James O'Brien

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

Looking to make the leap: Max Jones

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This post is part of Ducks Day on PHT…

The Anaheim Ducks are an interesting study for this feature.

On one hand, the Ducks boast a pretty impressive group of prospects and players are on the borderline between full-time guys and prospects for a contender. At the same time, they are indeed a contender, so their roster is a tough nut to crack.

Ondrej Kase and Brandon Montour probably already made the leap. Sam Steel looks like he’s taking his big numbers and outstanding name back to the WHL. There are other solid candidates, including Jacob Larsson, but forward Max Jones seems especially eager to take the next step, even at 19.

As Jones told the OC Register’s Eric Stephens, he won a Memorial Cup, now he wants to aim for a Stanley Cup.

“I want to step into the big leagues and I want to … for years and years I’ve been watching teams win that Stanley Cup and that’s all I want to do right now,” Jones said. “Start playing and try to win a Stanley Cup.”

Jones, the 24th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, seemed to excel in both the OHL and AHL playoffs in 2016-17. In general, Jones has shown some promising signs so far in his career.

Still, Jones hasn’t gotten his reps in the AHL yet, and is still just 19. You’d at least think the odds are against him, but the confidence is there. There have also been some growing pains, including him being suspended for a nasty cross-check.

The Ducks have quite a few interesting options to consider heading into camp, even beyond Jones. That might make for difficult choices, but those are good problems to have.

Under Pressure: John Gibson

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This post is part of Ducks Day on PHT…

Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry carry big-time pressure into every Anaheim Ducks season as the team’s dynamic, highest-paid duo. There’s a strong chance Cam Fowler will feel some of that heat after signing a big extension that kicks in starting in 2018-19.

Still, as much as those guys might sweat being under the microscope, their contracts run for quite some time.

John Gibson, on the other hand, will see his future determined by how he – and his team – performs during the next season or two.

Now, technically, 2017-18 isn’t a contract year for Gibson.

When it comes to prominent players, it often feels like they face the possibility of two contract years, at least if they falter during that penultimate one. The logic is simple enough: if a team views you as a part of its core, then it will often get an extension settled as early as possible, frequently when said player still has a year remaining on their current deal.

(Connor McDavid is the splashiest, most recent example. Fowler is the latest Ducks player to get that nod, with some surprise considering the many trade rumors that followed him.)

Let’s consider the many factors that could influence Gibson’s outlook and his future with the Ducks.

Strong – but limited – showings

As a second-round pick (39th overall in 2011, by Anaheim), Gibson has come along nicely. He played three games in 2013-14, 23 in 2014-15, 40 in 2015-16 and then 52 last season after Frederik Andersen was sent to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

(You could say Gibson “won” the goalie battle with Andersen, but Andersen’s accountant would probably beg to differ.)

At 24, Gibson has shown strong signs of being legit. His 2016-17 campaign was his best with a 25-16-9 record and a strong .924 save percentage, and it was in stride with his very impressive .922 career mark.

Still, he hasn’t shown that he can carry the workload of a big-money, top guy yet considering his 52-game peak. Sure, 118 NHL games is a reasonable body of work, but especially fickle types might say that the jury is still out. At least if Gibson wants that big franchise money, especially since he’s been solid but unspectacular in the postseason so far.

“What have you done for me lately?”

It’s also worth noting that you could claim that the Ducks can be a little fickle with their goalies.

With the threat of an expansion draft looming, it was understandable that GM Bob Murray decided to make a choice, opting for the cost-controlled, higher-pedigree Gibson over Andersen.

Still, whether it has to do with an organizational mindset or life as a budget contender, it’s remarkable how disciplined the Ducks have been when it comes to avoiding huge commitments to their goalies. Whether it be Jean-Sebastien Giguere leaving despite a Stanley Cup ring, Jonas Hiller’s failed reign, Andersen losing the joust with Gibson, or even Brian Burke staying true to his word in trading Ilya Bryzgalov, the Ducks aren’t afraid to switch gears in net when other teams might panic.

Right now, Gibson seems like the guy in net, and a good one in that. He can’t rest on his laurels, though.

Ryan Miller factor?

When the Ducks signed Ryan Miller, it seemed like a smart move, and also a clear case of getting a once-proud goalie to wind down his career as a backup.

Even so, Miller instantly becomes the most qualified backup in the NHL; he’s not that far removed from being a respectable starter. Anaheim likely views its window of contention as vulnerable with Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, and Corey Perry all at age 32 already. If Gibson falters, he could conceivably lose significant stretches of starts to Miller.

The two goalies even have matching two-year terms and are carrying nearly identical cap hits, so it’s not as though Miller lacks any staying power, even if his advanced age limits the threat to Gibson overall.


Again, Gibson’s numbers and potential shine brightly right now, and every sign points to him being an important part of the Ducks’ future.

The franchise’s recent history indicates that he’d be foolish to assume it’s a done deal, though.

NHL, NHLPA team up to raise $200K for Hurricane Harvey relief in Houston


The NHL and NHLPA joined forces for a great cause this week by raising funds to aid those affected by Hurricane Harvey in the Houston, Texas area.

The league announced a $200K donation to the American Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity in hopes of assisting in the wake of this terrible natural disaster.

(You can chip in as well to the Red Cross here and Habitat for Humanity here.)

Many professional athletes are contributing to this cause, with Houston Texans star J.J. Watt ranking among those who’ve managed to help out in profound ways.

For more on how Houston and its surrounding areas have been affected, check NBC News.

Reports: David Booth gets PTO shot with Red Wings


Apparently the PTO wave also includes David Booth.

The Detroit Red Wings are giving Booth a shot, as The Athletic’s Craig Custance first reported and then backed up by the Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James.

One interesting detail from St. James: Booth, a Detroit native, made the tryout request to the Red Wings.

Booth, 32, last suited up in the NHL in 2014-15, scoring seven goals and 13 points in 59 regular-season games with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s spent the last two seasons in the KHL, including 2016-17 with Omsk Avangard.

Playing for his local team would be nifty, but to some extent, the Red Wings seem like an odd fit. For one thing, they have to figure things out with Andreas Athanasiou and even now don’t have a ton of cash to work with.

(Not that Booth would fetch much.)

Ducks will honor Kariya, Selanne Hall of Fame inductions


This post is part of Ducks Day on PHT…

Even when you acknowledge Paul Kariya’s bitterness related to the concussions that cut his career short, it’s difficult to shake the warm-and-fuzzy feelings that come from Kariya and Teemu Selanne heading into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the same class.

That moment is scheduled for Nov. 13, and with little surprise, the Anaheim Ducks will take an opportunity to celebrate the duo that helped the team gain credibility despite being, well, a Mickey Mouse franchise.

The Ducks announced that their own ceremony for Kariya and Selanne will take place on Nov. 19, a night when the team will host the Florida Panthers.

“Paul and I are honored that the Ducks will host this special night at Honda Center,” Selanne said. “I’m also very happy that several local charities will benefit from this event. We’re looking forward to sharing this night with our fans.”

One would assume that Kariya will be on hand, although it really is worth mentioning that there seems residual bitterness. It was news when he showed up for a promo video for the Ducks in May, just to give you an idea that he’s not around very often.

More on Selanne and Kariya

On that dynamic duo

Selected for the 2017 HHOF class

Selanne: Kariya is “very bitter about hockey”

Kariya discusses head shots ending his career prematurely