James O'Brien

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

WATCH LIVE: New York Islanders at Tampa Bay Lightning – Game 1

Here’s something you don’t see every day/year/decade: a Game 1 on the same night as a Game 7.

Well, unless you’re cheating and counting the NBA’s postseason and the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. You cheaters.

Anyway, both contests are on NBCSN, beginning with the start of the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning’s intriguing series.

There isn’t a ton of history between these teams, yet even with the Bolts’ injuries, there’s still plenty of talent on each side. You can stream the fun via the link below:


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    Coyotes release statement after Glendale gets AEG to run Gila River Arena


    You know it’s spring/summer when there are multiple stories about the Arizona Coyotes’ arena headaches.

    Last week, PHT noted that Phoenix’s mayor hopes that the Coyotes will share a new building downtown with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns.

    Another wrinkle surfaced on Tuesday, as it appears that the City of Glendale took arena management control of Gila River Arena from the Coyotes and gave it to AEG, a company that runs facilities including the Los Angeles Kings’ Staples Center.

    (The Phoenix Business Journal breaks down the deeper details.)

    The Coyotes released the following statement regarding this development:

    “AEG is a company we know well and are in fact partners in the National Hockey League. We look forward to working with them, and will now await official notice from the City of their plans to transfer management of the arena. At that point, we will begin the 90 days (or less) transfer process. The Coyotes are committed to playing the 2016-17 NHL regular season at Gila River Arena and remain focused on securing a long term arena solution in the Valley that is based upon a true partnership.”

    Nowhere in any statement did someone say “Closure will come soon” and, really, who would expect a conclusion after this saga has already persisted for our natural lives all these years?

    Not a huge mistake: Will Arnett will host 2016 NHL Awards


    Great actor and noted Toronto Maple Leafs fan Will Arnett was announced as the host for the 2016 NHL Awards, which takes place on June 22.

    You hopefully know Arnett from his magical role as Gob Bluth in “Arrested Development.” Hopefully he brings that oddball energy (and maybe “The Final Countdown”) to the awards and avoid the sulking demeanor from “Flaked.”

    “I’m excited to host the 2016 NHL Awards because we all know in 2017 I’ll be too busy celebrating the Leafs winning the Stanley Cup.” Arnett said, via the league release.

    Again, Arnett’s a funny guy.

    Now watch some of his greatest hits because there isn’t any playoff hockey on tonight (NSFW warning: some bad words).

    Blackhawks – Blues Game 7 set a ratings record or two


    Game 7 between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues capped off a splendid series with thrilling hockey, and it showed in the ratings.

    Here are some key facts and figures via this NBC Sports Group release:

    STAMFORD, Conn. – April 26, 2016 – Monday night’s Game 7 presentation of the Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues on NBCSN averaged 1.353 million viewers to rank as the most-watched first-round game in the network’s history, as the Blues defeated the Blackhawks 3-2 to win the series and eliminate the defending Stanley Cup Champions. The game peaked at 2.0 million viewers in the final full quarter hour (11-11:15 p.m. ET). Digitally, the game finished with 11.6 million minutes streamed on NBC Sports Live Extra to rank fourth all-time among NHL games.

    Locally, CSN Chicago’s presentation of Hawks-Blues Game 7 delivered a 19.1 HH rating in Chicago to rank as the most-watched telecast ever in the history of the network, dating back to 2004. Last night’s rating shattered CSN Chicago’s previous all-time high of a 13.7 HH rating for a Bulls-Pacers first-round NBA Playoff telecast (April 21, 2011).

    In addition, NBC’s presentation of Game 6 of the Blackhawks-Blues series on Saturday night (8-11 p.m. ET) averaged 2.822 million viewers to rank as NBC’s most-watched first-round game in four years (BOS-WSH, 4/22/12; 3.519 million), and the fourth-best on record.

    Through 13 days, the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs on cable have averaged 500,000 viewers (38 games), up 5% vs. 2015 through the same period (474,000). Digitally, the Stanley Cup Playoffs have produced 753,000 uniques and 126.4 million minutes across all Live Extra platforms, increases of 33% and 99%, respectively, vs. 2015 (566k uniques; 63k minutes).

    That’s impressive all around. It’s also justifiable considering how great that series was.

    Click here for the full release.

    Panthers make it sound like Willie Mitchell’s career is over


    SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) Willie Mitchell hoisted the Stanley Cup twice, played parts of 15 NHL seasons, even found a way back on the ice after a knee injury kept him out for more than a year.

    This time, it looks virtually certain that he’s gone for good.

    The Florida Panthers don’t expect their captain to be back next season, and one of his closest friends on the team essentially revealed Tuesday that he thinks Mitchell’s career is over. Mitchell missed the final 42 games of this season largely over concern what another brain injury would mean to his long-term health, and it’s been expected for weeks that this season would be the finale.

    “Willie’s been a consummate professional,” Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said. “He’s been a great captain. He’s won Stanley Cups. He’s given his body and soul to the game. It’s hard. … It’s never easy and I’ll give him all the support he can get.”

    It bears noting that no one in the organization came out Tuesday and flatly said that Mitchell is retiring, but the inference was obvious from many. Tallon said he and Mitchell will sit down and talk about several options for his future.

    “When I first talked to him and found out what was going on with him, we got a good cry,” said Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad, an All-Star in each of his two NHL seasons to date. “It’s a tough thing for a player. Everyone experiences it at some point, that point where you can’t play anymore. … Willie’s really lucky to have had such a great career and do so many great things.”

    Mitchell and Ekblad have a particularly close relationship, almost father-son-like in some respects. In Ekblad’s rookie season, Mitchell and his wife took the then-teenager into their home and made him part of the family.

    “I’ve learned absolutely everything I’ve learned in the game of hockey, in the NHL, from Willie Mitchell,” Ekblad said. “Learning to be a good person and a good player. Can’t thank that guy enough.”

    Mitchell was known to have concussions in 2002, 2006 and 2010, and has spoken plenty in recent years about trying to make the game safer. Mitchell turned 39 last week, and would be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He was drafted 20 years ago by New Jersey, and also appeared in NHL games with Minnesota, Dallas, Vancouver and Los Angeles before coming to Florida and being named the eighth captain in Panthers history.

    He’s played in 907 games, logging 180 points and 787 penalty minutes with a career rating of plus-119.

    “He wasn’t captain by accident,” Florida forward Shawn Thornton said. “You could see it, even in the playoffs, he wasn’t playing but he was around, doing whatever it took, all the intangibles. If anybody needed anything, nobody went without with him around. He was the ultimate teammate.”

    Mitchell wasn’t with the Panthers on Tuesday when they cleaned out lockers, packed up their sticks and headed into the offseason. He had been skating with the team at times in recent weeks, but didn’t appear in Florida’s six-game first-round playoff loss to the New York Islanders that ended Sunday.

    “I’ve played with Willie for many years now,” Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo said. “We go way back. Just seeing him every day and knowing that he couldn’t play, it’s something that makes your heart hurt. Just knowing how much he loves to be around the guys, especially this time of year. Being part of a Stanley Cup run is why we play the game. It’s tough to see one of your good friends and teammates go through something like that.”

    NOTES: F Jaromir Jagr said his agent will have talks with the Panthers about his future. Jagr reaffirmed that he believes the future is strong for Florida. “Sometimes you have to suffer to move forward in the future,” said Jagr, who will spend part of his offseason training again in Las Vegas. Tallon said he’s confident that Jagr will be back with the Panthers. … Another free agent, D Brian Campbell, said he would like to return to the team next season. Campbell has been with Florida for five years, not missing a single game in that span.