James O'Brien

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

Playing for Blues excites Yakupov, who doesn’t ‘know what winning is’


Nail Yakupov and the St. Louis Blues said some interesting things about how he might fit with his new team, but let’s skip to the fun stuff first.

Specifically, let’s consider the potential bulletin board material that promotes the Blues while downgrading the Edmonton Oilers. Again, the fun stuff.

“This is first time I’ve played on really, really good team,” Yakupov said, according to Tom Timmermann of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I think it’s awesome, I don’t know what winning is.”

That last part line? Yeah, that’s magnificent, especially if the Blues take on the Edmonton Oilers in a 2017 postseason series.

(Aside: that grumbling you might have heard likely came from members of the Sarnia Sting. Not cool, Yak.)

Beyond that talk, it was pretty typical post-trade-spin, even if those assessments may some day ring true:

“He’s got the skill to compliment our group, and the game is trending to younger and faster players,” GM Doug Armstrong noted.

Want more? The Blues shared Yakupov’s full conference call:

Oilers bolster defense with Kris Russell signing


Update: The Edmonton Oilers confirmed that Kris Russell was signed for one year. The financial terms were not disclosed.


It looks like Kris Russell is headed back to Alberta.

After years playing for the Calgary Flames (and then a brief stop in Dallas), the defenseman is expected to sign a one-year, $3.1 million contract with the Edmonton Oilers, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

Friedman reports that the Oilers might not make the move official until Saturday or later.

If this goes through, it would complete today’s actions, as Edmonton would essentially be trading Nail Yakupov (who was shipped to the Blues) for Russell. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun notes that the Oilers didn’t retain any of Yakupov’s $2.5 million, so that money could essentially go to Russell.

Then again, it might actually go into signing Kris Versteeg and/or Eric Gryba from their PTOs, according to the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson.

To some, the Oilers essentially moved Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov out of town for Adam Larsson and Kris Russell.

Of course, Edmonton also added Jesse Puljujärvi and Milan Lucic to the mix, along with possibly those veteran PTOs, so such a viewpoint might be too simplistic.

Many really will look at it that way, however, and the bottom line is that it will be really interesting to see how things shake out for everyone involved, including Russell.

Trade: Blues nab Nail Yakupov for very little


Nail Yakupov has been traded to a team in the Central Division, but it won’t be the Chicago Blackhawks.

Nope, instead, the St. Louis Blues landed the first pick of the 2012 NHL Draft on Friday.

Blues receive: Nail Yakupov

Oilers receive: Prospect Zach Pochiro and a conditional draft pick.

The conditional draft pick begins as a 2017 third-round pick. The Oilers confirmed that the third-round pick would turn into a 2018 second-rounder if Yakupov scores at least 15 goals.

On Pochiro: The 22-year-old forward was the 112th pick of the 2013 NHL Draft. He played in one AHL game last season, spending most of 2015-16 in the ECHL (scoring 26 points in 44 contests with the gloriously named Quad City Mallards).

Cap considerations for Blues: Yakupov is under contract for one year with a $2.5 million cap hit. He’s scheduled to become an RFA after 2016-17.

Fox Sports Midwest’s Andy Strickland believes Yakupov may even find his way onto the Blues’ top line. The Blues have stated that they hope to get more aggressive this coming season, and while that focus was largely on their transition game, it doesn’t hurt to add more offensive pop to that mix.

The best news, clearly, is that he’ll open the door for the return of “N64.”

It’s rumored that the Oilers might sign Kris Russell as well today, as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman notes.

Sidney Crosby keeps piling up unanimous honors


Sidney Crosby is on top of the hockey world right now.

TSN’s top 50 players list provides the latest example. Crosby wasn’t just the No. 1 choice for the network’s list; he was the unanimous choice.

It’s quite the impressive honor, but far from unusual as Crosby brings in an astounding mix of personal and team accolades.

The fun began when Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins roared through the 2016 postseason to win a Stanley Cup. In the process, Crosby earned Conn Smythe honors.

Moving on, Crosby was the – again that word – unanimous choice for World Cup of Hockey MVP after Canada stomped through the tournament. TSN notes the unquestioned greatness he’s enjoyed lately, between their poll and the polling from the World Cup:

He was the unanimous choice – 10 of 10 – for World Cup MVP. One day later, Crosby was the unanimous choice in our poll, making him 30 for 30 in the space of 24 hours.

Yeah, that’s pretty convincing.

Even after facing him in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, Logan Couture couldn’t help but lavish Crosby with praise after the World Cup.

“He really is the best player in the world,” Couture said, via the CBC. “It’s fun just to be able to watch him every day.”

Couture is just one of many people around the sport who can’t help but be awed by No. 87.


Crosby’s 2015-16 season stands as quite the testament to how perceptions can change. Earlier in the season, he was struggling to score and saw the Penguins fire their head coach.

In retrospect, Mike Sullivan’s system gelled far better with what Crosby & Co. needed to do to succeed, and the results came.

Injuries and other issues remind us that it isn’t always easy for Crosby. Right now, though, there’s very little disagreement about where the superstar stands.

(Until we see the comments, maybe.)

Report: 2016-17 trade deadline will be on March 1

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TVA’s Renaud Lavoie tweeted out two important deadlines for NHL teams to consider on Friday.

Both are interesting considerations, especially as teams continue to terminate tryouts and send prospects to the AHL.

With the 2016-17 regular season rapidly approaching, those two points actually seem like a great jumping off point to consider other key dates. This could be a good thing to bookmark if you’re the planning type:

Oct 12: Opening night doubleheader
Oct. 13: Penguins raise their Stanley Cup banner
Oct. 23: Heritage Classic between Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers
Dec. 24-26: NHL goes on a holiday break
Jan. 1: Centennial Classic between Maple Leafs and Red Wings
Jan. 2: 2017 Winter Classic – St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Jan. 27-30: All-Star weekend in Los Angeles
Feb. 19: Hockey Day in America
Feb. 25: Stadium Series – Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
March 1: Trade deadline
April 9: End of regular season
June 17: Teams must submit lists for expansion draft
June 20: Vegas team makes selections
June 21: Vegas announces selections

Many of these moments will be televised by NBC or NBCSN. Check out the TV schedule here.