Shane O’Brien pleaded the Fifth.
Asked to detail the context of an animated penalty-box exchange with Alex Burrows on Feb. 4 in Denver, the outspoken and outgoing Colorado Avalanche defenceman sided with the NHL’s version of the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer because his response could provoke self-incriminating evidence.
In other words, there is a certain code among players — especially former teammates — that the gift of gab and those wicked verbal shots shouldn’t be shared with the populace.
However, you don’t have to be a lip-reader to realize that the barbs from O’Brien in the box that day had something to do with contracts and who has more money. Ouch.
“I don’t know who was doing the camera work that night because he did a good job,” laughed O’Brien. “All over Twitter, people were reading my lips. Burr is a great guy. He gets under my skin and I like to let him know about it.”
Said Burrows of the exchange: “It was a good one. We wanted to see who had the best chirps and I won that battle.”
Maybe that’s why his new teammates have labelled O’Brien “a beauty.” From trying to get to the opposition and trying to get the Avalanche back to the postseason, the one-year, $1.1 million US contract investment in O’Brien has paid dividends. And there’s a good chance the Avalanche, who could move the injured (groin strain) and unrestricted Jean-Sebastien Giguere and others at the deadline if they falter this week, may re-sign O’Brien for all the right reasons.
He has improved his game, curbed his wayward ways and has even been a mentor to young blueliners like Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott. He’s also logging 19 minutes a night, ranks fourth on the club in hits and fifth in blocked shots.
Then again, O’Brien’s value may never be higher in a trade scenario and if the Avalanche are going to fall short of a postseason berth, he could be dangled. However, the Avalanche are saying all the right things about O’Brien and don’t sound like they were just pumping the trade tires.
“What Shane has brought has been nothing but positive,” said coach Joe Sacco. “From what has happened to him in the past, he’s matured as a player and a person and has been a good influence on our younger players. They feel comfortable with him because he does communicate and makes them feel pretty comfortable on the ice. There’s no fear that somebody is taking his [O’Brien’s] ice time.”
O’Brien is always going to rank first in gabbing or even grabbing. It was a horse-collar crease tackle of Burrows that had the pair poised to scrap before being banished to the box.
“He shows up,” said Burrows. “He wears his heart on his sleeve and likes to compete and be a good teammate and do good things. He skates well and makes good plays, but sometimes the emotions get the better of him and sometimes that’s a good thing. But in pressure games and tight games it can go south on you and we’ve seen that a few times. But overall, he was a great teammate.”
That’s what the Avalanche are also saying and O’Brien seems like the least of their concerns. With a flood of free agents, the Avalanche could have easily gone into sell mode with the trade deadline just eight days away. However, the inconsistent yet resilient club has managed to keep treading water and keep their playoff hopes alive which has somewhat shifted the tide in the Mile High City. Especially if Matt Duchene can be effective after missing 20 games with a knee injury.
“That’s a team I like,” said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. “If you look at the young offensive potential and their game where they let their defence jump up and are assertive that way — they’re fighting for a playoff spot so they’re very competitive.”
In the mad scramble for postseason positioning in the Western Conference, the Avalanche have parlayed a penny-pinching approach to their roster — they have $14.6 million US in available salary cap space — and could use help up front and on the back end.
With 16 pending free agents, the Avalanche could easily move an unrestricted grinder like Cody McLeod and give up on the restricted Erik Johnson. They’re not expected to re-sign the unrestricted David Jones and have a Calder Trophy candidate in hulking winger Gabriel Landeskog, the second overall pick in the 2011 entry draft. He was not only fourth in club scoring with 30 points (13-17) after 58 games, he was just six points shy of the rookie lead. How good has he been?
“When people ask me that question, I always look at his minutes (18:22), but more importantly the situations he plays in,” said Sacco.
“He’s on our first power-play unit, kills penalties and plays in 4-on-4 situations, plays when we’re up a goal late in games and when we’re down a goal late in games. So that pretty much says it all. His progression has been very good and his development curve is heading in the right direction and he’s going to be a good solid player for a long time if he keeps it up.”
The Avalanche are far removed from their Cup winning ways but in Landeskog, Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly and Paul Stastny they have something to build upon up front. They could use another puck-rushing defenceman and haven’t really filled that void in trading Kevin Shattenkirk last season, but Barrie and Elliott provide hope for the future. And that’s something they’re not expected to part with at the trade deadline.
“We’re definitely headed in the right direction,” said O’Brien. “I’ve bounced around in my career and the coaching staff is giving me a good opportunity here. Hopefully the business side will take care of itself.”
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