James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Sounds like Panthers won’t re-sign Montoya, who could be a nice find

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Every summer, there are players who slip under the free agency radar and end up yielding surprising returns for affordable contracts.

Could Al Montoya be a sneaky goaltending gem for teams that wait out the feeding frenzy stages of the UFA period?

We may get to find out, as the Sun-Sentinel reports that Montoya will likely join Brian Campbell as Florida Panthers turned free agents.

There were already murmurs of the Panthers wanting to move on from Montoya a couple weeks ago, even when the team seemed a little more optimistic about retaining “Soupy.”

When it comes to lower-tier free agents, it’s all about managing expectations.

Montoya isn’t likely to save a team’s bacon over and over again, yet he boasts reasonable potential to be either a nice backup or even a decent 1B option.

In 25 games for Florida in 2015-16, he went 12-7-3 with a nice .919 save percentage. He also managed a .920 save percentage in 2013-14 with Winnipeg.

Now, his 2014-15 work with the Panthers was a little rough (6-7-2, .892 save percentage), so it’s not to say that he’ll light the world on fire. His career .909 save percentage argues that he probably isn’t a backup who can become a true top guy like, say, Martin Jones.

Call them flashes of brilliance or glimpses of competence, but there have been enough moments that he could be the sort of backup who can grab subtle-but-important points. There’s even the possibility that he can hold down the fort when a No. 1 guy gets injured.

With Luongo getting up there in the years, the Panthers might require even more than what Montoya can provide. Another team – maybe the Anaheim Ducks with John Gibson more exposed? – would be wise to take a look at Montoya if he hits the bargain bin.

How to pry the eighth pick from the Sabres

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Stockpiling high-end draft picks isn’t just about nabbing prospects. Sometimes you can gain more immediate boosts by converting certain picks into roster players with a well-timed trade or two.

The Buffalo Sabres have already done a little of both. Sure, they drafted Jack Eichel with the second pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, yet they also spent excess picks to nab the likes of Robin Lehner, Ryan O'Reilly and Evander Kane.

GM Tim Murray seems open-minded about doing similar things with the eighth overall pick of the 2016 NHL Draft.

He detailed what kind of deal might work to the Buffalo News:

“If we can trade a couple picks and improve our team, we’ll continue to do that,” Murray said Tuesday. “If somebody offers us a top-end, young, left-shot” defenseman “and they demand our eighth overall pick and we feel it makes us better, we’ll do the trade.”

“Top-end” is a subjective matter, but someone like Anaheim Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler fits at least some of that criteria.

(Someone like Kevin Shattenkirk would be interesting, although he shoots right.)

Now, sending out feelers for a roster defenseman doesn’t mean Murray sees no value in the pick itself. Buffalo is apparently eyeing three different players who could fall to the eighth spot, with two being blueliners. (He believes at least two of them will make it that far.)

As we saw in Murray trading for Jimmy Vesey’s rights, the Sabres’ GM isn’t afraid to make bold moves. It doesn’t sound like he’s resting on his laurels this summer after such a busy 2015 off-season, either.

This could shape up to be a very busy draft night even off the boards, and don’t be surprised if Buffalo is in the thick of things.

Johansson’s price might push Capitals to make a trade

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Contending teams must often make a difficult distinction between a good player and a “core player.”

The Washington Capitals could very well feel that sting if they decide that pending RFA Marcus Johansson‘s asking price is simply too steep.

GM Brian MacLellan dropped some hints that the Swedish forward might not fit into the Capitals’ budget when addressing the media on Tuesday.

Johansson’s a nice piece, no doubt, but he’s been bumped down the pecking order thanks to a combination of added veterans (Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie) along with rising young forwards (Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky).

Even if a trade isn’t happening, it sounds like Johansson’s deal might be the first domino to fall.

If teams are looking to make a move, perhaps quality depth players would be involved in the exchange:

Hip surgery sidelines Callahan; Kessel for Team USA after all?

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The Tampa Bay Lightning announced that Ryan Callahan will need five months to recovery from hip surgery.

In case you’re wondering, they’ve already said that Callahan won’t be able to play for Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey.

At least one report indicates that Callahan was struggling with that “lower-body injury” late in the season and into the playoffs:

If five months is accurate – hockey players are known for returning early, as you likely know – then Callahan would miss the first month or two of the 2016-17 season.

There’s not much positive spin from Callahan’s side, yet a few are wondering if this wrong might help correct a perceived wrong: leaving Phil Kessel off Team USA.

Well, if they want Kessel to play, they better send a decent-sized plane.

No, the Flyers won’t try to copy the Penguins

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The Pittsburgh Penguins won the 2016 Stanley Cup by leveraging their considerable speed and skill.

While the Philadelphia Flyers possess certain qualities that might allow them to go more pedal-to-the-metal, they’re clearly going to do things their own way.

Flyers GM Ron Hextall explained the pitfalls of trying to follow someone else’s blueprint to CSNPhilly.com.

“The one thing I’ve learned over the years is you have to be very careful being a copycat,” Hextall said on Thursday. “When you start chasing everybody, you go away from your foundation and the very next year a team that plays a totally different style wins a Cup.”

Hextall insists that there’s “no real blueprint where you can say this is the only way to win.” The once-fiery netminder believes in building “through the middle” and focusing on “goaltending, defense, centers.”

Pretty simple stuff, yet signs of progress definitely seem to surface, starting with this past surprise playoff run.

When asked if the Flyers are in better shape now, he evokes Walter White.

“Are we better than we were last year? As a team, as an organization, our depth chart, damn right we’re a lot better,” Hextall said.

Don’t be surprised if Hextall soaks in some summer sun and makes the Flyers’ outlook even brighter during the off-season. The team seems like it’s in very capable hands.