James O'Brien

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

How will Mike Fisher fit back in with Predators?

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If you’re a fan of the Nashville Predators, you’ve probably been wondering if Mike Fisher can return from retirement and still be as effective as he was last season. Maybe you wonder if he’ll take minutes from a younger player with more to offer at this point, whether it be Colton Sissons, Austin Watson, Calle Jarnkrok now or Eeli Tolvanen later.

One cannot help but wonder if Peter Laviolette will tire of being asked if Fisher is in or out of the lineup once the playoffs kick into gear.

Friday won’t answer those questions, although we’ll at least get a look at Fisher as he makes his 2017-18 debut for the Predators, who close out a back-to-back set. They rallied from down two goals to beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-2 last night, and they turn around to face the Vancouver Canucks tonight.

Really, back-to-backs rank as no-brainer situations for Fisher. Going further, maybe you rest the veteran one night, then give someone a break by lining him up the other?

There’s also the unfortunately real possibility that injuries could always silence the debate, whether it be Fisher getting hurt or the attrition of the postseason limiting Laviolette’s options. Still, at the moment, it’s not that easy to decide who to bump from the lineup for the veteran forward. Especially if he must be at center in any situation.

[Predators bolster center depth with Fisher signing]

We haven’t gotten word about Fisher’s linemates just yet, but take a look at Nashville’s previous alignments, via Left Wing Lock:

Filip ForsbergRyan JohansenRyan Hartman
Kevin FialaKyle TurrisCraig Smith
Scott HartnellNick Bonino — Calle Jarnkrok
Austin Watson — Colton Sissons — Viktor Arvidsson

That’s already a pretty deep lineup, with Jarnkrok, Watson, and Sissons coming to mind as possible scratches. Scott Hartnell could probably sit for a night or two, depending upon different alignments.

Even so, Hartman’s addition already caused some shockwaves. Even if Arvidsson isn’t long for the fourth line – or maybe you consider that Nashville’s third line – it’s jarring to see him outside of the top six. This also serves as another reminder that this Predators team has seen a lot of changes during these trade-happy years for GM David Poile.

For what it’s worth, the team and Fisher are saying the right things. Let’s note Laviolette’s comments, because his opening sentence (via the team website) is “very hockey.”

“Mike is another horse in the stable in there,” Laviolette said. “He brings character and leadership, and I think everybody knows the way he plays. This wasn’t a move out of desperation where we needed this, our team was moving along, but we also know Mike’s strengths and we know what he’s able to do on the ice. We know the person he is, and though conversations, it evolved to this point where it’s getting closer Mike plays … I think everybody’s excited about that and we’re happy to have him.”

Now, when you hear people praise Fisher, it’s easy to get bogged down in vague talk about “leadership” and “intangibles.”

Sometimes such language feels like a smokescreen for a limited player who brings little more to the table than grit. Maybe that’s what Fisher will be at 37 (turning 38 on June 5), but it’s worth mentioning that he really did end things on a solid note in 2016-17.

Fisher scored 18 goals and 42 points in 72 regular-season games. His 54.9 faceoff winning percentage might get excessive praise in some quarters, yet that’s actually a decent plus considering Nashville’s merely giving him $1 million prorated and devoting a roster spot to him (rather than having to spend assets on a veteran in a trade). His possession stats were acceptable, too, especially considering heavy defensive usage.

Things went sideways during the playoffs, when Fisher failed to score a goal and generated four assists in 20 postseason games despite logging 17:17 minutes per night. Then again, with forwards like Ryan Johansen and Kevin Fiala eventually injured, the Preds didn’t possess the same depth that they do now.

Situations like those might be the key, then. If Fisher flounders in important moments – which, again, would be quite understandable – will Laviolette be able to sit the veteran down for a game or more, even after the team asked him to come back? Considering the wealth of talent on hand even if Tolvanen doesn’t come to the team after his KHL season ends, that could provide quite the conflict.

That said, it’s not that difficult to imagine Fisher pushing an already-impressive Predators team over the top by providing them with jaw-dropping depth and useful minutes on the PK.

It should be an interesting dynamic to witness, starting with tonight’s game against the Canucks.

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.

Spooner presents Rangers with another tough future decision


Ryan Spooner is really cuddling up to this opportunity to make waves with the New York Rangers.

After collecting two assists in his Rangers debut (being involved in both goals in a 3-2 overtime loss to Detroit), Spooner topped himself last night, generating three more assists as the Rangers managed a 6-5 overtime win against the Vancouver Canucks.

Vladislav Namestnikov made a great first impression with the Rangers, scoring a goal and an assist during last night’s debut.

It almost makes you wonder if the Rangers might embrace this new, post-trade deadline reality and just be … messy fun?

Naturally, it’s not reasonable to expect Spooner, 26, to generate 2.5 assists per game during his stay with the Rangers – however long that is.

Still, plenty of people must feel vindicated that they pointed out that, despite some bumpy times with the Boston Bruins, he’s quietly carved out some nice numbers. In 39 games this season, Spooner managed a solid 25 points for the B’s. Rick Nash, meanwhile, generated 28 points (though with 18 goals) in his final 60 games with the Rangers.

Spooner’s showing remarkable chemistry so far with Jesper Fast and Kevin Hayes, which might provide some precious relief for Rangers fans. Actually, for a team that unloaded some significant names, the Rangers’ top nine still looks dangerous enough to make them a “spoiler” headache down the stretch:

Chris KreiderMika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich

Spooner — Hayes — Fast

Jimmy Vesey — Namestnikov — Mats Zuccarello

Not half-bad, right? Of course, the defense is the real problem here, but the Rangers might actually be entertaining, combining some solid offense with Henrik Lundqvist stubbornly trying to make 50 saves per night.

The other interesting facet of the NHL-ready players the Rangers received in their slew of trades is that they, too, received rentals in Spooner and Namestnikov. Mike Murphy of Blueshirt Banter ponders Spooner’s future with the team, wondering if he might get lost in the free-agent shuffle and noting that Namestnikov is likely a higher priority to re-sign:

Spooner is coming off of a one-year, $2,825,000 contract. If the Rangers want him around for more than next season his AAV is going to approach $4 million a year, depending on the term. There’s a good chance that a contract like that won’t fit into Gorton’s vision of what this team needs to be. If that’s the case, moving him on draft day would be the best way forward.

Glancing at the Rangers’ Cap Friendly page, the Rangers will need to decide what to do with a wide array of restricted free agents: Spooner, Namestnikov, Kevin Hayes, Jimmy Vesey, Brady Skjei, John Gilmour, and Rob O'Gara.

With a pile of picks and some new players to ponder, the Rangers gave themselves a ton of flexibility this summer. The challenge, then, is to make the most of these opportunities and avoid boxing themselves in with mistakes.

Figuring out what to do with Spooner may very well be filed with making the most of those later first-rounders under “easier said than done.”


What’s next for Rangers rebuild?

Some Rangers feel like the organization threw in the towel.

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.

Penguins’ Hornqvist avoids suspension for hit on Bruins’ McAvoy


Last night’s Penguins – Bruins game was nasty at times, and not just considering Boston handing an 8-4 drubbing to Pittsburgh.

[Click here for more on the Bruins blowing out the Penguins.]

There were some violent moments, which can often happen when a game gets out of hand (especially for a testy team like the Penguins). The most memorable event happened when Zdeno Chara and Jamie Oleksiak had a King Kong vs. Godzilla-style rumble, as covered here.

Despite the hit not drawing a penalty in-game, some wondered if Patric Hornqvist‘s hard hit on Charlie McAvoy might draw a fine or suspension. That will not be the case, according to Joe Haggerty of NBC Sports Boston.

Here’s footage of the hit:

That check inspired another scrum or two, including this bit with McAvoy and Hornqvist, which also included Phil Kessel taking a shot from Chara:

(What’s next Z? Are you going to tell Kessel that a hot dog is a sandwich?)

Anyway, it sounds like Hornqvist will avoid supplemental discipline. While his Penguins are sputtering right now, this has been a heck of a week for the gritty scorer, as he signed a big extension with the team shortly after the trade deadline.

Now, because you’ve been such a good audience, here’s that Chara vs. Oleksiak fight:

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.

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Boston Bruins

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Pittsburgh Penguins

Jake GuentzelSidney CrosbyBryan Rust

Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Conor ShearyDerick BrassardPhil Kessel

Carter RowneyRiley SheahanTom Kuhnhackl

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

Starting goalie: Casey DeSmith

[Penguins – Bruins]

Boston Bruins

Brad MarchandRiley NashDavid Pastrnak

Jake DeBruskDavid KrejciRick Nash

Tommy WingelsDavid Backes — Brian Gionta

Tim SchallerSean KuralyNoel Acciari

Zdeno CharaCharlie McAvoy

Torey KrugKevan Miller

Nick HoldenBrandon Carlo

Starting goalie. Tuukka Rask

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.