James O'Brien

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

Tierney accepts Sharks’ qualifying offer, could still be traded


Update: The Sharks confirmed the signing on Thursday.


Sometimes a signing puts speculation to bed for almost a decade. Every now and then, a deal barely delays additional questions.

TVA’s Renaud Lavoie reports that Chris Tierney accepted the San Jose Sharks’ qualifying offer: a one-year offer for $730K. NBC Sports California’s Kevin Kurz believes that such a move won’t quiet trade talk regarding Tierney.

Kurz indicates that, in re-signing Ryan Carpenter, the Sharks had less incentive to give Tierney more than that minimal qualifying offer. He brings up some interesting comparisons to other players who recently signed more lucrative deals and who enjoy more comfortable placements on their respective teams:

Still, it’s notable that the Sharks – according to a source – did not offer Tierney anything other than a one-year deal for his qualifying offer. In comparable deals in Dallas, Brett Ritchie, who has 34 points (22g, 12a) in 117 games over three seasons, recently signed a two-year, $3.5 million extension (although Ritchie did have arbitration rights). Radek Faksa, who did not have arbitration rights and has 45 points (12g, 21a) in 125 career games, signed a three-year, $6.6 million contract on Monday.

(Read more about Ritchie in this post and Faksa’s contract here.)

Tierney, 23, made a solid impact as a rookie, managing 21 points in 43 games back in 2014-15. Since then, his production has stalled out in the 20 range even while playing essentially full seasons in 2015-16 (20 points) and 2016-17 (23).

Tierney did appear in 24 games during San Jose’s 2016 Stanley Cup Final run, nabbing nine points and averaging a respectable TOI of 14:46.

It’s unclear what kind of trade market there would be, although that playoff experience and having 202 regular-season games under his belt at 23 means there could be at least mild interest.


Tocchet brings lessons from past mistakes (and successes) to Coyotes


A decade ago, Rick Tocchet – then an assistant for Wayne Gretzky with the Phoenix Coyotes – plead guilty to gambling charges. After that, he faced more mundane struggles behind the bench with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Some would fold after such humbling mistakes, but Tocchet kept forging his coaching career, culminating with being assistant for Mike Sullivan’s championship Penguins staff.

MORE: Coyotes hire Tocchet as head coach

Tocchet knows full well that you can recover – and learn from – mistakes, and it sounds like he’ll take that approach with an Arizona Coyotes team full of young players who will almost certainly go through their own ups and downs.

That also means embracing what you do well and what you need to improve upon as a coach. Tocchet admits that he wasn’t decisive enough in his first run-through, but seeing Mike Sullivan really opened his eyes in that regard, as NHL.com’s Dan Rosen reports.

The Coyotes took their time in replacing Dave Tippett – going through more than 20 candidates with about five interviews in person – and Coyotes GM John Chayka made it sound like Tocchet was a slam-dunk (or maybe more appropriately, a resounding body check).

It probably doesn’t hurt that members of the Penguins give glowing reviews of Tocchet as he leaves, too.

As promising as it is to hear that he endorses a “fun” style and doesn’t want to stifle creativity, the positive feedback has to inspire optimism in a Coyotes fan base that’s been through a lot.

Then again, Tocchet has been through quite a bit, too.

Flyers sign Scott Laughton to two-year deal


The Philadelphia Flyers took care of one of their RFA concerns on Tuesday, signing forward Scott Laughton to a two-year contract.

The specifics are unclear for Laughton, 23, who was the 20th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft.

After enjoying his best year at the NHL level in 2015-16 (21 points in 71 games), Laughton only appeared in two contests for the Flyers in 2016-17. He did manage a solid run in the AHL, if nothing else, generating 19 goals and 39 points in 60 games.

In 109 regular-season games, Laughton’s only averaged 11:08 TOI per night, so it’s clear that he still has a ways to go to really earn the Flyers’ trust.

Flyers GM Ron Hextall has stated that he’d prefer young players to step into roles rather than seeing veteran free agents take those spots. Perhaps Laughton can be one of those young players?

Report: Wild at least discuss homecoming for Matt Cullen


Mulling retirement at 40, Matt Cullen has the option to come home and still play in the NHL.

The Minnesota native has at least had some discussions with the Wild, according to Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Russo also notes that the Wild have had some talks with Drew Stafford, who would love to stay with the Boston Bruins (but might not have that option).

Cullen appeared in 193 regular-season and five playoff games for the Wild from 2010-11 to 2012-13. From there, he played for the Nashville Predators before raising the Stanley Cup twice with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Even at his advanced age, Cullen could conceivably help the Wild, who might be a little slim down the middle in depth positions.

That said, GM Chuck Fletcher told Russo that he believes younger players could conceivably step into that role. So we’ll see.

While some players are in limbo involuntarily, Cullen is one of those guys who may end up ultimately making the call. It would be tough to top two straight titles, but it also seems like he can still contribute. Remarkably, he managed 31 points for Pittsburgh last season.

No NHL team benefits from penalties quite like the Sharks


Just about every sports fan base probably feels like officials have in it for them in some fashion. Lambasting the referees might be the one thing rival fans can agree on during “neutral site” games.

Once emotions subside, facts can clarify some of these thoughts. Some teams draw a ton of penalties but take a lot, too. Others don’t do much of either. The San Jose Sharks seem to enjoy the best of both worlds, or at least something close to that.

Using NHL.com’s handy team stats, let’s look at the advantages the Sharks have enjoyed (whether they’re earned or not is subjective) when it comes to power play/penalty kill differential.

(Note: PHT will also take a look at the other end of the spectrum soon.)

First, here are the teams that were on the power play for at least a half hour longer than they were on the PK in 2016-17 (again, via NHL.com’s team stats).

San Jose Sharks 420:12:00 362:07:00 58:05:00
Philadelphia Flyers 464:24:00 415:27:00 48:57:00
Chicago Blackhawks 394:10:00 349:02:00 45:08:00
Carolina Hurricanes 387:18:00 345:17:00 42:01:00
Detroit Red Wings 426:20:00 388:13:00 38:07:00
Nashville Predators 430:22:00 395:41:00 34:41:00
Vancouver Canucks 403:58:00 371:25:00 32:33:00
Florida Panthers 454:51:00 424:39:00 30:12:00

As you can see, that’s a pretty significant gap between first and second place.

The Sharks rank 11th with power-play time (420:12) and were at the disadvantage at the fourth-lowest rate (362:07) last season. Shockingly, this edge wasn’t optimized, as San Jose drew even in scoring 41 power-play goals while allowing 41 shorthanded.

Now, that’s just one season. What about, since, say … the last lockout? Let’s consider how the top teams sorted out from the abbreviated 2012-13 campaign through 2016-17:

San Jose Sharks 2036:49:00 1711:34:00 325:15:00
Carolina Hurricanes 1923:23:00 1648:42:00 274:41:00
Chicago Blackhawks 1926:51:00 1728:00:00 198:51:00
Minnesota Wild 1954:50:00 1759:33:00 195:17:00
Calgary Flames 1977:04:00 1797:57:00 179:07:00
Dallas Stars 2098:48:00 1925:24:00 173:24:00
Nashville Predators 1959:27:00 1828:12:00 131:15:00
New York Islanders 1909:56:00 1789:07:00 120:49:00

During that 376-game span, the Sharks tower over everyone else, with only the Carolina Hurricanes being within breathing distance. Yes, 325 minutes in 376 games is a notable edge.

Over that longer haul, the Sharks were high-ranking with a 2,036:49 power play time and faced low PK minutes at 1,711:34.*

Unpacking home vs. away for a moment

Is it all “home cooking” for the Sharks? Well, looking at 2016-17, they received 126 power-play opportunities at home vs. 120 on the road. If they’re getting an edge, perhaps “The Shark Tank” subtly intimidates officials not to call penalties on San Jose? They were shorthanded 99 times at home vs. 113 on the road. That’s not enormous either, but it’s still a difference.

That disparity isn’t particularly pronounced since the lockout, with the Sharks being shorthanded 507 times at home vs. 530 on the road. On the other hand, the opportunities are a little more pronounced at HP Pavilion: 644 at home vs. 591 on the road.

That’s not extreme by NHL standards, however, as the Stars saw 688 home PPO’s vs. 582 on the road through the same period. So … home-cooking doesn’t seem like a major difference-maker for the Sharks. Or at least it isn’t the only factor.

To hypothesize, some of the differences may stem from the Sharks hold onto the puck quite well while playing strong and responsible defense. Looking over almost as long of a period as that lockout range at stats.hockeyanalysis, the Sharks were the fourth-best team in “Corsi For” percentage; perhaps they enjoyed such an advantage after having tired teams chase them around while they hog the puck?

Ultimately, the greater takeaway might be that, if the Sharks can at least approach such an advantage again in 2017-18, they need to work harder at exploiting such advantages. They only converted on 16.7 percent of their power-play opportunities last season, placing them 25th overall in the NHL.

Again, a future PHT post will ponder the teams that spend more time killing penalties than they do on the man advantage. Spoiler: a California team’s rough style has its minuses.

* – Note: the Arizona and Phoenix Coyotes are treated as separate entities in the bigger list, gumming up the works a bit … but the differential comes to about -90 minutes, placing them in the lower-teens.