This July, the Reebok-CCM helmet that protected Patrice Bergeron’s head will go on sale. The high-end version will cost $299. The company’s hope is that the helmet’s sales will be worth the two-plus years and more than $1 million required to pluck it from an engineer’s imagination and plop it onto a pro shop’s shelf.
“It’s 2½ years,” said Philippe Dube, president of Reebok-CCM Hockey, “only because we did not start from scratch.”
Hockey equipment is big business. The NHL represents a slender slice of revenue for companies such as Reebok-CCM and Bauer, two of the industry’s heavyweights.
But the NHL is a crucial driver for sales. It’s why Reebok-CCM tabbed Bergeron, who belongs to the company’s stable of NHL stars, to showcase an important upcoming product. Bergeron was the only Bruin to wear the helmet during the playoffs. It’s why at Reebok-CCM’s Montreal headquarters, a giant image of Carey Price looms over the staircase that leads from the lobby to the sales wing. It’s why, of the three flags that flew in front of the office last month, the Canadiens’ CH was at the top of the pole.
In theory, when the next-generation gear hits the market next month, the stars will have primed the pump for consumers.
“We don’t want NHL players to use our future products too long,” Dube said. “We use the NHL players to showcase the product we will be retailing. Usually it’s a few months before. So we start with some key players. Then, for summer camp, it’s open to anybody who wants the helmet.”
NHLers such as Bergeron, Price, and John Tavares may be Reebok-CCM’s most effective marketers. But like in other companies, its brainiacs are responsible for designing and developing the gear.
Those engineers, with assistance from researchers from the University of Ottawa, helped design the helmet Bergeron, who has a concussion history, wore during the playoffs.
Helmets were originally built to protect against linear impact — a puck to the head, a strike against the glass. But these aren’t the blows that are necessarily leading to concussions. The Resistance Helmet includes several circular plastic pods containing foam, which are intended to act as shock absorbers.
Like all of the company’s equipment, the helmet went through several phases of development. One sector of Reebok-CCM’s ground floor is walled off. Visitors are not allowed.
In this space, engineers scribble designs on windows. Prototypes sit on tables. Some of the equipment will progress to the testing room next door, where technicians can propel pucks at pads or apply pressure to sticks.
The location of the company’s headquarters, approximately 20 minutes outside of downtown Montreal, helps recruiting. People in Montreal are passionate about hockey. Montreal is also the home of Bombardier, the international transportation conglomerate. Reebok-CCM has hired engineers with expertise in composites from Bombardier to work on sticks.
The result is the RBZ Superfast, the company’s upcoming stick. Dube said it is lighter, more durable, and can shoot pucks harder — the blade features 12 tight layers of composite — than previous-generation sticks. It will be new to customers. But Reebok-CCM already has the next two sticks in the development pipeline.
“Consumers for sticks, when they get to a store, ask two questions,” Dube said. “What’s new? And what’s on discount? Either you want to sell discounted sticks at low margin, or you want to sell new products. The kids want what’s new or what’s cheap. It’s very difficult for Year 2 products. You’re not new, so you automatically go into the discount category.”
Testing takes place on Reebok-CCM’s computers and in its laboratory. Gear must also go through real-world stress. At a rink several blocks from the office, employees, including Dube, play hockey while trying out the gear. The company also has a relationship with the QMJHL’s Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. The junior team — lucky guys — tests the prototypes that could someday be headed to market.
Making hockey equipment seems like a straightforward process. But it requires multiple systems to work in synch.
In-season goalie deals have bad track record
On Feb. 28, the Blues thought they had acquired the final piece toward a Cup-winning team when they landed Ryan Miller from Buffalo. In hindsight, the Blues showed the rest of the league not to try such a risky stunt.
There are plenty of examples of successful acquisitions. The Rangers traded for Martin St. Louis. The Kings nabbed Marian Gaborik. In 2012-13, Chicago traded for Johnny Oduya and Michal Handzus.
But these all involve skaters, not goalies. For whatever reason, the latter are like perishable fruit when it comes to in-season trades. They don’t travel well.
In 2013-14, 13 goalies were traded during the season: Miller, Jason LaBarbera, Devan Dubnyk (twice), Ben Scrivens, Jaroslav Halak (twice), Viktor Fasth, Ilya Bryzgalov, Roberto Luongo, Jacob Markstrom, Tim Thomas, Dan Ellis, Reto Berra, and Michal Neuvirth. Miller and Bryzgalov were the only goalies to appear in the playoffs. Fasth and Scrivens project to be the Edmonton duo next season. Luongo will be the No. 1 in Florida. Markstrom will be in the Vancouver mix.
In 2012-13, 11 goalies were moved during the season: Thomas, Berra, Brian Boucher, Henrik Karlsson, Cedrick Desjardins, Dustin Tokarski, Ben Bishop, Steve Mason, Michael Leighton, Matt Hackett, and Jeff Deslauriers. None of them played in the playoffs. Bishop and Mason have become the starters for Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. Tokarski should be Carey Price’s backup next season.
In 2011-12, only three goalies changed teams during the season: Bishop, Karri Ramo, and Curtis McElhinney. None of them played in the playoffs. They have all moved on.
In 2010-11, eight goalies were dealt midseason: Ellis, McElhinney (twice), Dwayne Roloson, Al Montoya, Craig Anderson, Brian Elliott, Anton Khudobin, and Drew MacIntyre. Roloson nearly backstopped the Lightning past the Bruins in the Eastern Conference finals. Ellis appeared in one playoff game for Anaheim. None of the other seven played in the postseason. Anderson (Ottawa) is the only goalie remaining with the team that acquired his services.
In comparison, three aces have moved in the past three summers: Cory Schneider, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Semyon Varlamov. New Jersey, Columbus, and Colorado didn’t qualify for the playoffs in the years in which they got their men. But all three project to be among the league’s best goalies for some time. Bobrovsky and Varlamov played important roles in backstopping Columbus and Colorado into the first round of the playoffs.
It’s unclear why significant in-season goalie trades are neither successful nor common. The guess here is that it centers on the nature of the position and the men who work its trade. The goalie is the last line of defense. If he makes a mistake, it shows on the scoreboard. The job requires complete mental commitment.
The smallest thing can disrupt a goalie’s comfort level. There’s nothing small about being traded during the season.
Callahan may cash in,
but is he worth it?
They are both right wings. They were leaders for New York-area teams. They play rugged, in-your-face games. They can score goals on the power play and in even-strength situations.
Ryan Callahan could become the next David Clarkson. And that’s not necessarily a good thing. Clarkson was never drafted. But after signing with the Devils, he didn’t take long to become an important player. In 426 games with New Jersey, Clarkson scored 97 goals and 73 assists while racking up 770 penalty minutes.
In his final season in New Jersey, Clarkson led his team with 15 goals (six on the power play) in 48 games. He averaged 17:35 of ice time, including 3:33 on the power play. He dropped the gloves six times, according to www.hockeyfights.com. The Devils had more shot attempts than they allowed with Clarkson playing.
Clarkson turned his body of work into a seven-year, $36.75 million bonanza with Toronto. One year in, it looks like one of the league’s worst contracts. After serving a 10-game suspension for leaving the bench during a preseason game against Buffalo, things didn’t get much better for Clarkson. He scored five goals and six assists in 60 games while averaging 15:06 of ice time.
Callahan loves Clarkson’s contract. The former Rangers captain could probably do better. In 470 games, Callahan has 138 goals and 127 assists. In 45 games with the Rangers this season, Callahan scored 11 goals and 14 assists while logging 17:57 of ice time per game.
The Lightning leaned on Callahan even harder. In 20 games following his arrival from Manhattan, he scored six goals and five assists while averaging 20:13 of playing time. Callahan closed out the playoffs on Tampa’s first line with Steven Stamkos and Ondrej Palat.
Callahan’s performance and reputation as a heart-and-soul player could earn him a premium on Clarkson’s $5.25 million average annual value, whether it’s with Tampa or a club such as Buffalo, his hometown team.
But Callahan’s straight-line game gets him hurt. Clarkson has played 80-plus games four times. He also dressed for every game during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. Callahan has played more than 80 games just once.
Callahan’s short-term ceiling is as a second-line right wing who plays in all situations. Those guys get paid. But Callahan is 29 years old. He’s worn down some of the tread on his tires. His injury history dictates that he won’t play every game. Paying such players more than $5 million annually is risky. Just ask the Maple Leafs.
P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, and Josh Gorges poured out their hearts for three playoff rounds. If Montreal’s top three defensemen had more supporting help, they might still be playing. The Canadiens will be in good shape next season in goal and up front. They’ve got a keeper in Dustin Tokarski as Carey Price’s backup. All the forwards will be back except for Thomas Vanek and possibly Brian Gionta. General manager Marc Bergevin’s heavy lifting will be on the back end. Markov, Mike Weaver, Francis Bouillon, and Douglas Murray will be unrestricted free agents. Subban, an RFA-to-be, will hit the lottery. Bergevin’s priority will be to usher in depth to take some of the shifts away from his best defensemen. Subban averaged 27:26 of ice time in the playoffs. Markov logged 25:59. Gorges played 23:26. That’s too much. It showed against the Rangers, who roll four lines. “They get pucks deep and they wear the other team’s defense down, and that’s what we did,” said New York coach Alain Vigneault after Game 6. “We caught Montreal on a long shift there and were able to wear them down, and finally scored the goal that enabled us to move on.” The Canadiens have some in-house candidates in Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi to take more shifts next season. They won’t be enough.
Jamie Benn is the best left wing in the league. The 24-year-old is skilled. He’s hard on the puck. The Dallas captain shoots and dishes. He plays in all situations. His competitiveness rivals his hockey sense. Brandon Saad could become the next Benn. The Blackhawks are taking their time with Saad. The 21-year-old is sometimes third on Chicago’s depth chart at left wing depending on how coach Joel Quenneville deploys Bryan Bickell and Patrick Sharp. Sooner rather than later, Saad will become a top-line star. In 78 regular-season games this season, Saad scored 19 goals and 28 assists while logging 16:17 of playing time per outing. Through 18 playoff games, Saad had five goals and nine assists while playing an average of 17:24. In Benn’s second NHL season, he scored 22 goals and 34 assists in 69 games while playing an average of 18:01. Once Saad’s playing time increases, so will his production. He already has a Stanley Cup ring. His confidence will improve. Saad will be entering the final season of his entry-level deal in 2014-15. He’ll be due for a heck of a second contract.
Martin St. Louis has scored 39 career postseason goals, perhaps none bigger than his overtime winner in Game 4 against the Canadiens. Because of St. Louis’s strike, the Rangers grabbed a 3-1 series lead en route to winning the Eastern Conference finals. It wasn’t just St. Louis’s speed and skill that allowed him to score the goal. It was his ability to get open. Before Carl Hagelin gained control of the puck, St. Louis had curled into the high slot. Alexei Emelin was the net-front defenseman. Had St. Louis stayed in the slot, Emelin would have closed the gap. Instead, St. Louis drifted to the right circle to fatten the gap between himself and Emelin. When Hagelin gave St. Louis the puck, Emelin couldn’t rotate over in time to bother the shot. You can have the greatest shot in the league. But it’s worthless if you can’t get open. That takes brains.
In 2014-15, Corey Crawford will begin the first season of a six-year, $36 million deal. That is the definition of overpayment . . . The question: Who are Alex Stalock, Chad Johnson, Ryan Miller, Al Montoya, Thomas Greiss, Justin Peters, Jonas Hiller, Tim Thomas, Curtis McElhinney, Ilya Bryzgalov, Jonas Gustavsson, and Ray Emery? The answer: the puckstopping UFAs-to-be coming off a better save percentage in 2013-14 than Martin Brodeur (.901). It will not be easy for the lifelong Devil to find steady NHL employment next season given the high supply and low demand . . . Stick salute to do-it-all man Kenny Albert. NBC Sports Network’s No. 2 play-by-play man behind Mike Emrick spent the conference finals shuttling between Los Angeles, Chicago, Montreal, and New York. Albert, who called the Western Conference games, is also the Rangers’ radio voice. It’s a good bet Albert has the gift of being able to sleep on planes . . . One of the keys to the Rangers’ success: having speed on all four lines: Chris Kreider (first), St. Louis and Hagelin (second), Mats Zuccarello (third), and Derek Dorsett (fourth). The Rangers like to stretch out opponents. Four lines of burners gave Montreal’s defensive pairings no respite . . . Former UMass defenseman Conor Allen is one of the Rangers’ extra players. Allen is coming off a solid first pro season for Hartford, the club’s AHL affiliate. The left-shot Allen will get a shot at the varsity next season . . . Sharp led Chicago during the regular season by landing 313 shots on goal, or 3.8 per game. He had just 12 shots on goal through five games of the Western Conference finals against Los Angeles. As such, Sharp had only one goal and no assists. Ghostly.