James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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McDavid says Lucic gives Oilers ‘that swagger’

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Sure, being close to home doesn’t hurt, but Milan Lucic cited Connor McDavid‘s presence in Edmonton as a big reason why he signed with the Oilers.

” … To have that opportunity to play with a player like that doesn’t come around so often,” Lucic said of McDavid.

It’s to the point where Lucic almost looked like a run-of-the-mill fan himself:

The good news for Lucic and the Oilers: the feeling seems mutual.

McDavid expressed his excitement to NHL.com that Edmonton added a big, intimidating presence earlier this week.

“It means so much,” McDavid said. “It kind of gives us that swagger, that meanness that we have been looking for …”

The towering winger does tend to make an impression. Just consider what happened in his first game with the Los Angeles Kings:

He also gave Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse something of a welcome to the NHL, as this was the blueliner’s first fight:

Look, in a brutal sport like hockey, just about everyone wants to be feared. Just look at the Montreal Canadiens’ polarizing off-season direction.

When the adrenaline wears off after a big hit or violent fight, fans will want to see results on the scoreboard and in the standings. It remains to be seen if the Oilers truly made strides in that regard during a summer of change.

On the bright side, their wunderkind star and expensive new addition are at least on the same page.

Patrick Eaves bests big hockey names at Smashfest V

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Ping Pong. Beards. Hockey players making funny faces in street clothes. And it’s all to benefit charitable organizations.

Dominic Moore‘s Smashfest V took place on Thursday, with Patrick Eaves and his freakish facial hair taking the top prize for the second year in a row.

Here’s a shot from the happy, bearded winner from the NHLPA:

(His loved ones must be thrilled that this isn’t merely a playoff look for Eaves, by the way.)

This shot of Jeff Skinner and his “most improved” award is just too fitting.

It’s not yet clear exactly how much money was raised for charity, but this is a sign that the event was probably … well, a smash success.

Good stuff. Here’s a random hodgepodge of other photos from the event.

Bonus points to Hall of Famer Eric Lindros for the “beer in other hand” form:

Alex Burrows fell to Eaves in the final round. Seems OK about it:

Antoine Roussel was probably not being a pest on this occasion. We can’t be totally certain, however.

Looks like it was a good time for all.

Habs add brawn by handing Bobby Farnham a two-way deal

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Are the Montreal Canadiens a better team after this off-season?

That’s up to debate, but there’s no denying the notion that they’re trying to become more physically imposing.

Friday presented the latest example of that emphasis, as the Habs handed tough guy Bobby Farnham a one-year, two-way contract.

This follows the trend of exchanging star defenseman P.K. Subban for hard-hitting star* blueliner Shea Weber and moving Lars Eller for Andrew Shaw.

Elliotte Friedman mentioned in a recent “30 Thoughts” roundup that a Canadiens player said management views players as “soft, physically and mentally.”

Farnham inspires criticisms in his play, but anyone calling him soft might lose some teeth.

Again, none of this guarantees that the Canadiens will be better next season. A lot of that likely rides on Carey Price‘s health as much as anything else.

For better or worse, the way things are looking, they’ll force opponents to use a few more ice packs per night.

* – Though some might debate calling Weber a “star” at this point. These situations … get messy, don’t they?

Sabres, NHL respond to Evander Kane’s situation

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It seems like both the NHL and Buffalo Sabres are taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to Evander Kane facing charges related to a June incident at a bar.

Unlike Sabres GM Tim Murray expressing frustration with Kane shortly following the alleged incident, Buffalo’s release didn’t really share much emotion.

Here’s the short release:

Again, the NHL seems comfortable with following a simple path.

The Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington points out that the league often waits until situations go through legal processes before deciding to do anything in-house.

Long story short, this is still a fluid situation. For more, check out this post from earlier on Friday.

Kris Versteeg headlines wave of players leaving NHL, going overseas

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Some will remember him for the goals. Others will cherish the two Stanley Cups he won with the Chicago Blackhawks. Maybe there’s some company in grinning at memories of his funny hair.

However you think of Kris Versteeg, it sounds like you won’t see him as an NHL player in 2015-16.

TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that Versteeg is expected to sign with Bern of the Swiss League this weekend:

Versteeg is the biggest of three names slated to play overseas instead of the NHL.

Andre Benoit is going to play for Malmo in Sweden while Versteeg’s former Blackhawks teammate Kyle Cumiskey is also Sweden-bound, as he got a gig with AIK.

These players have seen better days, whether a free agent squeeze made a difference or not. It’s often a little sad to see them go, even if it makes sense (especially with a struggling player like Cumiskey).

It’s especially sad to see Versteeg leave, and not just because he seemed to have the most left in the tank: