James O'Brien

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

Islanders’ new owners insist Tavares won’t become a free agent


As the ink was drying on Steven Stamkoscontract extension, many joked that Toronto Maple Leaf fans turned their free agent daydreams to John Tavares.

With Tavares’ current hyper-bargain deal not expiring until after the 2017-18 season, that’s a situation that is pretty far off, but the New York Islanders’ new owners seem confident that they’ll avoid that sort of Stamkos drama.

As Lighthouse Hockey and others note, Jon Ledecky said that Tavares “isn’t becoming a free agent” during last weeks town hall meetings.

Those are bold claims, especially since the Islanders can’t even attempt to sign Tavares to an extension until next summer, the year before his deal expires.

Some would look at losing Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen as a blow to the team’s Stanley Cup dreams, even if Andrew Ladd is a solid addition.

However you feel about this specific summer, the new ownership group insists that their checkbook is open, and New York Newsday notes that they’re hoping to roll with the heavyweights in free agency.

“We should be the world-class destination for free agents,” Ledecky said during the meeting. “If you think about a capped world, everybody can spend to the cap, and we certainly have no constraints on our GM and our staff to spend. We want to create and continue to progress toward John Tavares lifting that Stanley Cup, so we should be world-class in everything we do.”

At minimum, Ledecky and Scott Malkin are making an impression, even winning over skeptics like New York Post reporter Larry Brooks, who praises the duo’s attention to detail.

Brooks’ piece is a fascinating peek into the challenges the two face in addressing fans on Long Island and in Brooklyn, noting that Ledecky emphasized that “We’re the New York Islanders.”

Retaining Tavares would be an enormous step in the direction of indeed becoming a world-class destination, and the Isles have time to back up their big words and surround their star with quality support.

If nothing else, Ledecky and Malkin seemed to make a world-class first impression.

So long: Viktor Tikhonov leaves NHL for KHL once again


Viktor Tikhonov returned to the NHL in 2015-16, but it apparently wasn’t meant to be a long stay.

The 28-year-old forward is headed back to SKA in the KHL, as the team announced. Specific contract details are currently unclear.

Tikhonov first left the Coyotes organization after the 2010-11 season, playing for SKA from 2011-12 to 2014-15.

He returned to the league first by playing 11 games for the Chicago Blackhawks before being claimed off of waivers by the Coyotes.

It’s easy to see why he didn’t drum up a lot of interest in the NHL this summer, hockey-famous last name and all. He only managed six points in 39 games with Arizona after failing to generate a single goal or assist in those 11 contests with Chicago.

As much of a treat as it is to see that last name – and for some of us, to grin at Herb Brooks lines from “Miracle” in the process – his return to the KHL seems predictable enough.

Latest NHL 17 trailer reveals new ways opponents will mock you


If you’re brave enough to venture with “NHL 16” or a recent EA Sports game online, you’ve probably been there.

It’s bad enough that your opponent scored a goal against you, but you have to grit your teeth as they spam the same goal celebration over and over.

The bad news is that your opponents will probably score just as many goals against you in “NHL 17.” The good news is that there will be more variety in those goal celebrations.

As you can see from the trailer above, the upcoming edition includes 30 new goal celebrations.

The video emphasizes battles in front of the net, yet the most interesting stuff comes later. Most importantly, goalies might be a little more distinct, as EA Sports touts 40 new “unique stances” for netminders.

A common complaint about polygonal puck-stoppers is that ratings are the only things that seem to change how goalies behave, so perhaps this will amend some of those concerns? Maybe it will even reduce the number of “glitch” or “cheese” goals you’ll face?

(Hey, one can dream.)

For more on that game, check out the initial trailer and talk about the new “Draft Champions” mode. Also, check out EA’s official page and Vladimir Tarsenko discussing being the cover star.

The title is holding a public beta to test the game from July 28 to Aug. 4. The game is scheduled to release on Xbox One and Playstation 4 on Sept. 13.

David Booth: Still tormented by Tortorella


Sometimes it feels like no one is safe from the wrath of John Tortorella.

There was the “absolute stupidity” that led to his lengthy suspension following that unforgettable locker room confrontation with Bob Hartley in 2014. He seems to relish opportunities to criticize players from other teams, particularly members of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

He’s the sort of guy who inspires highlight reels of his “best” and saltiest comments:

The “fiery” coach freely admits that he could get along better with the media.

Long story short, Torts spews venom outward, but his own players encounter the bile as well. David Booth reminded us of as much on Thursday as he recalled his Canucks days:

Amusing stuff.

This seems like a decent excuse to take a trip down memory lane and look at Torts’ best/worst moments. (For the sake of keeping this greatest hits package under three discs, we’ll skip his long-ago Lightning days.)

In Columbus

Tortorella hasn’t been with the Blue Jackets for very long, yet there are rumblings here and there that he’s not gotten along with certain personalities.

Both the Blue Jackets and Ryan Johansen deny that there was a rift with Tortorella, yet the rumors were abundant. If nothing else, it’s clear Torts told Johansen that he felt he was out of shape.

Canucks catastrophe

Torts only coached the Canucks for 67 games, but it was a pretty disastrous time, even beyond the Hartley scream-down. Tortorella has also memorably clashed with Adam Oates (who said he could easily beat him up) and Peter DeBoer over the years, just to name a couple other coaches.

Benching Roberto Luongo during the Heritage Classic likely hastened his departure. Accurate or not, it was a little harsh to label Zack Kassian the way he did in public. There may have been issues with Alex Burrows and there were questions regarding whether Torts “lost the locker room.”

Oh, and remember his tirade toward Jannik Hansen?

Bumpy exit from Big Apple

Torts enjoyed a long run with the New York Rangers. Still, things ended in an even uglier fashion than you usually see when a coach exits a team.

Henrik Lundqvist denied calling for his firing, but reports indicated that multiple Rangers wanted him out. Things got weird with Brad Richards despite his assurances and he deflected questions about how he got along with Marian Gaborik. His back-and-forth with Carl Hagelin was pretty entertaining, too.

Sean Avery seemed to savor Torts’ firing the most, but that’s up to debate.


One can almost picture former Tortorella charges handing each other gifts like Johan Franzen “gave” to Gustav Nyquist in regards to Mike Babcock:

Maybe Booth will hand Brandon Dubinsky something similar, considering the rugged forward’s experiences playing under Torts for the Rangers and now the Blue Jackets?

(H/T to The Score for the Booth tweet.)

Latest development in concussion lawsuit could be bad news for NHL

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The latest development in the concussion-related lawsuit between former players and the NHL could be bad news for the league.

TSN’s Rick Westhead reports that the Chubb Corp., the league’s insurance company, was ordered by Judge Susan Nelson to hand over the players’ medical records (after removing information that would identify individuals).

Westhead believes that reps for the former players sought that information – a request that was initially denied in 2015 – for two main reasons:

1. To see if “the records may shed more light on the prevalence among former players of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other brain-crippling disorders.”

2. In an attempt to determine how much the league and/or insurance company knows about the health situations for those players.

There’s precedent for such legal actions making an impact on cases related to concussions.

Westhead notes that the NFL was forced to release similar information in their case, which may have factored into a decision that resulted in a $1 billion settlement. It was determined that former NFL players were indeed more likely to deal with brain injuries.

Back in April 2015, the link between the NFL and NHL cases seemed beneficial for the former players’ side, as The Star’s Kevin McGran reported.

“This is precedent-setting,” Richard Powers, a sports law expert at the Rotman School of Business, said of the NFL’s settlement. “The claim (by retired NHLers) is almost exactly like the NFL’s.”

Now, that doesn’t mean that the NHL will face the same results as the NFL, especially since this court case could very well face additional twists and turns.

Here’s a quick refresher on some of the other recent developments:

It’s not the sort of situation the league would like to deal with, even if it ends up being in the NHL’s favor once things are finished.