James O'Brien

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

Flyers defensemen coming up big; Nolan Patrick on the rise


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When it comes to the Philadelphia Flyers’ surge, some of it comes down to the usual suspects. Clearly, the training camp experiment of putting Sean Couturier at center with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek has been a smash success.

The NHL is funny in this regard, though: successful teams might have flaws, but most of them also boast some variety. More and more, this seems like a league where you need star power and versatility.

This season’s seen the big names rebound to old form, yet it’s exciting for Philly to see that Couturier isn’t the only guy who’s gone from “underrated gem” to a legitimate difference-maker.

Two Flyers defensemen have really delivered, in particular this season, and they’re names that are no surprise to hardcore hockey fans: Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov are both coming along as planned, if not ahead of schedule.

It’s also not surprising that they’re providing excellent value in very different ways, although in at least one way they converge: scoring goals. As of this writing, there are only 13 NHL defensemen who have scored at least 10 goals in 2017-18, and the Flyers boast two of them.

(Fascinatingly, they aren’t the only teams that boast two defensemen at 10+. The Predators [P.K. Subban and Roman Josi] and Flames [Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton] also reach that mark, and the Sharks are close, as Brent Burns is there while Marc-Edouard Vlasic has scored nine.)

Again, they’ve arrived at this point in different ways.

“Ghost Bear” is just a blistering scorer. In just 58 games, he’s already at 50 points on the season, one of only three NHL defensemen to eclipse that mark so far.

Provorov’s 11 goals and 29 points are nothing to sneeze at, but he’s checking a few more boxes from an all-around standpoint. Provorov is averaging exactly three more minutes per game (24:24 to 21:24) to Gostisbehere, and those are sometimes challenging minutes; Provorov leads Flyers defensemen with an average of 2:43 shorthanded time on ice per game versus an average of three seconds per night for “Ghost Bear.”

This isn’t meant to disparage Gostisbehere, but rather to show that the Flyers boast a power-play phenom and an all-around, more defensive-minded stud on defense. Really, as you can see via this handy tool from CJ Turtoro using Corey Sznajder’s data, Gostisbehere and Provorov are basically off the charts in every category.


With Provorov only being 21 and Gostisbehere hitting his prime at 24, it’s the sort of duo that’s the envy of most of the league. Tantalizingly, it’s not just about the future, as the present is already very bright.


One other note: the Flyers are also seeing some signs that Nolan Patrick is coming into his own.

The prominent rookie has been lost in the shuffle due to a slow start (not to mention more injury issues), but now he’s really starting to heat up. In 40 games before the All-Star Break, Patrick only managed nine points. He now has nine points in the 13 games since, including an ongoing five-game point streak, which included a goal in today’s 5-3 win against the Ottawa Senators.

Tidily enough, Patrick’s point streak matches the Flyers’ five-game winning streak.

With injuries to Wayne Simmonds and goalies Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, the Flyers are going to need other players to support the likes of Voracek, Couturier, and Giroux. Gostisbehere and Provorov have been doing just that, and it’s looking like Patrick will be a key cog, as well.

Such developments make you wonder if Ron Hextall might decide to add even more to an improving supporting cast with the trade deadline rapidly approaching on Monday …

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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 land Derick Brassard in three-team deal

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There likely won’t be a more wild trade before the deadline than the one that took the better part of Friday to finally be completed.

The Pittsburgh Penguins had Ottawa Senators forward Derick Brassard in their grasp, then lost him, and then snatched him up again.

Penguins defenseman Ian Cole was headed to a bad team, then he wasn’t, and then he was again.

And somehow Ryan Reaves is now with the Vegas Golden Knights and the NHL’s newest team is retaining a bunch of salary.

The first trade: Penguins receive Derick Brassard; Senators get a first-round pick, Ian Cole and intriguing goalie prospect Filip Gustavsson.

This deal was rejected by the NHL for “improper use of salary retention,” so it was back to the drawing board for all involved.

The second (and actual) trade: Penguins receive Derick Brassard; Senators get a first-round pick, Ian Cole and intriguing goalie prospect Filip Gustavsson. This didn’t change.

Penguins also acquire a 2018 third round draft pick and prospect forward Vincent Dunn from the Senators; and they also get prospect forward Tobias Lindberg from the Golden Knights.

Vegas receives Ryan Reaves and a 2018 fourth-rounder (Vancouver’s) from the Penguins and also retains 40 percent of Brassard’s salary.

Why the Penguins made the trade: It’s been no secret that the Penguins have been looking for center help since losing Matt Cullen and Nick Bonino. Brassard fits that bill, and honestly, stands as a nice upgrade.

At 30, Brassard is still at or near his prime. The Penguins get Brassard for two playoff runs, as his $5 million cap hit runs through 2018-19.

Brassard’s quietly enjoyed a strong season in Ottawa, as he has 18 goals and 38 points in 58 games. He’s just one point shy of tying his 2016-17 total, even though that came in 81 contests. The former Rangers forward is battle-tested in the postseason, too.

No doubt about it, this is a contending team being aggressive to try to win a third straight Stanley Cup. Brassard makes an already-impressive offense that much deeper.

The inclusion of Cole helps make the money work for the Penguins, even if it’s worth noting that Pittsburgh still has some questions on defense.

Why the Senators made the trade: The Senators are in liquidation mode, and to start, this trade helps Ottawa get a first-rounder back after giving one up in the Matt Duchene trade. Granted, the Penguins’ first-rounder could be very low – they’d love it to be the 31st selection – but it’s a key return for the rebuilding Sens.

Gustavsson, 19, isn’t just a throw-in, either. He was a second-round pick (55th overall) in the 2016 NHL Draft. With Craig Anderson already 36, the Senators need to look to the future, and Gustavsson has a chance to be a part of the picture in net.

You can argue that Ottawa’s returns aren’t fully documented yet, as they might move Cole for even more futures:

This is also worth noting from a Senators perspective:

Why the Golden Knights made this trade: 

This one deserves a¯_(ツ)_/¯.

Vegas gets some grit in Reaves and a pick, but get roped into 40 percent of Brassard’s salary for some reason or another.

Who won the trade?

Senators fans are unlikely to be happy with the team cleaning house, particularly with players who helped them make a deep playoff run remarkably recently. Still, they’re diving in with a reset, if not a rebuild, and this is a decent return. Getting a bit more for Cole could help, and Gustavsson’s development will play a significant role in how this move is viewed in hindsight.

The Penguins are going for it, as they have been for some time. Brassard fills a serious need, and while defense is an issue for Pittsburgh, Cole found himself as a healthy scratch and obviously on the way out at times.

This is all about the present for Pittsburgh, and it’s easy to justify such a thought process. Let’s not forget that Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, and Phil Kessel are 30 while Evgeni Malkin is 31. You never know when the championship window might slam shut.

Your excitement regarding the Penguins’ side hinges on how much you like Brassard. Not everyone is blown away by what he brings to the table.

This is an obvious case of two teams going in different directions, and thus looking for very different returns. Which team got the best value out of the deal, though?

It’s worth noting that the Penguins gave up a first-round pick and a prospect last summer to get Reaves.

With files from Scott Billeck

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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.

Trades fantasy hockey owners should root for


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Trades can really liven things up for a sport, so here’s hoping that the intriguing Michael Grabner to Devils move is the catalyst for a memorable stretch of swaps.

While there’s always the risk that a player will struggle to get acclimated to a new city and new teammates, trades can also provide a boost in fantasy hockey. As we wait for more deals to trickle in, it might be fun to picture changes of scenery. Here are some moves fantasy owners should root for.

[More on the Grabner trade.]

Elephants trotting around the room

Look, asking the Senators to trade Erik Karlsson is asking a lot.

It could be quite a late-season boon for owners who’ve been burned a bit by a season that’s not up to his honestly ridiculous standards. Complaining about a defenseman generating 42 points in 55 games is silly, but considering that Karlsson often goes in the first or second round, and fantasy sports are kind of silly by nature, well …

Anyway, a move to a contender could really help him. Maybe he’d enjoy short-term puck luck (his shooting percentage this season is 3.4 percent, half of his career average of 6.8). Considering his puck dispersal skills, setting up teammates who are likely more skilled and more motivated at this point in the season could really be electric.

Max Pacioretty also stands as interesting.

With a 7.7 shooting percentage, “Patches” is also lacking when it comes to lucky bounces. More than that, it has to be a drain on him to lose so often, particularly in a hockey-obsessed market like Montreal. Being “one of the guys” on a contender could really do him good.

Also, it’s been noted, yet it must be said: Pacioretty’s really never played with a great center. Imagine what he could accomplish with a legitimate No. 1? With his contract expiring after 2018-19, the motivation should be there, too.

Some others worth noting in this category:

  • Evander Kane has dealt with injuries and the frustrating knowledge that he’s never suited up in a playoff game in his career. With an expiring contract at age 26, you could argue that Kane has the most on the line of just about any of the most realistic trade targets in the NHL.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, yet with comparable sniping skills, you have Rick Nash. Much like Pacioretty, Nash is getting his goals now after a prolonged slump. While Kane has never tasted playoff play, Nash surely would like to show that he’s more “clutch” than his critics believe.
  • Mike Green got roasted a bit in this PHT roundtable, but that’s based on real-life play. From a fantasy perspective, Green could be fascinating. That said, he plays a huge role in Detroit, and might actually see a downgrade if traded. So maybe he’s a coin flip?
  • Ryan McDonagh and Oliver Ekman-Larsson are both defensemen who will likely be affected by what happens with Karlsson, as they do too see contracts expire after 2018-19. McDonagh seems more likely to move than OEL, yet both could really thrive on better/more driven teams down the stretch.

[Dion Phaneuf: better in fantasy than reality.]

Lightning round

OK, now onto a handful of names that might not come up much/at all, but would be a lot of fun.

  • Goalies with more fuel in the tank: Sorry, Antti Niemi, but there are better options out there for goalie rentals, even with Petr Mrazek off the market. The Coyotes might want to keep Antti Raanta around, but it would be intriguing to see what he could do for, say, the Hurricanes. Raanta’s save percentage is up to .922 this season. Since 2014-15, Raanta is tied with Carey Price and Corey Crawford for the NHL’s best save percentage at .923.

Raanta would be the gem in my eyes. Still, there are some other interesting considerations. Would the Sabres trade sneaky-good Robin Lehner? Could Jaroslav Halak help someone if the Islanders decided they’ve had enough?

  • I’ve stated that the Coyotes would likely lose if they traded Max Domi. Domi’s fantasy owners and new team could enjoy modest-to-significant gains, however.
  • This is more tangential: Jeff Carter might be nearing a return. With that in mind, the Kings might actually be a more beneficial landing pad for a player than maybe they’d seem. It sounds like they’re happy to get Tobias Rieder, though.
  • As always, root for the Oilers to trade skilled players (note: they’re saying they are leaning toward tweaks this time, for what it’s worth). You may very well see that player burn them for making such a move, possibly right away.

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: Rinne hits 300, glorious Gaudreau, Matthews scare


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Players of the Night:

Barzal scored a goal and two assists in this game, pushing him to 65 points in 62 games during this sensational rookie campaign. He’s been all-or-nothing lately, generating three points in two of five games and then zero in the three other contests.

Going to go out on a limb and say the Islanders will take it …

  • Johnny Gaudreau matched Barzal’s output on Thursday, collected a goal and two assists as well. Gaudreau moved to second in the NHL in points with 73, a distant-but-impressive second to Nikita Kucherov‘s 80 points. Gaudreau is on pace to clobber his previous career-high of 78 points, set in 2015-16. Kinda staggering to realize he’s just 24.

Gaudreau’s surely had a hand in Sean Monahan rapidly changing his descriptor from “boring” to “clutch.”

Pekka’s 300th

Sure, the Predators probably didn’t need a ton from him on Thursday, what with a 7-1 caging of the Sharks, but Pekka Rinne‘s great work – not to mention great season – includes another milestone in his 300th win. Apparently he’s the eighth European-born goalie to hit that mark.

Tough to blame Rinne for becoming emotional when you consider his path to the NHL. Nashville selected him in the eighth(!) round in 2004, making him the 258th overall pick that year and the last pick of that round.

(Remarkably, there were some very solid NHLers who went in the ninth round of that draft: Mark Streit, Daniel Winnik, and Jannik Hansen.)

Good and bad for Matthews

Auston Matthews helped the Toronto Maple Leafs grab an eventual shootout win against the Islanders, continuing a run of even-strength dominance that really cements his beyond-his-years play:

Unfortunately, late in regulation, Matthews was sandwiched by two Islanders players and did not return, with people wondering if he suffered a shoulder injury.

Highlights of the Night

Hey, the Oilers aren’t gearing up for a playoff run during this trade deadline, but at least Leon Draisaitl reminded people of his profound skills.

Twice. The first move is flashier, but the second likely makes defenders feel just as hopeless.

Speaking of large hockey humans doing preposterous things, I give you Victor Hedman and the Lightning:


Maple Leafs 4, Islanders 3 (SO)
Wild 4, Devils 2
Flyers 2, Blue Jackets 1
Canadiens 3, Rangers 1
Lightning 4, Senators 3
Sabres 3, Red Wings 2 (OT)
Panthers 3, Capitals 2
Predators 7, Sharks 1
Oilers 3, Avalanche 2 (OT)
Flames 5, Coyotes 2
Stars 2, Kings 0

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.

Rangers trade Michael Grabner to Devils

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The New York Rangers signaled that they’re still open for business – and aren’t taking injury chances – by making Ryan McDonagh, Michael Grabner, and Rick Nash healthy scratches in Thursday’s eventual loss to Montreal. It wasn’t long before they showed why.

The Rangers, daringly, traded with local rivals in the New Jersey Devils for the first time ever. Grabner serves as another significant forward the Devils have added via a trade.

The Trade: Devils acquire Michael Grabner from the Rangers; Rangers receive a second-round pick and prospect Igor (Yegor) Rykov.

Why the Devils made this trade: New Jersey is battling hard for playoff positioning, and things have been a little dicey lately, with two straight losses, even as Taylor Hall continues his red-hot scoring streak.

[Get up to date on a busy night on the ice for the Metro division]

Grabner gives the Devils more scoring punch, and considering his speed, he could really fit in well with the way New Jersey has been converting to the sort of attacking system that was once almost unthinkable.

Maybe New Jersey needs defense more, but is it that easy to come by? “Out-scoring your problems” is a fun strategy, either way. Grabner, 30, currently boasts a “Cy Young” stat line of 25-6 (25 goals, six assists) so far this season. Really, he might be the biggest winner of all; the pending unrestricted free agent could enjoy an even bigger raise from his bargain-basement $1.65 million cap hit if he powers the Devils during a playoff push.

Why the Rangers made this trade: Grabner’s contract expires after this season. Getting a second-round pick and a prospect is a nice return for a mid-level “rental.” The Rangers have made no mistake about being in liquidation mode, as Grabner continues the work they already began by moving Nick Holden. There could be quite a bit more coming for the Rangers.

It’s unclear if Rykov will be much more than a throw-in.

Some like the defenseman’s two-way game, and he’s maturing in the KHL. That said, the 20-year-old wasn’t drafted in 2015, while the Devils selected him in the fifth round (132nd overall) in 2016. All About the Jersey provided interesting instant feedback on Rykov when he was selected.

This is most likely about the second-rounder for the Rangers, although …

Who won the trade?

This is a straightforward deal. The Devils gamble a bit, but not enormously, to try to further their playoff push. There’s always the chance that Grabner would be a big hit in Newark and re-sign, but so far this sure looks like a short-term fix.

The Rangers get a fabulous return for what might just be a few months of Grabner’s services, which weren’t going to do them any good with their season going down the tubes. This could really get the ball rolling on a wave of moves, whether this franchise goes “full rebuild” or leans more toward a “reset.”

(Ah, sporting terminology …)

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.