James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Leafs give Auston Matthews a fully loaded rookie deal

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If Lou Lamoriello really was playing hard ball with Auston Matthews, give 2016’s first overall pick credit for hitting it out of the park.

The Toronto Maple Leafs announced that they signed the rookie forward to a three-year entry-level contract on Thursday.

While the team didn’t lay out the specifics of the deal, it sounds like Matthews got exactly the sort of deal he wanted … at least when you consider the stringent ceiling presented by rookie maximum rules in the CBA.

Any issues with Lamoriello were downplayed. Maybe it was just out of habit for the former New Jersey Devils GM?

For what it’s worth, Lamoriello brushed off any speculation.

It’s possible that most of Toronto’s work is done, at least for this off-season:

Nathan Horton‘s $5.3 million cap hit and Stephane Robidas‘ $3 million mark could both go on LTIR, depending upon the Maple Leafs’ needs, so that number is a little fluid.

The bottom line is that Matthews isn’t breaking the bank. The question is: can the Leafs improve fast enough to truly benefit from the star American forward essentially being underpaid during this entry-level deal?

In other Maple Leafs news, old banners are being replaced. Almost feels like a changing of the guard, huh?

Report: Islanders ponder leaving Brooklyn, building arena near Mets

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New York Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky insists that Brooklyn is “our home,” but the Barclays Center’s issues still seem to prompt doubts about the future.

The latest report is that the Islanders “are in talks” with New York Mets executives to build a hockey arena in Queens, next to Citi Field, according to Bloomberg’s Scott Soshnick.

There’s no word on how far along such discussions are, although Soshnick’s sources said the Islanders and Mets have been talking for “months.”

More than a few people view this as the Islanders using such threats to leverage improvements at Barclays, as the Islanders’ first season drew complaints about transportation to the arena, obstructed views for seats and choppy ice during games.

Puck Daddy points out that the Islanders can opt out of their lease after the 2018-19 season, so it wouldn’t be surprising if a Queens-area building alongside the Mets stands as merely one of several rumored options.

There have already been a few:

This provides plenty of time for people to make fun of the situation, too.

Hey, you can’t expect to develop a world-class free agent destination without a world-class building, right?

Reilly Smith thinks he’s found a home with Panthers

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Reilly Smith is still just 25, yet he isn’t that far removed from fears of traveling down the dreaded “journeyman” path.

He was at a fork in the road in 2015-16: either stick with the Florida Panthers after being traded from the Boston Bruins or find himself bouncing around the NHL some more.

(Heck, as Corey Crawford mentioned, ‘tweeners sometimes must even ponder leaving North America entirely.)

Smith was already on his third team when he joined the Panthers, but he made a big impression with the Cats. He generated a career-high with 25 goals, and maybe most importantly, wowed with eight points in six playoff contests.

The financial reward was significant: a five-year, $25 million contract extension.

It’s about more than just money, however.

Sticking with a team with such potential and chemistry – not to mention getting that security with a nice term – made the move a “no-brainer” for Smith, as he told the Miami Herald.

“I feel like I’ve found a home here in Florida,” Smith said.

“That means a lot. … I’m still fresh in my career, and I hope there’s a lot more good times still to come.”

With a modified no-trade clause, Smith also has some say regarding where he goes if the good times hit an abrupt stop.

The young forward has to feel pretty nice about being part of the core of this team as it pivots to a new direction. The front office staff changed in dramatic ways while Brian Campbell and other familiar faces were replaced by the likes of Keith Yandle and Jason Demers.

Smith and Vincent Trocheck really earned their spots in 2015-16, and they now enjoy life as established players.

Some are more convinced than others that this will all work out, but if nothing else, Smith has to be awfully happy at the moment.

What a difference a year makes …

Speaking of finding a home with the Panthers … Jonathan Racine hopes to eventually do so. He signed a one-year, two-way deal with the team today.

Predators’ messy legal battle may go to arbitration with NHL

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) A chancellor will rule within the week on whether a co-owner of the Nashville Predators can keep his lawsuit against the team’s ownership group in a Tennessee court or have to submit to arbitration.

Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle heard nearly three hours of arguments Wednesday on a motion that would force David Freeman out of her court and back into arbitration with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

Freeman, a former team chairman, sued Predators Holdings LLC and current team chairman Tom Cigarran on June 23 and is seeking $250 million in damages for his original 48 percent stake in the team being diluted.

The lawsuit states that Freeman, through Commodore Trust, organized the Holdings investment group in 2007 to keep the Predators in Nashville. But it charges that some Holdings members “have conspired to repay his dedication to the team and community by claiming that Commodore owns less than one percent of Holdings.”

The lawsuit also states that members of the Predators ownership group have refused to treat Commodore Trust as an owner and have repudiated Holdings’ “commitment to compensate plaintiffs in return for tens of millions of dollars of loan guarantees that kept the Predators solvent and in Nashville.”

The complaint names Cigarran “the chief architect of this scheme.”

Freeman has been involved in other NHL arbitration cases over the past year, but the lawsuit argues that Bettman cannot be impartial because he has an obligation to protect the league.

At Wednesday’s hearing, attorneys for Freeman and Commodore Trust – which is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit – argued that league rules are so overly broad that they wrongly could allow the commissioner to arbitrate this case. They also argued Freeman is technically not a co-owner of the team but rather an investor in a trust whose business dispute should not be decided by the commissioner.

Lawyers for both Predators Holdings and the NHL defended the commissioner’s impartiality and the league’s constitution, which gives Bettman the right to handle disagreements among both clubs and owners through arbitration. They also said Freeman agreed to arbitration when he signed consent agreements as part of buying the Predators in December 2007.

Which teams inspire the most and least confidence from their fans?

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Earlier this week, The Hockey News’ Dominik Luszczyszyn published the results of a survey of 200 people to see where all 30 NHL front offices stand on a “confident index,” and it’s a highly entertaining read.

Sure, there aren’t a ton of surprises, as most people would likely agree with the positions of many franchises after a wave of big off-season moves.

Still, it’s interesting to see where your own views and the views of others link up.

Maybe the least surprising thing: the Vancouver Canucks and GM Jim Benning seem pretty miserable as of the summer of 2016.

Yikes.

Here are the bottom five:

30. Canucks – 2.91
29. Canadiens – 3.68
28. Bruins – 3.69
27. Oilers – 3.90
26. Rangers – 4.15

Seems a little harsh for the Rangers, even if it’s reasonable to criticize their direction. Is this regular playoff contender really doing worse than the teams that immediately follow them in Columbus (4.31) and Colorado (4.37)?

That’s the fun thing about lists like these, though.

The Tampa Bay Lightning clocked in at No. 1, although apparently GM Steve Yzerman still believes he has work to do.

While the Rangers are interestingly low, the Panthers’ polarizing off-season seems more like a smash-hit on this list; they’re ranked No. 2 behind the Lightning, besting the Penguins (who come in at fourth after winning the Stanley Cup).

There are some remarkable steps up and down in perception on this list, particularly when you consider things like the changing viewpoints on the league’s three California teams.

Note: Some take issue with the sample size of the survey, as you can see from the Vancouver Province’s own poll.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s a fun read as long as you take everything with a grain of salt.

Perhaps perceptions will shift even more in three months?