James O'Brien

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

Hide Bergevin’s phone: Trade rumors swirl around Canadiens’ Pacioretty


Even if you lean toward “traditional thinking” rather than “fancy stats,” you’d have to agree that most of the trades Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin’s made have been a little … lacking.

At best, Jonathan Drouin for Mikhail Sergachev might even out over time. The team seems to get older in every move (somehow, even with a 22-year-old in Drouin), with the Shea WeberP.K. Subban swap sticking out like a sore thumb. The selling point of Bergevin’s general worldview has been to win-now, during Carey Price‘s prime, yet things have been shaky in Montreal.

With a three-game losing streak in mind and the Canadiens firmly located outside of the playoffs as of this writing, things might be getting tense, and it’s possible that Bergevin’s seat could be heating up. Still, Alex Galchenyuk hasn’t been panic-moved, and reckless moves haven’t happened for months now. Progress, right?

Well (gulp) about that …

Nick Kypreos mentioned on a Saturday Hockey Night in Canada segment that the Canadiens might be shopping Max Pacioretty. That already sounds pretty dubious, yet it gets stranger that Kypreos reports that the Canadiens are looking for a top-scorer, particularly a young one.

The Sporting News’ Evan Sporer transcribed Kypreos’ comments (video of the segment will be linked or embedded if it becomes available).

“While an eventual trade may include draft picks and prospects, it’s been clear that Bergevin’s top priority is moving him for a top goal-scorer back, preferably a younger one.”

To recap, Pacioretty is 29. He’s scored 30+ goals five times in his career already, including 35 last season, when his scoring was slowed for at least one month thanks to a fractured foot. The American winger is struggling in 2017-18 with eight goals and 20 points in 38 games, yet he’s only connected on a deeply unlucky 5.6 percent of his shots on goal.

Recklessly trading a sniper suffering from bad puck luck blows up in a GM’s face in many instances. You merely need to look to Bergevin’s spiritual cousin in Edmonton for an immediate example: Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli overreacted to a tough season for Jordan Eberle, trading him for quarters on the dollar in Ryan Strome. That move looks like a disaster, and we’re only a few months removed from it.

Bergevin’s reported asking price of a young, top-scorer is (justifiably) being ridiculed by Hockey Twitter.

Harsh, but fair.

To get a better idea of how valuable Pacioretty is, let’s provide some context. While he enjoyed some NHL work before then, 2011-12 season was his true breakthrough, and the first time he played a full season in 79 games. Since then, Pacioretty’s scored 197 goals, the sixth-highest total in the NHL during that span.

That’s more goals than Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Sidney Crosby, Corey Perry, and Brad Marchand during that span. The only players who really blow Pacioretty away are Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos (the latter of whom managed a ton of goals even with serious injury woes in mind).

It’s difficult to imagine even the most respected GMs getting a great deal for Pacioretty right now.

If you’re a Canadiens fan, would you trust Bergevin to procure reasonable value for Pacioretty, whose relative struggles put his value about as low as it can get? Take a moment and daydream about the league’s smartest GMs smelling blood here: Pacioretty owns one of the NHL’s great bargain contracts, as his $4.5 million cap hit (again, a huge steal) doesn’t expire until after 2018-19.

Just about any contender should be knocking Bergevin’s door down to try to hoodwink him into another franchise-damaging deal.

Now, it’s crucial to realize that this is a report, and it doesn’t indicate that a deal is imminent. This could be the Canadiens leaking out an idea merely to dip their toes in the water.

If you’re a Montreal fan, you have to be like a Penguins fan with the Kris Letang rumors: merely hope that this either isn’t true, or that a deal isn’t out there, anyway.

Overall, it’s cruel to Canadiens fans, especially ones who want their team to take an even-keeled approach.

If something happens, it’s difficult to imagine it working out well for Montreal, at least if a move follows Bergevin’s troubling recent history.

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.

Predators must cope without key star with Forsberg on IR


While people are quick to make jokes about the Washington Capitals trading him for a faded Martin Erat, the discussion doesn’t always go deep enough when it comes to Nashville Predators star Filip Forsberg.

Some of that comes from his stats being impressive, but not necessarily “world-beating.” Some might stem from his successes being shared, as his rise comes as part of a deadly line with Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson.

The Predators would prefer not to find out this way, but with Forsberg on IR for at least a week, perhaps his importance will shine if the team suffers in his absence. Nashville is currently in action in its first game with Forsberg on the shelf tonight as they’re closing off a home-and-home series with the Minnesota Wild.

The Tennessean’s Adam Vignan captured the disparity in play for Arvidsson and Johansen with and without Forsberg in this tweet:

Early on, it looks like Calle Jarnkrok is getting a bump up in the order to Forsberg’s spot with Arvidsson and Johansen. One would assume that Peter Laviolette isn’t particularly eager to break up Kevin FialaKyle TurrisCraig Smith, but the good news is that there are options on the third line if Jarnkrok doesn’t mesh. It’s easy to forget about the addition of Scott Hartnell thanks to his cheap $1M salary and lengthy injury absence, yet he could conceivably mesh well with those young forwards if called upon.

The Predators are battling with the Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues to try to grab the top spot in the Central Division, so any Forsberg absence hurts. They have to hope that this ends up being merely a minor hiccup.

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.

Lack’s latest chance to get on track comes in trade to Devils


Mike Smith has been a smashing success for the Calgary Flames, but the other part of their complete goalie makeover hadn’t really worked out. So, with that, Eddie Lack gets another chance to resurrect his career, this time landing with the New Jersey Devils.

The Devils sent depth defenseman Dalton Prout to Calgary to complete the trade.

To be fair to Lack, he didn’t get a ton of chances to get things together in Calgary. To be fair to the Flames, you could understand if they viewed giving too many starts to Lack as essentially throwing away games.

Take a look at how his four appearances played out in Calgary:

Oct. 13: Allowed one goal on six shots on goal in 12:02 of time against the Senators.
Oct. 25: Took a loss, allowed four goals on 28 SOG in a full game against the Blues.
Nov. 13: Allowed two goals on 15 SOG, once again vs. the Blues, in two periods of work. This was his only win with the Flames.
Nov. 15: Gave up five goals on 15 SOG against the Red Wings, barely making it into the second period. His final appearance with Calgary.

Overall, Lack went 1-2-0 with hideous individual stats: a 5.29 GAA(!) and a terrible .813 save percentage.

With Cory Schneider as the workhorse in New Jersey, and considering his struggles, it’s no surprise that Lack is at least initially headed to the AHL. It will be interesting to see if he can turn his career around. The last few seasons don’t inspire a ton of confidence, but it’s not as though he received a lot of opportunities to get it together, either. (Lack also generated a .916 save percentage in five games with the AHL’s Stockton Heat this season.)

There are at least some who wonder if some of his issues stem from coaching in Carolina, so maybe he can piece his game back together? We’ve seen goalies go off the rails only to rebound before, with examples such as Devan Dubnyk, Braden Holtby (remember the year Adam Oates’ staff messed with his style?), and Steve Mason coming to mind.

The Devils would probably be happy to see him merely return to the strong backup form he showed briefly with the Vancouver Canucks. The clock is ticking – he’s already 29 – but considering his NHL-friendly size and small sample of success, a renaissance isn’t totally out of the question.

If nothing else, we might get a few more taco jokes out of the deal.

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: Stars and unknowns bolster Blackhawks


Player of the Night: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

Mikael Granlund already got his moment in the sun for his second career hat trick, yet you could reasonably argue that he’s the true player of the night.

There were some other strong nights, with Claude Giroux collecting three assists to help the Flyers win, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins‘ three points in a losing effort, and wins being triggered by two-goal nights from Jack Eichel and Alex Radulov.

It was quite a night, and has been quite a season, for MacKinnon, however. His goal and two assists are joined by a +3 rating and five shots on goal. About the only thing he struggled with was faceoffs (7-12).

His goal was pretty nifty:

MacKinnon now has 43 points in 37 games this season. It’s been a blast to observe an already-strong player breakthrough to a star level.

Highlight of the Night: Patrick Kane‘s delirious overtime game-winner, and Jeff Glass becoming a first-time NHL-winner at age 32.

How slick is this?

And how sweet is this?

Glass, by the way, joins Ed Belfour in an interesting bit of Blackhawks history, to get you primed for factoids. Also:


Frans Nielsen continues to pump his teams up during the shootout.

Did You Know: Jaromir Jagr has played a lot of NHL games. Shocking.

Hey, Josh Bailey‘s blossoming can’t be ALL John Tavares, right? The Islanders aren’t complaining either way.


Sabres 4, Devils 3 (OT)
Senators 5, Blue Jackets 4
Red Wings 3, Rangers 2 (SO)
Flyers 5, Lightning 3
Hurricanes 2, Penguins 1
Wild 4, Predators 2
Jets 4, Islanders 2
Stars 4, Blues 2
Avalanche 4, Maple Leafs 3 (OT)
Blackhawks 4, Oilers 3 (OT)
Ducks 2, Flames 1

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.

Who do you root for in this fight: Ryan Kesler or Matthew Tkachuk?


One can only guess how many hockey players, fans, and parents have daydreamed about slapping that obnoxious mouthguard out of Matthew Tkachuk‘s mouth. It seems so enticing, too, with that piece of plastic always dangling out of the aggravating sophomore’s mouth.

Similar proportions of hockey people probably want to see Ryan Kesler get punched, too (Ryan Johansen would raise his hand, but he’s in transit), so their Friday fight is a “have your cake and eat it too” moment for many.

The real question is, if you had to choose, which player would you hope would win such a fight? It’s an interesting question for anyone who isn’t a fan of the Anaheim Ducks or Calgary Flames, especially if you don’t leave a blank spot for someone to enter “the meteor” as a write-in candidate.

The Ducks ended up winning the game 2-1.

As a side note, it seems reasonable to assume that Brady Tkachuk enjoyed Friday more than his brother.

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.