James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Taylor Hall: Not quite a Jersey boy yet

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The New Jersey Devils could do worse than to have a camera crew follow Taylor Hall around as he adjusts to his new habitat.

At the moment, we’ll have to settle for this fun piece from NHL.com, which spotlights Hall’s experiences as he gets to know a place of toll booths, widespread brunch and diners.

The money quote, at least to make a good impression with locals, has to be: “If I were to have a family here someday, it’d be a really good place to be.”

That said, the stuff about being flustered at a toll booth is where the fun happens. Hall also apparently needs some time to make a dent in the hearts and minds of Devils fans. His anecdote about a moment with pal and teammate Adam Henrique really took the cake.

“He had just told me how low-key everything is here and, on our way back to his place, a lady stopped us and asked Adam for a picture and then she asked me to be the photographer,” Hall said. “I was certainly happy to take the picture and, honestly, a little bit happy to be anonymous too. We had a pretty good chuckle after that. That had never happened to me before.”

Good stuff.

The talented left winger lined up with Henrique and Beau Bennett in a Devils exhibition game tonight. The Devils must hope that his friend helps Hall adjust as much on the ice as Henrique is passing along tips off the ice.

Looks like he’s already making some friends, as this mundanely goofy photo can attest:

*thumbs up*

Maybe this won’t be Hitchcock’s last season after all

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Imagine this: Ken Hitchcock coaching against the St. Louis Blues in 2017-18.

Such a scenario seems a bit more plausible following Friday’s report from TSN’s Darren Dreger: apparently Hitchcock isn’t totally certain that he’ll retire from NHL head coaching after 2016-17.

With a Stanley Cup on his resume and years of success in different locales, Hitchcock doesn’t necessarily have that much to “prove.” Instead, it kind of sounds like he dreads the boredom that may result in walking off into the sunset.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find if I don’t have a stake in the game I get bored really quickly,” Hitchcock said. “I need to have a real stake in the game and that’s what I love about coaching … I’ve got a stake in the game and what I do matters every day and is important every day. I don’t ever want to lose that feeling.”

Strange things can happen in lame duck coaching scenarios, yet at the moment, the Blues’ plan appears to be for Mike Yeo to go from assistant to head coach after 2016-17 wraps up.

If Hitchcock still wants to be behind an NHL bench, it’s possible that he might need to take a job somewhere else to do so. (Otherwise, it would be a bum deal for Yeo.)

Hitchcock emphasized to Dreger that he’s still leaning toward this being his last year as a head coach, but he also spoke of a few regrets, including being unable to take the Columbus Blue Jackets from a playoff appearance to legitimate contention.

Hey, if he wanted one more challenge, there are plenty left. There’s an adventure waiting in Las Vegas for someone, for one thing …

Senators’ Ryan, Ceci already got in Boucher’s doghouse

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Bobby Ryan and Cody Ceci were late to an Ottawa Senators team meeting, giving new head coach Guy Boucher a convenient opportunity to assert himself before the regular season.

Boucher did so on Saturday, sitting the two players during the first period of Saturday’s 3-2 overtime exhibition loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

It’s an event that was noted by media on hand, including TSN’s Brent Wallace.

“That’s our rules,” Boucher explained, according to Postmedia’s Bruce Garrioch. (It doesn’t sound like they were late by much, either.)

One can imagine Boucher and his scar being quite the intimidating sight for late-arriving players such as Ryan and Ceci. What better time than the preseason to send messages, too? He gets to flex his managerial muscles without running the risk of meaningful on-ice consequences.

Boucher faces an interesting challenge – and opportunity – in trying to whip this group into shape.

While the roster is flawed, there’s interesting talent, and one could foresee a situation where the former Lightning coach would get more out of the very likes of Ryan and Ceci.

It’s dangerous to read too much into a situation like this, yet it’s still an interesting note. Especially if Boucher’s relationship sours with either player.

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In other news from that exhibition, Torrey Mitchell left the game with an upper-body injury.

Shocking: Tortorella emphasizes ‘mental toughness’

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Without any clues, if you had to pick one word to describe what John Tortorella might be looking for, what would it be?

There’s a strong chance many would pick “toughness” (or, OK, maybe a variation such as “grit”) and you’d be right.

After a World Cup of Hockey in which Team USA’s pursuit of toughness bordered, at times, on the comical, Tortorella kept the same themes going with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“I think that’s the fine line of winning and losing,” Tortorella told the Columbus Dispatch. “How do you handle yourself in those little situations where it’s, ‘Man, what do (I) give? Or, do (I) give in?’

“I’ve said it from day one, our mental toughness needs to be changed and this is part of the process.”

Specifically, Tortorella was talking about the Blue Jackets going through what the Columbus Dispatch describes as an especially “grueling” practice early on in training camp. But, honestly, it feels like it can be Torts’ request for just about anything hockey-related.

(It would be a refreshing bit of trolling if Tortorella decided to talk about finesse for an entire press conference.)

To some extent, talk of toughness can probably be chalked up to “coach-speak.”

Still, it’s tough not to wonder if the 2016-17 season might serve as a litmus test for Torts’ way of thinking and how it may influence the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Even when it’s not Torts making the decisions or at least dishing out the soundbytes, the Blue Jackets seem fixated on intangibles. Consider how GM Jarmo Kekalainen spoke about character while elaborating on the divisive decision to select Pierre-Luc Dubois over, say, Jesse Puljujärvi.

For all the blue collar talk, the Blue Jackets aren’t exactly a cheap team, with the 2016-17 version coming in at a cap hit of about $69 million.

In a multitude of ways, Columbus is paying a premium for intangibles and toughness, with Torts carrying that focus to an extreme. It should be fascinating to see how this all shakes out … even if Sergei Bobrovsky‘s play could ultimately be the real make-or-break factor for the Blue Jackets.

Predators give Laviolette a two-year extension

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The Nashville Predators have been on a roll lately, and keeping Peter Laviolette around seems like it keeps things going in a positive direction.

The team announced a two-year contract extension for Laviolette during Saturday’s State of the Union event.

During his first two seasons behind the bench in Nashville, the Predators have managed two playoff berths, beating the Anaheim Ducks in the first round during this last postseason trip. The Predators have managed to stay competitive in the Central Division, which is no small task.

With P.K. Subban added to the mix, it makes great sense to retain Laviolette’s services. You never know how a situation will work until it plays out, yet on paper, his system seems like a seamless fit for the star defender.

Nashville’s shown some promise already under Laviolette’s watch, particularly in quietly putting up some promising possession stats. At this moment in time, the future looks even brighter.

It can’t hurt that the guy has a Stanley Cup on his resume, either.