James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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It’s Minnesota Wild day at PHT

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Depending upon how you look at 2016-17, Bruce Boudreau and the Minnesota Wild either exceeded expectations or did exactly as one might predict.

After three years of narrowly making it into the postseason, the Wild easily did so last season. For quite some time, it even looked like they might win the Central Division before the Chicago Blackhawks overtook them. On another bright side, players enjoyed career years (Mikael Granlund, Devan Dubnyk) and others seemed revitalized (Eric Staal, Mikko Koivu) under Boudreau.

On the other hand, the Wild still fell in the first round and a Boudreau team failed in the postseason once again. Naysayers who lowered their volume during the regular season roared when the St. Louis Blues dispatched the Wild in just five games.

Such a disappointment brought changes, though salary cap constraints/the expansion draft likely factored in just as heavily.

Despite a heavy price to land him at the trade deadline, Martin Hanzal is no longer with the Wild. Marco Scandella is also out of town as part of a swap that sent Jason Pominville back to Buffalo, with Minnesota taking on Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno.

Factors like the expansion draft make some of this seem unfair, yet all due respect to the likes of Kyle Quincey, but this roster looks a little weaker on paper heading into 2017-18.

That said, Granlund and Nino Niederreiter were locked up long-term for reasonable prices, so this off-season may still be a win overall.

It’s not all perfect for the Wild, but Boudreau’s shown a knack for optimizing the talent provided. Maybe this time around, he’ll even prove that such magic doesn’t need to run out after game 82.

PHT discusses the factors working for and against the Wild on this fine Tuesday.

Blues are locked into many salaries, but mostly in a good way

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This post is part of Blues Day on PHT…

When considering the future of the St. Louis Blues, especially looking at their Cap Friendly page, the immediate thought is that they’re really “locked in” to their current core group.

So … let’s start this Blues cap analysis by looking at that very core group.

Mostly ripe core

As of this moment, nine key players are signed through at least the next three seasons at a total cap cost of $47.425 million:

Vladimir Tarasenko: $7.5M through 2022-23
Alexander Steen: $5.75M though 2020-21
Jaden Schwartz: $5.35M through 2020-21
Patrik Berglund: $3.85M through 2021-22
Vladimir Sobotka: $3.5M through 2019-20
Alex Pietrangelo: $6.5M through 2019-20
Colton Parayko: $5.5M through 2021-22
Jake Allen: $4.35M through 2020-21

Now, there are some quibbles with that group.

Steen, at 33, might see some steep regression. Some might be a bit underwhelmed at Sobotka and/or Berglund, at least when it comes to such term.

Even those issues are debatable, though, and the overall look is quite intriguing. You might grimace at the idea that $7.5M is “cheap,” but that really might be fair in assessing Tarasenko. Since 2013-14 (his first full season), Tarasenko scored the fifth-most goals in the NHL with 137. Only Alex Ovechkin scored more during the past three seasons.

Allen seemed like he was getting a respectable deal early on, but considering how his numbers skyrocketed once Mike Yeo replaced Ken Hitchcock, that $4.35M could be a Cam Talbot-ish bargain.

It stings to lose Kevin Shattenkirk, but for all we know, Parayko may eclipse Pietrangelo as the Blues’ best defenseman before their contracts expire. Considering how nice a bargain Pietrangelo is, St. Louis has some very good things going for them in the high-end.

Speaking of that defense …

Things get more interesting when you consider contracts that will be up sooner.

In particular, there could be decisions to make after 2018-19, at least if GM Doug Armstrong isn’t as proactive as he tends to be. Here are some notable defensemen who only have two years left: Jay Bouwmeester ($5.4M), Carl Gunnarsson ($2.9M), Robert Bortuzzo ($1.15M), and Nate Prosser ($650K). Joel Edmundson, meanwhile, is slated to be an RFA after this season.

Edmundson seems like a keeper, but beyond that, the Blues must ask some tough questions about players like Bouwmeester. J-Bo already reached the 1,000 games plateau, and he’s just 33.

Such choices might end up being tough, yet at least the Blues have options. That’s especially true if Vince Dunn eventually makes the leap and Jordan Schmaltz can reach some of that first-round potential.

Who else will join the core?

Considering his $7M price tag, Paul Stastny hasn’t always lived up to his billing in St. Louis, placing him under pressure to earn a new deal with his current contract expiring after 2017-18. Even so, there’s also pressure on the Blues to decide what to do with Stastny; what would be a reasonable price to re-sign him or would they move him for assets much like they did with Kevin Shattenkirk?

Robby Fabbri is another key contract year to watch.

The Blues would honestly be smart to sign the 21-year-old for cheap, as there have been more than a few flashes of brilliance already with Fabbri. If they don’t, though, the 21st pick of the 2014 NHL Draft could easily parallel Viktor Arvidsson – in production, if not style – this coming season.

***

A greedier Blues fan might be a little frustrated to see the team take the careful approach over the last few years, including letting David Backes and Troy Brouwer walk.

To an extent, St. Louis seems to lack that “surplus” scorer that really drives pre-season hype through the roof. It’s also up to Mike Yeo to build on the work Ken Hitchcock left behind.

Still, when you consider the lack of albatross contracts and the handful of good-to-brilliant deals on the books, the Blues seem like they’re in a pretty good place. The question is: can this group do better than that?

Chelios, Leetch to coach top U.S. prospects eligible for 2018 NHL Draft

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Chris Chelios and Brian Leetch will be facing off once more: This time as opposing coaches.

USA Hockey has appointed the two Hall of Fame defensemen to serve as coaches at the sixth annual All-American Prospects game in Buffalo on Sept. 21. The game will feature 42 of the top U.S.-born prospects eligible for the 2018 NHL draft.

Chelios and Leetch are both American and have combined to play 44 NHL seasons plus five Winter Games.

Chelios is a three-time Stanley Cup champion and already making the shift to coaching. He was recently named an assistant for the 2018 U.S. Olympic men’s national team.

Leetch is among seven defensemen to score more than 1,000 points, and only the NHL’s second player to win the Calder (rookie of the year), Conn Smythe (playoff MVP) and Norris (top defenseman) trophies.

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

Slow Pastrnak, Bruins contract talks now include trade rumor

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Without the helpful (if intimidating) deadline of a salary arbitration hearing looming, some significant RFA situations remain unsettled around the NHL. It’s likely that people are waiting to see the other shoe drop with Leon Draisaitl and the Edmonton Oilers, particularly in the case of David Pastrnak and the Boston Bruins.

On Sunday, CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty discussed possible reasons why there might be a hold-up, but also noted that even a $7 million or $7.5M price tag might not be a deal-breaker. Maybe that’s more than some would like to see, but at least Bruins fans didn’t have to panic about losing another highly talented young player.

And then Monday came.

Former NHL GM Brian Lawton quickened some pulses when he tweeted that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the challenging negotiations prompted a trade:

Whoa. That can’t be likely … can it be?

Now, it’s important to state that, even in Lawton’s case, there was no “trade is imminent” phrasing. Lawton merely said “I would not be surprised.” There was even some razzing about the typo:

It’s far easier to imagine the Bruins eventually coming to terms with Pastrnak than seeing GM Don Sweeney flip a splendidly gifted 21-year-old on a roster full of players who otherwise might be entering the latter years of their primes.

Of course, the Bruins have defied conventional logic before when it comes to moving breakthrough young players, including Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton. (After all, there’s some symmetry to former Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli still having such influence over the Bruins, as his negotiations with Draisaitl could make a big difference here.)

One wouldn’t bet on Pastrnak actually being traded, but times like these make it tougher to shrug your shoulders as the negotiations drag on.

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Sweeney said there was no timetable for talks earlier this summer.

Bruins would be wise to lock him up long-term.

Phil Kessel hot dogs it during second day with Stanley Cup

via Kessel's Instagram page
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It’s been a nice couple days in eyeing how people are celebrating with the Stanley Cup, as we go from furry dogs to hot dogs.

Certain media types will always take their jabs at Phil Kessel. If he were like Patrick Roy, Kessel might respond that he couldn’t hear such criticisms, what with his Stanley Cup rings plugging his ears.

Why do that when you can celebrate with hot dogs, though?

During his second day with the Stanley Cup as a repeat champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins (his critics are grating their teeth at that one, guaranteed), Kessel is having a great time, including this cheeky celebration via his Instagram:

A post shared by Phil Kessel (@phil_kessel_81_) on

It actually seems to be the second shot, as a blurrier photo included this caption:

Hotdogs taste better out of The Cup! #twotime #statestreetbrats

Nice. Delightfully, Joffrey Lupul responded with the same kind of glee most of us experienced.

Kessel also appears to take a page from Sidney Crosby with a little Stanley Cup spooning:

We’re really not worthy. (Alt response: “Now, who would trade this guy?”)

Credit Kessel with having a laugh at his critics during his second run. During his first one in 2016, he brought the Stanley Cup to a children’s hospital in Toronto, as NHL.com noted.

So, yeah, when it comes to his critics and/or the people who left him off international teams, but he still has his heart in the right place.

You could even say he has his hot dog and eats it too. (Wait, don’t.)