James O'Brien

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

Mika Zibanejad ‘confused’ as family is affected by Trump’s immigration ban


In criticisms from the likes of Steve Kerr in the NBA among others, many in the sports world have reacted to Donald Trump’s executive order to restrict border crossings from several Muslim-majority countries.

On the NHL’s side, it’s mostly been silence, with Gary Bettman offering a “no comment” on the matter during the All-Star weekend.

New York Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad ranks as at least one NHL player who is affected – or at least, his family’s been affected – by the controversial executive order, as the New York Daily News’ Justin Tasch reports.

Zibanejad, a 23-year-old Swedish center, has family living in Iran. He seems bewildered by the measures and wonders how he might be able to see them again.

“It hasn’t been easy for them to come here, and this certainly doesn’t make it easier, or even possible at this point,” Zibanejad said. “It’s hard to kind of comment on. I don’t want to get in too deep, but it seems like it’s very straightforward and they have very straight lines of what the deal is, but I find still they’re confused about it, still a lot of confusion about what’s wrong and what’s not.”

For what it’s worth, Zibanejad was able to travel internationally without incident during the All-Star break, according to Tasch.

Head to NBC News for far more on the fallout from that executive order.

(H/T to Puck Daddy.)

Some good Islanders news: Thomas Greiss signs three-year, $10M extension

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On a night where people once again wonder about the New York Islanders’ arena situation, some clarity came in net.

The team signed Thomas Greiss to a three-year contract extension on Monday. Reporters including Newsday’s Arthur Staple peg the deal as $10 million over three years, or $3.33 million per season.

That’s a nice bargain for the Islanders, while Greiss gets some cherished security. Greiss, 31, has been one of the best goaltending bargains in the NHL, carrying just a $1.5 million cap hit this season.

He’s put together excellent work with a career .919 save percentage, and things have only improved since he joined the Islanders. He went 23-11-4 with a strong .925 save percentage in 2015-16 and has been even better this season, managing a fantastic .928 save percentage over 25 games.

Greiss’ brilliant work has gone under the radar a bit thanks to the messes on and off the ice in Brooklyn, yet his strong work isn’t lost on management.

Kings place Greene on IR; could this mean Toffoli’s nearing a return?


It’s strange to wonder if a player being placed on IR is a good sign, but that might just be the case with the Los Angeles Kings.

The bad news is that defenseman Matt Greene was placed on injured reserve on Monday. He hasn’t played since Jan. 16, so it’s probably not too much of a surprise.

The positive side is that it could be a signal that someone else might be nearing a return. Could underrated winger Tyler Toffoli be ready (or almost ready) to return to the fold?

Toffoli, 24, has been sidelined since Dec. 20. He brings a two-way game that the Kings badly need as they try to scratch and claw for a playoff spot.

The Kings play five of their next six games on the road, so getting Toffoli back soon (maybe he’ll just play one of this week’s upcoming back-to-back set on Tuesday/Wednesday?) could be significant.

Report: Barclays Center may kick Islanders out of Brooklyn after 2018-19


At times, it’s felt like the New York Islanders and Barclays Center have been going through a messy, public divorce. Perhaps it will all come down to “who dumps who,” then?

Bloomberg’s Scott Soshnick reports that the Barclays Center is likely to “dump” the Islanders after the conclusion of the 2018-19 season, reasoning that the venue would make more money from concerts.

It’s important to note that none of this is official by any means, but here are some key details from Soshnick:

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who owns the building and the Nets, has since November been seeking an investor to take a stake in both. As of earlier this month, a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season — a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said.

It’s worth noting that the Islanders can terminate their lease after 2017-18 while Barclays does have the option to do so after 2018-19.

For Islanders fans hoping for a return to their own stomping grounds, the Bloomberg report ends with a punch to the gut: “They have shown no interest in returning to Long Island.”

Reports point out that Gary Bettman hinted at possible issues for the Islanders during the All-Star weekend:

Again, do note that Barclays reps haven’t come out and said this will happen. It’s also worth realizing that the Islanders have been going through a tough season, likely exasperating attendance concerns (thus making other events that much more desirable).

That said, with all the headaches about sight lines, difficult commutes for fans and ice quality in mind, it’s often been a miserable setup for both sides.

It’s increasingly plausible that this relationship will end, with bigger questions about when and where the Islanders might ultimately end up.

Barkov, Huberdeau in practice (even no-contact) welcome sight for Panthers


As much as some want to hand the Florida Panthers a failing grade during a season of what’s believed to be a serious push toward analytics, injury concerns may justify a mark of “Incomplete.”

They’ve been without key players for huge chunks of 2016-17, most notably Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. (Nick Bjugstad missed a considerable amount of time, as well.)

While the cranky among us might wonder if this will ultimately be “too little, too late,” the Panthers got a welcome sight as Huberdeau and Barkov practiced on Monday, albeit in yellow no-contact jerseys.

Their reactions were very positive to Jameson Olive of the team’s website, too.

“I feel like I’m pretty close,” Huberdeau said.

Barkov, meanwhile, feels better every day and hopes to play soon.

Then again, it might be wise to keep optimism in check.

Huberdeau, 23, hasn’t played a single game this season after setting career-highs for goals (20) and points (59) in 2015-16. Barkov, 21, has 27 points in 36 games but hasn’t suited up in 2017.

The Panthers would need to make quite the push to rally into the playoffs this season. Such a thought seems at least a bit more reasonable if those key young scorers can get back into the lineup in the near future.