James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Brandon Pirri makes Rangers’ offense so deep, a trade may be needed

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Want to make your brain hurt a little? Try to narrow down the New York Rangers’ forward group to a mere 12 after the whip-smart signing of Brandon Pirri became official.

To start, you have the obvious guys: Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes. Then you add new arrivals in Pirri, Jimmy Vesey, Nathan Gerbe, Michael Grabner and Josh Jooris.

The list above includes 12 mostly-viable options and we haven’t even discussed the likes of Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast and fringe types such as Tanner Glass.

Throw in prospects such as Pavel Buchnevich and Marek Hrivik and … well, it sure becomes such a strength that things feel pretty crowded after some reflection.

Blueshirt Banter makes a strong case that something has to give; they believe that Pirri’s signing points to a possible trade. Maybe even a significant, multi-part one:

And this is where things get interesting. The Rangers are still floating around the Kevin Shattenkirk rumors, and the persistent Rick Nash speculation isn’t going anywhere, either.

It’s something that Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman apparently pointed to.

Well, isn’t that interesting.

General Fanager puts the Rangers’ jam-packed roster about $1.4 million under the salary cap ceiling as of this moment.

With that in mind, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton probably isn’t in a desperate situation to move someone – whether it be a big name such as Nash or not – but New York might amass enough forward pieces to jar a quality defenseman loose

Even as is, the team sure looks more formidable now than it did entering the off-season. Forward depth was one of the strengths of the group that made it to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final (recall useful supporting cast members including Benoit Pouliot), so maybe Alain Vigneault would really excel with another deep group?

Vacation-mode is just about over, so perhaps the Rangers have something interesting up their sleeves? It’s a reasonable question to ask.

Monahan seems confident Gaudreau will sign before season begins

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Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau seem primed to be the Calgary Flames’ dynamic duo for some time, but if they’re getting matching contracts, those deals will come at different moments.

Monahan’s seven-year, $44.625 million extension was settled on Friday, so what of Gaudreau? That remains to be seen.

For Monahan’s part, he doesn’t think contract talks will bleed into the 2016-17 regular season.

“It takes time,” Monahan said, according to NHL.com. “I’m positive he’s going to be here for Oct. 12 [regular-season opener at the Edmonton Oilers] and be playing for the Calgary Flames. I’m not worried about it. Brad is doing his work on that part. I’m just looking forward to getting off to the World Cup and playing with him there, and continue that chemistry into the season.”

You could make a very reasonable argument that Gaudreau is worth more than Monahan. He’s simply a magical talent; even Flames GM Brad Treliving acknowledges that there’s a “uniqueness” to the wizardly forward.

There are some more concrete differences that swing things toward a Monahan-like payout, mind you.

Gaudreau (23) is a little older than Monahan, who is 21. Monahan plays the more “crucial” center position while Gaudreau may be a little more worried about how a longer deal may eat up potential UFA years.

These factors pile up enough to build a little anxiety, but at least at the moment, the Flames seem optimistic about locking down Gaudreau.

It’s Colorado Avalanche day at PHT

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Give Patrick Roy credit for this much: he has a way of throwing the sort of earth-shaking tantrums that sort of make you forget what happened before them.

Then again, maybe the 2015-16 season feels a little less memorable because of its parallels to the 2014-15 campaign before it.

In both cases, the Avalanche continued their Roy-era run of getting pummeled from a possession standpoint to a downright jarring degree.

Despite the familiarity, this past round was more bruising. Their 82 standings points represents the low point of Roy’s three-season run and the fifth time in six seasons that Colorado failed to make the playoffs.

The once-proud franchise hasn’t won a playoff series since 2007-08. Maybe a painful adjustment might accelerate the Avs’ ascent?

Off-season

The story of this summer is far from finished, as the Avalanche still must go about hastily replacing Roy.

If you can put that distraction aside for a minute in focusing on Colorado, there were signs that the sometimes-explosive franchise is starting to gain its footing.

Rather than make splashy signings – something Roy may have wanted – the Avalanche focused on modest value moves such as signing Joe Colborne and Rocco Grimaldi.

Most importantly, they committed to the still-promising core pieces with new contracts for Nathan MacKinnon and Tyson Barrie. Considering how affordable those deals are, big-picture optimism isn’t that tough to come by.

What about 2016-17 in particular, though? PHT will ponder questions surrounding the team, even beyond the elephant in the room that is the head coaching situation.

‘They don’t expect me to be a savior’ – Vesey on selecting Rangers

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It doesn’t seem like there’s a single reason why Jimmy Vesey signed with the New York Rangers. Maybe that’s the point, though; the cumulative impact of the Rangers’ pitch and other contextual factors tipped the scales toward MSG.

Of all the pluses on the Rangers’ side, there’s at least one important caveat: they didn’t promise him a specific spot in the lineup, whether it be on an exact line or with any hand-picked linemates.

That said, it sure sounds like they sold the 23-year-old on the likelihood that he’d at least be in the lineup.

As much as this is about a great opportunity, it sounds like it helps that he won’t be asked to do too much. He won’t be asked to be “a savior.”

While the team made a strong impression on Vesey, it’s plausible that his friendship with Kevin Hayes made a difference.

For those who followed this situation especially closely, Vesey will probably struggle to be “just another guy.”

The Rangers offered an interesting mix of pressure, attention and comfort-level to Vesey, ultimately finding the winning combination. We won’t have to wait all that long to see if he can be part of a winning combination on the ice.

Blues believe Sobotka is still coming back

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This is part of St. Louis Blues day at PHT…

September is rapidly approaching, and the St. Louis Blues still don’t know if a fairly important player will return to their mix or stay in the KHL.

In this specific case, the confusion revolves around Vladimir Sobotka.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that GM Doug Armstrong said he’s still under the impression that the 29-year-old forward is coming back to the Blues. That’s the stance even though Russian reports from sources including Champion.at indicate that Sobotka may just remain where he is.

St. Louis Game Time’s sub-headline really captures the spirit of the situation:

There should not be this much drama concerning a third-line center.

Indeed, the thing is, Sobotka isn’t likely to be a tide-turning piece one way or another. He’s not the sort of player who will invalidate any Blues day materials if he manages to suit up for St. Louis.

That’s not to say that he can’t help the Blues, mind you.

With David Backes out of town and head coach Ken Hitchcock readying to rely on some younger forwards, Sobotka could serve as a security blanket of sorts.

He is unlikely to light scoreboards on fire – whether he’s in the KHL or NHL – but solid possession stats from his two most recent seasons in the NHL (2012-13 and 2013-14) back up the impression that his return would be welcome.

Honestly, it’s risky to pencil him into the Blues lineup at this point. Like the Blues themselves, we’ll just have to see how the situation shakes out.