James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Stars sign Mattias Backman to one-year, two-way deal

When it comes to improving the Dallas Stars’ defense from within, they at least have a decent array of young options.

Whether those young options actually pan out remains to be seen, yet they’re giving themselves an array of choices, especially after retaining Mattias Backman via a one-year, two-way deal on Thursday.

Here’s a blurb about the decent-sized blueliner, via the Stars:

Backman has earned 36 points (8-28=36) in 90 career AHL contests with the Texas Stars and Grand Rapids Griffins. The defenseman has appeared in 16 career games in the Calder Cup Playoffs, registering nine points (1-8=9) and 18 shots on goal. Backman also won a gold medal at the 2012 IIHF U20 World Junior Championship with Team Sweden, skating alongside current Dallas Stars John Klingberg and Patrik Nemeth.

That last bit can’t hurt, as familiarity could at least improve his chances of gaining a depth position or call-up opportunities.

His Hockey’s Future analysis gives you the impression that he presents “more of the same” for the Stars:

Talent Analysis

Despite his size, Backman doesn’t play a particularly physical or powerful game. He is a simple, economical defenseman who makes the smart play and knows to play within himself. He’s an excellent skater for his size, makes a good first pass and makes good decisions with and without the puck. He won’t wow you, but he won’t often be beat or get caught cheating either.

The Stars likely hope that he can develop into another decent option, especially if they decide against splashy moves this summer.

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Stars love their young defensemen

Guy Lafleur hates the bodacious beards of Thornton, Burns

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For many Montreal Canadiens fans of a certain age, some of their best memories came when Guy Lafleur was bounding down the ice with his iconic hair flapping in the wind.

Apparently the legendary forward thinks that someone’s facial hair shouldn’t quite get to that point, however.

While Lafleur is fine with playoff beards, there’s a point of no return, and he believes that San Jose Sharks forwards Joe Thornton and Brent Burns are long past that. Here’s what he told the Montreal Gazette.

“To me to see the Sharks with the long beards, I think it’s a disgrace for hockey,” Lafleur said. “I hate it. It’s not a good image for the NHL. I don’t mind a guy wearing a beard, but to his belly … enough is enough. The team’s managers should put their foot down. They can’t see the puck (laughs). That’s why they’re struggling.”

Shockingly, he had harsher comments for the Sharks as a whole, wondering if they “really want the Stanley Cup.” It just so happens that beard-bashing is a lot more fun to discuss than … well, just about anything, really.

Let’s enjoy a montage of Lafleur moments, hearkening back to simpler, less-bearded times:

(H/T to The Hockey News.)

More bearded fun

Burns beard vs. Thornton’s crop

Just for Men: Joe Thornton

Just for Men: Brent Burns

Sounds like Bishop, Lightning could go into training camp healthier

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This is just a small part of a report from the Tampa Bay Times, yet if it holds true, it stands as a big relief for Tampa Bay Lightning fans:

notes: G Ben Bishop continues to work out at Amalie Arena, saying the left ankle/shin injury he sustained in the Cup final is getting better and won’t affect his offseason work. … Yzerman confirmed no players will need offseason procedures that will impact their camp availability.

In other words, the Lightning might not limp into the 2016-17 season after this past motley year of injuries and bad luck.

Of course, the off-season is a time of almost boundless optimism, where seemingly everyone is in “the best shape of their lives.”

A lot can change between June and training camp in September and the start of the regular season in October. Bishop and any number of other injured Bolts could suffer setbacks or summer sports/leisure mishaps.

Still, it sure beats hearing about summer surgeries, as inevitably “successful” as they seem to be.

So, what if Canada can’t send NHL players to the 2018 Olympics?

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Tom Renney didn’t seem fatalistic when discussing recent, not-so-positive comments about the NHL’s possible lack of participation in the 2018 Olympics.

“Yikes, I don’t know how we did it in 1994 to be honest with you — smoke and mirrors,” the Hockey Canada president joked on Monday. “There is a Plan B that we’re starting to work on now, just in case. Hockey Canada’s done that every single time. There’s no question we would be ready.”

“The big thing is to be nimble enough to respond to that, should the need be.”

As unfortunate as it would be to see the NHL sit out the Olympics, it would indeed create a fascinating role reversal.

While Shane Doan joked that Canada wouldn’t make a movie about a “Miracle” scenario, the bottom line is that the mighty hockey nation only really began stockpiling Olympic gold medals once NHL players became available.

What happens if they’re forced to go from a loaded juggernaut to … whatever a “smoke and mirrors” setup would amount to?

Renney was understandably slim on details, seemingly shrugging off the suggestion that Spengler Cup preparations would make a huge difference (and also noting that he isn’t sure AHL players would even be available).

It really does stoke the imagination to picture Canadian and American teams, in particular, if they were forced to go without NHL players. Perhaps college and junior players could make early impressions while cast-offs might have a shot at making names for themselves?

Sure, such a reality wouldn’t be ideal, yet it could also be pretty intriguing.

Kessel-to-Malkin goal puts Sharks in deeper trouble

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After a pretty strong (or at least even) first period, the San Jose Sharks are faltering.

The bright side might be that the margin isn’t THAT steep, at least as of this writing. The Pittsburgh Penguins fattened their lead, yet it’s still a reasonable mountain to climb at 2-0.

That’s not bad considering San Jose’s second-period lull:

Even so, the Sharks need to find an answer for the Penguins, as Phil Kessel continues his great play and Evgeni Malkin already has two points in Game 4.

Marvel at that combination as Kessel assisted on this Malkin tally, which stands as Pittsburgh’s first power-play goal of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final (see video above).

Such displays are already heating up Kessel-for-Conn-Smythe talk.

Imagine how unhappy Kessel’s loudest critics must feel right now …

Update: The game remains 2-0 heading into the third period. The Sharks couldn’t convert on a key power play chance after Brent Burns drew a penalty:

San Jose needs at least two goals in the third period or they’ll stare down a 3-1 deficit in the series. Buckle up.

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