James O'Brien

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

Stars aren’t worried about RFA Nichushkin leaving for Russia

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In most cases, re-signing an RFA like Valeri Nichushkin would seem fairly simple.

That restricted status limits the options of many young free agents, particularly ones who still lean more toward potential than production like Nichushkin so far in his career.

The Dallas Stars face an additional obstacle, however: the Russian forward could theoretically opt to hop to the KHL.

Stars GM Jim Nill brushed off that possibility when asked by the Dallas Morning News’ Mike Heika.

On if he has any concern about Nichushkin going back to Russia

“No, I don’t think so. Val’s over here training and I don’t think there’s that issue. Val wants to be in the NHL and he wants to have a good year this year, so I don’t think that’s possible.”

It’s easy to see why such a question would come up.

Back in March, his agent had to do damage control after the 21-year-old forward vented to Russian news outlet Sport-Express.

To the Stars’ credit, they’ve repeatedly said positive things about Nichushkin, labeling him as a “very important player” after the 2015-16 season ended while Lindy Ruff said plenty of glowing things.

Even so, it’s been a start-and-stop development for Nichushkin, who to some extent needed injuries to get reps during the playoffs. There have been injury issues and healthy scratches over the years.

Looking at these situations, it’s reasonable to wonder if he really would flirt with a departure. The Stars increasingly expensive group of forwards and his RFA status makes you wonder if he’d garner a significant pay raise – and probably a heightened role – if he went overseas.

The Stars say they aren’t concerned, though, for what it’s worth.

Fixing Bob: Blue Jackets seem confident in new consultant


Sure, the Columbus Blue Jackets stemmed some of the injury tide last season after a ridiculous run in 2014-15.

Even so, their most expensive player still can’t seem to stay healthy. Is there anyway to “fix” Sergei Bobrovsky after years of frequent groin injuries?

The Blue Jackets seem confident that consultant Nelson Ayotte can bridge the gap between the team’s medical staff and those responsible for strength and conditioning concerns, as GM Jarmo Kekalainen noted to the Columbus Dispatch.

“Nelson’s going to be evaluating and improving everything, right away,” Kekalainen said. “His impact is going to be felt right away. He’s coming in as a consultant, and Kevin is staying onboard. Together they’re going to improve everybody’s output, not just strength and conditioning but overall performance.”

Ayotte’s referred to as a “high-performance coach.” The role is being sold as a way to improve the way staff works instead of standing as a replacement.

As much as this is about improving the inner-workings of the staff, let’s be honest; the team specifically wants to get more out of their seemingly fragile $7.425 million goalie.

In that regard, Kekalainen said he wants Ayotte and Bobrovsky to get acquainted in “short order.”

Groin injuries rank among the trickier issues – how exactly do you avoid recurring problems there? – but credit Columbus for going the extra mile to try to turn things around.

For more background on Bobrovsky’s issues and how athletes recover from groin injuries, check out this Columbus Dispatch article from February.

Photos from Sidney Crosby’s day with the Stanley Cup


To understate things, it’s been a great summer for Sidney Crosby.

For the second time, he’s a reigning Stanley Cup champion, and he’s trying to savor it even more this time around.

As you can see from the video above, Crosby was parading through the streets of Pittsburgh with the Stanley Cup. He won the Conn Smythe and carried the Cup around during the 2016 NHL Awards.

Friday marks his day with the Cup – the more official sort – and Crosby’s making his country proud. Here are some of the best shots of Crosby doing his Canadian best to share the joy.

Like any self-respecting Canadian, that includes a trip to Tim Horton’s.

His hockey school featured more lucky kids than those onlookers at Tim Horton’s:

The highlight might be this surprise visit, actually:

He really is covering a lot of ground on this fun day:

Such a sprawling trip isn’t keeping Crosby from protecting the sacred trophy, mind you:

Backup plan: Leafs hand Sparks two-way deal


Don’t be surprised if the Toronto Maple Leafs’ goalie duo ends up being Frederik Andersen and Garret Sparks next season.

The Maple Leafs signed Sparks to a one-year, two-way deal on Friday. The two-way nature of that contract gives the Buds a little wiggle room if they aren’t confident that Sparks will stand as their No. 2, but he seems like the right guy at the moment.

His NHL numbers are pedestrian so far, although he made a great first impression by pitching a shutout in his debut.

Other important Sparks notes:

  • That last phrase reminds us that his last name lends itself to many puns and goofy jokes.
  • Sparks has come a long way as a seventh-rounder (190th pick in 2011).
  • He should be required to wear those sweet pads.
  • Sparks made this save:

Yup, pertinent stuff.

A lot has changed in Toronto, and you can see that in net alone, as the Maple Leafs see Sparks and Andersen a season after Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer manned the crease.

The team didn’t disclose financial details, but two-way deals are typically very cap-friendly.

Russian hockey in London? KHL eyes expansion to Great Britain


The KHL is expanding in ways that almost makes the NHL’s bold expansion to Las Vegas look modest.

If adding a team in China isn’t enough, what about jolly old England?

The KHL announced that they’ve received “permission” to expand to London.

Here’s the tweet in question:

This aligns well with this report, which uses the phrase “come to terms for their expansion.”

Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski discusses London as a hockey market, including the following:

But this is also an odd fit for a London franchise. It’s been challenging enough to generate interest for the EIHL, and now you’re asking fans with a tangential-at-best interest in ice hockey to get down with a London vs. Severstal Cherepovets, rivalry, rather than, say, Edinburgh?

Some wonder if the NHL is “missing out” on an opportunity, although there are also logistical concerns.

Perhaps the NHL could allow the KHL to be something of a guinea pig for higher-level hockey in the UK?

The KHL’s expansion has been aggressive, and it remains to be seen if everything will line up. Quibbles aside, it stands as a great excuse for an expensive hockey journey.