James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Peters and the Hurricanes are closer to contending than you might think

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This is part of Hurricanes day at PHT …

The headlines haven’t been so great for the Carolina Hurricanes as of late.

From owner Peter Karamanos being sued by his sons to the team addressing relocation concerns and a lengthy playoff drought, big-picture issues abound.

Look a little closer, however, and you’ll realize that head coach Bill Peters is brewing something special in Carolina.

Peters prompts promising possession

When you look at various possession metrics, you tend to see the “usual suspects” among the NHL’s best. For one example: Los Angeles ranks as the perennial leader in Corsi Close while 2016 Stanley Cup Finalists Pittsburgh and San Jose finished in the top five this season.

You might be surprised to see the Carolina Hurricanes ranking in or around the top 10 in those stats, but it’s no accident.

TSN’s Travis Yost notes that Carolina has been winning the shot differential battle more and more under Peters:

So, yes, the signs are very encouraging for this Carolina group – a true ‘outsider’ from our usual playoff discussions, but one that could certainly become a problem for contenders within the next season or two. The underlying numbers have grown increasingly encouraging to the point where one would be foolish to consider them as an ‘also ran’.

There are reasons to believe that this group can climb the ladder in 2016-17 and beyond. Peters ranks as one of the big reasons why, as the ‘Canes noted after wisely re-signing him.

“We think we’re right there,” GM Ron Francis said in late July. “We want to get in the playoffs, and we want to have success around here.”

Green on the blueline

The Hurricanes’ young, talented defense corps ranks as their most obvious strength.

Noah Hanifin already has a season under his belt at just 19, and he could be Carolina’s answer to Aaron Ekblad. Justin Faulk, 24, flies under the radar as one of the league’s better scoring defensemen.

Ryan Murphy (23), Jacob Slavin (22) and Brett Pesce (21) have been getting some NHL seasoning lately, yet they’ll need to watch their backs for highly promising prospects Haydn Fleury (19) and Roland McKeown (20).

At 35, Ron Hainsey is the guy who can take these kids under his wing … and maybe tell them about the days of rotary phones and 56K modems.

Scoring by committee

Jeff Skinner led the Hurricanes in 2015-16 with an unremarkable 51 points. On paper, this bunch still seems unlikely to blow out many opponents.

That said, it’s plausible that the ‘Canes may succeed in leveraging the depth they’re building.

GM Ron Francis bolstered their veteran ranks by signing journeyman Lee Stempniak and solid depth guy Viktor Stalberg. Teuvo Teravainen will have every chance to blossom, while Bryan Bickell could rebuild his career.

Much like on D, youth is the biggest reason to be excited about their forwards.

Teravainen is just 21. Victor Rask seems like a core piece at 23 after signing an extension. Elias Lindholm (21) is in that mode where he could make a quantum leap, too. Somehow, eternally boyish winger Jeff Skinner is just 24.

(Jordan Staal isn’t exactly ancient at 27, either.)

Work in progress

Look, this is not to say that the Hurricanes will be sipping champagne from the Stanley Cup in June 2017.

They made the baffling decision to re-sign Cam Ward, walking back some of the feelings of a fresh start. And, yes, it’s true that they lack an elite scorer.

Still, it’s been ages since the Hurricanes even made the playoffs, and they’re closer to that goal than you might think.

Tyler Seguin sounds ready – and excited – for World Cup of Hockey

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It sounds like Tyler Seguin has a great chance at participating in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, and it doesn’t sound like he views that as a chore.

He addressed his health on Saturday, as NHL.com reports.

“[I’m] doing well,” Seguin said. “[It’s been a] bit of a different summer as far as training wise just coming off an injury, but feeling great and looking forward to the World Cup.”

Again, he sounds excited about the experience, as he expects to see “the best of the best” on hand.

Naturally, Seguin is also focused on the Stars’ upcoming season. He believes that the team’s window for a big run just opened up, and he’s probably correct.

(It’s something Jamie Benn discussed while explaining his rationale for re-signing with the Stars.)

Tournaments like these probably get fans and teams a touch nervous about a player rushing back. That’s especially reasonable since one could argue that Seguin wasn’t really ready to return during the 2016 playoffs.

On the other hand, it’s a rare treat to see “the best of the best” compete before the season starts, so don’t blame Seguin for being enthusiastic.

Read more from Seguin at NHL.com.

Wayne Gretzky’s rookie card auctions off for record $465K

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In true Wayne Gretzky fashion, his rookie card auctioned off for a record that vastly outpaces any other hockey card.

Gretzky’s 1979 O-Pee-Chee card was auctioned off for $465K to an anonymous buyer on Thursday, according to the CBC and other outlets.

NHL.com notes that one big distinction was that the card was in mint condition. This blows away a previous mark, also set by a Gretzky card, which went for a little less than $100K in 2011.

Here’s what the card looks like:

The back of the card looks like this, and really makes the whole thing that much more charming:

As with any mention of a card drawing big auctions, people look back to their younger days, when they wished they kept better care of the things:

Hey, even Wayne couldn’t win them all.

(H/T to NHL.com)

Coyotes are open to making a deal to break up ‘logjam’ on defense

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Judging by some of this off-season’s big moves, having “too many defensemen” is a problem most NHL teams would love to have.

The Arizona Coyotes seem loaded with options on the blueline, and that might just prompt them to make a trade, something new GM John Chayka admitted to the Arizona Republic.

“Anything can happen in camp, too, so you go from having some depth to potentially being a little lean pretty quickly in this league,” Chayka said. “We see it as a strength. If there’s an opportunity to deal from strength, then we’ll do that. But if there’s a move that makes sense for everybody and it certainly appears there’s a logjam right now, we’re open to improving our group and continuing to find a solution that makes everyone better.”

Interesting.

McLellan notes that the Coyotes view their top four defensemen as a combination of Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Michael Stone and Connor Murphy.

The depth spots are where things get interesting. Arizona’s available options include Luke Schenn, Zbynek Michalek, Kevin Connauton, Klas Dahlbeck, Anthony DeAngelo, Jamie McBain and eventually Jarred Tinordi.

(And that’s assuming that 2016 first-round pick Jakob Chychrun doesn’t push for an immediate jump to the NHL …)

Those defensemen have their flaws here and there, but almost every one of those depth names is marketable in some way or another.

It wouldn’t be shocking if the cost-conscious Coyotes pitched one of those guys to a GM whose team gets hit hard with early pre-season or regular season injuries.

One can debate the notion that Max Domi‘s being a little hasty in pumping up Arizona’s playoff potential. Either way, it really feels like the Coyotes are building something interesting in the desert, and part of that comes down to buying up supplies in an area of heavy demand.

Could your team use one of those guys?

It’s New York Rangers day at PHT

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When it comes to viewing the New York Rangers, it all comes down to expectations.

For a team that isn’t that far removed from some deep playoff runs, being little more than first-round fodder was a bitter pill to swallow. That’s what happened in 2015-16; they finished third in the Metropolitan Division and were dismissed from the postseason after five games.

On the other hand, they managed 101 standings points and lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

They’ve also only missed the playoffs once since 2005-06 and won at least one round in all but two of those postseason runs.

Henrik Lundqvist‘s expectations parallel his team’s outlook. On one hand, he’s expensive and seemingly on a mild decline. To counter, that decline simply means slipping from all-world to merely very good, and it isn’t crazy to imagine a few more glory runs.

In other words, the good outweighs the bad … but will that be good enough?

Off-season recap

The Rangers’ off-season didn’t get off to a great start.

After a humbling playoff series vs. Pittsburgh, New York had to let Keith Yandle go for peanuts. More than a few Rangers fans are upset that the team is still paying big bucks for Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. Dan Boyle retired, while new additions Nick Holden and Adam Clendening aren’t likely to be more than bit players (if New York is lucky).

It’s not all gloom and doom, though.

The Rangers made nice bargain additions in Michael Grabner and Nathan Gerbe, while the bold Mika ZibanejadDerick Brassard trade could be a very nice win. The deals for Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes seem like fantastic values to boot.

Can a solid set of mostly prime-aged forwards combine with a legendary goalie to overcome a shabby-looking defense? We’ll dive deep into this team’s strengths and weaknesses on this fine Tuesday.