James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Neely: Bruins aim to sign Marchand to extension before season begins

If you want to be a core member of an NHL team, it almost feels like a contract year comes one season earlier than it does for fringe players.

Naturally, there are some players who straddle that line, and they may feel as if they face two contract years.

The reasoning is simple: teams can re-sign a player with a season remaining on a current contract, so important pieces often nab extensions at almost the first opportunity. It sounds like the Boston Bruins would prefer to go that route with Brad Marchand.

Cam Neely said as much during an appearance on CSN’s Great American Hockey Show podcast.

“We’d like to get Brad signed. We’ve made that clear to him, and we’ve made that clear to his agency. I know (GM Don Sweeney) has been working with their group to a get a deal done,” Neely said. “We’d like to get something done before the start of the season.”

Risk and reward

Of course, the Bruins and Marchand must find the right compromise regarding timing and value.

During Bruins day, PHT broke down the many variables that factor into what Marchand’s contract might look like. It’s possible that the pesky-yet-talented winger might want a lengthy contract coming in at $7 million per season, which would nudge him ahead of elite two-way center Patrice Bergeron.

As that post asked, would the Bruins really make that kind of commitment to a guy whose mischief occasionally outweighs his production?

Marchand’s side

In case you’re wondering, Marchand’s more or less said all the right things about contract negotiations without really tipping his hand.

Another big season could generate an even bigger financial windfall for Marchand than signing early, but his pugnacious style might also elevate the risk of injuries or suspensions. Missing time would make his breakthrough 2015-16 season (37 goals, 60 points) look like more of an outlier.

To some extent, it’s a game of chicken for Marchand in particular: do you possibly take less money for more security or swing for the financial fences?

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Barring a major injury or other unexpected circumstances, the 28-year-old is virtually assured a huge raise from his bargain $4.5 million cap hit. It merely boils down to how much money, how many years and where he’ll end up.

Report: NHL explores new way to remove concussed players from games

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When a sports league introduces a measure to cut down on concussions, it’s become a reflex to ask “Yeah, but does that rule have any teeth?”

More specifically, in the heat of competition, will a rule force a team to choose a player’s long-term health over the short-term goal of trying to win a game … especially if said player wants to get back into the action?

That’s a tough task, but Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that the NHL will likely add a measure that might help: “central spotters.”

In addition to on-site concussion spotters, Friedman reports that four “central spotters” will monitor all NHL games on TV. They will – allegedly – have the power to remove a player from a game if they notice that said player displays “visible signs of a concussion,” according to Friedman.

Friedman believes there’s “no question” that the tweak stems in part from the fallout of Dennis Wideman‘s controversial collision with linesman Don Henderson:

Friedman explains how a concussion spotter with more agency might have made a difference:

Evidence in the various hearings indicated the in-arena spotter had asked for Wideman to be removed from the game, but Wideman declined when approached by Calgary trainers. Later, Wideman admitted he did suffer a concussion, which led to a reduction in his penalty.

Interestingly, another inspiration might be the murmurs around the NFL surrounding the risks Cam Newton may have been exposed to during the league’s regular season opener on Thursday.

Plenty of onlookers would agree that both leagues have … room for improvement in this area.

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Now, there are some potential questions that come with the “central spotters.”

Most pressingly, how will trainers watching a TV have any more power than in-house spotters, who were possibly ignored in cases like that of Wideman?

In a more esoteric way, you wonder if technology or human error could also factor in. What if something’s just flat-out missed, particularly on the type of evenings where there are multiple games going on at once?

Friedman reports that the league is likely to announce additional details – assuming the idea goes through – so perhaps we’ll have more answers then.

(H/T to The Hockey News.)

Carey Price admits first game back was an ‘adventure’

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Of course it wasn’t going to be easy for Carey Price to play for the first time in about 10 months, especially in a “best vs. best” format.

He isn’t in denial about facing some turbulence in Canada’s 4-2 exhibition loss to the United States from Friday, either.

“It was a little bit of an adventure at times, but I kind of expected that,” Price said, according to Sportsnet. “It’s not easy to be out for that long and just pick it up right away. I knew there was going to be some work to do, but I’m glad to get that one over with.”

Yes, he probably wasn’t too happy with some of the goals he allowed, like this Patrick Kane tally:

(Kane even said he’d probably want that one back, as NHL.com notes.)

It’s not fair to lay it all on Price – even if that might be a reflex from how much the Montreal Canadiens often expect of him – as he faced a flurry of shots in the first period. Some of that is on the nasty tempo of Friday’s game and the level of competition.

Price has the right perspective on what this was: an opportunity to shake off the rust when the stakes are lower.

“The third period I started to feel good finally,” Price said, via NHL.com. “I wasn’t going in there expecting to play like I was in the middle of November. It was nice to get my feet wet and move on.”

And, hey, it gives people a chance to warm up their jokes as well.

2016 World Cup of Hockey – Saturday’s exhibition games

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Want a quick rundown of Saturday’s three 2016 World Cup of Hockey exhibition games? You’re in luck.

Russia at Czech Republic (10:30 a.m. ET, on ESPN3, Sportsnet, TVA Sports)

Team Russia took the first game (4-3 score) between the two on Thursday. We get another reminder of Alex Ovechkin and the rest of Russia’s formidable fleet of forwards.

With Vladimir Sobotka banged up, the Czechs might limp through this game:

Finland at Sweden (noon ET on ESPN3, Sportsnet, TVA Sports)

Finland won round one between these rivals by a score of 3-2. One of the stories to follow comes in Finland’s net, as Tuukka Rask might take Pekka Rinne‘s spot this time around and may face Henrik Lundqvist on the other end.

This contest may jog your memory about Sweden’s ridiculous wealth of defense, by the way. The mass of blueliners might help:

U.S. at Canada (7 p.m. ET, on ESPN3, Sportsnet, TVA Sports)

More than just an exhibition game. Maybe more than a little unfriendly. Possibly more on this later today.

For even more on the contests, check below:

Toews, Crosby, Kane discuss that nasty U.S. – Canada exhibition

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When given a chance to say nasty things about that nasty 4-2 loss against the U.S., Canadian players mostly refused to take the bait.

Jonathan Toews probably said the most, admitting that matches between the two countries are “not just any exhibition games” to many players.

“Without saying too much, I think there were a couple of borderline hits there where our guys were put in some awkward positions and there’s not much you can do there,” Toews said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “The one on Weber was the right call there. We just have to try and protect ourselves and expect that the officials are going to do what they have to do. We have no problem with the chippiness and the physical play (but) it doesn’t matter where you’re playing, I think you always have to respect the player when he has his back to you.”

Toews’ phrasing was the key there, really, as those were the closest you could find to “explosive” comments considering the attitudes displayed on the ice.

As this TSN mash-up of comments suggests, the likes of Toews, Sidney Crosby and Carey Price were pretty guarded about handing out inflammatory bulletin board material.

Even so, Crosby did acknowledge some “late hits” while Price nodded to moments that “crossed the line.” Player seemed to appreciate that they stood up for each other, including situations where Shea Weber was the recipient and the aggressor of some “chippy” play.

U.S. players aren’t oblivious to the obvious heat between the two teams, as NHL.com reports.

“When the U.S. plays Canada, you’re going to get that type of game whether it’s an exhibition, preliminary game, semifinal or final; you’re going to find yourself in that situation in this rivalry,” Patrick Kane said.

In that case, it should be that much more interesting to watch how the two teams behave in another exhibition tonight. Perhaps the most important note is that there reportedly won’t be any additional discipline heading into the warm-up: