James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Wild woes: Parise in limbo, Granlund out at least four games

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The Minnesota Wild don’t have a lot of players on the shelf, but they sure have a lot of money sidelined as they struggle early in 2017-18.

For one thing, even as his game starts to sag with age, it’s not the greatest sign when Zach Parise needs to insist that he’s not dealing with a back issue (via Dave Mizutani of the Pioneer Press). Whatever it might be, it’s not the greatest sign for the 33-year-old and the team that could use him, whether he’s declining or not.

Things aren’t looking good for Mikael Granlund at the moment, either, as head coach Bruce Boudreau ruled him out for at least the Wild’s next four games.

As a note, the Wild face a fairly tough stretch soon. Since Boudreau said “for sure,” it could be for more than those four, so here’s the rest of their October schedule:

Thu, Oct 12 @ Chicago
Sat, Oct 14 vs Columbus
Fri, Oct 20 @ Winnipeg
Sat, Oct 21 @ Calgary
Tue, Oct 24 vs Vancouver
Thu, Oct 26 vs NY Islanders
Sat, Oct 28 vs Pittsburgh
Tue, Oct 31 vs Winnipeg

Four games (or so) would actually be reasonably logical, what with the Wild closing out the month at home. Granlund can avoid travel; even at 25, it might be helpful not to get on a plane, particularly if he has a leg/groin issue.

Either way, Granlund’s issue might be more frustrating for the player and his team than what Parise is going through. The rising forward avoided salary arbitration this past summer with a three-year contract that carries a $5.75 million cap hit, so he’s likely eager to show that he’s worth the money (and more).

MORE: Wild salary cap outlook after they signed Granlund

It doubly stings since he finally broke through in 2016-17; Granlund enjoyed career-highs in goals (26), assists (43), points (69), and saw his shooting percentage go above 10 for the first time (14.7).

Everything seemed to come together last season, prompting Granlund to state that the Wild were in a great position to exorcise some playoff demons in 2017-18.

Not having the gifted Granlund and the still-useful Parise in the lineup hurts, but the Wild can only see that excuse go so far, especially in a Central Division where they banged-up St. Louis Blues have won their first three games despite an imposing list of issues.

Video: Penguins visit Donald Trump, White House with Stanley Cup

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The Pittsburgh Penguins made their polarizing trip with the Stanley Cup to the White House on Tuesday, drawing plenty of criticism on Twitter.

You can watch video of that visit, and Donald’s Trump’s jokes (including a bit on NAFTA), in the clip above. (There’s also this raw footage, which you can skip at least halfway through as a big chunk boils down to “coming soon” type messages.)

Apparently Trump made a reference to Phil Kessel‘s talented sister Amanda at one point:

The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers were referenced, too.

People pay attention to how people shake hands with Trump, and this situation was no different:

As of this writing, the Penguins haven’t tweeted about the visit from their official account. It doesn’t sound like the Penguins presented Trump with his last name and 45 on it, either.

The Athletic’s Josh Yohe notes that Penguins players opted against speaking with the media after the ceremony. Instead, head coach Mike Sullivan reiterated that the visit is “not political.”

Sullivan also said he would have no issue with players kneeling during the anthem, addressing the other political issue that’s spilled into the sport.

Perhaps the Penguins will get a new nickname for Kris Letang out of this?

Here’s a longer video of the speech:

More pucks and politics

J.T. Brown raises fist during anthem, then explains decision

Penguins make controversial decision to accept White House invitation.

Donald Trump tweets about their visit.

Auston Matthews and others on kneeling.

Ho-Sang, Okposo also weigh in.

Matt Duchene doesn’t take comments from ‘hero’ Peter Forsberg personally

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Imagine if someone you idolized – the kind of person whose posters might have been up in your room* – one day said that you should be “benched and traded.”

Maybe Peter Forsberg’s tone wasn’t harsh in a Swedish interview about Matt Duchene, but it all seemed like the latest unpleasant moment for a player who went from Colorado Avalanche fan to a key player for the Avs.

Consider that Duchene is also being shopped by Avs GM Joe Sakic, surely one of his other childhood hockey idols.

If nothing else, Duchene continues to take the high road, even if some statements resonant a little better than “here to honor my contract.” As NHL.com’s Amalie Benjamin reports, Duchene didn’t fan the flames when it came to Foppa’s comments, backing up that he looked up to Forsberg as a kid.

“I don’t think it was meant to be anything personal,” Duchene said. “He and I have a great relationship. I’m not taking it personally. I think he’s just commenting on a situation. A lot can get lost in translation too.”

And, hey, it doesn’t hurt that Duchene and the Avalanche are off to a nice start.

Despite beginning the season with three straight road games, the Avalanche are 2-1-0. Duchene scored a goal and an assist in his first contest and created a lot of offense in his second. He was quieter in his third, but the Avs beat the Boston Bruins 4-0, so there likely weren’t many complaints.

In Benjamin’s piece, you’ll note praise from Jared Bednar and that Duchene said it’s fun to be the older guy in Colorado (and he also believes that his line is creating some serious chances).

At this point, it’s easy to tip your hat to Duchene. All signs point to him playing hard and having a good attitude, at least outwardly.

Maybe some of his heroes – whether it be Forsberg, Sakic, or someone else – could do him a solid and say something a little more positive about him? Such a gesture could be beneficial for everyone, really.

* – This doesn’t apply if you had a bunch of muscle car posters, unless you’re in a “Knight Rider” reboot.

Report: Islanders will play at Barclays next season, arena hopes lie at Belmont

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Arena talks are only slightly more enjoyable than talking about taxes, but they also happen to be crucial for NHL teams. Just ask anyone involved in the John Tavares negotiations.

Tuesday brought some interesting developments in both regards for the New York Islanders, although the Tavares update wasn’t exactly … detailed.

First, let’s pull off the Band-Aid with the arena stuff, as Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky spoke to the media today. For one thing, the Islanders will play at the Barclays Center in 2018-19, according to what Ledecky told reporters including Jim Baumbach of Newsday and Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post.

While more than one possibility has been discussed regarding a possible arena solution, Ledecky made it clear to reporters that an arena at Belmont Park is the focus.

Baumbach notes that Ledecky joins NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in shooting down any notion of the Islanders returning to Nassau Coliseum.

Interesting, but not surprising, to see the “NHL wouldn’t approve it” note.

Finally, GM Garth Snow provided a terse (but positive) update on the Tavares talks:

Well, alrighty then. It’s widely believed that Tavares wants some assurances about the Islanders playing in a stable spot before he commits to a new contract, and it’s plausible that the team’s successes or failures in 2017-18 could also make an impact on his decision.

The Islanders are currently 1-1-1, and won’t see their (temporary) home at the Barclays Center much for the time being, as this schedule analysis post discusses. They begin an especially tough road trip on Wednesday:

Wed, Oct 11 @ Anaheim
Sat, Oct 14 @ San Jose
Sun, Oct 15 @ Los Angeles
Thu, Oct 19 @ NY Rangers

Long story short, the Islanders face hurdles in both the short and long-term, so don’t blame Snow even if “excellent” might be a mild exaggeration regarding the Tavares talks.

And, of course, “excellent” only really matters if he eventually re-signs. It could be months until the Islanders and other bidders get some clarity regarding building near Belmont Park, a notion this post explores in greater detail.

So the Islanders’ arena and Tavares sagas may both have some twists up ahead.

Challenges for Penguins and Caps, Opportunity for Rangers: Metro in October

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If the Metropolitan Division isn’t the best division in the NHL once again, it probably still ranks as the most prominent.

You have the repeat defending champions in the Pittsburgh Penguins going toe-to-toe with the Washington Capitals, who’ve won consecutive Presidents’ Trophies. The New York Rangers are fixtures in the playoffs, and the Columbus Blue Jackets are aiming to join them. The Carolina Hurricanes hope to push one of those teams out of such status. Meanwhile, both the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils are making strong cases for their rebuilds being ahead of schedule, while the New York Islanders hover as an intriguing wild card.

Check out the Atlantic Division outlook here, this Central Division outlook, and the Pacific Division one in this post.

Also, for an in-depth preview for the Metro, check here.

Carolina (beat Wild in season-opener at home)

Schedule

Tue, Oct 10 vs Columbus
Sat, Oct 14 @ Winnipeg
Tue, Oct 17 @ Edmonton
Thu, Oct 19 @ Calgary
Sat, Oct 21 @ Dallas
Tue, Oct 24 vs Tampa Bay
Thu, Oct 26 @ Toronto
Fri, Oct 27 vs St. Louis
Sun, Oct 29 vs Anaheim

After a slow start with their season beginning at home on Saturday, things get tougher on the weekend, following Tuesday’s game. (One must wonder if the young Hurricanes really enjoy the way this schedule fell, at least to begin.)

Beginning with that road game against the Jets, they’ll play four in a row and five of six away from Carolina. Stretching into November, they’ll play eight of 12 on the road from Oct. 14 – Nov. 10. There’s also a lengthy road trip in early December, so the Hurricanes might need to work through some self-doubt early.

On the bright side, the Hurricanes only have one back-to-back in October. Even a young team can appreciate that.

(Justin Williams doubly appreciates it.)

Columbus (Won opener at home, lost on the road to Chicago)

Schedule

Tue, Oct 10 @ Carolina
Fri, Oct 13 vs NY Rangers
Sat, Oct 14 @ Minnesota
Tue, Oct 17 @ Winnipeg
Thu, Oct 19 vs Tampa Bay
Sat, Oct 21 vs Los Angeles
Wed, Oct 25 vs Buffalo
Fri, Oct 27 vs Winnipeg
Sat, Oct 28 @ St. Louis
Mon, Oct 30 vs Boston

The road and home games seem like a reasonable mix. While they’re currently on a stretch of four of five games on the road counting that loss at the United Center to the Blackhawks, they’ll then play four straight and five of six at home.

Following that, they’ll open November with a three-game road trip.

They do face two back-to-back sets, so they’ll want to rest up between home games on Oct. 21 and Oct. 25.

New Jersey (handily won first two games  [one at home, one on the road])

Schedule

Wed, Oct 11 @ Toronto
Fri, Oct 13 vs Washington
Sat, Oct 14 @ NY Rangers
Tue, Oct 17 vs Tampa Bay
Thu, Oct 19 @ Ottawa
Fri, Oct 20 vs San Jose
Fri, Oct 27 vs Ottawa
Sat, Oct 28 vs Arizona

Sort of an odd start to the season for the Devils, as things are spaced out but New Jersey also faces three back-to-back sets in October alone. They might want to hope that the Senators are in a rut, as two of those sets feature single contests against the Sens.

Getting a week between the second and third back-to-back sets should help navigate some of the fatigue, which might make one stretch (Oct. 17 vs. Lighting plus a back-to-back on Oct. 19 and Oct. 20) tougher.

November’s likely the bigger concern, as it begins with seven of 10 games on the road.

Islanders (1-1-1 start, one road vs. two home games)

Schedule

Wed, Oct 11 @ Anaheim
Sat, Oct 14 @ San Jose
Sun, Oct 15 @ Los Angeles
Thu, Oct 19 @ NY Rangers
Sat, Oct 21 vs San Jose
Tue, Oct 24 vs Arizona
Thu, Oct 26 @ Minnesota
Sat, Oct 28 @ Nashville
Mon, Oct 30 vs Vegas

As you can see, the Islanders face some challenges, with their upcoming four-game road trip including a three-game tour of California. They also play six of their next eight away.

The Islanders only have one back-to-back in October, so there could be some “Yes!” chants if they fare well through this stretch.

Their schedule is relatively mild for a while, so it’s on this team to gain traction. That’s still a work in progress.

Rangers (Lost two of three, two of three games were at MSG)

Schedule

Tue, Oct 10 vs St. Louis
Fri, Oct 13 @ Columbus
Sat, Oct 14 vs New Jersey
Tue, Oct 17 vs Pittsburgh
Thu, Oct 19 vs NY Islanders
Sat, Oct 21 vs Nashville
Mon, Oct 23 vs San Jose
Thu, Oct 26 vs Arizona
Sat, Oct 28 @ Montreal
Tue, Oct 31 vs Vegas

Wow, what an opportunity for the Rangers.

Counting the three games they’ve already played, October is a home-packed month for the Rangers. Ten of their 13 October games take place at Madison Square Garden, including a six-game homestand beginning this coming weekend. Aside from winning their last game, the main plus of their bumpy start is that none of those losses came against Metro rivals.

Scanning their big-picture schedule, some of the heavier road runs seem concentrated in late January and beyond, so the Rangers would benefit from a strong start to 2017-18 (even if they’ve had a recent history of being a good-to-great traveling team).

Philadelphia (2-1-0, with all three games on the road)

Schedule

Tue, Oct 10 @ Nashville
Sat, Oct 14 vs Washington
Tue, Oct 17 vs Florida
Thu, Oct 19 vs Nashville
Sat, Oct 21 vs Edmonton
Tue, Oct 24 vs Anaheim
Thu, Oct 26 @ Ottawa
Sat, Oct 28 @ Toronto
Mon, Oct 30 vs Arizona

The Flyers are already showing promise in the standings, but when you consider that every game’s been on the road, these upstarts look especially intriguing so far.

(It’s noticeable that they’ve fired at least 31 shots on goal in all three contests and kept two of three opponents under 30, to boot.)

This four-game road trip wraps up with a significant challenge: beating a winless, angry Predators team playing its first home contest of 2017-18. If they can get a point or even a win out of that, then this is quite the start.

They can put a lot of energy into that game, as their five-game homestand doesn’t begin until Saturday. Nine of 13 games are in Philly from Oct. 14 – Nov. 11. Interesting stuff, especially without any back-to-backs remaining in October.

Pittsburgh (1-1-1, two at home vs. one road)

Schedule

Wed, Oct 11 @ Washington
Thu, Oct 12 @ Tampa Bay
Sat, Oct 14 vs Florida
Tue, Oct 17 @ NY Rangers
Fri, Oct 20 @ Florida
Sat, Oct 21 @ Tampa Bay
Tue, Oct 24 vs Edmonton
Thu, Oct 26 vs Winnipeg
Sat, Oct 28 @ Minnesota
Sun, Oct 29 @ Winnipeg

The repeat champs are used to fighting through bumps on the road, but even so, there are some suspension-challenging potholes up ahead. Their three back-to-back sets in October all take place on the road, for instance.

It’s bad enough that they also play seven of their next 10 games away from home, but November looms with more challenges. That Oct. 28 game in Minnesota actually begins a five-game road trip, and a run of seven of eight games on the road.

From now until Nov. 11, they play 12 of 16 games on the road and deal with five back-to-back sets. If this team has a strong record in mid-November, give them some kudos. If things are rough, these breaks could be a factor.

Washington (2-0-1, two road vs. one home)

Schedule

Wed, Oct 11 vs Pittsburgh
Fri, Oct 13 @ New Jersey
Sat, Oct 14 @ Philadelphia
Tue, Oct 17 vs Toronto
Fri, Oct 20 @ Detroit
Sat, Oct 21 vs Florida
Thu, Oct 26 @ Vancouver
Sat, Oct 28 @ Edmonton
Sun, Oct 29 @ Calgary

Counting the three previous games, the Capitals play eight home games vs. four road contests to start the season, so getting at least a point in their first three contests is a nice plus.

Washington’s schedule isn’t much easier than that of the Penguins, as they also face three back-to-back sets (mostly on the road) in October. Things lighten up for the Caps in November, though, especially with a lot of home games in late-November to early December.

Maybe Ovechkin can keep his hot streak going when the Capitals can use some power-play goals to ease the challenges early on?