James O'Brien

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

Bruce Boudreau’s attitude should be a boon for Eric Staal, Wild


By handing Eric Staal a three-year contract, the Minnesota Wild made it pretty clear that they believe that the former Carolina Hurricanes captain can bounce back.

Even with that in mind, new Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau seems like he can make a difference as a positive force, and that might be seen with Staal in particular.

Staal seems to think that Boudreau is a proponent of what he brings to the table, as he told the Pioneer Press.

“Bruce is someone that I believe, through the phone conversations I’ve had with him, believes in my game and believes in me,” Staal said. “He will give me every opportunity to try to rekindle some of that offensive flair I’ve had over the years and haven’t had in the last couple.”

Chris Stewart called Boudreau being in Minnesota “a bonus” after spending one season with the bench boss. Boudreau described himself as a “positive communicator.”

Hockey is a brutally physical sport, and many of the game’s best coaches are known to “bark” at players.

(OK, so Mike Babcock leans more toward a scowl, but you get the point.)

Still, with how highly trained professional athletes can be, a kinder and gentler approach might succeed in its own way. If you ask profoundly successful NFL head coach Pete Carroll, teamwork inspires people to “work harder.”

If you can get past the playoff disappointments for a moment, one factor that distinguishes Boudreau from others is his willingness to be flexible. He found a way to adapt when the Ducks weren’t scoring, molding them into a more defensive-minded group.

Now, let’s not pretend Boudreau is totally averse to screaming fits. HBO’s 24/7 series caught plenty of profanity-laced tirades during the tail end of his Capitals days.

The moments that cameras don’t capture are simply more likely to make a difference, both for Staal and for the Wild overall.

‘Stop the violence’ – Hockey world reacts to Dallas shootings


P.K. Subban and members of the Dallas Stars stood among those who shared heartfelt messages after the shootings that killed five police officers in Dallas on Thursday.

(NBC News DFW has more on the frightening situation.)

Many tweeted messages like #DallasStrong while Subban’s statement ranks among the moist poignant: “stop the violence.”

The Stars released the following statement about the matter:

Individual members of the Stars also shared their condolences.

Former players shared their sentiments as well, including longtime face of the franchise Mike Modano.

Jason Demers shared this thought following the scary moments in his former hockey city.

This is just a sample of the outpouring of support from those who play and follow the sport following a tragedy that hits close to home.

P.K. Subban and Predators: A match made in fun


Despite his remarkable charitable work and gregarious personality, the Montreal Canadiens decided that P.K. Subban wasn’t the right fit for their locker room.

However you feel about it – big win for the Habs, worst trade in team history or somewhere in between – the bottom line is that Subban is now a member of the Nashville Predators.

From every indication, it sounds like the two will go together like peanut butter and jelly or Subban and Jagr wigs.

The Tennessean’s Adam Vignan believes that Subban isn’t just a great fit from an on-ice standpoint, bumping an already-strong Predators defense to another level.

His attitude should blend in well, too.

“The way that I look at it is the guy, from what I’ve seen and playing against him and hearing things and seeing things throughout his time in the NHL, he’s all about fun,” Ryan Johansen told the Tennessean. “He cares about everybody. … To me, he’s enjoying every moment of it. Like all of us, he’s living his dream of playing in the National Hockey League. And he’s having a blast. He’s not going to let people judge him for who he is. He’s just going to be himself.”

People are already daydreaming about Subban resurrecting the triple-low five with Pekka Rinne.

Of course, not everyone is thrilled with the combination.

While some wonder if Subban rubs people the wrong way, others even wonder if it’s a bad move for P.K.

Hey, maybe both Subban and his new team will prove doubters wrong.

Will Eric Staal be another big-name bust for the Wild?


Sometimes the Minnesota Wild feel like they’re controlled by a video game or fantasy hockey player.

Time after time, they seem to sign or trade for one of the biggest names available.

Unfortunately, you can’t just put reality’s difficulty setting on easy, and those impulsive moves frequently end up being flops for the Wild.

(Just look at Jason Pominville‘s bumpy start to 2015-16 and Thomas Vanek getting bought out as two easy examples, while the Minneapolis Star-Tribune goes through the laundry list of letdowns.)

In signing Eric Staal, the Wild once again opted for one of the biggest resumes available, and they hope he approaches the heights of his past.

Granted, even Wild GM Chuck Fletcher knows there are limits to such expectations, as he told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

“Let’s be honest, when you’re 32 years old you’re not the same player as when you’re 25, 26,” Fletcher said. “But we think this is a good situation with Eric, and obviously, he felt the same way. We have some quality players he can play with. We certainly have an important role he can fill.”

They pumped up Staal’s defensive abilities along with his scoring skills, and a cursory glance at his possession stats would imply that could be true.

Really, it might all come down to expectations and context.

Yes, he’s produced solid-enough possession stats, yet he’s also enjoyed some cushy zone starts.

If that continues and he draws strong linemates, Staal would face nice odds of being a plus for the Wild. He also rid himself of the baggage that comes with a huge contract, as his $3.5 million cap hit is risky but not crippling.

Bruce Boudreau’s positive approach is likely to do wonders for his morale, too.

On the other hand, Staal was ineffective to the point of near-irrelevance at times with the Hurricanes and Rangers last season. If that’s merely the reality rather than a down period for the veteran forward, then the Wild just saddled themselves with a three-year error.

In other words, an all-too-familiar mistake.

Ultimately, there are enough pluses and minuses to make this an intriguing situation: will Staal find that extra life?

Backes doesn’t want to ‘sling mud’ at Blues on his way out


David Backes isn’t about to “sling mud” at the St. Louis Blues after they couldn’t agree on term.

As Backes told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “there’s no leaving town with fingers-out-the-window.”

Still, while Blues GM Doug Armstrong discusses bell curves and how players regress with age, Backes really exposed the human side beyond “just business” in that Post-Dispatch piece that’s worth your time.

Things got dusty for Backes when he watched this tribute video from the team.

“It made me well up to watch it, to see that first goal,” Backes said to the Post-Dispatch. “I’m still a kid, lanky, don’t know where my appendages are in that video, playing with (Keith) Tkachuk and living in his basement. All those memories are vivid and they come back.”

On the same day that he signed a five-year, $30 million contract with the Boston Bruins, Backes shared this farewell letter to Blues fans on Twitter:

As a “numbers nerd,” Backes understands the Blues’ perspective, at least to some extent.

That doesn’t mean there are no emotions involved in leaving a team you represented for more than a decade.