James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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J.T. Miller isn’t playing for North America tonight, but he says he’s healthy

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J.T. Miller isn’t suiting up for Team America on Sunday, but New York Rangers fans can breathe easy. It looks like he’s just a healthy scratch.

Miller seemed shaken up after a shot hit his hand, yet ESPN’s Craig Custance reports that the Rangers forward insists that he’s OK.

A lot of people were concerned about Miller during the eventual 4-0 win for Team North America vs. Europe:

*scratches chin*

Jacob Trouba joins Miller as a healthy scratch while John Gibson slides into the net for Matt Murray (more on that later).

Based on the last game’s scratches, one would expect Dylan Larkin and Colton Parayko to play against Europe on Sunday.

As a reminder, Marian Hossa is back in the mix for Europe.

Predators confirm Mike Fisher as team’s seventh captain

via Nashville Predators
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Earlier this week, a report surfaced that the Nashville Predators selected Mike Fisher as their new captain. The team confirmed as much on Thursday.

Fisher, 36, becomes the seventh captain in team history. Shea Weber leaves big shoes to fill after serving in this role from 2010-11 through 2015-16.

“It is the right choice, and there’s a lot of confidence when we made that choice that we got the right guy,” Peter Laviolette said. “After being around Mike and watching him, seeing how he handles the team, how he works every day and how he interacts with his players and coaches, we 100 percent got the right guy.”

Short-term fix?

Speaking of getting the right guy, the most interesting question may revolve around how long Fisher actually serves as Predators captain. His $4.4 million cap hit expires after the 2016-17 season, and at age 36, you have to wonder how much longer he’ll stick around.

(Maybe he’s keeping the seat warm while Nashville mulls over some nice choices in young players like P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg?)

Now, the Predators don’t seem concerned about Fisher’s longevity, at least on the record:

The Predators put together a nice montage to celebrate the decision:

Veteran presence on a fresh-faced team

Fisher first joined the Predators in 2010-11 after being traded from the Ottawa Senators. He’s played in 341 regular season games with Nashville along with 39 postseason contests.

Mike Ribeiro is the only member of the Predators roster who is older than Fisher (by a few months).

Along with Weber and now Fisher, the Predators list of captains also included Tom Fitzgerald, Greg Johnson, Kimmo Timonen and Jason Arnott.

Here’s hoping Fisher rising to this level means that people freshen their jokes about his marriage to Carrie Underwood. It’s time, gang.

Patrick Kaleta thinks he can still play in the NHL

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Well, at least Patrick Kaleta doesn’t feel like George Costanza any longer.

The bruising player compared his experiences during the latter days of his time with the Buffalo Sabres to that of the popular “Seinfeld” character who always seemed to find himself in awkward workplace situations.

At 30, he told the Buffalo News that he believes there’s still some gas in the tank.

“Hopefully, I get a chance to play in the NHL,” Kaleta said. “I definitely don’t think I’m washed up yet.”

Let’s be honest: some teams probably won’t be interested in Kaleta even in his “peak” form. On the other hand, with Raffi Torres getting a PTO, there’s evidence that at least some teams might ponder a player like him.

(Now, some will argue that Torres is a more useful player than Kaleta beyond the nonsense, but that doesn’t mean someone wouldn’t give Kaleta a shot nonetheless.)

Kaleta points to the fact that he’s beefed up lately, telling the Buffalo News that he’s packed on 12 lbs. of “good weight” to hit 210.

It doesn’t sound like Kaleta wants to go back to the Sabres for a prospective gig, although he could always try the Costanza classic of just sort of wondering back in as if nothing’s changed.

/Waits for someone to put together a Kaleta montage to that memorable bass line.

(H/T to Kukla’s Korner.)

Neely: Bruins aim to sign Marchand to extension before season begins

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If you want to be a core member of an NHL team, it almost feels like a contract year comes one season earlier than it does for fringe players.

Naturally, there are some players who straddle that line, and they may feel as if they face two contract years.

The reasoning is simple: teams can re-sign a player with a season remaining on a current contract, so important pieces often nab extensions at almost the first opportunity. It sounds like the Boston Bruins would prefer to go that route with Brad Marchand.

Cam Neely said as much during an appearance on CSN’s Great American Hockey Show podcast.

“We’d like to get Brad signed. We’ve made that clear to him, and we’ve made that clear to his agency. I know (GM Don Sweeney) has been working with their group to a get a deal done,” Neely said. “We’d like to get something done before the start of the season.”

Risk and reward

Of course, the Bruins and Marchand must find the right compromise regarding timing and value.

During Bruins day, PHT broke down the many variables that factor into what Marchand’s contract might look like. It’s possible that the pesky-yet-talented winger might want a lengthy contract coming in at $7 million per season, which would nudge him ahead of elite two-way center Patrice Bergeron.

As that post asked, would the Bruins really make that kind of commitment to a guy whose mischief occasionally outweighs his production?

Marchand’s side

In case you’re wondering, Marchand’s more or less said all the right things about contract negotiations without really tipping his hand.

Another big season could generate an even bigger financial windfall for Marchand than signing early, but his pugnacious style might also elevate the risk of injuries or suspensions. Missing time would make his breakthrough 2015-16 season (37 goals, 60 points) look like more of an outlier.

To some extent, it’s a game of chicken for Marchand in particular: do you possibly take less money for more security or swing for the financial fences?

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Barring a major injury or other unexpected circumstances, the 28-year-old is virtually assured a huge raise from his bargain $4.5 million cap hit. It merely boils down to how much money, how many years and where he’ll end up.

Report: NHL explores new way to remove concussed players from games

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When a sports league introduces a measure to cut down on concussions, it’s become a reflex to ask “Yeah, but does that rule have any teeth?”

More specifically, in the heat of competition, will a rule force a team to choose a player’s long-term health over the short-term goal of trying to win a game … especially if said player wants to get back into the action?

That’s a tough task, but Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that the NHL will likely add a measure that might help: “central spotters.”

In addition to on-site concussion spotters, Friedman reports that four “central spotters” will monitor all NHL games on TV. They will – allegedly – have the power to remove a player from a game if they notice that said player displays “visible signs of a concussion,” according to Friedman.

Friedman believes there’s “no question” that the tweak stems in part from the fallout of Dennis Wideman‘s controversial collision with linesman Don Henderson:

Friedman explains how a concussion spotter with more agency might have made a difference:

Evidence in the various hearings indicated the in-arena spotter had asked for Wideman to be removed from the game, but Wideman declined when approached by Calgary trainers. Later, Wideman admitted he did suffer a concussion, which led to a reduction in his penalty.

Interestingly, another inspiration might be the murmurs around the NFL surrounding the risks Cam Newton may have been exposed to during the league’s regular season opener on Thursday.

Plenty of onlookers would agree that both leagues have … room for improvement in this area.

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Now, there are some potential questions that come with the “central spotters.”

Most pressingly, how will trainers watching a TV have any more power than in-house spotters, who were possibly ignored in cases like that of Wideman?

In a more esoteric way, you wonder if technology or human error could also factor in. What if something’s just flat-out missed, particularly on the type of evenings where there are multiple games going on at once?

Friedman reports that the league is likely to announce additional details – assuming the idea goes through – so perhaps we’ll have more answers then.

(H/T to The Hockey News.)