James O'Brien

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

End of Leafs’ LTIR drama? Lupul reportedly fails another physical


It looks like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks can both let out sighs of relief regarding prominent players and LTIR.

Reports indicate that Marian Hossa will indeed go to LTIR, and reporters including Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston pass along word that the same appears to be true regarding Joffrey Lupul.

In fact, NHL executive Bill Daly confirmed that Lupul failed his second, independent physical, so to LTIR goes his $5.25 million cap hit:

To understate things, the situation got a little contentious between Lupul and the Maple Leafs. He called Toronto out in an Instagram post for “cheating,” although he apologized a few days later.

Lupul turned 34 in late September. His contract expires after 2017-18, so it’s at least conceivable that he could play again. Seeing him fail multiple physicals doesn’t make that possibility seem any less remote. It says a lot that he’s suffered enough ailments that he could be sidelined for a number of reasons.

If this is it for Lupul, credit the winger for being more than “that guy who was involved in a weird number of Chris Pronger trades.” Lupul enjoyed a couple strong postseason runs, made an All-Star roster, and generated 420 points during his career.

There will be the thought of what could have been (both during his injury-ravaged playing days and in these years when he hasn’t played at all), but Lupul should keep his head held high.

And, hey, Twitter needs levity at this time, so he inadvertently contributes in that regard, too.

Penguins cut losses with Pouliot, trade him to Canucks


If Derrick Pouliot is going to realize his potential as the eighth pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, he’s not going to do so as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Penguins sent Pouliot, 23, to the Vancouver Canucks in a trade that netted them a 2018 fourth-round pick and defenseman Andrey Pedan on Tuesday.

Pouliot has appeared in 67 regular-season and two playoff games during his career with the Penguins; those two postseason contests came in 2015-16 while he played 11 games in 2016-17. He failed to generate a single point in those 11 games, while he twice managed seven points in other abbreviated stays at the NHL level.

If nothing else, his AHL production has been respectable, so the logic for the Canucks is simple enough. In a rebuild phase, they can allow him to marinate, and a fresh start. Many will still look at Pouliot as a “bust,” but it’s often easier for a struggling prospect to at least become an NHL contributor after a change of scenery. There’s also some familiarity here:

Pedan, 24, was the 63rd pick of the 2011 NHL Draft. He played in 13 games for the Canucks back in 2015-16, failing to register a point.

The Penguins’ blueline is crowded, so it’s difficult to imagine Pedan getting much more than a cup of coffee. Actually, considering his tendency to pile up penalty minutes, the anticipation of a rough, fight-filled game might get him in the lineup here and there.

(Ryan Reaves can’t fight everyone for the Penguins, after all.)

Ultimately, this seems like the Penguins washing their hands of Pouliot. The Canucks have little to lose in seeing if the once-promising defenseman can get his career back on track.

Flames check truculence box by signing Tanner Glass


It’s probably unfair to assume that the Calgary Flames turned Tanner Glass’ PTO into a one-year deal to appease Brian Burke.

It’s probably fair to assume that Burke is pleased with the full-time addition of Glass, though.

The Flames announced a one-year deal for Glass on Tuesday. They didn’t specify other details, but it doesn’t appear to be two-way, and reporters such as Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reveal that it is worth $650K.

Glass, 33, is of a dying breed: full-on enforcers. He spent the last few years tormenting stats-leaning New York Rangers fans, who would groan when Alain Vigneault put him in the lineup instead of a finesse player. Even when he did something unexpected like scoring the first goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it often made Rangers fans worried that they’d see too much of him.

Now, he’s there to protect his fellow Flames. Negative types would counter that he’s Calgary’s “problem.”

While Glass has a new deal with the Flames, Luke Gadzic has been assigned to the AHL. Of course, this is far from the most noteworthy decision Calgary’s made this week, as they ended the lengthy national hockey nightmare of Jaromir Jagr not having an NHL contract.

So, really, even analytics-minded fans should give them a hard-punching mulligan here.

Golden Knights claim Malcolm Subban off waivers


The Malcolm Subban era ended before it ever really began with the Boston Bruins. NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty and others report that the Vegas Golden Knights scooped the goalie off of waivers on Tuesday.

In 2012, the Bruins selected Subban with the 24th pick of that draft. The 23-year-old only managed to make two brief (according to hockeydb, both strangely 31-minute) appearances at the NHL level.

Subban’s AHL work has leveled off a bit in the last two seasons after putting up pretty impressive save percentage stats in both 2013-14 and 2014-15. This just about confirms that Zane McIntyre is the “goalie of the future” in Boston – beyond Tuukka Rask, of course – instead.

Perhaps he’s mostly a victim of the numbers game: there are only 31 starting jobs and only 62 spots for goalies at this level. In claiming Subban, the Golden Knights now have several options in net, yet it might actually be easier for the former first-rounder to find solid footing in Vegas.

It’s possible that Subban needed a fresh start. That’s a refrain from many observers after the Colorado Avalanche claimed defenseman Patrik Nemeth from the Dallas Stars.

The Avalanche need NHL defensemen, so that could be a symbiotic relationship.

These other players (including Tomas Jurco, David Booth and Matt Read) cleared waivers.

Stay tuned for some thoughts on Read later today.

Trotz to Capitals: ‘It’s step up time’


ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) Facing some salary-cap math that wasn’t pretty, the Washington Capitals took a beating in the offseason with the loss of several significant contributors players.

Now they go about the unenviable task of trying to fill the void left – including the 68 goals scored last season – by Marcus Johansson, Justin Williams, Daniel Winnik, Nate Schmidt, Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk.

“It’s step up time,” coach Barry Trotz said. “It’s by committee. Next man up.”

For the Capitals to remain Stanley Cup contenders, the burden is on star forwards Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie and goaltender Braden Holtby to step up even more. Coming off back-to-back Presidents’ Trophy seasons for leading the NHL in regular-season points and losing in the second round each time to the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington is a very different team with an infusion of youth that veterans hope will help rather than hurt.

The Capitals could have eight players age 25 and younger in their opening night lineup, including defenseman Madison Bowey and Australian forward Nathan Walker potentially making their NHL debuts. Center Lars Eller sees those young players and others, like top prospect Jakub Vrana, and feels excitement about what could be.

“Experience is hard to replace, but they’re going to bring something else,” Eller said. “And the truth is, I think on a Stanley Cup-winning team you got to have all kinds of guys bringing something different to the table. … I still think we have a very good mix of experience and youth and these guys are going to be really, really hungry to prove themselves and to take the next step.”

For the Capitals to take the next step after three first- and six second-round exits over the past decade, Ovechkin and the top players will have to assume a bigger chunk of the responsibility. General manager Brian MacLellan hopes for big things from Kuznetsov and fourth-year winger Andre Burakovsky.

“They want more from me and I understand that,” said Kuznetsov, who signed a $62.4 million, eight-year deal that makes him Washington’s second-highest paid player behind Ovechkin. “I want people to ask more from me. If they give me a bigger role, I will try to do my best.”

Some things to watch with the Capitals this season:

ADJUSTING OVECHKIN: Going into his 13th NHL season at age 32, Ovechkin is hoping to make good on an offseason request to get a bit quicker. MacLellan wanted him to train more for speed than power after the lowest goal output in a non-lockout season since 2010-11. “You always ask players to evolve,” Trotz said. “What can you add to your game that you haven’t added? In his case, the game is getting quick and he has to stay relevant from the quickness aspect.”

HOLTBY WITHOUT KORN: Holtby won the Vezina Trophy in 2015-16 and was a finalist again last season under the tutelage of goaltending coach Mitch Korn, who moved on to director of goaltending with Scott Murray taking over day-to-day duties. Along with backup Philipp Grubauer, Holtby leads arguably the best goaltending tandem in hockey and doesn’t expect anything to change with his elite play. “You’re not revamping styles or anything like that,” said Holtby, who had a combined 2.17 goals-against average and .923 save percentage over the past three seasons. “You’re grooming things, looking for trends, looking at little ways to get better.”

TROTZ CONTRACT WATCH: Trotz is in the last year of his contract, an interesting situation to say the least for a veteran coach with such a strong resume. But like many of his players, Trotz hasn’t made it past the second round of the playoffs, and MacLellan said after last season he wanted to see “evidence” of improvements before talking extension. Trotz said his contract status has “0.0 effect” on him, adding he’s not worried about it at all.

ROCKY ROAD: Eight of the Capitals’ first 12 games are on the road, and six overall come against playoff teams from last season. There won’t be any easing into the year, but if Washington can stay afloat through a rough first month and not dig too much of a hole in the stacked Metropolitan, it could be on the way to a third consecutive division title.

WHO’S ON D: Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov and pending free agent John Carlson are clearly the top three defensemen. After that, the blue line will be filled out by the likes of Bowey, Christian Djoos, Taylor Chorney, Brooks Orpik and Aaron Ness, whose play will determine a lot of the Capitals’ success this season.

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno

For more AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey