James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Whoa, watch these KHL coaches fight

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If you were wondering what former NHL goalie* Peter Skudra has been up to, you probably didn’t expect the answer to be “He’s a KHL coach who fought another KHL coach.”

That unlikely scene took place at a KHL pre-season game, as Puck Daddy’s Sean Leahy passes along word that Skudra (coaching Torpedo Nizhny) got into a scuffle with Yevgeni Popikhin (HC Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk) midway through a Saturday game.

The KHL tends to generate some odd moments compared to the more buttoned-down NHL, but this is something else.

It’s a sight to behold:

Leahy also unearthed video of the fight from this angle.

* – You’d most likely remember him from his Pittsburgh Penguins or Vancouver Canucks days.

Sidney Crosby went the extra mile for autograph seekers

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To an extent, it makes sense that some people don’t like Sidney Crosby.

Most obviously, he’s a great player who’s helped the Pittsburgh Penguins beat plenty of peoples’ favorite teams.

Beyond that, Crosby is a competitor, and sometimes the drive to win brings out an edge that rubs people the wrong way. (Just ask Claude Giroux.)

It’s probably a little tougher to really drum up that hate during weekends like these, as Crosby earned millions of good guy points when he went above and beyond in making autograph-seeking fans happy.

The story surfaced on social media and was expanded upon by NHL.com: a family put up a sign in Crosby’s Nova Scotia area requesting an autograph from No. 87 about three weeks ago. Eventually they took it down, yet it caught Crosby’s attention, as he came by the house and did more than just sign a single sweater:

Maybe the best part of the story comes for Darryl Pottie, who wasn’t there as Crosby spent at least 20 minutes chatting with the family and signing everything short of a cat. His wife Tricia used the subject line “An old friend dropped in” and then …

“There was a picture and I open it up,” Darryl said. “Right away I recognize my daughter and I look beside her and it’s like, ‘That…that’s Sidney Crosby! Wait…wait a second. That’s in my house! He’s in my house!’ And I’m screaming at my work and people are looking at me like, ‘What are you talking about?'”

It’s fantastic stuff, unless you want to convince yourself to continue jeering the guy.

NHL.com provides the full rundown.

Defense is now the Devils’ most glaring issue

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From here, trading away Adam Larsson to acquire legit star Taylor Hall is a slam-dunk, and a backboard-shattering one in that.

Even so, there’s little sense denying the notion that the New Jersey Devils face more uncertainty on defense after trading away one of their most important defensemen.

Take a look at a guess at what the team’s seven defensemen might be, in no particular order:

Andy Greene, Ben Lovejoy, Damon SeversonJohn Moore, Jon Merrill, Steven Santini and Brandon Gormley.

That’s … not an imposing group on paper.

All About the Jersey points out that the Devils were the second-worst team in the NHL at 5-on-5 in Corsi last season, a sometimes unthinkable plight for a team with such a tight-trapping reputation. And those issues came with Larsson.

This post really paints a dismal picture:

As defensive corps go, that one is… pretty underwhelming. Beyond Andy Greene, there are an awful lot of question marks in that bunch and a few players who we know are probably third-pairing level at best. There are probably four players total in that group (Greene, Severson, Lovejoy, Moore) I’m comfortable saying are NHLers right now for sure, which is certainly not ideal.

Greene probably does deserve more recognition as a quality defenseman and it’s also true that the Devils have a knack for manufacturing NHL defensemen, however.

It also must be noted that some of the Devils’ possession troubles can be blamed on a weak offense that added Taylor Hall this summer.

Damon Severson may be called upon to limit the damage.

Hockey Buzz’s Todd Cordell notes that while Larsson + Andy Greene served as a pairing that was better at limiting opponents’ shots, Severson and Greene created better offense and that such a combination might yield better results for the Devils overall.

Severson is targeted as a make-or-break guy in at least two other Devils-centric outlets, too.

John Hynes faces the challenge of putting things together to try to at least compete for a playoff spot. If this defense is any indication, they might need to ask a lot from Cory Schneider and an improved group of forwards.

It’s New Jersey Devils day at PHT

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Back in 2011-2012, the New Jersey Devils made an unexpected run to the Stanley Cup Final. Since then, they haven’t even made the playoffs.

If that last deep run wasn’t the end of an era, then the 2015 off-season certainly stood as one, with long-time head honcho Lou Lamoriello making way for current GM Ray Shero.

In typical Devils fashion, New Jersey was scrappy last season, yet 2015-16 was rough. While they managed an “above .500 record” (38-36-8), they finished with the fifth-worst record in the East and unusually putrid possession numbers.

Trading in optimism

It isn’t all bad for the Devils and their fans, though.

 

They’ve added some very nice pieces via trades during the last few years. Cory Schneider, Kyle Palmieri and now Taylor Hall didn’t come cheaply … yet all three sure seem worth it at the moment.

In the case of Hall and Schneider in particular, they’re a great one-two punch of talent and value at $6 million apiece for the near future.

 

With Palmieri and Hall in addition to the likes of Adam Henrique, the Devils’ offense is starting to come together after years of struggling following the exits of Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk.

That’s especially true if Pavel Zacha can make the NHL jump and Beau Bennett ends up being a successful reclamation project.

Trading Adam Larsson from their defense corps hurts, yet the Devils tend to manufacture defense better than most. Even so, that group stands as the biggest mystery.

Expectations might be muted in Newark, but don’t sleep on Hall and the increasingly promising Devils.

Canucks want to trade for scorer, but signing one is wiser

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Hope was a big theme of Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning’s Friday interview with TSN 1040.

Benning hopes against hope that he can make a trade for an “experienced 15-20 goal-scorer,” as Today’s Slapshot’s Chris Nichols transcribed. Meanwhile, free agent forwards hope that they don’t need to go the PTO route just to land a contract.

“We’re looking at all of our options there,” Benning said, according to Nichols. “I’ve talked to a bunch of teams around the league. We really haven’t gotten anywhere with those talks. We’re circling back maybe on some guys that are free agents still, talking to their agents and seeing where they’re at …”

As much as Benning seems to seek an improvement by trade, why not press that free agent button a bit more?

There are easily some 15-20 goal guys on the market. Honestly, in the right situation and with a few lucky bounces, some of them could feasibly push 25.

Just look at Jiri Hudler. Even in a bumpy 2015-16 season in which he was limited to 72 games, he managed 16 goals. He managed 31 goals and 76 points riding high with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan back in 2014-15, not exactly ages ago.

TSN’s Travis Yost makes Hudler’s case, mentioning that a team shouldn’t wait much longer to grab him at a bargain rate:

So, to recap: we know Hudler is still a very good 5-on-5 scorer. We know he’s still a very good individual shooter. And we can reasonably conclude that he’s a player that has a positive impact in the offensive zone for his teammates, who also become better shooters when working with him. 

Things haven’t been great for the Canucks lately, and Benning frequently ends up with egg on his face.

Getting Hudler at a decent rate would be a very nice “win” for a Vancouver team that could use every W it can get.

Either way, there are enough options out there that Benning should spend more time on the phone with agents rather than fellow GMs.