James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Jimmy Vesey chooses the New York Rangers

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Exhale,* hockey fans: the decision is in. Jimmy Vesey officially chose the New York Rangers as his free agent destination.

One would assume that Vesey will sign a two-year, entry-level contract loaded with bonuses. We’ll need to wait and see about official details, however, but the important thing to note is that the CBA limits the cap impact for the Rangers.

(That’s a big reason why he drew so much attention; it’s a pretty low-risk move.)

This completes quite the road for the 23-year-old. He went from spurning the Nashville Predators, the team that drafted him, to deciding against signing with the Buffalo Sabres after they spent a third-rounder to acquire his rights.

Stars from Sidney Crosby to Patrick Kane to John Tavares all came out to try to lure him to their respective teams. Many believed he might lean toward the Boston Bruins, a team so close to home for the Harvard forward.

Instead, he’s going to the Rangers. It will be interesting to hear Vesey go into his reasoning for choosing this team, whether that comes tonight or sometime in the future.

Kevin Hayes (another guy who cut his teeth at the college level before playing for the Rangers) already welcomed his pal aboard.

* – Or, if your team was turned away, mutter angry words …

DiPauli on why he didn’t sign with Capitals, his fit with Penguins

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When it comes to breaking down coveted free agent forward Jimmy Vesey,* you’ll read a lot about why one team may be a better fit than another.

Thomas DiPauli isn’t creating the same kind of whirlwind, yet his decision-making process is apparently quite similar.

Simply put, the Washington Capitals prospect instead signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization because of his belief in “fit.”

Of course, it probably doesn’t hurt that he grew up rooting for Sidney Crosby

Granted, childhood dreams tend to fade when you get down to the often-harsh realities of professional sports. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey reports, DiPauli believes that he should (eventually?) fit right in with the system Mike Sullivan is running.

“I play with a lot of speed, a lot of grit and competitiveness,” DiPauli said. “Kind of like the Penguins forwards right now.”

His Notre Dame coach believes that he really learned to match better decision-making with that speed during his most recent NCAA hockey season, so he really may become a nice asset for Pittsburgh.

Picking the Penguins over the Capitals should give him a boost with fans, if nothing else.

* – DiPauli might not appreciate too many Vesey comparisons, by the way.

Blues would make a big mistake if they traded Kevin Shattenkirk

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This is part of St. Louis Blues day at PHT …

We’ve seen some twists and turns in the “Will they or won’t they?” saga regarding the St. Louis Blues trading Kevin Shattenkirk.

The truth is, it shouldn’t even be a discussion. Shattenkirk is far too valuable to be shipped away in what would likely be a panic move.

The main issue for the Blues is that Shattenkirk needs a new contract after 2016-17, and it’s easy to flinch at what would likely be a big jump from his bargain $4.25 million cap hit.

Easier to stomach than you might realize

Still, the situation is a lot more manageable now than it looked heading into the off-season.

St. Louis let David Backes and Troy Brouwer walk. There’s not a big hike for Brian Elliott looming any longer after they traded him, too. Jaden Schwartz‘s extension didn’t break the bank.

Yes, they’ll need to lock up Alexander Steen, but Steen is 32 and Shattenkirk is 27. By GM Doug Armstrong’s logic regarding letting Backes leave, wouldn’t their younger blueliner be just as valuable – if not more of a priority – as Steen?

(Colton Parayko will need a deal after next season, too, but St. Louis has the extra leverage of the blueliner being an RFA.)

Cap Friendly pegs the Blues’ 2017-18 spending at about $53.6 million. Adding Shattenkirk would likely make for a tight squeeze, but he’s worth it.

Underestimating Shattenkirk?

Maybe the real problem is that Shattenkirk isn’t treated like the core piece he should be.

A lot of people probably believe that he’s an offense-only presence, and some of those people may reside in the Blues organization.

Let’s look at how he compares to Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester via fancy charts, though.

First, the “Own the Puck” comparison for Shattenkirk vs. Pietrangelo.

shattpet

The Shattenkirk vs. Bouwmeester battle is especially lopsided:

shattbou

In both cases, Shattenkirk stands taller in shot suppression and possession categories. In Bouwmeester’s case, it’s a landslide by both offensive and defensive metrics.

Now, we can quibble about certain details. As solid-to-fantastic as his possession stats can be, he enjoys cushy zone starts and maybe some matchup advantages.

At worst, Shattenkirk stands as Pietrangelo’s near-equal and it would be tough to make an argument for Bouwmeester instead, at least at this point in their respective careers. Shattenkirk should be on the Blues’ short list of guys who would be almost impossible to pry away.

Puzzling priorities

If you were Armstrong, wouldn’t you strive to move Bouwmeester, even if you needed to get him to waive his no-trade clause and might even be forced to retain some of the 32-year-old’s $5.4 million cap hit?

Wouldn’t you note that Paul Stastny‘s $7 million cap hit expires after 2017-18, so St. Louis would get some breathing room after the first year of Shattenkirk’s hypothetical next contract?

***

It’s difficult to imagine the Blues getting equal value for Shattenkirk in a trade, especially given the context of teams realizing that Armstrong isn’t necessarily dealing from a position of strength.

Frankly, the biggest problem might be that the Blues simply don’t understand Shattenkirk’s true value.

It’s St. Louis Blues day at PHT

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After three straight first-round exits, the St. Louis Blues finally enjoyed an extended playoff run, even if it ended with disappointment against the Sharks.

Going that far saved Ken Hitchcock’s job, at least for one season, while Mike Yeo is positioned to carry the torch going forward.

If the Blues didn’t manage that nice season (107 standings points to finish second in the Central Division, conference finals run), this summer would likely have been one of enormous changes.

Off-season

Instead, it seems like that transition was broken up in to more digestible chunks. That’s not to say that every change will be easy for Blues fans to swallow.

GM Doug Armstrong balked at the notion of giving David Backes the sort of contract that might be risky for such a physical player. That stands as prudent risk-management, but there could be some growing pains as the Blues must go on without their longtime captain and physical force.

Backes wasn’t the only significant loss, either, as the Blues traded Brian Elliott to the Calgary Flames.

One got the impression that management viewed Jake Allen as the goalie of the future, yet Elliott’s early playoff play likely saved Hitchcock’s bacon. Now it’s all on Allen, who received a healthy contract extension and will now see Carter Hutton placed firmly as his backup.

While Troy Brouwer is also out of town, Kevin Shattenkirk is currently still in the mix.

That may change – possibly before the season starts, for all we know – but for now, the defenseman’s return gives you the impression that the keys have been handed over to the younger elements of the team’s core.

There’s plenty of talent to be found with Shattenkirk, Allen, Alexander Steen, Jaden Schwartz, Alex Pietrangelo and especially Vladimir Tarasenko, but the bar is set higher after 2015-16.

Can they reach or exceed that mark? PHT breaks down the Blues on Friday.

Predators’ hopes still rest on Pekka Rinne

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This is part of Nashville Predators day at PHT …

When it comes to goaltending in the NHL, you don’t always get what you pay for.

If teams did, the Dallas Stars would be living off of their expensive duo and Pekka Rinne would probably have a Vezina Trophy or two on his resume.

Unfortunately, as important as the goaltending position is, teams don’t always know what they’re getting. And let’s be honest; only GM David Poile’s most shameless “Yes-Men” would claim that Nashville is getting its $7 million worth out of Rinne.

In 2015-16, Rinne only managed a .908 save percentage, marking the third season in his past four where he generated a mark at or below .910. Far too often, he’s played more like a low-cost backup than even a mediocre starter.

With Jusse Saros likely needs more time to marinate, the Predators are going all-in on Rinne figuring things out (sorry, Marek Mazanec). It’s a little surprising that such a strong team wouldn’t plunk down a little extra money for more peace of mind – Jhonas Enroth, anyone? – but that’s the decision Poile & Co. made.

Many believe that P.K. Subban boosts the Predators’ defense up another level, possibly making them the best unit in the NHL. That fleet defense and a solid group of forwards has a strong chance to give Nashville the sort of balance that will likely maintain the Predators’ spot among the league’s stronger possession teams.

Unfortunately for Nashville, if Rinne unravels once more, the Predators would be stuck lagging behind the league’s true elite.

That’s a lot of pressure, but great paychecks come with great expectations.