James O'Brien

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

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.

Devils sign first-rounder McLeod


The New Jersey Devils signed Michael McLeod to a three-year entry-level contract on Friday.

McLeod – who seemingly goes by Mikey – was selected 12th overall despite some “shade” being thrown his way, according to the Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy’s write-up for PHT.

Said shade went McLeod’s way as his numbers may have suffered from injury issues, but the positive side is that he’s described as the sort of speedy forward that the Devils could really use.

As his mom explained in this fun story for the Devils’ website, McLeod has always been fast.

“For the longest time, it was almost like he was running on the ice because he had to go so fast to keep up with the other kids,” Judi McLeod said. “When he got a bit older, we got him a power skating coach to help him lengthen his stride so he could learn to stop running and wasn’t having to put so much effort into each stride, but he was always faster than almost everyone.”

Now it’s just a matter of seeing how quickly he could make a difference for the Devils.

Goalies accept smaller pads if they don’t lose protection


NHL goalies are OK with making their equipment smaller, as long as such changes don’t put them at a greater risk for injuries.

At least, that’s what goalies including Tuukka Rask, Cory Schneider and Pekka Rinne told the Associated Press on Thursday.

(A cynic might say that they’re likely only concerned if equipment gets so large that it inhibits their movement, and if so, who would really blame them?)

Schneider brings up a point that many would echo: increasing scoring isn’t just about making the pads smaller or the net larger.

“If guys are giving up goals leaking through their arms that are kind of ugly goals and that increases scoring, is that a good thing? I suppose,” Schneider said. “But if you’re still only getting 20 shots a night each way, then I don’t think smaller gear is really going to make a difference. I think it’s a two-fold issue. You want to create goal-scoring by creating a better flow and more shots.”

Yes, that’s true, but scoring continues to be a problem in the league, and getting officials, coaches and others to make needed changes is easier said than done.

Tweaking goalie equipment might be little more than a Band-Aid, yet it could also be better than nothing.

And, hey, goalies are (pretending to be) on board with it, too.

Read the AP story for more.


Goalies on smaller pads from 2013

Schneider was OK with tweaks back then

It’s been an issue for years