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Burning Through sticks? That’s The Breaks In The NHL

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We’ve all seen it:

NHL Player X winds up for a slap shot. His megabucks, custom, space-age tech composite stick hits the ice and …

Instead of the crack of a slap shot comes the crack of a shaft, a dribbling puck, and a team suddenly on its heels defensively, scrambling to get back to equal strength with either a fresh weapon or a fresh player.

Given how often we see it — two times a game? Three? Four? — one has to wonder just how many hockey sticks NHL players go through.

Serious Issue

In the negotiations surrounding the 2012 collective bargaining agreement, there were rumblings that sticks — reportedly running some teams as much as $500,000 per year — were on at least one owner’s list of things for which the players should be paying.

As far back as 2009, then-Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli told the Boston Globe, “It’s a big point of contention among GMs throughout the league, I’ll tell you that. The stick budget for every team keeps going up.”

At that time, Chiarelli said, the Bruins’ annual stick budget was roughly $400,000.

Blackhawks equipment manager Troy Parchman said in 2015 that his team typically breaks at least two to three sticks per game. Regardless, some players, such as Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, use a new stick each game.

The sudden burst in composite popularity wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops for the stick manufacturers, either. On the retail market, companies were forced to begin offering 30-day warranties for expensive composite sticks. Bauer, after doubling stick sales from 2006 to 2010, cited warranty costs as a contributor to consecutive quarterly declines in its gross profits in 2011 and ’12.

Would Wood Be Better?

Some argue that composite sticks break more frequently than the old wooden models. Others argue they just break more noticeably.

Wood sticks, with cracking, would give an indication they were about to go. Players would then simply replace them on the bench before the shafts exploded into splinters. Composites give no such hints, so their failures are featured.

In the wooden stick era, NHL teams reportedly went through an average of 2,500 to 4,000 sticks per season. It has been said that Hall of Fame defenseman Bobby Orr’s personal total was usually somewhere between 120 and 180.

It didn’t matter much, as wooden models that retailed for around $30 were perhaps a sixth of the price of the composites that would rapidly redefine the market in the early 2000s.

Fun With Numbers

So how many sticks are we talking about, really?

Let’s use that $500,000 figure. Pro-grade sticks frequently retail for more than $200, but we know the league is getting a deal, right? For the sake of easy math let’s say NHL teams are paying $100 per stick. That’s 5,000 sticks per team per season.

Divided by an 82-game schedule, that’s 61 sticks per game. Divided by the 23-player active roster, that’s 2.65 sticks per player per game.

Making Pearls From Lemons

At least there’s a happy ending for many of those broken carbon-fiber sticks — which aren’t recyclable, and don’t deteriorate in landfills.

In 2016, Florida Gulf Coast University came up with the Hockey Sticks to Oyster Reef Restoration program using broken sticks to create oyster habitats. The university partnered that year with the NHL to bring the program to other coastal communities.