James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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It’s Columbus Blue Jackets day at PHT

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Much like last summer, the Columbus Blue Jackets are coming off of a disappointing season where they failed to make the playoffs.

While they seemed to swagger through the 2015 summer, particularly in going big to get Brandon Saad, the atmosphere has been pretty meek for Columbus.

How could you puff your chest out after spending quite a lot of money only to finish second-to-last in the East?

Sergei Bobrovsky dealt with injury issues again – to the point that the team hired a specialist to try to fix him and others – but Columbus didn’t have the same health-related excuses in 2015-16 as they did in 2014-15.

Off-season recap

This past regular season brought about an off-season’s worth of big moves, with John Tortorella becoming their new head coach and Seth Jones replacing Ryan Johansen as one of the faces of the franchise.

For better or most likely worse, the Blue Jackets are largely stuck with the group they assembled heading into last season. (Seriously, that salary structure is scary.)

It’s difficult to get too excited about this group heading into next season, from their fragile goalie to a forward group that lacks a first-line center.

The team did make waves with one off-season move, mind you, surprising many when their Finnish GM didn’t take a highly touted Finnish prospect. Instead, Jarmo Kekalainen selected Pierre-Luc Dubois, a decision that will be revisited for years to come.

So, there are a lot of negatives, but it’s not outrageous to imagine this team making big gains, possibly even grabbing a playoff spot.

Bobrovsky’s had health issues, yet he’s still a guy who can make a difference. There are nice young pieces in Jones, Saad, Ryan Murray and Boone Jenner.

Today we explore the many facets of a team hoping to turn things around after some tumultuous times.

Marc-Andre Fleury doesn’t deny it: He wants his starting job back

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While Marc-Andre Fleury enjoyed his day with the Stanley Cup, he discussed his goal of usurping Matt Murray, the goalie who led the Pittsburgh Penguins to that latest glory.

OK, that maybe sounds a little sinister, but the point is that Fleury wants “his” net back.

He admitted as much to NHL.com.

“I love Pittsburgh, and the Penguins are my team; I want to stay with them for the rest of my career,” Fleury said. “I had some good conversations with management after the season. Nothing is written in stone. I want to come to camp ready to win my job back. I have to get back to the same level of play and help the team, win games.”

Shortly after Murray fueled the Penguins’ title run, people asked Fleury about his future in Pittsburgh, a question he put off.

There’s always the chance that a trade could happen out of the blue, but at the moment, it looks like Penguins GM Jim Rutherford is sticking to his plan to begin the 2016-17 season with both Fleury and Murray on the roster.

While the Pens received calls about Fleury, trading him would be difficult.

His $5.75 million cap hit wouldn’t be the easiest thing to absorb, and his limited no-trade clause means he can reject a move to 12 different teams.

Let’s not forget that the Penguins won a Cup with Fleury in the net, too (in case that save against Nicklas Lidstrom slipped your mind).

As valuable as Murray is, the circumstances may give Fleury a real chance to make this either a platoon situation or even wrestle the No. 1 gig back.

Long story short, this story might go on a little longer than some might expect.

(H/T to The Score.)

NHL GMs: Beware of making deals with the Devils

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This post’s main image features Taylor Hall and Cory Schneider wearing the jerseys of the teams who likely wish they got better deals from the New Jersey Devils.

Even Kool-Aid-sipping Devils superfans will probably admit that the Devils have a ways to go, which means GM Ray Shero likely won’t be shy to make more trade calls.

So, with that in mind, here’s some advice to other general managers: you might be making a deal with the devil when you trade with the Devils.

Let’s look at some recent Devils trades (from the end of the Lou Lamoriello era to Shero’s early days):

  • In 2014-15, they turned the last months of Jaromir Jagr‘s contract into one second-round and one third-round pick. During that same deadline, they grabbed a third-rounder for Marek Zidlicky.

This past deadline, they got nice production out of PTO success Lee Stempniak and then turned his expiring contract into a second-rounder and a fourth-rounder.

  • Picks haven’t always been going New Jersey’s way, but when they give up theirs, they’ve been getting guys who end up sticking with the team and strengthening the core.

Most prominently, the Devils sent a first-rounder (eventually Bo Horvat) to Vancouver for Cory Schneider. They managed to re-sign him for a reasonable price, locking up one of the NHL’s rare elite goalies. All apologies to Horvat, but that’s a big win for the Devils.

Kyle Palmieri seems like another great trade addition, albeit not on the Schneider scale.

Sending a 2015 second-rounder and a 2016 third-rounder away to Anaheim seems like a perfectly fair price for Palmieri, a player who figures to be a top-six forward for the Devils for some time.

  • Of course, this summer featured the blockbuster Taylor Hall trade.

Yes, losing Adam Larsson hurts, but the end result is another big win for New Jersey.

***

No doubt, there have been some growing pains in Newark. That said, the transition from Lamoriello to Shero is looking awfully positive, and trades likely play the biggest role in that brighter outlook.

So, other GMs, practice this line when Shero or an associate calls you: “That’s a great trade offer, but let me think about it.”

Or maybe just block any call from a New Jersey area code, just to be safe.

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.