James O'Brien

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

Blackhawks president says Patrick Kane is in ‘a good place right now’


Blackhawks president John McDonough believes that Patrick Kane is “in such a good place right now,” and he doesn’t just mean Chicago.

In a candid interview with the Chicago Tribune, the Blackhawks executive opened up about a 2015-16 season that he believes might have been the most difficult of his career.

As much as falling in the first round to the St. Louis Blues constitutes a “culture shock” for McDonough, the sexual assault allegations Kane faced must have factored into that tough year, even if charges weren’t pursued and the NHL considers the “matter closed.”

McDonough told the Chicago Tribune that Kane is training in Chicago instead of Buffalo by his own choice, and he seems confident that the winger is trending in the right direction.

” … I want him to succeed and not just on the ice,” McDonough said. “He’s in such a good place right now. He looks great, looks clear and healthy. I think he has good relationships and is on a good path.”

(Apparently he’s also slated to move out of Trump Tower into a single-family home, so do with that what you will.)

As of late, the focus has been on Kane’s award-winning regular season and the on-ice chemistry he’s developed with Artemi Panarin.

McDonough touches on plenty of other interesting questions in that Chicago Tribune interview, including the difficult choice to trade Andrew Shaw, so give it a read.

Stars aren’t worried about RFA Nichushkin leaving for Russia

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In most cases, re-signing an RFA like Valeri Nichushkin would seem fairly simple.

That restricted status limits the options of many young free agents, particularly ones who still lean more toward potential than production like Nichushkin so far in his career.

The Dallas Stars face an additional obstacle, however: the Russian forward could theoretically opt to hop to the KHL.

Stars GM Jim Nill brushed off that possibility when asked by the Dallas Morning News’ Mike Heika.

On if he has any concern about Nichushkin going back to Russia

“No, I don’t think so. Val’s over here training and I don’t think there’s that issue. Val wants to be in the NHL and he wants to have a good year this year, so I don’t think that’s possible.”

It’s easy to see why such a question would come up.

Back in March, his agent had to do damage control after the 21-year-old forward vented to Russian news outlet Sport-Express.

To the Stars’ credit, they’ve repeatedly said positive things about Nichushkin, labeling him as a “very important player” after the 2015-16 season ended while Lindy Ruff said plenty of glowing things.

Even so, it’s been a start-and-stop development for Nichushkin, who to some extent needed injuries to get reps during the playoffs. There have been injury issues and healthy scratches over the years.

Looking at these situations, it’s reasonable to wonder if he really would flirt with a departure. The Stars increasingly expensive group of forwards and his RFA status makes you wonder if he’d garner a significant pay raise – and probably a heightened role – if he went overseas.

The Stars say they aren’t concerned, though, for what it’s worth.

Fixing Bob: Blue Jackets seem confident in new consultant


Sure, the Columbus Blue Jackets stemmed some of the injury tide last season after a ridiculous run in 2014-15.

Even so, their most expensive player still can’t seem to stay healthy. Is there anyway to “fix” Sergei Bobrovsky after years of frequent groin injuries?

The Blue Jackets seem confident that consultant Nelson Ayotte can bridge the gap between the team’s medical staff and those responsible for strength and conditioning concerns, as GM Jarmo Kekalainen noted to the Columbus Dispatch.

“Nelson’s going to be evaluating and improving everything, right away,” Kekalainen said. “His impact is going to be felt right away. He’s coming in as a consultant, and Kevin is staying onboard. Together they’re going to improve everybody’s output, not just strength and conditioning but overall performance.”

Ayotte’s referred to as a “high-performance coach.” The role is being sold as a way to improve the way staff works instead of standing as a replacement.

As much as this is about improving the inner-workings of the staff, let’s be honest; the team specifically wants to get more out of their seemingly fragile $7.425 million goalie.

In that regard, Kekalainen said he wants Ayotte and Bobrovsky to get acquainted in “short order.”

Groin injuries rank among the trickier issues – how exactly do you avoid recurring problems there? – but credit Columbus for going the extra mile to try to turn things around.

For more background on Bobrovsky’s issues and how athletes recover from groin injuries, check out this Columbus Dispatch article from February.

Photos from Sidney Crosby’s day with the Stanley Cup


To understate things, it’s been a great summer for Sidney Crosby.

For the second time, he’s a reigning Stanley Cup champion, and he’s trying to savor it even more this time around.

As you can see from the video above, Crosby was parading through the streets of Pittsburgh with the Stanley Cup. He won the Conn Smythe and carried the Cup around during the 2016 NHL Awards.

Friday marks his day with the Cup – the more official sort – and Crosby’s making his country proud. Here are some of the best shots of Crosby doing his Canadian best to share the joy.

Like any self-respecting Canadian, that includes a trip to Tim Horton’s.

His hockey school featured more lucky kids than those onlookers at Tim Horton’s:

The highlight might be this surprise visit, actually:

He really is covering a lot of ground on this fun day:

Such a sprawling trip isn’t keeping Crosby from protecting the sacred trophy, mind you:

Backup plan: Leafs hand Sparks two-way deal


Don’t be surprised if the Toronto Maple Leafs’ goalie duo ends up being Frederik Andersen and Garret Sparks next season.

The Maple Leafs signed Sparks to a one-year, two-way deal on Friday. The two-way nature of that contract gives the Buds a little wiggle room if they aren’t confident that Sparks will stand as their No. 2, but he seems like the right guy at the moment.

His NHL numbers are pedestrian so far, although he made a great first impression by pitching a shutout in his debut.

Other important Sparks notes:

  • That last phrase reminds us that his last name lends itself to many puns and goofy jokes.
  • Sparks has come a long way as a seventh-rounder (190th pick in 2011).
  • He should be required to wear those sweet pads.
  • Sparks made this save:

Yup, pertinent stuff.

A lot has changed in Toronto, and you can see that in net alone, as the Maple Leafs see Sparks and Andersen a season after Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer manned the crease.

The team didn’t disclose financial details, but two-way deals are typically very cap-friendly.