James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Jaromir Jagr ponders 2018 Winter Olympics if no NHL deal surfaces

Yes, his 45-year-old legs would likely need some accommodating, but for many in the hockey world, it remains outright maddening the Jaromir Jagr is basically still begging for an NHL deal.

It’s tough to come to grips with the idea of waving goodbye to a generational scorer when Jagr arguably remains skilled enough to help a team, yet Tuesday presented a tantalizing potential silver lining. What if Jagr suited up one last time* for the Czech Republic in the 2018 Winter Olympics?

Czech TV station Nova Sport’s Zdenek Matejovsky and also reporter Darina Vymětalíková passed along Jagr’s interesting comments, which can be found (and Google-translated) in full here.

That’s a pretty big “if,” mind you.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the 2018 Winter Olympics surface as at least a tangential option for aging players, whether it be Team Canada showing some interest in veteran stars Jarome Iginla and Shane Doan or Ryan Malone resurfacing seemingly in part to try to suit up for the U.S.

The difference here is that Jagr seems to have the most left – maybe by far – of all of those candidates.

It would be extremely cool to see, perhaps drawing parallels to Teemu Selanne’s fantastic swan song with Finland during the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Would that top seeing Jagr in the NHL for at least one last run? That’s debatable, yet it’s easily the most palatable situation if Jagr’s NHL days really are over.

* – Actually, is it even safe to say this would be the last time? The guy’s a machine, after all.

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    Predators’ Johansen says he’s 100 percent, Bonino shows promise

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    The Nashville Predators didn’t just pass the second round for the first time in their history in 2016-17. They came within two wins of winning their first Stanley Cup, pushing the Pittsburgh Penguins hard even after Ryan Johansen‘s postseason ended with a freak injury and subsequent surgery.

    One can bet that there are Predators fans who play the “What if?” game, imagining that scenario with a healthy Johansen around.

    Those fans also got to entertain another scenario: how much better might the Predators be after plucking useful Penguins center Nick Bonino away in free agency?

    Naturally, such dream sequences likely turn injuries “off,” but what about reality? Both Johansen and Bonino come into 2017-18 with question marks, yet early signs on Tuesday were very positive for both pivots.

    Johansen was especially emphatic about his healthiness, as NHL.com’s Robby Stanley reports.

    “I finished my rehab here in Nashville so we could get that out of the way and make sure I’m back to 100 percent as fast as I could,” Johansen said. “And then I just went through the usual summer process and getting ready for the start of the season. It feels good to be back to 100 percent and skating with the guys here getting ready for it all to start.”

    Stanley notes that Bonino didn’t address the media on Tuesday, so for now, people must really on a vague-if-promising clip of him skating:

    Injury rehab can be tricky, whether it comes down to Johansen’s emergency thigh surgery or a broken tibia that Bonino decided not to address with surgery in his own case. It’s plausible that there will be additional bumps in the road for both players as the season approaches and then progresses.

    Still, good news is a whole lot better than bad news in situations like these, so the Predators have to be delighted by these early signs of optimism.

    More on Johansen

    Predators sign Johansen to mammoth eight-year, $64 million deal.

    Johansen raves about Nashville.

    More on Bonino

    Predators hand him a four-year contract.

    That $16.4M pact puts him under pressure.

    Jack Eichel confirms he has ‘no problem playing the year out’

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    On Monday, PHT passed along word from TSN’s Darren Dreger that Jack Eichel wouldn’t lose any sleep over entering the 2017-18 season without a contract extension from the Buffalo Sabres.

    A day later, Eichel confirmed as much to reporters including the Buffalo News’ John Vogl.

    “I have no problem playing the year out,” Eichel told reporters Tuesday in Buffalo. “If that happens, it happens. Obviously, I’m pretty adamant on staying a Sabre and staying in Buffalo, but it’s not something I can really control here. I can just control my play.”

    Buffalo station WGR 550 provided full audio:

    Vogl notes that Eichel’s agent believes that negotiations have slowed, but that there wouldn’t be an issue if the Sabres wanted to reconvene during the season itself.

    As mentioned yesterday, it’s my opinion that the Sabres would probably be better off locking up Eichel sooner rather than later. The young forward would likely prefer to get that settled from the sheer standpoints of a) not answering questions about his contract all season and b) securing the peace of mind that comes with what would likely be a long-term deal in a violent sport where injuries can change the narrative in a heartbeat.

    Injuries are also an argument for the Sabres putting this situation to rest.

    Eichel was almost a point-per-game player in 2016-17, yet he missed more than 20 games, limiting his counting stats. He also has been shooting at around 10 percent for his career, so Eichel could theoretically light it up with the right puck and injury luck.

    (This post goes into more detail about how Eichel could easily enjoy a big year if just a few things go right.)

    Considering how much he can conceivably manage if his contract year goes swimmingly, it makes sense that Eichel wouldn’t panic about this situation. The Sabres are instead the ones who are most likely to benefit from getting this done as soon as possible.

    Steven Stamkos expects ‘no restrictions’ heading into Lightning camp

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    Training camps aren’t here yet, but many players got back on the ice – or at least back on the ice with media members around – for the first time in ages on Saturday.

    It’s no surprise, then, that the optimism is running high among returning NHL players on Tuesday. Even by that standard, Steven Stamkos‘ feedback is remarkably positive, right down to him expecting to participate in Tampa Bay Lightning training camp with “no restrictions.”

    As Stamkos told reporters including the Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith, he realizes after years of puzzling injury woes and even surgery, that he doesn’t totally know what “100 percent is” any longer. There’s a certain weariness that comes from being a savvy veteran of injury/surgery rehabs, yet his excitement also seems palpable.

    Maybe to the point that it might make it difficult for some to ignore the advice of PHT’s Cam Tucker in tempering expectations for the kind of player Stamkos can be in 2017-18.

    Smith also transcribed some of Stamkos’ enthusiastic takes:

    “I mean, it takes time,” Stamkos said. “Anytime you’re out for as long as I was, it’s going to take some time to get adjusted back to game speed. Nothing replicates a game until you get in that situation. Once you do that, then you’ll know how your body feels. When you go through something like that you have to find a way to put yourself in position to feel good and still find a way to be the player you know you can be. My expectations are that I’m going to get back to that player. Hopefully it’s right away. That’s the plan. We’ll see how it goes.”

    Of course, Stamkos himself admits that his competitive nature pushed him to aim for too much, too soon before. He’s bright enough to acknowledge past mistakes, yet you wonder if that fire in his belly could inspire him to fly too close to the sun again.

    To some extent, there’s really only so much he can do, anyway. Just about every player, even the seemingly bionic ones like Max Pacioretty, see ups and downs when they come back from injuries.

    The Lightning probably won’t be too offended if they had to “settle” for, say, 80-percent-Stamkos next season. Especially if they get that guy for close to 82 regular-season games.

    Capitals might address some D departures with PTO for Jokipakka

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    In a move that’s only really a gamble for area copy editors/copy-paste-adverse fans, the Washington Capitals announced that they handed defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka a PTO invite for training camp.

    Jokipakka deserves some credit for amassing 150 regular-season games of experience at the NHL level at the relatively young age of 26. That’s not bad for a guy who was drafted in the seventh round (195th overall) in 2011 by the Dallas Stars.

    He’s bounced around a bit lately, going from the Stars to the Flames in 2015-16 and then from the Flames to the Senators in 2016-17.

    Despite some solid experience, his stats speak mainly to him being a mundane presence.

    That said, Jokipakka could at least be a feasible bottom-pairing or even seventh defensemen for the Capitals, if he can make the team. Washington has seen some gutting losses on the blueline in the departures of Karl Alzner, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Nate Schmidt, so it doesn’t hurt to look into a variety of options to try to stop the bleeding.

    If only his defensive skills intimidating forwards as much as his name strikes fear into the heart of bloggers, writers, and copy editors alike …