James O'Brien

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

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.

Hurricanes add defensive depth by signing Tennyson


The Carolina Hurricanes added some blueline depth on Sunday by signing defenseman Matt Tennyson to a one-year, two-way deal.

Refreshingly, the Canes provided his contract details: Tennyson gets paid a rate of $675K at the NHL level and $275K when in the AHL.

The 26-year-old played in 29 games this past season after appearing in 27 in 2014-15. Tennyson saw a significant ice time drop when he did suit up for Peter DeBoer, so it seems like he fell out of favor with the San Jose Sharks.

The Hurricanes rightly consider him a depth addition.

“Matt gives us added depth on the blueline, as a right-shot defenseman who has proven he can play at the NHL level,” GM Ron Francis said.

Chances are, he’ll bounce between the AHL and NHL just like he did with the Sharks.

Blue Jackets GM spins Columbus’ lack of a ‘first-line center’


One of the themes of this off-season has been the desperate rush for young, high-end defensemen. Many teams are practically tripping over their own feet to add one.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are different.

In acquiring Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen, a big part of their future is set.

On the other hand, the Blue Jackets lost a key component in Johansen: a true No. 1 center.

The Blue Jackets look like they’re heading into the 2016-17 season with the following pivots: Boone Jenner, Brandon Dubinsky, Alexander Wennberg and William Karlsson. GM Jarmo Kekalainen did his best to put a positive spin on the situation to the Columbus Dispatch.

“People might say that we don’t have a first-line center,” Kekalainen said. “But I think we have real solid, 200-foot centers.”

The spiciest bit came in Kekalainen asking Karlsson “Do you want to be a fourth-line center your whole life?”

(You should totally steal that line to annoy a friend or loved one when things really drag during the dog days of the hockey summer.)

One has to wonder how much heat Kekalainen is feeling right now.

Jones has a promising future, so much so that we may look at the Blue Jackets as the winner of that trade. Even so, the Blue Jackets are an awfully expensive team to lack a No. 1 center, a virtual prerequisite for Cup contention.

How far can you go with a “Grind it out” mentality? The Blue Jackets are about to find out, as that seems to be their identity, thanks in part to the makeup of some of their most prominent centers.

Report: Bruins are ‘kicking the tires’ on a Kris Russell deal


With Loui Eriksson gone, David Backes in the mix and the potential for even more changes via trades, the Boston Bruins are already primed to look very different in 2016-17.

Will they go the extra mile to improve their blueline, though?

There’s no denying their hunger for a “transitional defenseman” on top of those tweaks down the middle, and CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty reports that the Bruins are “kicking the tires” on a possible deal with Kris Russell.

Bruins GM Don Sweeney addressed being unable to find the “right fit for those players at this point in time” during a press conference on Friday, so maybe the “right fit” isn’t so far away?

In discussing bringing back John-Michael Liles, Sweeney ticked some of the boxes that would also be in favor of Russell: the “sort of guys that are able to defend and be hard but also having guys that can transition, get up and down the ice, get back on pucks and move pucks.”

There’s no denying that Russell has his strengths and weaknesses, but you could probably sell Sweeney on his credentials in those areas.

(See more about the pros and cons of Russell in this UFA of the Day post.)

Speaking of selling, the bidding war might end up being a lot for the Bruins and other teams to stomach.

This post breaks down the variety of reports and rumors, with a $5 million cap hit being a possible price tag.


If Russell draws a contract that meets or exceeds those rumors, it would be difficult to call the team who lands him a “winner.”

The Bruins appear to be involved in that auction, at least to some extent.

Doan isn’t budging and Coyotes aren’t budging, but he wants to stay


How close are Shane Doan and the Arizona Coyotes to a deal, really?

The messages are mixed, even when you’re basing your judgments on Doan alone.

Craig Morgan provides an interesting update on the negotiations for 98.7 FM Arizona Sports, starting off with the positives: Doan believes the two sides are close enough that he’s “not worrying about other teams.”

His agent seems to contradict the notion that the two sides are close, however, and it sounds like the haggling isn’t over.

“I feel the market that is set for me is different from what they think the market is and that’s really the extent of it,” Doan said. “They’re not budging and I’m not budging, but nobody’s mad at each other. We just have a different view. They’re saying ‘you’re a 40-year old player. There’s not really a market for you.’ I’m saying, ‘I led the team in goal scoring. There is a market for that.'”


On one hand, it’s easy to understand why the long-tenured Jets-Coyotes fixture would want to stick with the only team he’s known for decades.

On the other, wouldn’t those other teams provide a gauge for the market value that the two sides can’t seem to agree upon? It sounds like he might have had some offers to sort through during the Friday Frenzy:

To be more specific, Doan said he received 12 offers with three being “substantial.”

You would think that the two sides could meet somewhere in the middle and find a compromise. Still, you never know when “We’re not mad at each other” will turn into “Yeah, we’re mad at each other.”