James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.

Sell tickets and appease demanding owners in NHL 17’s Franchise Mode


In an ideal world, a sports video game’s multiple season mode – whether you call it Be a GM, Dynasty Mode or Franchise Mode – should be engaging even if you simulate the games.

While other series get Spike Lee to write scripts for storylines in modes or go in-depth in other ways, EA’s NHL series has been a little bare bones.

Honestly, when NHL 16 tried to incorporate locker room politics with chemistry considerations, it mostly fell flat.

So, it’s important to keep optimism guarded … but NHL 17’s revamped mode – now named Franchise Mode rather than Be a GM – sure looks promising, as you can see from the video above this post’s headline.

EA goes into almost exhaustive depth about the changes here, but let’s pick out a few highlights.

  • While previous versions involved owner’s expectations, they seem a lot more detailed. Some are more profit-oriented while others want team success. Their patience for rebuilds also range, which could be fun if it means you’ll have to weigh immediate improvement vs. better long-term planning.
  • As we discussed before, relocation is possible.
  • Dynamic Attendance seems interesting, especially in the way it might prompt fans of various teams to further claims that certain fans merely hop on bandwagons:

Going on a winning streak will bring in more casual fans, having a hardcore fan base will minimize fans deciding not to show up if you are on a losing streak.  Having a high-profile team or a division rival can bring in extra walk up fans, but playing against a basement dweller in the standings or pricing your tickets too high can drive away potential attendees.

Many of us enjoy turning a moribund franchise into a winner in these video games, so adding more interesting variables could really make for a better simulation.

  • You’ll be able to tweak ticket prices and promotions, meaning you can have Johnny Gaudreau bobblehead nights and enjoy the corny jokes that would come with them. (“It’s to scale!”)
via EA Sports

Different people play games for different experiences. Some want to be a general manager, others want to go deep into the card-collecting HUT mode or play as a single player in EASHL.

If NHL 17 can make big improvements with Franchise Mode, it could really appeal to management types who might not even enjoy the actual gameplay.

We’ll see if it works out, but the potential is there.

More looks at the game

Customization is key

Mockery, tweaked goalies

Don’t rule Sabres out of Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes


As PHT discussed in last night’s breakdown of which factors Jimmy Vesey may be considering, it’s difficult to separate the truth from mere speculation regarding the Harvard graduate.

With #VeseyWatch in full effect, the best course of action likely comes down to taking reports with a grain of salt* while putting more stock in what Vesey or his representatives say on the record.

Buffalo Sabres fans might feel a little discouraged about the process.

After all, they’ve had his negotiating rights since sending a third-rounder to Nashville, and it’s looking like they won’t land him during this specific window.

TSN’s Ryan Rishaug gives Sabres fans a reason to look on the bright side, however:

This update from WGRZ’s Adam Benigni is even more emphatic:

While PHT discussed factors like his role and family ties, there’s also the friend factor, as Benigni was told that Jack Eichel‘s presence in Buffalo is a “significant factor” in the Sabres having a shot.

If you’re already groaning at #VeseyWatch, this gives you an idea of the earliest there might be a resolution:

While the Boston Globe’s Kevin DuPont reports on what might be the more likely time he’d make a decision:

* – Not necessarily because reports might be wrong as much as it’s perfectly plausible that the young forward may just change his mind. For all we know, he could be rifling through multiple scenarios.

How will rare specimen Dustin Byfuglien hold up over time?


This is part of Jets Day at PHT …

Simply put, there aren’t many – if any – hockey beings quite like Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien.

If you’re one of those people who get annoyed when the word “unique” is thrown around so often, take heart: Byfuglien really might be one-of-a-kind.

As Arctic Ice Hockey put it, the Jets essentially chose Byfuglien over Andrew Ladd, and this explanation succinctly captures the spirit of the decision:

Regardless of when he does slow down we need to remember that he is absolutely irreplaceable. There are plenty of Andrew Ladd’s in the NHL that you can acquire through free agency, drafting, and trades. But there is only one Dustin Byfuglien.

GM Kevin Cheveldayoff made a reasonable call in signing Byfuglien to a five-year, $38 million contract. Still, Buffy is already 31, so how quickly will that $7.6 million cap hit become a problem?

(If ever?)

Let’s look at some of the facets of this situation.

Ice time

Interestingly, Byfuglien hasn’t been a huge workhorse for much of his career.

This past season represented his peak workload, as Byfuglien averaged 25:12 minutes per game in 81 games played. His average in Winnipeg is 23:46.

While this might illustrate some of the organizational confusion over how to use the unusual weapon in the past, it also give you the impression that they might be willing to spell him when needed.

As much as they’ll want to get their money’s worth, keeping Byfuglien fresh is a wise idea.


The Jets have a healthy attitude about their NFL linebacker-sized beast of a blueliner. Just take it from what Blake Wheeler said to the Vancouver Sun.

“He’s come a ways, in terms of how he approaches things,” Wheeler said. “He’s made some strides since he’s been in Winnipeg. And it’s paid off for him. (But) if you’re looking for him to become a shutdown defenceman, you’re missing what makes him so great.”

His huge frame is part of what makes him such a force, and as he ages, it could serve as a double-edged sword.

On one hand, carrying all that weight could be a problem for his knees. Injuries may begin to escalate, especially if the Jets lean on him too much. Mobility may be an issue for a guy who likes to “freelance,” too.

That said, there are some reasons to believe that Byfuglien might not slip as much because of his size.

His big body earns him room to roam, and even if that mass isn’t moving as quickly, he’s likely to buy himself some space.

He’ll still be able to hit hard, and maybe most importantly, it’s likely that his shot will remain terrifying. Maybe Byfuglien will need to gradually shift into a more specialized role over the years, but it’s conceivable that he can still make a difference for the Jets.

Even if he eventually flops, his re-signing showed that players will stick around with this franchise. That’s a win for a locale that traditionally struggles to draw free agents.


This post doesn’t include many historical nods for a reason: there really aren’t a lot of guys like Byfuglien.

High-risk, high-reward is how his game is often described, so it only seems fitting that his contract is perceived in the same way. It should be entertaining to see how it all plays out.


Taylor Hall introduces himself to New Jersey, takes Parise’s old number

via New Jersey Devils

At the moment, it’s kind of weird to see Taylor Hall in a New Jersey Devils sweater.

Not in a bad way … it’s just one of those things you never really think about, what with him sort of getting traded to the Devils out of the blue.

The star winger tried on a Devils jersey for the first time on Sunday and then said all the right things about the market, Cory Schneider and so on. The Devils’ feed features some of his insight about a lighter travel schedule and other pluses in NJ.

He also gave Adam Henrique a hard time, which is always fun.

Interestingly, he’ll wear No. 9 with the Devils, the same number Zach Parise wore for many years.

Here’s Hall wearing it for the first time:

A thumbs up to the Devils’ mascot for a solid “Step Brothers” reference:

Good stuff. Still a little weird, though.

Mercifully, Jets are almost done with Pavelec’s problem contract


This is part of Jets Day at PHT …

Ondrej Pavelec‘s five-year, $19.5 million contract looked dicey from the moment it was signed in 2012, even before his off-the-ice troubles became public.

It’s been a slog since day one, with Pavelec putting up backup-level numbers for most of his time as the No. 1 goalie of the Winnipeg Jets.

(Somehow, he managed a hot run and a .920 save percentage as Winnipeg made the playoffs in 2014-15, but that proved to be a blip on the radar.)

Pavelec’s situation shows just how long five years can feel when you make a mistake with a goalie. The Arizona Coyotes can probably relate with Mike Smith; not only is a faulty goalie a bad use of assets … it also limits your flexibility in finding a better one.

Mercifully, it seems as though we’re heading for the end of an era of error, as Pavelec’s $3.9 million cap hit will expire after 2016-17.*

With Connor Hellebuyck seemingly ascending and Michael Hutchinson enjoying a contract extension, Jets blog Arctic Ice Hockey is already “eulogizing” Pavelec’s career with Winnipeg.

This is why we mourn the inevitable loss of goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. May he fall gracefully into goaltender irrelevancy. Like David Aebischer, and not Rick DiPietro.


It’s tough to blame Jets fans for being eager to say goodbye. With 371 regular season games under his belt, a record under “.500” and a .907 career save percentage, he’s clearly failed to capitalize on many chances.

Now it’s difficult to imagine him landing with another team, although you never know in the NHL.

The Jets are transitioning power from older faces (trading Andrew Ladd), yet the most promising changes might finally come in net.

Sorry, Pavelec.

* – Assuming they don’t inexplicably re-sign him like Carolina did with Cam Ward.