James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Sabres demote Alex Nylander; Kyle Connor can’t make Jets cut

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Teams need to get their rosters ready for the 2017-18 season, which means some key prospects will need to go to junior or the AHL.

Let’s address some of the bigger names that don’t qualify as players on waivers or worse.

Alex Nylander and Sean Malone were sent down to the AHL on Tuesday.

Nylander, 19, did fine in the AHL in 2016-17, but he didn’t exactly dominate. He managed a modest 10 goals and 28 points in 65 games. That points total ranked him seventh on the Rochester Americans last season. Simply put, it doesn’t seem like he’s on the same accelerated pace as his brother William Nylander of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Looking to make the leap: Alex Nylander

And that’s OK. The Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington points out that Nylander was injured during training camp, robbing him of a full opportunity to make an impression:

Nylander, in particular, lost out at a chance to make the club out of camp with the injury. Last year’s No. 1 pick looked strong at summer development camp but never got into competition for one of the open slots on the wing.

Opinion: in the long run, the Sabres and Nylander may be better off with this slow-and-steady approach.

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The bigger surprise might be that Kyle Connor was unable to make the Winnipeg Jets.

Looking to make the leap: Kyle Connor

Connor, 20, believed that he really made some progress late last season, progress he thought might carry over into NHL work this coming season. Connor believed that a demotion to the AHL would do him good, as he told NHL.com.

“You have to experience it,” Connor said back in August. “Once I moved down [to Manitoba], it was a bit upsetting, of course, and it took a couple of games more than I wanted to adjust. But once I did, I worked with the staff really well and the stuff they wanted me to implement into my game. I thought that made a huge difference, and you could see it toward the end of my season.”

Connor played in 20 games with Winnipeg last season, so they already burned a year off of his entry-level contract.

On one hand, the Jets have some serious firepower at the top of their order. If the belief is that he wouldn’t have much use unless placed in a prominent role, then that would make some sense.

Still, injuries happen, and the Jets could certainly use more pop down their order. The young forward has to feel pretty disappointed.

Connor and Nylander rank among the bigger surprises (or partial surprises), but there were other notable players who couldn’t make the cut on Tuesday. The Toronto Maple Leafs, for example, demoted Timothy Liljegren.

On the other hand, Nolan Patrick and others did make the leap, in some cases earlier than expected. Add Samuel Girard of the Nashville Predators to that group:

Flyers loan Matt Read to AHL, reminding us that NHL cuts can be cruel

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With two seasons of at least 22 goals, Matt Read seems like the sort of player who should be able to secure an NHL job.

Maybe he’ll be back with the Philadelphia Flyers again at some point in 2017-18, but he’s slated to begin the season in the AHL after the Flyers loaned Read to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Tuesday. This comes after Read cleared waivers.

The 31-year-old will still cost the Flyers quite a bit of money in cap space, even though he’s playing in the AHL.

It all feels like such a waste, doesn’t it?

Really, though, Read is just the latest in a slew of players who seem too good for the AHL but can’t quite land with a team in the NHL. In Read’s case, it’s almost certainly a matter of cost. But it’s staggering that, even with the number of teams growing to 31, some quality players can’t seem to find work.

(Even in a salary retention scenario, it might be tough to work out a taker for Read.)

This is also part of the reason why people get a little grumpy when the likes of Tanner Glass and Matt Hendricks continue to land one-way contracts. Just consider some of the quality players who either couldn’t get a contract at all or find themselves in the AHL:

  • Brandon Pirri, a player who managed a 22-goal campaign in just 49 games back in 2014-15, was released from his PTO. He couldn’t impress enough in his tryout with the Florida Panthers, the team most likely to believe in his abilities (since he achieved his best numbers with the Cats).
  • Analytics darling P.A. Parenteau couldn’t catch on with the (potentially dreadful) Detroit Red Wings.
  • Struggling former first-rounders such as Emerson Etem and Beau Bennett were placed on waivers. Andrew Hammond, Malcolm Subban, and other fairly noteworthy goalies struggle to find footholds.
  • Cory Conacher ranks as one of the classic examples of a “AAAA player.” He puts up great AHL numbers but, beyond a blip of NHL activity, can’t seem to stick at that level. One can’t help but wonder if the likes of Etem and Bennett may join him under that designation.
  • Even players who catch on sometimes struggle more than you’d think. It’s strange how down-to-the-wire the Jaromir Jagr signing ended up being, especially since the Calgary Flames signed him for cheap. Cody Franson may catch on with the Chicago Blackhawks, yet you’d think a solid depth defenseman would go through a smoother process.

Yup, the NHL can be cruel, especially to players who don’t generate reputations as “grit guys” and/or “leaders in the room.”

Read finding himself in the AHL comes down to a number of factors; to some extent, it’s a testament to the young talent Flyers GM Ron Hextall has amassed, with the likes of Nolan Patrick making the cut.

Still, there are teams that will put some paltry players on the ice in 2017-18, and fans may grumble when they consider the talent that’s either stuck in the AHL or without an easy path to the NHL altogether.

While Read wasn’t claimed, there were some notable claims made on Tuesday. Check out this post for further details on Subban and Patrik Nemeth.

Also:

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

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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

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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

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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.