James O'Brien

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

Video: Derek Dorsett bloodied in brawl


With some players vying for roster spots or trying to earn more ice time in 2016-17, it’s no surprise that some heavy-hitters engaged in fights on Sunday.

The stakes were there, even if these games didn’t “count.”

Hockey Fights features a full listing of last night’s bouts, but here are a few standouts from Sunday evening.

Alex Gallant vs. Derek Dorsett became a bloody affair:

The Vancouver Province captured one of the more violent moments:

Kurtis MacDermid and Jared Boll dropped the gloves in a heated fight as well on Sunday:

Finally, a heavyweight fight between Chris Thorburn and Brandon Bollig:

Matthews, Babcock on his Leafs preseason debut


Auston Matthews didn’t really experience many jitters as he played in his first preseason game with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He credited his World Cup experience in part for getting over nervousness.

While he failed to generate a point in Toronto’s 3-2 overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens, he got his bearings and made some moves.

He certainly seemed to make an impression on TSN’s Jonas Siegel, who raved about “speed, power, and skill all wrapped up in one.”

You could see flashes of that top-pick-brilliance in moments like these:

It’s early, but perhaps Mike Babcock will play the role of Bill Parcells insisting on people “putting away the anointing oil.” NHL.com notes this bit of criticism that seems to boil down to style vs. substance.

“They tried passing a lot at the net. What I saw tonight is we have a different skillset than we had last year, but we don’t know how to play yet,” Babcock said. “We were perimeter and light at times and we didn’t want to attack the net. It felt like we were handing out points for stickhandling and not shooting and not getting on the inside.”

Hey, just because Matthews already looks comfortable out there at times doesn’t mean that this won’t be a work in progress.

Tanner Pearson ejected for hit on Brandon Davidson


Los Angeles Kings forward Tanner Pearson received a game misconduct for an illegal check to the head of Edmonton Oilers defenseman Brandon Davidson on Sunday.

Reactions range from describing the check as “high and a touch late” to far more critical stances.

It’s too early to know for sure if Davidson is injured, but the Oilers are taking a look at him, according to the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson. He was unable to return to the game.

Here are GIF replays of the check, via Stephanie “My Regular Face.”

Pearson hasn’t been suspended during his NHL career.

Saros is willing to be patient for Predators

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It feels like it’s only a matter of time before Juuse Saros gets a real shot at making an impact with the Nashville Predators, but he seems comfortable with the patient approach.

To be more specific, getting more seasoning in the AHL doesn’t seem like such a bad idea to him, as he told NHL.com.

“I think that would be the best thing to go there and get games there,” Saros. “Of course, the competition is tough every place, but for my development it would be good to play a lot there.”

That’s sensible enough, as the ideal scenario for Nashville would be Pekka Rinne playing the part of a $7 million workhorse.

After all, as promising as Saros’ first season in the AHL was – 29 wins and a strong .920 save percentage in 38 games – he’s still a little “green” in North America.

Back in July, Predators GM David Poile indicated to the Tennessean that Marek Mazanec would get the first look as Rinne’s backup in 2016-17.

That also makes sense; you don’t want a budding prospect sitting on the bench behind Rinne, right?

On the other hand, it’s not that hard to envision a scenario where Saros plays the role of Matt Murray while Rinne suffers a fate similar to Marc-Andre Fleury.

For one thing, Mazanec doesn’t exactly have the greatest job security considering his two-way contract.

Let’s face it … Rinne hasn’t exactly been setting the world on fire lately, either. Saros told NHL.com that Rinne is his “idol,” yet there may come a time when he surpasses his fellow Finn. Rinne’s numbers have been shaky-to-bad in three of the last four seasons, with only 2014-15’s output providing some solace.

So, kudos to Saros for showing maturity in accepting the idea of spending more time in the AHL than the NHL next season. For all we know, the Predators may not enjoy the luxury of such a patient approach, and that might not be such a bad thing.

A smart team would give Wisniewski a shot


Not that long after being cut by the Tampa Bay Lightning, James Wisniewski tweeted “one door closed, another one opens.”

In an ideal, smart NHL, Wisniewski would be correct.

During just about every offseason, a quality player needs to fight to even get a chance to keep kicking around the league. Just look at the path Lee Stempniak took to a 19-goal, 51-point output in 2015-16.

Really, this current hockey climate should make Wisniewski a comparable bet.

Teams are giving up big contracts and considerable assets to lock up precious commodities in defensemen, so why not give him a try? Let’s look at a few reasons why he would be an interesting, low-risk addition:

  • He’s only 32, so it’s not like we’re talking about an ancient player.
  • Wisniewski isn’t that far removed from considerable success.

While his 2015-16 season was derailed by remarkably bad injury luck – he played all of 47 seconds for the Carolina Hurricanes – Wisniewski managed 34 points in just 69 games back in 2014-15. He’s two seasons removed from scoring 51 points for Columbus in 2013-14.

To provide some perspective, only 12 defensemen managed 51 points or more last season.

  • His possession stats have ranged from acceptable to quite good, so it’s not as if Wisniewski is only useful for offense. There’s even some grit to his game … sometimes too much.


Now, this isn’t to say that Wisniewski is guaranteed to be a success.

One has to wonder about rust and his health after that catastrophe in 2015-16. He also admitted that he felt a little lost in the Lightning system. Prospective teams may need to deal with some growing pains.

Still, it’s not as though Wisniewski is likely to command a huge salary. He settled for a PTO with Tampa Bay, so there’s likely not much to gamble here.

Sure, he couldn’t crack the Bolts’ mix, but Tampa Bay boasts one of the league’s deeper defenses. What would be the harm for another team to give him a shot?