James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Islanders statement addresses Connecticut courtship, doesn’t kill all rumors

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Earlier on Friday, eyebrow-raising news surfaced that brought back memories of the Hartford Whalers, as Connecticut made a pitch for the New York Islanders.

The team responded to such talk with a statement tracked down by Newsday’s Jim Baumbach. Here’s what the team shared, via Baumbach’s tweets:

“The public letter that the Connecticut Governor’s office released earlier today was the first we had heard of the news … We are thrilled to be playing this season in front of our passionate New York Islanders fan base at Barclays Center, with the goal of making the playoffs. We look forward to another great year of New York Islanders hockey at Barclays Center next season.”

So, that statement does its job without really putting to rest every rumor surrounding the team.

The Islanders can leave the Barclays Center after 2017-18, which makes the use of “next season” especially appropriate. As this post indicates, reports show that the arena might opt to give the Isles the boot after 2018-19.

Gary Bettman, meanwhile, kept things vague by saying the Islanders are committed to New York, though not necessarily the Barclays Center in specific.

This all makes you believe that Hartford’s dream of getting the Islanders is a long shot, but we’ve seen some strange moments when it comes to sports teams moving to unexpected places (in the NHL and in other leagues). It’s often best not to assume much of anything until the ink dries on a deal.

Heck, Islanders fans of all fans know that ownership situations can get downright bizarre.

For what it’s worth, the recently-red-hot Islanders are taking on the Detroit Red Wings tonight.

Yzerman might just need to accept a poor return in a Bishop trade

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Trades are tough to make in this salary cap age, especially if you want some value back (and especially with the expansion draft ramping up the uncertainty). Add in the obvious fact that everyone knows the Tampa Bay Lightning want to get rid of Ben Bishop, and the degree of difficulty goes sky high, even for a wizard like GM Steve Yzerman.

OK, “get rid of,” might be a little harsh … it really comes down to the fact that Andrei Vasilevskiy is “the guy” in Tampa Bay, so Bishop is the odd man out.

So, yeah, it’s tough sledding, especially if the Bolts haven’t punted on 2016-17 altogether.

“And we’re trying to win,” Yzerman told the Lightning Morning Skate Show, by way of NHL.com. “If I could do something that helped our team make a trade that identified a need for us — not just for this year, but going forward — I would do that, and haven’t been able to do that to this point, and that’s been going on, really, since the [NHL Draft] last year.”

Things probably have only gotten more difficult for Yzerman with the kind of year Bishop’s endured, at least based on what Yzerman said about offers and what Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman adds in “30 Thoughts.”

It’s a worthwhile gamble for someone needing a jolt without taking on a firm commitment. Word is current offers are low and Yzerman isn’t biting. His risk is seeing a rejuvenated Bishop deliver high reward somewhere else.

That last part might be where Stevie Y needs to swallow his pride.

Look, perception matters for executives; just look at how the discussion is often framed around the Florida Panthers’ disappointing season versus the Lightning’s stumbles as a single example. Few are really burying the Bolts in a bigger picture viewpoint, while others wonder if the Panthers’ ship is sinking.

That said, we’ve seen some downsides to Yzerman & Co. worrying too much about what other people think.

Saving face vs. saving cap space

Take the instance of Ryan Callahan.

Yzerman deserves credit for getting a nice haul for Martin St. Louis, considering that everyone knew they needed to part ways and St. Louis demanded a move to the New York Rangers. Still, a cap crunch was easy to see coming, so handing a risky contract to keep Callahan – aka the biggest name in the St. Louis trade, even if the assets were nice – might have been in part to save face.

That deal … uh, hasn’t worked out so well for the Lightning.

The Lightning need to at least consider the possibility that this is a lost season, and part ways with guys who are more “electrons” than “nucleus.” If Bishop isn’t a core member – and it certainly seems like he isn’t – Tampa Bay’s probably better off getting something for him.

Much like the 2016-17 season, the Lightning might just have to accept a letdown here.

Kings crush Avalanche to maintain playoff spot after Flames pass Blues

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It took just 47 seconds for Marian Gaborik to score the first goal of Wednesday’s Kings – Avalanche game, which would end up being all that Los Angeles needed. Not that they stopped there against Colorado.

Jeff Carter scored two goals to help the Kings carry a 3-0 lead through the first, the Kings added two more in the third and Los Angeles beat Colorado 5-0 on Wednesday.

It was a game between a Kings team clawing for a Western Conference wild card spot and an Avalanche team already pondering summer plans (and sweating trade rumors) … and it showed. The Kings dominated in just about every area, with Peter Budaj needing only 22 saves for his sixth shutout of 2016-17.

Budaj is 34 years old. Before this season, he played in one game in 2015-16 and 24 games in 2013-14, seemingly being on his way out of the NHL.

Instead, he’s enjoying what’s easily the best campaign of his career.

Speaking of careers, Darryl Sutter considers his distinguished work behind the bench. Considering the circumstances, this is shaping up to being one of his better jobs with the Kings.

This was an important win for the Kings, and with the Calgary Flames mashing the Minnesota Wild 5-1 on Wednesday, the West’s playoff picture no longer includes the Ken Hitchcock-less St. Louis Blues:

Wild card races in the West

1. Kings – 56 points in 51 games
2. Flames – 55 points in 53 games

Blues – 53 points in 50 games
Canucks – 52 points in 50 games
Stars – 52 points in 51 games
Jets – 52 points in 53 games

Yep, this win was a pretty big deal for the Kings, and they made no mistake about it against the Avs.

Capitals flex their muscles, put Bruins in a tough spot

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The Washington Capitals dominated the month of January, leading the league in goals scored, standings points generated and goal differential. If Wednesday’s 5-3 win against the Boston Bruins is any indication, they might just dominate 2017.

While the score wasn’t especially lopsided, the Capitals looked like a juggernaut at times in their eighth consecutive home win.

As the headline states, Washington flexed its muscles, displaying some of the feats of strength that helped them race ahead of the rest of the NHL:

  • One of the league’s best one-two punches at center showed up in a big way. Nicklas Backstrom scored one goal and collected two assists, including a beautiful saucer to set up a T.J. Oshie breakaway goal. Evgeny Kuznetsov was a menace in the latter stages of the game, generating a goal and assist of his own.
  • The Capitals also have that Alex Ovechkin guy, who remains a machine from “his office” on the power play. He scored his 550th career NHL regular season goal on the man advantage.
  • Braden Holtby was pretty sharp, especially at even-strength, stopping 28 of 29 there (while Brad Marchand scored two power-play goals). The workhorse goalie is on a four-game winning streak.
  • The other team needed it more. It didn’t matter.

On that note, the Bruins … yeah, they’re in trouble. Sure, they’re technically in the playoffs as of Wednesday, yet games in hand make you think that this is a dire situation.

Atlantic Division rankings (skipping Montreal because c’mon)

2. Senators – 58 points in 48 games
3. Bruins – 58 points in 54 games

Maple Leafs – 55 points in 48 games
Panthers – 54 points in 51 games
Lightning – 50 in 51
Sabres – 49 in 49
Red Wings – 49 in 50

Really, the Bruins can’t ignore the race for the second wild card spot, either. Anyway, the point is that the Bruins could have at least used a point from this one. Unfortunately, this game came against the Caps, so no dice.

If the loss wasn’t bad enough, it seemed like Tuukka Rask was shaken up by stretching out for a late save while Patrice Bergeron‘s return from a puck to the knee wasn’t totally convincing.

Uh oh, Part 1:

Part 2:

Long story short, the Bruins have plenty to worry about. And the rest of the NHL should absolutely be concerned about the rise of the Capitals.

WATCH LIVE: Colorado Avalanche at Los Angeles Kings

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All of a sudden, the Western Conference’s wild card picture is muddy and congested.

At 54 standings points, the Los Angeles Kings are in the playoffs as of right now, but their margin of error is tiny:

Kings – 54 points in 50 games
Blues – 53 in 50

Flames – 53 in 52
Canucks – 52 in 50
Stars – 52 in 51
Jets – 52 in 53

Yeah, that’s not much breathing room. Wit the Avalanche quite clearly weighing in as the NHL’s worst team (at least at the moment), this is one of those nights the Kings could really regret if they don’t come to play.

With the Pacific’s top three teams 8-10 points ahead of the Kings, it’s all about Los Angeles holding off the other bubble teams. Every night counts, even against lesser opponents like Colorado.

You can watch on NBCSN, online or via the NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream link.