James O'Brien

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

It’s Winnipeg Jets day at PHT


In many ways, the 2015-16 season was a typical one for the Winnipeg Jets.

They still remain without a single playoff win, and that big zero persists from their Atlanta Thrashers days. For the fourth time in their five years in Winnipeg, they failed to make the playoffs.

Sticking to type, they’re mostly depending upon improvement from within rather than splashy moves. Paul Maurice is still their head coach and Kevin Cheveldayoff remains GM.

Heading into next season, expectations are modest.


As gradual as the changes tend to be for this patiently built franchise, Winnipeg’s identity is starting to morph.

Captain Andrew Ladd was traded away in a courageous deadline move while Dustin Byfuglien signed a long-term deal. There’s little sense denying the Jets’ core at this point, as Byfuglien, Blake WheelerMark Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault look primed to be fixtures for the Jets.

Scheifele is one of the leaders of a youth movement that the Jets hope will propel them to that next level.

Grabbing promising scoring prospect Patrik Laine represents one of the team’s most exciting moments in some time while a brighter future is on the horizon in net with Michael Hutchinson re-upping while Connor Hellebuyck continues to mature.

(Mercifully, Ondrej Pavelec is in the last season of his regrettable deal.)

The only bummer could very well be resolved soon: what will it take to find a compromise with defenseman Jacob Trouba?

With a name like the Jets, you wouldn’t picture the slow-and-steady approach, but that’s the gameplan. Perhaps a more meteoric rise is on the way?

What might factor into Jimmy Vesey’s free agent decision


It’s pretty bewildering to predict who will land Jimmy Vesey once he can sign somewhere starting on Aug. 15, unless you cheat and just say “not the Nashville Predators.”

CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty pegged the front-runners as the Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils earlier this week. That same report downplayed the Boston Bruins’ chances.

At certain points, we’ve heard about the merits of the Buffalo Sabres (who sent Nashville a third-rounder to grab Vesey’s negotiating rights) and Toronto Maple Leafs.

There are some mixed signals flying around, and Vesey’s agent Peter Fish kept things pretty vague while discussing various rumors with Puck Daddy.

“I think there’s a lot of things out there that either aren’t true or people are just searching to say things. We’re still talking with Buffalo, who will be part of this process once free agency happens, if it happens, which I assume is going to happen,” Fish said. “Jimmy wanted to go to free agency all along. He wanted to see it through and, so Buffalo has always been a team that has interested him, but he wants to compare with a few other teams once it happens”

Good luck picking a favorite.

Instead, let’s consider what might factor into his decision.

What shouldn’t matter: money

Human nature dictates that cash is a usually a huge factor in these situations.

With the rookie maximum in mind, the Harvard graduate isn’t likely to worry too much about his entry-level contract, which makes for a more intellectually stimulating “bidding war.”

Family ties

NHL.com’s thorough breakdown of possible landing spots touches on the surprising number of familial connections between Vesey and various teams.

His father, Jim Vesey, played for the Bruins at one point. He’s from the area and grew up a Bruins fan.

Toronto holds some edges over most teams, too. His father is a scout for the Maple Leafs and his brother Nolan Vesey is a draft pick of the team.

Both of those options seem like they’d count as big draws, which is why they were mentioned in many rumors, especially earlier on.


Read here and here for some great perspective regarding how much of an impact Vesey, 23, can really make in the NHL.

There’s a lot of hype surrounding the forward, yet breakdowns peg him in various ways, with comparisons ranging from a cheaper Joffrey Lupul or Tyler Bozak to a smaller Kevin Hayes. Leafs Nation explains why teams are so excited, though:

Here is the opportunity for an NHL team to add a legitimate top nine forward that isn’t going to require any protection in the expansion draft. Vesey isn’t just a found wallet, he’s a found wallet with a credit card that wasn’t cancelled. Heading into a year where teams are going to be panicked about what they are going to have to lose, here’s a chance to cut their loses ahead of time and with the best possible alternative, a good, cheap, young player that is potentially just entering his prime.

Makes sense.

On one hand, you have better chances to win big, most notably with the Blackhawks. He may have a smaller margin of error there, but the lure of playing on a contender – possibly lining up with someone like Jonathan Toews – has to be strong.

The Rangers have been adept at integrating college talents (Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes) as well, and they’ve at least been a playoff team.

The Devils could feature him even more and look like up-and-comers after nabbing Taylor Hall. The Bruins and Maple Leafs shouldn’t struggle to find a spot for Vesey, either.


For all we know, a dark horse candidate could swoop in and “wow” Vesey.

It’s a murky situation, but it’s easier to narrow down what might factor into his decision.

At least, it seems that way.

Photo: Penguins’ Bryan Rust, spooning the Stanley Cup

via Philip Pritchard
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Young Pittsburgh Penguins forwards Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary played a role in Sidney Crosby winning a second Stanley Cup. It only makes sense that one of them would follow in Crosby’s footsteps as far as spending a day with the honored trophy.

Rust is getting his chance on Saturday, which must be surreal since NHL.com’s Nick Cotsonika points out that he’s not that far removed from battling for playing time.

Part of that celebration involves evoking Crosby by taking a little nap with the silver chalice:

It’s not the only amusing image of Rust’s celebration, apparently.

Remember that ad about the Cup barely weighing anything when you’re lifting it up over your head? That probably doesn’t apply in the summer, when the adrenaline wears off.

Want more? NHL.com’s Summer with Stanley series has more fun stuff regarding the Penguins’ days with the Cup.

Nick Bonino stands out, for one:

Looming training camps may limit Avs’ options in coaching search


Possession stats-minded Colorado Avalanche fans might rejoice at Patrick Roy’s choice to bolt, but the bottom line remains that the timing is tough.

It’s already a challenge at times for a team to ask permission to interview another franchise’s assistant right after the season concludes, and that’s when such practices are generally tolerated.

But in mid-August? That’s asking a lot, and the Denver Post’s Terry Frei discusses some of the ins and outs of what the Avalanche might be dealing with.

The most important part is that other teams would need to sign off on an assistant interviewing for a gig, as Frei reports.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly Friday confirmed that the Avalanche would have to secure permission from teams to speak with anyone under contract. That would include Hartley because of the Flames’ remaining obligation to him, and also any assistant coaches under contract for 2016-17.

On the bright side, the Avalanche wouldn’t need to provide a draft pick-type compensation if they were to hire someone from another staff … but it could be a tough sell.

That process makes it tougher to assemble a list of potential coaching candidates for Colorado, actually. Bob Hartley’s name has been mentioned frequently as a possible return to the Avs, yet as you can see from the excerpt above, even that comes with some potential hurdles.

And that’s involving a coach who isn’t really even employed by a given team.

Considering the limited options, it’s actually a bit surprising that GM Joe Sakic and the Avalanche dismissed the option of promoting from within. It’s not outrageous to imagine that being the choice that would lead to the smoothest transition.

It’s all another reminder that Roy didn’t just leave Colorado in a huff. He also left the Avalanche in a tough situation.


What might be next for Roy?

On the Sakic-Roy dynamic

Which Craig Anderson will show up for Senators this season?


This is part of Ottawa Senators day at PHT …

Heading into last year, some worried that the Ottawa Senators would put too much stock in Andrew Hammond‘s stunning, likely unrepeatable run (which saved their 2014-15 season).

That didn’t happen. Instead, Craig Anderson regained his role as the clear No. 1 goalie; Hammond only appeared in four games during the first two months of 2015-16.

Such a decision took courage, yet it didn’t exactly yield fantastic results.

The Senators fell short of a playoff berth with Anderson starting 60 games, going 31-23-15 with a solid-but-unspectacular .916 save percentage.

As we’ve seen for the last few seasons, the Sens often live or die based on hot-or-cold goaltending. Anderson’s shown a remarkable trend of rotating average and strong seasons himself.

Starting with the 2010-11 season in which he was traded to Ottawa, he’s been remarkably “consistent” in that way.

2010-11 with Colorado: Lousy .897 save percentage
2010-11 with Ottawa: Fantastic .939 save percentage

2011-12: .914 save percentage
2012-13: .941 save percentage
2013-14: .911 save percentage
2014-15: .923 save percentage
2015-16: .916 save percentage

Based on that pattern, you’d expect a strong 2016-17, right?

At 35 with two seasons remaining on his current deal, Anderson has some incentive to get things together. It’s also plausible that Guy Boucher may install a system that brings out the best in the veteran netminder.

As much as Erik Karlsson is on another planet as a defenseman, there’s a strong possibility that Anderson’s performance will actually make or break Ottawa’s 2016-17 campaign.