James O'Brien

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

Taylor Hall introduces himself to New Jersey, takes Parise’s old number

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At the moment, it’s kind of weird to see Taylor Hall in a New Jersey Devils sweater.

Not in a bad way … it’s just one of those things you never really think about, what with him sort of getting traded to the Devils out of the blue.

The star winger tried on a Devils jersey for the first time on Sunday and then said all the right things about the market, Cory Schneider and so on. The Devils’ feed features some of his insight about a lighter travel schedule and other pluses in NJ.

He also gave Adam Henrique a hard time, which is always fun.

Interestingly, he’ll wear No. 9 with the Devils, the same number Zach Parise wore for many years.

Here’s Hall wearing it for the first time:

A thumbs up to the Devils’ mascot for a solid “Step Brothers” reference:

Good stuff. Still a little weird, though.

Mercifully, Jets are almost done with Pavelec’s problem contract

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This is part of Jets Day at PHT …

Ondrej Pavelec‘s five-year, $19.5 million contract looked dicey from the moment it was signed in 2012, even before his off-the-ice troubles became public.

It’s been a slog since day one, with Pavelec putting up backup-level numbers for most of his time as the No. 1 goalie of the Winnipeg Jets.

(Somehow, he managed a hot run and a .920 save percentage as Winnipeg made the playoffs in 2014-15, but that proved to be a blip on the radar.)

Pavelec’s situation shows just how long five years can feel when you make a mistake with a goalie. The Arizona Coyotes can probably relate with Mike Smith; not only is a faulty goalie a bad use of assets … it also limits your flexibility in finding a better one.

Mercifully, it seems as though we’re heading for the end of an era of error, as Pavelec’s $3.9 million cap hit will expire after 2016-17.*

With Connor Hellebuyck seemingly ascending and Michael Hutchinson enjoying a contract extension, Jets blog Arctic Ice Hockey is already “eulogizing” Pavelec’s career with Winnipeg.

This is why we mourn the inevitable loss of goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. May he fall gracefully into goaltender irrelevancy. Like David Aebischer, and not Rick DiPietro.

Ouch.

It’s tough to blame Jets fans for being eager to say goodbye. With 371 regular season games under his belt, a record under “.500” and a .907 career save percentage, he’s clearly failed to capitalize on many chances.

Now it’s difficult to imagine him landing with another team, although you never know in the NHL.

The Jets are transitioning power from older faces (trading Andrew Ladd), yet the most promising changes might finally come in net.

Sorry, Pavelec.

* – Assuming they don’t inexplicably re-sign him like Carolina did with Cam Ward.

It’s Winnipeg Jets day at PHT

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In many ways, the 2015-16 season was a typical one for the Winnipeg Jets.

They still remain without a single playoff win, and that big zero persists from their Atlanta Thrashers days. For the fourth time in their five years in Winnipeg, they failed to make the playoffs.

Sticking to type, they’re mostly depending upon improvement from within rather than splashy moves. Paul Maurice is still their head coach and Kevin Cheveldayoff remains GM.

Heading into next season, expectations are modest.

Off-season

As gradual as the changes tend to be for this patiently built franchise, Winnipeg’s identity is starting to morph.

Captain Andrew Ladd was traded away in a courageous deadline move while Dustin Byfuglien signed a long-term deal. There’s little sense denying the Jets’ core at this point, as Byfuglien, Blake WheelerMark Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault look primed to be fixtures for the Jets.

Scheifele is one of the leaders of a youth movement that the Jets hope will propel them to that next level.

Grabbing promising scoring prospect Patrik Laine represents one of the team’s most exciting moments in some time while a brighter future is on the horizon in net with Michael Hutchinson re-upping while Connor Hellebuyck continues to mature.

(Mercifully, Ondrej Pavelec is in the last season of his regrettable deal.)

The only bummer could very well be resolved soon: what will it take to find a compromise with defenseman Jacob Trouba?

With a name like the Jets, you wouldn’t picture the slow-and-steady approach, but that’s the gameplan. Perhaps a more meteoric rise is on the way?

What might factor into Jimmy Vesey’s free agent decision

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It’s pretty bewildering to predict who will land Jimmy Vesey once he can sign somewhere starting on Aug. 15, unless you cheat and just say “not the Nashville Predators.”

CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty pegged the front-runners as the Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils earlier this week. That same report downplayed the Boston Bruins’ chances.

At certain points, we’ve heard about the merits of the Buffalo Sabres (who sent Nashville a third-rounder to grab Vesey’s negotiating rights) and Toronto Maple Leafs.

There are some mixed signals flying around, and Vesey’s agent Peter Fish kept things pretty vague while discussing various rumors with Puck Daddy.

“I think there’s a lot of things out there that either aren’t true or people are just searching to say things. We’re still talking with Buffalo, who will be part of this process once free agency happens, if it happens, which I assume is going to happen,” Fish said. “Jimmy wanted to go to free agency all along. He wanted to see it through and, so Buffalo has always been a team that has interested him, but he wants to compare with a few other teams once it happens”

Good luck picking a favorite.

Instead, let’s consider what might factor into his decision.

What shouldn’t matter: money

Human nature dictates that cash is a usually a huge factor in these situations.

With the rookie maximum in mind, the Harvard graduate isn’t likely to worry too much about his entry-level contract, which makes for a more intellectually stimulating “bidding war.”

Family ties

NHL.com’s thorough breakdown of possible landing spots touches on the surprising number of familial connections between Vesey and various teams.

His father, Jim Vesey, played for the Bruins at one point. He’s from the area and grew up a Bruins fan.

Toronto holds some edges over most teams, too. His father is a scout for the Maple Leafs and his brother Nolan Vesey is a draft pick of the team.

Both of those options seem like they’d count as big draws, which is why they were mentioned in many rumors, especially earlier on.

Opportunities

Read here and here for some great perspective regarding how much of an impact Vesey, 23, can really make in the NHL.

There’s a lot of hype surrounding the forward, yet breakdowns peg him in various ways, with comparisons ranging from a cheaper Joffrey Lupul or Tyler Bozak to a smaller Kevin Hayes. Leafs Nation explains why teams are so excited, though:

Here is the opportunity for an NHL team to add a legitimate top nine forward that isn’t going to require any protection in the expansion draft. Vesey isn’t just a found wallet, he’s a found wallet with a credit card that wasn’t cancelled. Heading into a year where teams are going to be panicked about what they are going to have to lose, here’s a chance to cut their loses ahead of time and with the best possible alternative, a good, cheap, young player that is potentially just entering his prime.

Makes sense.

On one hand, you have better chances to win big, most notably with the Blackhawks. He may have a smaller margin of error there, but the lure of playing on a contender – possibly lining up with someone like Jonathan Toews – has to be strong.

The Rangers have been adept at integrating college talents (Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes) as well, and they’ve at least been a playoff team.

The Devils could feature him even more and look like up-and-comers after nabbing Taylor Hall. The Bruins and Maple Leafs shouldn’t struggle to find a spot for Vesey, either.

***

For all we know, a dark horse candidate could swoop in and “wow” Vesey.

It’s a murky situation, but it’s easier to narrow down what might factor into his decision.

At least, it seems that way.

Photo: Penguins’ Bryan Rust, spooning the Stanley Cup

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Young Pittsburgh Penguins forwards Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary played a role in Sidney Crosby winning a second Stanley Cup. It only makes sense that one of them would follow in Crosby’s footsteps as far as spending a day with the honored trophy.

Rust is getting his chance on Saturday, which must be surreal since NHL.com’s Nick Cotsonika points out that he’s not that far removed from battling for playing time.

Part of that celebration involves evoking Crosby by taking a little nap with the silver chalice:

It’s not the only amusing image of Rust’s celebration, apparently.

Remember that ad about the Cup barely weighing anything when you’re lifting it up over your head? That probably doesn’t apply in the summer, when the adrenaline wears off.

Want more? NHL.com’s Summer with Stanley series has more fun stuff regarding the Penguins’ days with the Cup.

Nick Bonino stands out, for one: