James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.

Fantasy impact of 2018 NHL Trade Deadline: East

The 2018 NHL trade deadline provided some serious fireworks, even though Erik Karlsson and Max Pacioretty didn’t move.

Over the next two days, PHT will assess the deadline from a fantasy standpoint. Today, we begin with the East. Look out for the West edition on Friday.


Boston Bruins: Rick Nash is looking good so far, continuing to fire a high volume of shots (10 SOG in his first two Bruins games, one resulting in a sweet goal). At the moment, he’s skating with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk, not too extreme a drop-off from Mika Zibanejad and Mats Zuccarello in New York.

Buffalo Sabres: Sheesh, with Evander Kane traded and Jack Eichel injured, who’s going to score for Buffalo? Ryan O'Reilly and Jason Pominville?

At least the Sabres have no choice but to turtle ahead of two pending free agent goalies in Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson. I wouldn’t expect many W’s, but maybe they’ll have high-save nights for those spot starting goalies? (Yes, I agree with your “Meh.”)

Carolina Hurricanes: *cricket chirps*

Columbus Blue Jackets: Thomas Vanek gets a golden opportunity to prove he’s still worth something, or at least able to cosplay as 2016-17 Sam Gagner, what with his spot on the Blue Jackets’ top power-play unit.

Detroit Red Wings: Seems like Tyler Bertuzzi will be the biggest winner of the Tomas Tatar trade, as Tatar’s most common linemates were Dylan Larkin (by a large margin) and Andreas Athanasiou.

While his injury might make the point moot, Mike Green staying with the Red Wings might not be such a bad thing for his fantasy value. On a contender, Green would probably see fewer minutes, and be more of a specialist. In Detroit, he seems more likely to get those specialist PP minutes while also receiving something closer to a featured role overall.

Florida Panthers: Frank Vatrano could be interesting in an elevated role, once healthy … but not exactly a busy trade deadline for the Cats. Then again, with all the turbulence lately, it’s almost certainly wisest to aim for some stability.

Although Max Pacioretty would have been a lot of fun, if that ever was going to happen without Vincent Trocheck going the other way …

Montreal Canadiens: Patches might have benefited from a breath of fresh air. Even so, Habs fans get to let out a sigh of relief that Marc Bergevin didn’t bungle another trade.

New Jersey Devils: Via Left Wing Lock, Patrick Maroon might begin on the Devils’ fourth line with Brian Boyle and Blake Coleman. I’d imagine that’s to allow Maroon to get accustomed to a new team?

Michael Grabner‘s currently on a third line with Travis Zajac and Stefan Noesen. There’s no doubt that Ray Shero’s latest slew of trades were made to improve depth, but I’d imagine the Devils would probably like to see those two forwards eventually solidify the top nine, with one of them ideally on the first or second line.

Maroon owners might already be nostalgic for the Connor McDavid days.

New York Islanders: *Cricket takes out a billboard that says “chirp”*

New York Rangers: Ryan Spooner hearts NY. So far in two games, the underrated former-Bruin has five assists, including three from last night. Vladislav Namestnikov looked great in his Rangers debut, too, scoring a goal and an assist.

Both forwards are in contract years and should get nice opportunities on a team in transition, so they are both nice deeper league options.

Ottawa Senators: Life might be weird for Erik Karlsson after not getting moved, but he’ll probably pile up points just the same. Exhibit A:

Sure, there were scenarios in which Karlsson would generate better numbers on a contender. He’d be less likely to deal with teammates going through the motions and might simply have better players to set up.

Still, there’s always an adjustment in going to a new team, especially for a star. So it’s not all great or all bad for Karlsson owners.

Philadelphia Flyers: Tough to gripe too much with staying the course when this team is positioned so strongly, even after ignoring calls for change after a 10-game losing streak. News flash: Ron Hextall is pretty good at this GM’ing thing.

Pittsburgh Penguins: It wouldn’t be shocking to see the Penguins experiment with different alignments regarding Derick Brassard, especially when you consider how comfortable they are moving wingers around Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.

You wonder if Mike Sullivan might also experiment with Brassard on one of the top two lines, even if it’s just to take a look. That would be the ideal scenario for fantasy, as playing on the third line could be a slight issue for Brassard, although those worries are mitigated by Phil Kessel currently joining him (and, hey, Conor Sheary isn’t chopped liver either).

Tampa Bay Lightning: We may need to wait a bit for returns on the big trade. Both Ryan McDonagh and Nikita Kucherov are injured. The Bolts lost to the lowly Sabres last night, and maybe worse, they were noticeably out-shot.

The dream scenario for J.T. Miller owners is that he’d eventually just slide into Namestnikov’s usual role as “Good Player Who Looks Great next to Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.” Right now it’s just sort of a mess, although Tyler Johnson isn’t the worst consolation prize.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Much like the Bolts with Kucherov, things are a little funky in Toronto with Auston Matthews out.

Tomas Plekanec‘s a decent pick up, yet he’s not really expected to light scoreboards on fire. That said, depending upon linemates, he could get a boost. We’ll see, but I wouldn’t scramble to add him in typical leagues, either.

I mean, unless you need to win the coveted turtlenecks category.

Washington Capitals: Rumors have it that the Capitals at least dipped their toes in the water re: Erik Karlsson and Ryan McDonagh. Instead, they’re not making a splash after doing so during many recent deadlines.

That’s probably most heartening to John Carlson, who won’t even need to fend off an aging Mike Green as he continues to pile up numbers in a contract year. He already has 50 points this season.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Devils get Schneider back for tough stretch


As great as Taylor Hall has been – and those MVP discussions aren’t out of line – the New Jersey Devils have mainly been up-and-down lately. Consider this: since the calendar turned to 2018, the Devils have just an 11-12-1 record.

Such a mark is more impressive when you realize that Cory Schneider has only played five games, with all of them coming in January. They’ve even seen Keith Kinkaid get injured, too, pressing them to bring Eddie Lack into the fold.

Schneider, 31, hasn’t played since Jan. 23, and his work in January was bad enough that you wonder if he had been nursing that injury for some time.

So, really, they haven’t seen true Cory Schneider for a while.

That stinks, but the Devils should be glad they’re getting him back for March, as the road ahead could be bumpy. Take a look at the looming stretch, beginning with Schneider’s return tonight against a hungry Panthers team in Florida:

Thu, Mar 1 @ Florida
Fri, Mar 2 @ Carolina
Sun, Mar 4 vs Vegas
Tue, Mar 6 vs Montreal
Thu, Mar 8 vs Winnipeg
Sat, Mar 10 @ Nashville
Wed, Mar 14 @ Vegas
Sat, Mar 17 @ Los Angeles
Sun, Mar 18 @ Anaheim
Tue, Mar 20 @ San Jose
Fri, Mar 23 @ Pittsburgh

After that, the Devils will close out their regular season with six home games and two road contests, so the above run is where they need to really dig deep.

The Devils began this current three-game road trip by edging the Penguins 3-2 in regulation, but the next two nights should be even more interesting.

The Devils are already in a strong position to grab the first wild-card spot, if not push to make it into the Metro top three. Consider how much they might expand their lead with wins against the Panthers and Hurricanes:

First wild: Devils – 74 points, 63 games played
Second wild: Columbus – 69 points, 63 GP

Hurricanes: 65 points, 63 GP
Islanders: 65 points, 64 GP
Panthers: 64 points, 60 GP

Tonight, they face a Panthers team attempting to take advantage of considerable games in hand advantages over the other bubble squads. Tomorrow, they’ll face a Hurricanes team that has to be feeling pretty desperate amid a six-game losing streak. Not a bad way for the Devils to test themselves, right?

Being thrown into the fire like this could help Schneider get his game back. He’s been fine this season, particularly considering New Jersey’s live-by-the-sword, die-by-the-sword mentality, but you can bet he’d like to have a better save percentage than his .913 mark in 2017-18.

It’s easy to justify the hype about finally seeing Taylor Hall in a playoff series, yet Schneider must feel like he has something to prove, too. Despite a nice career on paper, he’s only appeared in 10 postseason contests so far.

Schneider gets a chance to gear up for a probable postseason, starting with tonight’s test against the Panthers. The next few weeks should tell us a lot about where Schneider and his team are at.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: MacKinnon’s Hart push, Lundqvist stops 50


Players of the Night

Those are nice choices, but Wednesday provided the latest convenient reminder that Nathan MacKinnon shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle, even after missing a handful of games with injury issues.

The speedy Colorado Avalanche star helped his team win a key game in regulation against the Calgary Flames tonight. In doing so, MacKinnon scored one goal and one assist, pushing his already-career-high season points total to 71. He’s nearing his first 30-goal campaign, as this makes for his 29th. N0t bad for a forward whose shooting skill was genuinely – and honestly, fairly – questioned, eh?

MacKinnon’s 71 points come in 55 games, which translates to 1.29 points-per-game. During an 82-game season, that would translate to about 106 points. The one convenient thing about his injury is that it showed that how the Avs would operate without him (spoiler: not nearly as well).

He’s really been asserting his will lately, too. During his previous two-goal, one assist performance, he fired nine shots on goal. Tonight he generated eight. In scoring five goals and five assists for 10 points in his last five games, he’s fired 31 SOG. Dominant stuff.

  • One long-standing Ranger and one newcomer deserve consideration.

The holdover is Henrik Lundqvist, who exhaustingly made 50 saves – most in regulation – to help the Rangers with in overtime. He couldn’t hold off Brock Boeser (two goals), Bo Horvat (one goal, two assists), and the Canucks in every instance, but he was the reason why they won.

That said, Ryan Spooner is off to a tremendous start with the Rangers. After generating two assists in his debut with the Rangers, he generated three helpers on Wednesday, including an assist on the OT-clincher.

  • Solid nights in victory for Jason Pominville and Jonathan Drouin, who both notched a goal and an assist. Pominville’s goal secured an overtime upset for Buffalo over Tampa Bay.

Highlights and lowlights

Speaking of Spooner, here’s that OT-winner he set up for John Gilmour:

Jaden Schwartz to Alex Pietrangelo on what went from an insurance goal to a decisive one for the Blues:

Part of what makes the Islanders so frustrating is that they find ways to lose, even as Mathew Barzal and John Tavares do amazing things:

Johnny Gaudreau probably deserves to get more mentions in MVP talk, as well, but not for nights like Wednesday. On the bright side, he piled up PIM and provided this GIF-friendly reaction.

Then again, it’s a stealth highlight considering the fact that he’d avoided a serious injury from Sam Bennett‘s misplaced skate blade:


Perhaps we should call them the Buffalo Spoilers?

If you have issues with Lundqvist allowing five goals but getting recognition, maybe this will help soothe such concerns:

If not, well …


Canadiens 3, Islanders 1
Sabres 2, Lightning 1 (OT)
Blues 2, Red Wings 1
Avalanche 5, Flames 2
Rangers 6, Canucks 5 (OT)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Blues end skid at seven by beating Red Wings


Even in closing a back-to-back set, the St. Louis Blues had to have this one. And they did.

It wasn’t exactly easy, mind you, as the Blues and Detroit Red Wings engaged in what was often a grinding affair on Wednesday. The Red Wings pushed early to try to rally from down two goals, but Carter Hutton and the Blues ended a deeply disturbing seven-game losing streak by winning 2-1.

This pretty play between Jaden Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo ended up being the game-winner:


It had to have been a confidence-booster for Hutton, who’s been strong for much of this season (some might argue good enough to steal more starts from Jake Allen), yet experienced a humbling relief appearance as Minnesota shredded St. Louis 8-3 last night.

That performance wrapped up a rough stretch of play for the Blues, with frustrations boiling over after Paul Stastny was sold to the Jets.

This win stands as crucial for what had been a sliding St. Louis group. Even with this win, the Blues are outside of the West playoff picture, and could slip a bit more if Calgary beats Colorado tonight. Still, they remain within a stride of Anaheim and other bubble teams, which has to be a relief considering a seven-game skid that resulted in a measly single standings point before this win.

The Red Wings can take heart in a solid effort, although this loss makes an unlikely playoff run that much less realistic. Considering the Tomas Tatar trade and other moves, management likely realized that, but Wednesday is a firm reminder that Detroit is likely stuck in the role of “spoiler” for the rest of 2017-8.

Such an effort wasn’t that short of the mark here, but the Blues got it done, giving them a chance to put these trying times behind them.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

From billboards to scoreboards, Islanders look dismal


With two first and two second-rounders for the upcoming draft in hand, New York Islanders GM Garth Snow decided not to make a big gamble during what will either be the final trade deadline of John Tavares‘ current, bargain contract … or the final trade deadline of the Tavares era.

Ultimately, much of the outlook, from the big picture to more specific matters like how Josh Bailey‘s extension will be judged, hinges on if Tavares decides to re-sign.

If the last few months play any role in Tavares’ decision, it sure doesn’t look very promising with March about to begin.

It would be bad enough if fans were putting up “Snow Must Go” billboards if it felt like the executive and others were going down swinging.

Both on the ice and on the phones, it feels like the Islanders are instead going down with a whimper.

Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens felt like a sample of those recent frustrations. You had:

  • Mathew Barzal scoring a beautiful goal, and generally looking like a star even as a rookie. In tonight’s case, it gave the Isles a lead that didn’t last.
  • A frustrated Tavares, who slammed his stick to the ice after the Islanders’ futile attempts to make a rally down 3-1 late in the third period.

  • Awful defensive lapses, allowing a dead-man-walking Habs team to win.

It’s not like this is a case where Antti Niemi needed to absolutely steal a game. While he made some stops, the Islanders only managed a 28-26 shots on goal advantage, even with Montreal taking a lead and beefing it up to two goals around the middle of the second period. It didn’t feel like there was that sense of urgency, making these shortcomings that much more frustrating.

This marks the fourth consecutive loss for an Islanders team that should be fighting desperately to secure one of the East’s final wild-card spots. Instead, it’s looking more and more like the bubble battles might come down to the Columbus Blue Jackets vs. the Florida Panthers (and maybe the Red Wings as a long shot), as the Carolina Hurricanes are sharing their own, less-desperate impression of the Islanders with six straight losses.

Final WC spot: Blue Jackets (69 points in 63 games)

Hurricanes (65 points in 63 GP)
Islanders (65 points in 64 GP)
Panthers (64 points in 60 GP)

The Islanders aren’t totally hopeless, though the road seems significantly bumpier after losing to Montreal. They’ll need to get revenge against the Canadiens in Brooklyn on Friday, because after that home game, the Islanders face a four-game road trip and five of six games away from Barclays from March 3-16.

By balking at the prices during the trade deadline, Snow demanded that the Islanders find answers from within. If these struggles continue, the Islanders will turn to scarier subjects, at least if this slippage makes Tavares question his future.

Even if that crucial situation ultimately breaks the Isles’ way, the bottom line is that the present looks pretty grim.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.