gomez (Rangers), Joey Crabb (Atlanta), and Jason Ryznar (free agent), skating several times a week and emphasizing explosive movement in his off-ice workouts. Thompson, Boston's sixth-round pick in 2003, had 19 goals and 20 assists in 75 games while totaling 83 penalty minutes for Providence in 2007-08. The 6-foot, 205-pounder didn't get an NHL promotion last season, but the 23-year-old, who appeared in four NHL games in 2006-07, could target the fourth-line spot currently held by Jeremy Reich as a checker, penalty killer, and agitator. "It was very valuable for me," Thompson said of serving as Providence captain. "It was an honor for me. I was pretty disappointed that we lost how we did. But in my eyes, it was still a successful year. We had a great regular season with a great group of guys. It was a learning process for me being captain. I learned a lot, on and off the ice, how to deal with certain situations. Hopefully, it helped me in the long run."
Solid as a Brock: Bruins prospect Brock Bradford, his Boston College career interrupted twice with breaks of the same arm, is expected to be fully healed for his senior year. "Everything appears right on schedule for Brock's full return in the fall," said BC coach Jerry York. "He's doing some light stickhandling. Still no contact. But he's well on the path to a complete recovery." Bradford, who will serve as captain in 2008-09, was selected by the Bruins in the seventh round of the 2005 draft. In 87 NCAA games, Bradford has 28 goals and 39 assists. In 2003-04, Bradford played for the Coquitlam Express, the same junior team Milan Lucic dressed for a year later. Bradford, who will play on the wing this season, has until Aug. 1, 2009, to sign a contract with the Bruins, or else he will become a free agent. "Just a freak accident," York said of the multiple breaks. "He broke the humerus bone, then broke it again. No connection to the first break. [Bruins orthopedist Thomas] Gill looked at it, and he came the same conclusion as our doctors at St. Elizabeth's. It was a freak accident."
It's settled, then: Of the 15 players who filed for arbitration this offseason, only two made it to their hearings before settling on contracts: former Boston defenseman Shaone Morrisonn and Nashville's Ville Koistinen. Morrisonn was awarded a $1.975 million, one-year contract, while Koistinen won a one-year, $700,000 deal. Of the 13 players who avoided arbitration, Florida defenseman Jay Bouwmeester signed the most-lucrative deal per season, agreeing to a one-year, $5 million contract. Minnesota forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard settled for the biggest total contract ($20.4 million over five years). There are several reasons why both sides agree to contracts before hearings take place. First, players file for arbitration for additional negotiating time, fully intending to sign before the hearings. Second, the cases themselves can turn ugly, with teams making blunt assessments of their players that can cause hard feelings down the line.
Looking ahead: No doubt that Bouwmeester will be the biggest unrestricted free agent prize among puck-moving defensemen come July 1, 2009, and given how loopy some of the numbers were this summer (it doesn't get sillier than five years and $20.5 million for Mark Streit), the big Florida D-man will be counting his millions in less than a year. But a not-too-shabby second choice might be Anaheim's Francois Beauchemin, currently earning a mere $1.65 million on his final year of his contract. The Ducks would be wise to lock up the 28-year-old puck-mover, especially if Scott Niedermayer retires after 2008-09. But if Beauchemin hits the open market, the ex-Canadien would draw considerable interest. The 6-foot, 213-pound workhorse was fourth in the NHL in total ice time (2,093:23), trailing only Bouwmeester, Calgary's Dion Phaneuf, and Chicago's Duncan Keith. Because of Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Mathieu Schneider, and Marc-Andre Bergeron, Beauchemin's power-play duties were reduced last season to 2:45 of man-advantage time per game. That's compared with the 4:42 he spent on the power play per game in 2005-06, when the Ducks were still without Pronger. But coach Randy Carlyle has tabbed Beauchemin as a key shorthanded man, giving him 4:09 of penalty killing time per game last season, just behind the 4:12 Pronger averaged per game. With the Bruins on track to shed approximately $9.8 million in salary after this season (expiring contracts of Manny Fernandez, P.J. Axelsson, Andrew Alberts, Tim Thomas, Shane Hnidy, and Reich), they could set aside some of their savings to chase Beauchemin if he's available (although Boston will certainly consider re-signing Thomas, at least). Key wrinkle: Beauchemin played for Claude Julien in Hamilton, Montreal's AHL affiliate, in 2002-03. In one of Montreal GM Bob Gainey's more regrettable transactions, Beauchemin was claimed off waivers by Columbus Sept. 15, 2004. Beauchemin, a Quebec native, played in only one game for the Canadiens.
Loose pucks: He's a long shot to make the big club this fall, but former BC captain Mike Brennan, who signed a two-year, entry-level deal with Chicago as a free agent, could be an interesting project for the Blackhawks. "I was at the Select-17 camps this summer talking to some Chicago scouts, and they were very impressed with him," York said. "They had a minicamp earlier in July, and they thought he was very assertive." ... About time good soldier Steve Tambellini, a 17-year employee of the Canucks, was rewarded with the GM job in Edmonton Thursday. At least now, the Edmonton GM and Anaheim GM can speak directly. Former Oilers GM Kevin Lowe, now Edmonton's president of hockey operations, wasn't exactly a chum of Brian Burke ... Boston GM Peter Chiarelli, who enjoyed a fishing trip off Alaska last month, explained the logistics of the two-salmon-per-day rule. "There are two types of salmon there -- the Chinook or King salmon, then the Coho salmon," Chiarelli said. "There's a lot of Coho. So we went fishing for four days, so you could bring back four Chinook and four Coho. Or no Chinook and eight Coho. The maximum amount of Chinook would have bee four. So you end up playing that fishing derby game. Do you keep it, or let it go and wait for something bigger? There's a little strategy. There's a lot of fish there and they want to keep it that way." Sounds more complicated than a four-way deal at the trade deadline.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.