James O'Brien

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

Shea Weber went all-out to win the hardest shot competition


Heading into the hardest shot portion of Saturday’s fantastic Skills Competition, just about everyone put their money on Shea Weber winning it. Daniel Sedin said he’d wager his salary on as much.

(It probably helped peoples’ confidence that Zdeno Chara didn’t make the All-Star Game.)

Weber didn’t really approach it as a foregone conclusion, though.

He admitted that he was nervous heading into the event, and he used a stick that Sportsnet compared to a “crowbar” to unleash his near-record slapper.

NHL.com provided a behind the scenes (actually, behind the bench) take on the Skills Competition, and the flex of Weber’s stick sure seemed like the talk of the town. One of the best bits came fro Tyler Seguin:

Seguin comes over and starts talking about Weber and the upcoming Hardest Shot competition. He says he tried to flex Weber’s stick and he couldn’t even bend it a little.

“I put my whole body weight into it and I couldn’t do it,” Seguin says. “Either it’s that stiff, or he’s that strong. Or both.”

Weber went with a 130-flex stick, already up from his normal 122. Other All-Star defensemen didn’t even hit the 100 range, as Aaron Ekblad went from his normal 87 to 95. (This Hockey Flex Finder suggests a stick at 112 or so, although it’s plausible that Weber is one of those cases that break the scale.)

In a quick search, it’s difficult to come up with flex for Chara’s record-breaking stick, as flex wasn’t discussed in his case as much as how long the stick is.

Long story short? Weber definitely cared about winning the competition, and he’s crazy-strong.

Also, never mock someone who opts not to block his shot. Yikes.

Andrew Ference to fans: Thanks for screaming ‘Shoot!’


Hockey fans are great, most of the time.

But not like any other group, there are those who make everyone look bad. You can usually spot them by a few habits:

  • Banging on the glass. Relentlessly.
  • Doing the wave (seriously, how is that still happening?).
  • Holding up a sign that makes it impossible for the fans behind them to see.
  • Uh, this.
  • Yelling “Shooooooooot.”

OK, sometimes there’s that little voice in all of us that says that.

It doesn’t make it any less obnoxious, and sidelined Edmonton Oilers defenseman Andrew Ference poked fun at it in the video above for CBC’s “The Irrelevant Show.”

The sarcasm is great, and the well-time close-ups might be even better.

Last night’s Skills Competition might have been the height of players showing the lighter side of the sport (it is a game after all), but stuff like this never gets old.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering … no, this isn’t the most, um, flippant he’s ever been toward hockey fans.

Yeo’s woes: Why this year’s slump may be different for the Wild


Minnesota Wild fans have seen it before: the team hits a mid-season slump, only to bounce back and make the playoffs.

As of this writing, they’re only one point out of one of the West’s wild card spots, so it’s not like it’s that tough to imagine them bouncing back again.

That said, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo lays out an argument for why this season may be different, and it’s a pretty compelling one.

The past two years, injuries and goaltending woes caused the Wild’s stumble. General Manager Chuck Fletcher reacted with back-to-back goaltender acquisitions of Ilya Bryzgalov and (Devan) Dubnyk.

This season, the Wild’s healthy and goaltending has not been an issue. The problem is with the exception of recently heated-up Charlie Coyle, the Wild’s in a team-wide goal-scoring slump.

Russo also notes that Fletcher’s pattern of “rentals” might end heading into the Feb. 29 trade deadline, at least on the scale of splashy moves. They’ve spent many high draft picks looking for quick fixes in the past, and at some point, they’ll need to improve from within.

Looking beyond volume scoring, it’s not as if the Wild are lacking for bounces. They’re in the middle of the pack when it comes to their 7.33 shooting percentage, and their PDO even implies that they’ve been relatively lucky.

The Wild come out of the break with a challenging three-game road trip, and considering their mediocre 9-9-6 away record (versus a sparkling 14-8-3 home mark), this is a serious test for Minnesota.

And it may just be an indictment of head coach Mike Yeo.

They’ve passed previous tests when their necks – and maybe jobs – were on the line. Can they do it again?

More on the Wild’s woes

Zach Parise feels the heat

On their losing streak

Desperation time

Power play struggles frustrate head coach Mike Yeo

Report: NHL locks up Gary Bettman through 2021-22


Bad news for Gary Bettman’s haters: it doesn’t sound like he’s hanging up the loafers anytime soon.

The NHL signed its commissioner to new contract that goes through the 2021-22 season, according to Sports Illustrated’s Michael Farber. In case you’re wondering about the timing, that deal runs through the league’s current Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NHLPA.

Farber didn’t specify the financial terms, so we can only imagine if his “cap hit” exceeds that of the $10.5 million pulled in by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. (There’s a decent chance, as it was last reported at $9.6 million.)

This new contract is not official via the NHL, mind you; Bettman deflected the question when Farber asked him:

(Yes, it’s too early to worry about another lockout … but no, you’re not alone in doing so.)

Anyway, no unrestricted free agency for Bettman. In case you’re wondering, he’s not exactly in a rush to make sweeping changes to the sport.

Tkachuk shines as Team Orr edges Team Cherry (again) in prospects game

via Calgary Hitmen

Bobby Orr nabbed $100 from Don Cherry for the sixth straight time at the CHL’s Top Prospects game, not that their friendly bet was the most important factor.

(Granted, Cherry didn’t look happy – at first at least – clutching that losing money.)

Nope, this was a showcase for a variety of 2016 NHL Draft hopefuls, including Mathew Tkachuk. Again, Orr’s group edged Cherry’s team by a score of 3-2.

Check out some quick stats at a glance:

The in-game results aren’t as crucial as the overall impressions, so let’s focus on some of the sensory details.

Plenty of scouts were on hand, to say the least:

There were some echoes to past events, as well:

Was this a make-or-break night? Probably not for top prospects such as Tkachuk, but it may have been more important for less obvious players, and it sounds like many made good impressions.