Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News. He's been part of the THN team since 2011, but he's been married to hockey since he got beat up for collecting NHL sticker books in the mid-1980s. If you like strong opinions on the game itself, fantasy hockey tips and a hefty dose of pop culture in your readings, he's your man. And yes, the eyebrows are real.
The San Jose Sharks named Peter DeBoer the ninth coach in their history Thursday. And while we’ve seen sexier hires this off-season, from Mike Babcock in Toronto to Dan Bylsma in Buffalo, DeBoer’s might be the most polarizing.
Are the Sharks dousing their tire fire in gasoline by signing a man with one playoff appearance in seven seasons as an NHL head coach? Or are they buying low on a sneaky-good bench boss who made a lot out of a little on two sputtering franchises in the past?
The Chicago Blackhawks face elimination on home ice Wednesday night against the Anaheim Ducks. And, if the Hawks hold their ground at the United Center, they’ll play another do-or-die affair Saturday night in Orange County.
Whatever happens to Chicago over the next game or two games, good or bad, there’s a creeping sense we’re witnessing the end of something. I can’t help but wonder if this team’s immediate future will increasingly mirror that of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have advanced to round 3, then round 2 and finally round 1 over the past three post-seasons.
Cody Franson’s life changed when the Toronto Maple Leafs dealt him to the Nashville Predators Feb. 15, a couple weeks before the 2014-15 trade deadline. Who knew so much more would change in less than three months after that?
Franson’s new (old) team, the Nashville Predators, flamed out in the first round of the playoffs, abruptly ending his hopes of a deep Stanley Cup push as a post-season rental. Worse yet, Franson was a terrible fit in Music City. He was a right-handed shooter buried on the depth chart among talented righty blueliners Shea Weber and Seth Jones. Franson played more than 21 minutes a game as a Leaf and slipped to around 15 as a Pred, with a drastically reduced special teams role, which was disastrous for a guy who thrived as a power play contributor. Nashville GM David Poile admitted after the season the Franson deal wasn’t a good fit in hindsight. The Preds also landed center Mike Santorelli from Toronto but surrendered a first-round pick and Brendan Leipsic in the process.
So Franson felt the anguish of a quick playoff exit, and his value as an unrestricted free agent may have diminished in the process. He was all but a lock for one of the top two or three paydays of the summer as a right-shot blueliner who can contribute 40-plus points and will be just 28 when next season begins. He’ll still be among the most coveted names in a vanilla free agent class, but he may have shaved $1 million off his average annual value in the last couple months. Think $5-million cap hit, not $6-million.
Meanwhile, back in Toronto, the Leafs just bagged the summer’s top free agent: coach Mike Babcock. The grass up there looks emerald-green. Is it any wonder, after all that’s transpired, that Franson hopes to play for the Leafs again next season?
Connor McDavid provided scouts, fans and NHL GMs with plenty of eureka moments throughout his draft year. But none compared to what he did April 10 in a playoff game against the London Knights.
McDavid calmly, casually assaulted the OHL’s most prestigious franchise with five goals, leading his Erie Otters to a 7-3 victory. He wasn’t the first mega prospect to score five in a playoff game, but the way he did it bugged many eyeballs out of many skulls. It was just so…easy for him. He scored on a laser wrister through a self-designed screen. He blew past three Knights on a 1-on-3 rush to create his own breakaway. He picked a defenseman’s pocket and stuffed home a puck in the blink of an eye. He even scored accidentally when a Knight pokechecked the puck into his own goal, for Pete’s sake.
The performance carved McDavid once and for all into an echelon above Jack Eichel as the surefire No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft. McDavid, by all accounts, is a generational talent, the most hyped player since Sidney Crosby, following in the footsteps of Eric Lindros, Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky. But how do we know McDavid’s game will translate into NHL superstardom? What evidence can we glean by looking at prior generational talents?
The best expertise comes from those who rubbed shoulders with the greats, so we turned to two of them for help: Hall of Famer and Carolina Hurricanes GM Ron Francis and probable Hall of Famer turned Pittsburgh Penguins player development coach Mark Recchi.
Is Andrew Hammond a far richer man today than he ever imagined he’d be, even three months ago? Certainly.
But can we score May 20, 2015 as a big victory for the Ottawa Senators? Absolutely.
On Tuesday Ottawa announced the re-signing of pending unrestricted free agent goaltender Hammond, 27, to a three-year, $4.05-million contract. That amounts to a $1.35-million cap hit.
‘The Hamburgler’ went absolutely, er, bananas in the final months of the 2014-15 regular season, going 20-1-2 with a 1.79 goals-against average and .941 save percentage. Not bad for a guy who never posted better than a 2.47 GAA and .917 SP in his college days with Bowling Green or his AHL days with Binghamton. He almost singlehandedly delivered Ottawa to the playoffs. And yet, the concerns at season’s end were whether the sample size was too small to justify a big free agent deal and whether his insanely good play priced him out of Kanata.
Well, we can toss any of those concerns out the window now. Hammond’s $1.35-million AAV will rank him 34th among NHL goalies signed for 2015-16. The Sens did not overpay at all. He was the best starter in the game for two months, but he’ll make backup money for the next three-seasons. With such low financial risk, the three-year term isn’t a big deal. This contract is a coup for GM Bryan Murray and the Sens.
May and June allow most fantasy hockey poolies to put their feet up. Their regular seasons are over, and most of them are eliminated from their playoff pools by this stage, too.
For the diehard keeper league players, though, there’s never really a break. They must decide which players to retain for next season before a deadline. They must assess how the post-season and the NHL draft affect player values and the overall talent pool.
Today, I take questions from that demographic. The fun part about keeper league inquiries is that they are essentially hockey questions about the long-term value of player A versus player B or C. The answers can spark debate among fantasy players and general hockey fans alike. Let’s get started!
WHAT WE LEARNED IN ROUND 2:
NEW YORK RANGERS: These Broadway Blueshirts are a resilient bunch. They are the first team in NHL history to rally from a 3-1 deficit and win a playoff series two years in a row. They did it in round 2 against the Pittsburgh Penguins last year and again against the Washington Capitals this week. New York didn’t always look like the better team against the Caps but managed to weather countless, hard-forechecking storms and counterattack. New York used its best asset, team speed, to give Washington fits in transition. There was simply no answer for the wheels of Carl Hagelin, Kevin Hayes and especially Chris Kreider late in the series. We also learned in round 2 that, while defensemen Keith Yandle and Dan Boyle can still move the puck with the best of ‘em, neither has held up well battling enemy forwards in the trenches.
TAMPA BAY: The hallmark of a good team, one we’ve picked to win the Stanley Cup, is winning in many different ways, and the Bolts did that in round 2 against Montreal. They relied on mostly great goaltending from Ben Bishop – and a goal that shouldn’t have counted – to win Game 1. They blitzed Carey Price for six goals in Game 2. Despite being a dominant possession team all season, they got badly outchanced and outshot in the middle of the series, yet still walked away with a win in Game 3 with just 19 shots. And, in the clinching Game 6, offensive stars Steven Stamkos, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov delivered backbreaking goals. The Lightning have won ugly, they’ve won pretty and they’ve won tough. Their blueline also looks as strong as it has all season with Braydon Coburn and Jason Garrison healthy.
Dan Boyle has to be happy his New York Rangers fought back from a 3-1 series deficit and booked a trip to the Eastern Conference final. Aside from that good news, though, 2014-15 hasn’t been kind to him.
Boyle broke his hand in November and missed 14 games. When he was on the ice, his age showed, and he struggled defensively on and off throughout the season. In the second round of the playoffs he took a hard hit in the corner from Nicklas Backstrom in the dying seconds of Game 1, leading to Washington’s winning goal. And then, in Game 7, Caps blueliner Brooks Orpik positively erased Boyle: