James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Bartkowski ranks among free agents twisting in the wind

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It says a lot about the bone-dry free agent market that Jason Brough’s five bargains from July 4 could be reused on August 1.

Things must be rough for Radim Vrbata and the four other poor souls, but what about guys who fly significantly lower on the radar?

Give Matt Bartkowski‘s agent Stephen Reich credit; he remained optimistic about his client’s chances in this story from the Vancouver Province’s Jeff Paterson.

“Some teams are definitely interested, but it’ll likely happen closer to the end of summer,” Reich said.

“I’m confident we’ll find a home for him and a place to play. In the meantime, I think the wedding and the honeymoon have both been nice distractions.”

That last sentence is a reminder that, for all the analysis about Bartkowski – and Paterson expertly lays out the pros and cons of his game – there’s a human being dealing with real worries here.

As rough as this postseason must be for the Vrbatas of the world,* Bartkowski faces more of a career-survival-level question.

At 28, he’s still at or around his hockey prime. Still, players best suited for bottom pairing or even seventh defenseman spots have to wonder if they’ll need to ply their trade part-time in the AHL or overseas.

Reich told the Vancouver Province that he believes Bartkowski can land a one-way deal, but who knows?

We’ve seen quality players take a gamble in signing PTOs in years past, and this summer’s market is one of the worst in some time.

Jamie Benn never considered leaving the Dallas Stars

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When a team signs a player to an extension at the earliest possible moment, it’s quite the gesture. You can look at it as an unofficial way of a team considering that guy a member of their “core.”

It can also say a lot about how a player feels about a team, even if their options are often more limited by the CBA and other concerns.

For Jamie Benn, going long-term with the Dallas Stars was a no-brainer, as he explained to the Dallas Morning News on Sunday.

“I didn’t have even one thought of leaving this place,” Benn said. “I fell in love with Dallas, Texas ever since I got down here [in 2009]. I have all the belief in [Stars general manager] Jim Nill and the coaching staff around here that we’re going to do something special.”

Sure, there are issues.

The defense still leaves a lot to be desired and the team is spending $10.4 million per year for what’s been a mediocre goaltending duo.

Still, the positives are as obvious as the heat during a Texas summer.

Deep in the heart of their prime years

Tyler Seguin is signed dirt-cheap for three more seasons and is, somehow, just 24. John Klingberg is one year younger and locked down for a bargain rate for five seasons.

The Stars also see veterans whose deals are mostly on the short end, meaning Nill enjoys some flexibility in building around this Benn-fueled core.

Oh yeah, it probably doesn’t hurt that he’ll see more of that $76 million thanks to the whole “no state income tax” thing.

Don’t forget the great food and mild winters.

It sort of sounds like the amenities you’d highlight during a tour, right?

Anyway, Benn is reasonable in believing that the best years are coming up. Honestly, it’s difficult to imagine this team failing to at least contend barring some catastrophic mismanagement or bad luck.

The more likely scenario involves the Stars pushing for deep playoff runs, and Benn being integral to those successes.

The Dallas Morning News has even more from Benn here.

Barrie has ‘no hard feelings’ toward Avalanche after arbitration, signing

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Some likely believe that agreeing to a four-year contract signals the end of drama between the Colorado Avalanche and Tyson Barrie.

There have been cases in which similar deals represent little more than brief reprieves, however.

Look at the Toronto Maple Leafs. Both Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf will play out the meat of their latest contracts on other teams, not all that far removed from hashing out agreements with the Leafs.

Barrie buries the hatchet

With that in mind, hurt feelings could still conceivably factor into Barrie’s future with the Avalanche … but he sounded upbeat about the future while discussing the situation with the Denver Post.

“Looking back now, it was an experience. I feel like I’m a better person for it,” Barrie said. ” … I’m ready to move past this and move on and have a good relationship going forward. There are no hard feelings on my side. I’m looking forward to joining the guys in September.”

In other words, it doesn’t sound like this will become a repeat of the Ryan O'Reilly disaster.

Ball remains in Avs’ court

Granted, the 25-year-old didn’t exactly describe salary arbitration as a breezy, jovial experience. Still, he told the Denver Post that he believes that Colorado won’t hold a grudge, either.

The Avalanche didn’t provide a canned quote praising Barrie in their initial press release on the signing. Perhaps Joe Sakic will share his thoughts during this coming week?

Contract details often trickle in later on in the process, yet it’s interesting that there’s no clarification regarding Barrie receiving a no-trade or no-movement clause. Plenty of players have waived those clauses or provided teams they’d be willing to join in the past, but it would be interesting to see if Barrie received that extra bit of leverage.

(Note: he’d likely only be eligible for a NTC in the last year of his deal, anyway.)

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For what it’s worth, Barrie told the Denver Post that he realizes that he needs to improve on defense; he wants to “be relied upon to play against the top lines every night.”

As is, Barrie’s already a tough guy to trade. If he can make gains in his own zone, the Avalanche would look downright crazy not to keep him around.

Damage control or lost in translation? Klefbom clarifies Hall critique

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Situations like these are becoming familiar to the point of resembling tropes.

First, a player says something brash, usually to a foreign outlet.

Next, people pick up on it and the drama boils to a froth.

Finally, said player either backtracks or clears the air, depending upon whom or what you believe.

It’s happening again in the case of Edmonton Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom critiquing Taylor Hall‘s big-game credentials … or not.

To catch you up to speed, people believed that Klefbom claimed that Hall didn’t play his best hockey against tougher teams, at least according to an interview per hockeysverige.se.

That same outlet gave Klefbom an opportunity to clarify/backpedal – again, it’s down to who you believe – and the Edmonton Journal passed along his updated feelings with help from this imperfect translation:

Klefbom’s statement that Taylor Hall is not performed equally well against the best teams in the league, he meant was more of the team’s players.

– “It’s not that it was only Taylor, but everyone, including myself. The reason we have not taken us to the playoffs is that there are too many players who have underperformed when it is really needed.”

As the Edmonton Journal notes, it’s still probably fair to say that Klefbom believes the trade is a win … especially for him, as Adam Larsson is a fellow Swede who can bolster the blueline (maybe even pairing with Klefbom).

It’s ultimately one of those “He said I said but I didn’t say it”-type scenarios, and it only matters so much.

But, sure, it adds an extra pinch of spice to the Oilers’ visit to New Jersey on Jan. 7 and Hall’s first game as an away player in Edmonton on Jan. 12.

For a little more, check out the Edmonton Journal’s take.

More fun with damage control

Andrei Kostitsyn’s lockout comments

Teemu Selanne wishes he didn’t bash Bruce Boudreau

Michal Neuvirth, Roman Hamrlik, awkward times

Etem, Canucks clearly had a blast at Vancouver Pride parade

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The Vancouver Canucks, and especially Emerson Etem, really embraced Sunday’s Vancouver Pride parade.

As in, they didn’t just hand off a tweet or two. Etem, Canucks mascot Finn and others were on hand and … they seemed like they had a blast.

(It’s the sort of thing that might even get an out-of-touch blogging fellow to sign up for that newfangled Snapchat contraption. There was some great stuff on the team’s “vancanucks” account.)

It’s tough to top Etem’s participation:

thank you to everyone showing support! getting super rowdy at the Vancouver #prideparade #selfiesunday

A post shared by Emerson Etem (@etemerson) on

… Not to say that Finn wasn’t out in full, furry force:

OK, OK. So maybe Canada’s Prime Minister stole the show a little:

Again, much of the team was involved with or embraced the event:

Well done, Canucks.