James O'Brien

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

Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin make history

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Sidney Crosby (30) and Alex Ovechkin (32) aren’t old, but they’re old enough to really start piling up impressive milestones.

Each superstar made some history on Thursday with assists. In the case of Ovechkin, he collected the 500th assist on his career, although Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s helper was the real “wow” moment of Nicklas Backstrom‘s goal. (See that in the video above this post’s headline.)

Ovechkin joins some select company, as he’s closing in on 600 goals. This is the 970th regular-season game of his career.

Crosby’s first assist on Thursday gave him his 1,080th point with the Penguins, placing him ahead of Jaromir Jagr at second all-time for franchise scoring.

It’s a pretty sweet one, too, with Crosby using his peripheral vision to set the table for Dominik Simon:

As of this writing, Crosby has three assists in this game. This is just the 833rd game of Crosby’s career, so yes, this is a remarkable run; Jagr scored his 1,080 points in just 806 games. Both players = ridiculous.

In case you’re wondering, Evgeni Malkin has a ways to go to pass Jagr as well. Geno came into Thursday with 881 points in 752 games, adding two goals and an assist against an overmatched Wild team. The Penguins ended up winning 6-3.

Ovechkin’s Capitals look like they’re in line for a postseason berth, while the Penguins are looking increasingly likely to grind their way into the playoffs, too. That’s likely most important to both players, but maybe they can take a moment to enjoy some of these outstanding individual accomplishments.

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.

More evidence Red Wings should lean on Mrazek, not Howard

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We’re getting to the point in the 2017-18 season when wishful thinking goes from annoying but acceptable to potentially harmful for a team’s future.

The Detroit Red Wings are long beyond the point where they can credibly claim to be contenders, with even optimistic prognostications like that of Sports Club Stats giving them a five percent chance to make the playoffs. Even if they did, it’s tough to imagine them making an impact in the postseason; at some point a franchise with one playoff series win since 2012-13 needs to read the writing on the wall.

Even if GM Ken Holland & Co. are going to be stubborn about a need to rebuild until the last minute, there are certain decisions that should be no-brainers, and showcasing Petr Mrazek is so painfully the obvious thing to do with the goalie’s contract set to expire.

The Chicago Blackhawks provided the latest testimony to that argument, as they chased Jimmy Howard with three goals on just nine shots.

Howard came into tonight’s game on a three-game losing streak, allowing three goals once and four goals on the other two occasions. About the best argument you can make for trotting out Howard is that he might give the Red Wings a better chance to tank if his recent struggles continue.

This isn’t a knock on Howard overall, as he’s enjoyed a pleasant-enough rejuvenation overall.

But still, at this point the Red Wings should be putting Mrazek on display to give potential suitors more exposure to what the netminder is capable of in 2018. Let’s not forget that Mrazek has shown flashes of brilliance, especially in 2015-16, when he produced a strong .921 save percentage in 54 games.

Mrazek’s enjoyed some strong flourishes lately, including a two-game shutout streak (27 saves against the Blackhawks on Jan. 14; 37 stops vs. the Devils on Jan. 22). For all we know, maximizing his production in the next month or so could greatly improve a takeaway in a trade. Considering his $4 million cap hit, the Red Wings might need to be accomodating to make something happen here.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Chicago Blackhawks at Detroit Red Wings

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CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Chicago Blackhawks

Brandon SaadNick SchmaltzPatrick Kane

Alex DeBrincatJonathan ToewsAnthony Duclair

Tomas JurcoDavid KampfVinnie Hinostroza

Patrick SharpArtem AnisimovRyan Hartman

Duncan KeithJordan Oesterle

Erik GustafssonBrent Seabrook

Michal KempnyConnor Murphy

Startling goalie: Anton Forsberg

[Preview: ‘Hawks take four-game losing streak on the road to Detroit]

Detroit Red Wings

Andreas AthanasiouDylan LarkinTyler Bertuzzi

Anthony ManthaHenrik ZetterbergGustav Nyquist

Tomas TatarFrans NielsenLuke Glendening

Martin FrkDominic TurgeonLuke Witkowski

Danny DeKeyserNick Jensen

Niklas KronwallMike Green

Jonathan EricssonXavier Ouellet

Startling goalie: Jimmy Howard

Brad Marchand gets stiff five-game suspension

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The Boston Bruins will be without Charlie McAvoy for a couple of weeks, and now must try to keep their hot streak going without Brad Marchand.

In the case of Marchand, it was by most accounts, an unforced error. The NHL didn’t buy the defense that Marchand was defending himself from New Jersey Devils forward Marcus Johansson, instead handing the repeat offender a significant five-game suspension.

The NHL’s official explanation video notes that it “was not a defensive maneuver” and acknowledges that Marchand’s past as a repeat offender (five suspensions before this one, also three fines) played a role in the decision. The clip doesn’t mention Johansson’s possible concussion, however.

The narrative had been that Marchand was cleaning up his ways during his ascent among the NHL’s elite. He told The Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur in November that he’s trying to avoid suspensions.

“I’m trying to get away from the s— a little bit, and I have, just because they crack down on it so easily now and I can’t afford to get suspended. … There are very few guys on any team that even get into anything. These kids that come up now, they’re all skill players, they don’t get into it. There’s no fighters anymore.”

Somewhat awkwardly, this five-game suspension might not stop Marchand from attending the 2018 All-Star Game this weekend.

It’s been a controversial stretch for the Department of Player Safety. On one hand, many argue that they went too harsh with Andrew Cogliano, ending his ironman streak with a two-game suspension. Bitterness boiled over on that even more when Dustin Brown avoided a suspension for a nasty cross-check on Justin Schultz.

If those decisions were too hot and too cold, was this five-game suspension just right? If not, was it too little or even too much, considering his history?

Either way, NBCSN’s Liam McHugh is correct in saying that it was more than a slap on the wrist. Bob McKenzie provides more insight on the decision:

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.

Let’s fix the Edmonton Oilers

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You know things are bad for the Edmonton Oilers when even the media is questioning management.

Sportsnet’s Mark Spector chides players for a “sense of entitlement” after last night’s embarrassing loss to the Sabres, yet he also critiques the team’s special teams gameplan. “For the first time ever,” the Taylor HallAdam Larsson trade bewilders the Edmonton Journal’s David Staples.

Even Hall of Fame goalie Grant Fuhr believes that their PK is a mess.

By just about every measure, the Oilers are an absolute mess. And, yes, that PK is insanely ugly.

Is there any hope for them to turn things around? Yes, but they must admit this season is a lost cause, and big changes are needed.

Change in vision

There might come a point where it makes sense to trade one of the Oilers’ few remaining, arguably-not-quite-core assets in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. In a vacuum, it would make sense to move him during a “sell-high” time, which could be this season if he heals up before the trade deadline expires.

Let’s be honest, though; would anyone in their right mind trust GM Peter Chiarelli to extract anywhere near optimal value for RNH, not to mention guys like Oscar Klefbom?

And really, it’s not just on Chiarelli. Todd McLellan deserves some blame for the team’s systemic struggles. Scroll through the Oilers’ last decade-or-so of drafting and you’ll see that the franchise rarely finds talent outside of the first round, a serious indictment of their scouting staff, not to mention their ability to develop. Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish have their fingerprints all over these failures, too.

Management had a vision for what works in the NHL, but it looks ugly unless you’re wearing rose-colored glasses.

Liquidate

This season and coming summer both stand as opportunities to cut the fat.

It’s tough to imagine another team taking on Milan Lucic‘s odious deal and Kris Russell‘s contract, but let’s not forget that seemingly immovable deals have been traded away before. David Clarkson, Nathan Horton, Dave Bolland, and even Chris Pronger have received paychecks from teams willing to warehouse bad contracts for a price. Maybe Edmonton could bribe teams to take some mistakes off their hands?

Sometimes it’s not even that high of a price, but that’s why you need to find a GM who can … you know, at least break even in trades.

In the case of Patrick Maroon and maybe a few other expiring pieces, Chiarelli could even redeem himself a bit by getting decent returns.

Draft capital can help in multiple ways

The bright side of this disastrous season is that the Oilers are likely to get a healthy first-rounder for their troubles. As of this writing, Edmonton’s the sixth-worst team in the NHL, and games played could push them down a bit more.

We all know they enjoy inanely good luck in the lottery, so consider how this could help them out:

  • Landing a key prospect – This is the simplest path, and a reasonable one in that. With cap concerns looming, they may very well need another decent player on a rookie contract.
  • Packaging to get rid of a bad contract – That said, the Oilers might not want to wait out that development process. To embrace more of a “win now” mode, they could clear up space by combining that pick (and maybe more) with a contract they’d otherwise struggle to remove.
  • Landing a big fish – On a similar note, what if the pick could help them grab a key soon-to-be-free-agent defenseman? Imagine how much better the Oilers would look with someone like Oliver Ekman-Larsson or Ryan Ellis, not to mention even bigger names in Erik Karlsson or Drew Doughty. If their teams realize they’re going to lose those players, a high-end pick could get things moving.

Target goalies

Cam Talbot might get back on track, but either way, he’s already 30 and his $4.167 million cap hit expires after 2018-19. Again, the Oilers aren’t the greatest at learning from their mistakes, yet this season should send a blaring signal that they shouldn’t put all of their eggs in one basket.

The Oilers could consider a reclamation project in Petr Mrazek, echoing what the Wild accomplished with their former goalie Devan Dubnyk. They could see if Aaron Dell is the next Talbot: a backup capable of being something more.

We’ve seen plenty of instances where teams need two goalies, so Edmonton should be proactive, even if Talbot ends up ultimately being “the guy.”

They still have Connor

Before Oilers fans get too depressed, don’t forget there are still great pieces in place, including Connor McDavid, who’s somehow barely 21 years old. Believe it or not, locking him up for eight years at $12.5M per is actually an astounding bargain. In fact, it’s such a deal that they can probably relax about paying Draisaitl too much.

The Oilers have made their mistakes, but new management could change things in a hurry. Just look at how dim things looked for the Penguins during the ill-fated Mike Johnston era. They turned things around with a coaching change and some courageous trades, while the Maple Leafs are another example of a team “seeing the light” and enjoying significant returns.

It doesn’t seem like Chiarelli was really taking notes, but if he gets replaced, hopefully the next GM has been paying attention. Things can turn around quickly in the NHL, at least if you push the right buttons.

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.