James O'Brien

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

Reports: Pastrnak to miss start of Bruins’ camp, ‘KHL threat is always there’


Let’s start with the lighter bad news for the Boston Bruins regarding David Pastrnak before we get pessimistic imaginations rolling too much.

Even if the two sides hammer out that much-belabored new contract before training camp officially begins, Pastrnak will reportedly miss at least a small chunk of it. The reasoning is simple, as Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston and others report: Pastrnak is currently still in the Czech Republic.

Now let’s sandwich some positive vibes in between the dread: Johnston and TSN’s Darren Dreger both report that the two sides have been negotiating under a variety of circumstances, including different potential terms for a possible contract. There’s even this to get happy about:

Dreger giveth and Dreger taketh away, as he followed it up with quite the doomsday scenario:

*Needs to sit down for a minute.*

The 2018 Winter Olympics present a wrinkle in a lot of these proceedings. As much as the KHL feels like a pure leverage threat during most summers, there really is something to be said for a player potentially making comparable money overseas and getting a chance to represent their country.

And, without official NHL representation, there’s the increased odds of Pastrnak bringing home a medal of some kind.

That’s not a bad Plan B, though you’d think that Pastrnak would still prefer – probably vastly prefer – signing a lengthy deal with the Bruins. It’s difficult to overstate the lure of that security, not to mention playing in the best league in the world.

So, in the grand scheme of things, this should work out for the Bruins, even if they suffer from some sticker shock. Management sure is adding an uncomfortable layer of drama to these proceedings, however.

More Pasta

Brad Marchand wouldn’t mind if Pastrnak became the Bruins’ highest-paid player.

Pastrnak is a star, so the Bruins should pay him like one.

Kings, Golden Knights are already trash-talking each other (on Twitter)


As an expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights need to do some legwork to drum up some rivalries.

Granted, Nashville Predators fans (or at least GM David Poile) might grumble when the Golden Knights roll out James Neal. But for the most part, Vegas has some work to do, especially if they struggle like just about every expansion team has in sports history.

They say that you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer, so regional and divisional rivals stand as natural adversaries.

Now, it’s understandable if you dismiss a Twitter battle as a … well, nerd war. But the Los Angeles Kings and Golden Knights at least provided a deliciously salty one on Wednesday.

It began with a little pre-season scoreboarding by the Kings:

The Golden Knights didn’t take too kindly with that, even claiming that the Kings’ Twitter feed has regressed.

That was just the beginning, as the Kings may or may not have evoked the Spice Girls in response:

After holding all those cards in the expansion draft and enjoying a clean slate salary-cap wise, the Golden Knights provided a pretty good comeback:

Here’s hoping the on-ice rivalry develops at the same rate as this online one is developing. It almost feels like the NHL equivalent of that Roman Reigns – John Cena “worked shoot.”

Update: These two will probably continue to trade barbs.

Would Duchene for Murray, Jenner trade make sense for Avs, Blue Jackets?


With Colorado Avalanche training camp looming on Thursday, the urge to trade Matt Duchene might rise. For some Avs fans, it could be as much about getting some closure as anything else.

Now, it’s important to note that there’s no word on a trade being close.

Really, there are plenty of reports that indicate that Avalanche GM Joe Sakic continues to hold out for a great deal, whether you believe his aims are reasonable or not.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported in “31 Thoughts” that the Avalanche may have at least discussed P.K. Subban with the Nashville Predators, and updates back up the notion that Sakic is shooting high:


So, to reiterate, it could be quite a while before the Avalanche trade Duchene. It’s really difficult to tell, especially since moves can come together quickly after laying dormant for what seems like ages.


So, again, this isn’t to say a trade is coming. With training camp nearing, it’s fun to break down the facets of a possible move, anyway.

On Tuesday, PHT pondered the Hurricanes giving up Noah Hanifin for Duchene. Such an idea didn’t seem particularly well-received by Carolina fans.

The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline reports that the Columbus Blue Jackets have not offered up the combination of Boone Jenner and Ryan Murray to try to nab Duchene, but in a Wednesday newsletter, Portzline reported that such a combination could possibly meet the Avalanche’s needs.

Even beyond this post’s earlier disclaimer, it’s important to note that Portzline reports Jenner is a little banged up, so that would likely hold up a move even if Sakic would bite:

Let’s explore the logic of a possible move, though.


A game-breaker for Columbus?

The Hurricanes and Blue Jackets have at least two things in common that could make a Duchene trade more feasible and palatable: each franchise boasts a nice prospect stockpile and lack a true top center.

Now, you can argue that Duchene isn’t an “elite” No. 1 pivot, but he could really flesh out Columbus’ group (and take some pressure off, say, Alex Wennberg).

It’s easy to fixate on Duchene’s rough 2016-17 season, but at age 26, it’s fair to argue that last season was an anomaly. The Avalanche were a borderline historic disaster, and even if Duchene could have played better, it’s absurd to pin too much on the speedy scorer.

Look at his previous four sesaons and you’ll see evidence of a gamebreaker, especially in the low-scoring, modern NHL.

Duchene generated at least 20 goals in three straight seasons from 2013-14 to 2015-16, and he almost hit 20 (scoring 17) during the 48-game lockout season of 2012-13.

The Blue Jackets, to some extent, score by committee. Adding a little more dynamic skill could really help Columbus find that “extra gear.”

Murray, the mystery

Reports have already surfaced that Ryan Murray wouldn’t be enough of a showpiece to pry Duchene away from Colorado.

Portzline indicates that a package involving Murray and Jenner could move the needle more, so let’s ponder Murray for a moment.

Considering that the Avalanche are shooting high for a Duchene return, they’d have to figure that Murray, 23, needs a fresh start. Management might even see the potential for a high-draft-pick turnaround that parallels how Erik Johnson‘s enjoyed a nice run with the Avs.

Because, yikes, it’s been a bumpy ride. Injuries derailed his early development, and Murray seemed generally overwhelmed in 2016-17:

via Domenic Galamini

Yep, that would require a leap of faith … or the Avalanche would really need to be smitten by Boone Jenner.

On Jenner

Jenner is an interesting test case in perception.

Yes, he scored 30 goals in 2015-16, but nine of them came on the power play. Jenner was limited to 18 goals in 2016-17, with none coming on Columbus’ locomotive man-advantage. Realistic expectations probably place him at 20 goals with modest playmaking.

Jenner brings nice size and is only 24, so there are selling points.

Still, it’s possible that Blue Jackets management views his strengths as redundant. He averaged less than 30 seconds of power-play time last season after logging about two minutes per night in 2015-16, for instance,

Some conclusions

Jenner ($2.9M, RFA after 2017-18) and Murray ($2.825M, RFA after 2017-18) and Duchene ($6M, UFA after 2018-19) all have their strengths and weaknesses. They’re all at or approaching a fork in the road in their careers with little time on their current contracts.

A Jenner + Murray combo could make some sense for the Avalanche, especially with both being at prime ages. You’d think that the Blue Jackets might need to sweeten the deal with a prospect, at least considering how big Sakic is seemingly dreaming.

Personally, from a Blue Jackets perspective, this seems like a great deal.

It would set the stage for a potentially fascinating summer of 2019, as Duchene, Artemi Panarin, and Sergei Bobrovsky would all be eligible for unrestricted free agency. On the other hand, that would allow Columbus to assess where the franchise is at over a season or two, and pivot if they feel that this group just can’t get it done.

One understands the lure of hoarding prospects, especially with how fans can sometimes get attached to the daydream of production that may never come. Sometimes you have to swing for the fences, though, and the Blue Jackets might want to do that with Duchene.

You know, if they can actually convince Sakic to accept a reasonable deal.

Maple Leafs will wear sweet throwback jerseys for ‘Next Century Game’

via Maple Leafs

On Dec. 19, 1917, the Toronto Arenas played in the first game in NHL history.

The Maple Leafs will commemorate that occasion by hosting the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 19, 2017, and they’ll wear some sweet throwback duds to really hammer home how historic the “Next Century Game” will be.

You can see one angle of those sweet sweaters (which will probably make a healthy profit in merchandising), while others tweeted out fuller shots:

Toronto Mayor John Tory announced that Dec. 19 will also stand as “Toronto Maple Leafs Day,” which called for this great bit, via Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston.

Heh, nice.

For way more details about this event, check out the Maple Leafs’ full release.

Flames’ future in Calgary in jeopardy? King says new arena talks are over


Mark Sept. 12, 2017 as a particularly rough day regarding arena news for NHL teams (and cities wanting to add or retain them).

First, a seemingly promising Seattle arena announcement either unraveled or was put on hold after Seattle Mayor Ed Murray resigned amid sexual abuse allegations.

The Calgary Flames’ situation isn’t quite as bizarre or scandalous; it’s possible that there might be some typical bluster involved when teams try to cajole cities into helping build new arenas. Still, Sportsnet’s Eric Francis broke some troubling news: Flames exec Ken King said that the team is no longer looking to build a new arena in Calgary.

Francis reports that King said that, while he doesn’t know what this development means for the Flames’ future in Calgary, they will operate there “as long as we can.”

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman provided some tough talk, as Francis reports:


This isn’t the first time that Bettman’s threatened Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi about this process; back in January 2016, he warned against the city “falling further behind” in getting a new building secured. In April 2016, the Flames still seemed determined for at least some public funding to come their way.

The Flames have become more aggressive in their phrasing lately, back in June, Brian Burke reportedly wondered if the team might need to move if a new arena can’t be found. King wondered the same thing on April 1.

The franchise walks a tightrope here, with columns criticizing the plan sprouting up as early as 2015. When it comes to securing funding for a new arena, cities tend to differ wildly. Abundant stories about “white elephants” from Olympic years have only increased scrutiny over how wise it really is to devote taxpayer money to professional sports teams.

Again, it’s common for ownership groups to try to flex their muscles, yet the NFL’s Los Angeles movements also show that relocation isn’t always an idle threat. Will that happen with Calgary? Much like with any arena situation, we’ll need to wait and see (while likely navigating some twists and turns).

Speaking of expansion and relocation, this bit about NHL players favoring Quebec for expansion seems increasingly relevant one day later.