James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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AHL teams can loan certain players to 2018 Winter Olympics

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Players on American Hockey League contracts will be eligible to play in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

President and CEO David Andrews confirmed through a league spokesman Wednesday that teams were informed they could loan players on AHL contracts to national teams for the purposes of participating in the Pyeongchang Olympics. The AHL sent a memo to its 30 clubs saying players could only be loaned for Olympic participation from Feb. 5-26.

The Olympic men’s hockey tournament runs from Feb. 9-25. Like the NHL, which is not having its players participate for the first time since 1994, the AHL does not have an Olympic break in its schedule.

The AHL’s decision does not affect players assigned to that league on NHL contracts. No final decision has been made about those players.

Bettman’s interesting comments on ‘fisticuffs,’ gambling, and more

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In a rare event, commissioners for North America’s four major sports shared the same stage on Tuesday, with Gary Bettman representing the NHL alongside Roger Goodell (NFL), Adam Silver (NBA), and Roger Manfred (MLB).

John Ourand of the Sports Business Daily was on hand to record the four commissioners’ thoughts on a myriad of sports issues, and to little surprise, Bettman provided some of the most interesting responses. You can read Ourand’s full report here, and also check out his Twitter feed for individual snippets.

Some of Bettman’s most fascinating points came in how he discussed violence – or physicality – in the sport.

It’s unclear if there’s video available, which is a shame since Bettman apparently uttered the word “fisticuffs.”

“The issue of fisticuffs in hockey gets overblown,” Bettman said, via Ourand. “It’s an extremely small part of the game. That gets to be a distraction, both from the media and from other quarters where somebody’s trying to prove a point. At the end of the day, what people expect from our game and from football is physicality and both leagues work very hard to make sure our games are as safe as possible.”

Bettman’s certainly correct about fighting becoming an increasingly small facet of life in the NHL, possibly to the chagrin of Jay Baruchel.

His thoughts on gambling seem especially relevant with the advent of the Vegas Golden Knights, too:

Check out Ourand’s full report for more from Bettman, not to mention three other major sports commissioners.

This post will be updated if, miraculously, video surfaces of Bettman saying “fisticuffs.”

Update: We have video. It is long.

 

Sabres’ Kyle Okposo returning to ice after health scare

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Here’s some heartwarming hockey news for you: apparently Kyle Okposo is playing hockey tonight.

Considering his late-season health scare, it was promising enough that the Buffalo Sabres expect him to be ready by training camp. But in mid-July? This is even more promising.

Apparently he’s one of many NHL-relevant participants in … “Da Beauty League?”

Again, there are a lot of familiar names, as you can see based on this lineup sheet:

Wow. Along with Okposo, there are many other noteworthy participants, including Dustin Byfuglien, Ryan McDonagh, and Zach Parise.

Here’s more insight on the event, via their “About Us” section:

Da Beauty League was established in the Fall of 2015 by local business people in an effort to bring professional hockey to Minnesota on a year round basis. Da Beauty League centers itself on bringing fans fast paced professional hockey in a casual environment. For the players, Da Beauty League serves as a training ground for the players as they prepare for their upcoming professional seasons. Da Beauty League provides fans with 3 fast paced regular season games played out of Braemar Arena on a nightly basis during the summer. Fans will experience a relaxed atmosphere to watch hockey and enjoy typical intermission entertainment while watching the best hockey talent in the world.

Really, though, it’s just great to see that Okposo’s apparently feeling close to 100 percent.

(H/T to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.)

Panthers sign first-rounder Owen Tippett to rookie deal

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The Florida Panthers announced that they signed Owen Tippett to a three-year entry-level contract on Wednesday.

Tippett was the 10th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, a big (red) forward who could very well go straight from the OHL to the NHL next season.

The Panthers could certainly use a scorer with his potential. He generated 44 goals in just 60 regular-season games in the OHL, and also added 10 goals in 20 playoff games for the (wonderfully named) Mississauga Steelheads. With all the roster upheaval in Florida, there’s at least a lane for him to make the team.

That doesn’t mean it will be easy for Tippett, mind you, although Panthers GM Dale Tallon indicated that he possesses certain qualities that could bode well for an immediate leap.

“I’m thrilled to sign Owen to his first NHL contract,” Tallon said. “Owen is a natural goal scorer with a bright future and he already possesses NHL-ready size and speed. We’re looking forward to watching him compete for a spot on our NHL roster at training camp this fall.”

Speaking of the Steelheads, they posted this highlight video, and also the perfect nickname for Tippett: “Ginger Snipes.” Nicely done.

Hanzal believes Stars will be a ‘winning team’

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If there was a theme to the Dallas Stars’ off-season, it was to getting bigger and meaner.

Bringing back Ken Hitchcock was a big step in that direction. Heck, even Ben Bishop ranks as one of the larger goalies you can find.

Such a pattern carried over to Tuesday, as GM Jim Nill introduced sizable acquisitions Martin Hanzal and Marc Methot. After being a rental with the Minnesota Wild, Hanzal noted his experience in the Western Conference, and said that he signed with Dallas in part because he views the Stars as a “winning team.”

As you can see, Hanzal was especially effusive in his praise of Jamie Benn, deeming him a “top-five player” in the NHL.

One interesting note comes from NHL.com’s Sean Shapiro, who believes that Jason Spezza might move to the wing to make room for the hulking center.

On paper, that’s a sensible idea. Hanzal is a more defensive-minded pivot, so moving Spezza to the wing – whether it’s on Hanzal’s line or not – might free up Spezza to maximize his offensive output.

Hitchcock has been provided with an enviable array of possibilities, including combining Hanzal with another big Stars forward. One could picture a puck-possessing pairing of Hanzal and fellow addition Alex Radulov causing opponents big headaches, especially on rugged West runs with a lot of travel.

Dallas has taken some criticism for being something of a perennial “off-season champion,” so it’s fair to caution against too much daydreaming. Considering his history of injuries, Hanzal likely knows how quickly a good situation can turn sour.

Still, as it stands in mid-July, it’s reasonable to consider the Stars “a winning team” once again.