James O'Brien

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

Red Wings fans aren’t happy with Ken Holland


The Detroit Red Wings’ astounding playoff streak might be alive, but they’re far from the contenders they once were. Which makes each perceived Ken Holland misstep sting that much more.

Especially when those mistakes seem like unforced errors.

As rosters complete, the Red Wings lost two intriguing talents to waiver claims as the Wild swiped Teemu Pulkkinen and the Hurricanes grabbed Martin Frk.

Neither player managed to make an impact at the NHL level (yet?), but they both drew eerily similar praise as potential goal scorers.

Holland didn’t address those losses directly, but he did discuss the discomfort of being stuck in the middle of the pack, as the Detroit Free Press reports.

“The frustration’s understandable,” Holland said on Monday. “Everyone wants to go back to when we were consistently in the running for the Stanley Cup. We want that, too. Nobody’s happy here that we haven’t fared well in the playoffs. But we’re confident in how we’re trying to retool our roster: getting younger while still trying to field a team that can give us the best opportunity to win.”

Of course, angry Red Wings fans would counter that losing Frk and Pulkkinen for nothing hardly constitutes “getting younger.”

Detroit is a limited group – just check PHT’s 30 Questions to see how the franchise’s stock has fallen – that is nonetheless bumping up against the salary cap ceiling. Losses like these really rub it in.

Let’s take a survey of the outrage, shall we?

Maybe the Red Wings will shrug off the loss of these two prospects, but it’s plain to see that Holland has plenty of critics. And they’re pretty upset right now.

Jake Allen slated to be starter in Blues’ opener


As comfortable as the St. Louis Blues might be with Carter Hutton, the bottom line is that they have to be happy that it looks like Jake Allen is all set to start the season.

Allen said “he’s good to go” against the Chicago Blackhawks to open the season on Wednesday night, according to the team website.

The Blues briefly called up Jordan Binnington in case Allen wasn’t good to go, but today’s 23-man roster featured only goalies Allen and Hutton.

With Brian Elliott out in Calgary, the onus is now on Allen to be the full-fledged No. 1 for the Blues. He’ll get a chance to start this new era on the right foot, although facing the Blackhawks likely won’t be the easiest task.

NHL plans on fining teams who violate new concussion protocol


There are times when the NHL’s concussion protocols feel as toothless as its most rugged players. Perhaps that might change starting in 2016-17?

The league backed up reports that additional “concussion spotters” will oversee games in addition to team-specific ones, but this section of the press release shows the most promise:

Specified sanctions will be imposed on Clubs that violate the Concussion Protocol. Clubs that do not remove a Player who requires an evaluation will be subject to a mandatory minimum fine for a first offense, with substantially increased fine amounts for any subsequent offense. Additionally, any Player designated for a mandatory evaluation will not be permitted to re-enter the game unless and until he is evaluated by his Club’s medical staff and cleared to play in accordance with the Protocol.

Interestingly, the league also revealed that on-ice officials can call for a player’s removal if he shows “visible signs of [a] concussion.”

Perhaps these measures won’t be perfect, yet they feel like legitimate improvements after half-measures and tweaks that seemed ineffectual.

Granted, NHL.com’s Nick Cotsonika notes that Gary Bettman discussed fining teams for violating concussion protocol in 2014 as well, so we’ll have to see about the follow-through with these tweaks.

(Critics may wonder if concussion-related lawsuits inspired these greater measures, but either way, progress is progress.)

While we may quibble with the way the NHL polices hits, helping players avoiding further injury could be a very nice step in the right direction.

Again, though, we won’t know for sure until we see the new measures in action.

Sabres send Alex Nylander down to the AHL


After signing Rasmus Ristolainen to a substantial new deal, it feels like the future is now for the Buffalo Sabres. That doesn’t mean they’re rushing things.

The Sabres announced their 23-man roster in accordance with the league deadline, and two especially noteworthy teams didn’t make the cut: Alexander Nylander and Brendan Guhle.

Nylander, the eighth pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, will ply his trade in the AHL. Guhle (51st overall in 2015) returns to the junior level.

Overall, it’s sensible enough for Buffalo to send Nylander to the AHL at 18. The logic would likely be that he’s far more likely to get needed reps at that level rather than being a depth piece in the NHL.

Buffalo sent three other players to the AHL on Tuesday: Nicholas Baptiste, Daniel Catenacci and Justin Falk. Meanwhile, Hudson Fasching, Derek Grant and Casey Nelson managed to make the cut (for now?).

You can view the full Game 1 roster (14 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies) right here.

Sabres lock down Ristolainen for six years, $32.4M


The Buffalo Sabres signed defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen to a six-year, $32.4 million contract on Tuesday.

(In a somewhat unusual bit of transparency, the team actually confirmed his $5.4 million cap hit in the press release. That’s refreshing.)

“Rasmus has already proven to be a pivotal player on our blue line and we are eager to have him back with the team,” GM Tim Murray said. “This deal is a reflection of the hard work and improvement Rasmus has shown since being drafted and we hope to see him continue on this trajectory moving forward.”

Ristolainen is indeed a promising blueliner given the same contract as another promising blueliner: Seth Jones.

This signing makes Ristolainen the Sabres’ most expensive defenseman, edging Zach Bogosian‘s $5.14 million cap hit. He’s Buffalo’s third most-expensive player overall, from an average annual value standpoint.

Considering the Finnish blueliner’s size and scoring output, the Sabres have to hope that he works out better than Tyler Myers, the last big, blue-chip-type blueliner they gave a big contract to.