James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Sheesh, Kucherov isn’t playing for Lightning tonight, either

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The mood for the Tampa Bay Lightning right now? Still pretty miserable.

PHT’s Mike Halford breaks down the organization-wide malaise, while Wednesday presents more pressing issues: Nikita Kucherov isn’t going to be able to play against the Calgary Flames on Wednesday.

We’re already aware that Steven Stamkos is unavailable, and while Ryan Callahan is making progress, he’s also not ready to go. Cory Conacher was recalled and will draw back into the Lightning mix instead.

The Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith noted that Kucherov was skating “gingerly” and not participating in drills on Wednesday morning. The team indicated that this isn’t too serious, but who knows?

The Lightning’s lines look a little shaky heading into tonight’s game:

Yeah, not ideal.

Panthers owner says Tallon always had final say, confusing us further

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Even if you think their struggles are a bit overblown when you dig deeper, things were pretty messy for the Florida Panthers last night. Now, more than anything else, it all feels … a little confusing.

Earlier on Wednesday, we discussed Darren Dreger’s report about GM Dale Tallon more-or-less regaining many of the GM powers people believed that he lost after a “promotion” many believe was a glorified demotion.

(Catches breath for a second.)

Dreger came on NBCSN tonight to explain everything a bit more:

Confused yet? If not, this might do the trick: Panthers owner Vincent Viola told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that little has really changed regarding Tallon and the team’s power structure.

“As far as I am concerned, Dale has always had final say over hockey decisions,” Viola said by telephone. “What we had done is bifurcate Dale from some things he didn’t need to worry about anymore [negotiating contracts, for example]. But, in terms of player decisions, it is his call.”

For what it’s worth, that actually does jive with what Tallon said during a conference call in May:

“I wasn’t a big fan of doing contracts,” Tallon said. “It frees me up to do what I think I do best, and that’s go scout, evaluate talent, mentor our young guys, and help develop them.

Friedman brings up a good question, then: why would this sprout up now if nothing has changed?

Basically, it comes down to a few possibilities, including these:

  1. Viola and Tallon are both telling the truth; he really is calling the shots.
  2. We might not totally understand the Panthers’ structure because they’re doing something different. Titles like “GM” could be a little fuzzier in their setup.
  3. Tallon is a figurehead for fans who wouldn’t accept a “fancy stats” approach. By claiming that he’s regaining power amid this latest wave of criticism for analytics, the Panthers might buy themselves some time.
  4. Or, maybe Tallon was a figurehead as discussed in point 3, but now he’s calling the shots in a way that’s closer to 1 and 2.

Ultimately, actions will be speak louder than words. If the Panthers take a more “traditional” approach, then many will believe that Tallon did get more of a say. If they lean toward “analytics,” maybe not?

Of course, they could also do a little of both, which would indicate that decisions are made by a committee, much like the Toronto Maple Leafs’ current approach.

For what it’s worth, Panthers beat reporters Harvey Fialkov (of the Florida Sun-Sentinel) and George Richards (of the Miami Herald) pass along word that nothing’s changed.

Dreger believes that the executives’ responses mainly boil down to semantics.

So, long story short? Yeah, this is all pretty confusing.

Report: Tallon is calling the shots again for the Panthers

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It sounds like Dale Tallon is back to doing that thing he allegedly never stopped doing. So does this mean he’s no longer freezing his butt off in rinks while scouting?

OK, that’s confusing, right? Let’s walk this back.

Back in July when Tom Rowe was named GM and Tallon was promoted to director of hockey operations of the Florida Panthers, a lot of people would have placed “promoted” in quotation marks. Many believed that Tallon was handed a fancy title while believers in fancy stats would be making the key personnel decisions.

From the way they spent their money during the summer to the controversial firing of Gerard Gallant, it certainly seemed like there was a change in pace, even if Tallon insisted that he had the final call on decisions. Many in the hockey world frankly disagree with Tallon’s public assessment of his power in the organization.

Now it appears as if though Tallon really is making those GM-type decisions again, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger. Here’s the first in a line of tweets on the subject from Dreger:

And, just to remind you of the confusion over who wears the pants in the Panthers family:

Interesting.

Dreger notes that, since Rowe decided to serve as interim head coach, Tallon is tasked with “fixing things” and running the hockey operations on a day-to-day basis. It’s totally reasonable to wonder what this means for the analytical approach, especially when Dreger reports that Tallon wants to (wait for it) make the Panthers “tougher to play against.”

(Code for … well, all sorts of anti-fancy-stat things, at least generally speaking.)

If you want the tl;dr version: Tallon is, more or less, back to being GM of the Panthers, according to Dreger’s report. He appears to be “back in power.”

This comes a day after the Panthers were roasted for a 5-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild, with many a stat-hater trotting out their favorite “I told you so” tweets.

For some, this is the Panthers trying to “stabilize” management, as Dreger concludes. Others wonder if this is yet another move made in the interest of “optics.”

Of course, there are plenty of other people who just believe that this is one big mess. Actually, that might be the one thing that both sides of the “stats” debate would probably agree upon right now.

Sharks get Vlasic back in the lineup

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After missing a game, Marc-Edouard Vlasic is back for the San Jose Sharks as they face the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday.

It’s not the only interesting lineup tweak, either, as Joonas Donskoi isn’t playing (either due to an injury or offensive struggles). Dylan DeMelo also won’t play while Micheal Haley is in.

The Sharks hope to fatten up their slim Pacific Division lead tonight, so the return of No. 44 should help matters. San Jose lost to Ottawa last week despite piling up a significant shot advantage.

WATCH LIVE: Bruins at Penguins – Wednesday Night Rivalry

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The Pittsburgh Penguins rank higher in the East right now and are currently on a six-game winning streak, but the Boston Bruins have had their number lately.

Boston has won the last five games between the teams, and from a “Wednesday Night Rivalry” standpoint, they also memorably swept Pittsburgh in 2012-13.

A lot has changed since then – Pittsburgh added a Stanley Cup ring – but these teams still feature some talented players, with buddies Sidney Crosby and Patrice Bergeron squaring off. Besides, it’s always fun to see Phil Kessel face the team that drafted him, right?

This kicks off an NBCSN doubleheader, which you can watch online and on the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream, which also includes “NHL Live.”