Matt Larkin

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.

Why Michael Buble is the world’s most legit celebrity fan

Matt Larkin
Michael Buble. (Photo by Evaan Kheraj)

Is it really Nov. 5, 1991, at the Pacific Coliseum? It’s printed on the tickets and programs. But you’d swear it was playoff time. The 16,000 Vancouver Canucks faithful quake with anticipation. It’s finally time to see what he can do, the brash young Russian kid, imported from the Red Army, who goes by the name of Pavel Bure. The hype is so great that coach and GM Pat Quinn delayed Bure’s debut a game so it wouldn’t steal thunder from Stan Smyl’s jersey retirement.

And in the blink of an eye, Bure takes his first stride toward becoming the franchise’s greatest player ever. He carries the puck the length of the ice, splitting the Winnipeg Jets defense. He’s so fast his body arrives in the slot before the puck. He has to kick it back to himself to finish the breakaway with a deke. He doesn’t score, but it doesn’t matter.
Especially to a 16-year-old kid named Michael Buble, attending with his grandfather. As season ticket holders, they never miss a game. And yet Buble still has never seen or felt anything like this.

“I literally and figuratively sat on the edge of my seat and bounced like a horse, like I was riding a horse, and as you looked around everyone else was doing it, too, everyone was almost jockeying,” Buble said. “It was electric. Everyone was like, ‘Oh my god, we have never had a player like this before. Not just a good player. We have a genuine superstar.’ ”

Little did Buble realize at the time, he’d one day bring thousands to their feet in packed arenas the same way Bure did. Except Buble, now 40, did it with his voice, not his feet. He developed a passion for crooners, jazz and soul music, listening to his grandfather’s huge collection of records. Buble idolized the likes of Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra. His granddad, a plumber, was so convinced his grandson would become a musician some day that he’d offer his plumbing services to other performers in exchange for stage time for Buble. By 17, one year after witnessing the Russian Rocket’s launch, Buble had won the British Columbia Youth Talent Search competition. Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney discovered Buble’s independent album. Buble eventually got signed by mega-producer David Foster and is now one of Canada’s most successful recording artists ever, with half a dozen multi-platinum albums and Grammys galore.

But if you’re a music buff, you probably know that about him already. What you might not know, though, is that worldwide fame did nothing to quell his other life passion: hockey.
Buble jumps at the chance to put aside music and talk about anything to do with the sport. He’s as much a superfan as any rabid late-night sports radio caller. He says hockey was even more important to him than music when he was growing up. As a kid, he’d pretend he was the Canucks’ Patrik Sundstrom or Tony Tanti. He grew to love longtime captain Trevor Linden and, of course, Bure. Buble felt the anguish of the 1994 Stanley Cup loss to the New York Rangers in Game 7.

“It was heartbreaking, because we truly were so close,” he said. “We were a post away. A crossbar away. And some s—ty refereeing away.”

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Jakub Voracek and four other fantasy players to buy low

Matt Larkin
Jakub Voracek. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

I told you which players to sell high in fantasy hockey leagues yesterday, but that’s only half the battle. The best way to win a title is to replace your sell-highs with a bunch of buy-lows, underachieving players who should play their best hockey over the final three quarters of the season. You know the drill: if player X always gets 65 points and has just 10 points in his first 20 games, he’s likely to get 55 in his next 60 to balance things out, assuming external factors like injury and age haven’t caused the dip in his numbers. If player X scores on 10 percent of his shots for his career and hums along at one percent so far this year, he’ll probably regress to the mean and shoot closer to his career average the rest of the way.

I present my five favorite buy-lows in fantasy pools at the moment, ranked in order of how big of a potential return they can net you. This was a fun exercise because, for whatever reason, many big-ticket fantasy producers have struggled early on. I like Anze Kopitar, Sean Monahan, Alex Pietrangelo, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri and Mark Giordano as buy-lows, and they couldn’t even crack my top five.

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Five players to sell high in fantasy hockey pools

Matt Larkin
Patrice Bergeron (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Most NHL teams have played roughly 20 games, give or take, in 2015-16, meaning we’re a quarter of the way done the season. The sample size is just big enough to start assessing your fantasy hockey rosters. The teams flying out to great starts should stop the chicken counting and start pondering which of their many great players will sustain elite production all year long. Knowing which guys to sell high separates the league winners from the second-half flameouts.

With that, let’s look at five hot starters to consider selling high, ranked in order of how big of a return they could net you on the trade market. Remember, putting someone on this list is not necessarily an indictment of his skills. It might simply mean he’s producing far above a long-established career norm.

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NHL’s idea man, chief operating officer John Collins, steps down

Matt Larkin
John Collins. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Hearing news of John Collins’ departure as NHL chief operating officer may not raise the eyebrow of every casual fan prepping a backyard rink. But it should. Especially since Collins, the league’s third in command, is the brain behind the Winter Classic.

Collins, who turns 54 this week, has been with the NHL since 2006. He took over as COO in 2008. He was the driving force for only the Winter Classic, but also the wildly successful HBO 24/7 series, which he shepherded along with producer Ross Greenburg. Collins is largely responsible for the Stadium Series and the league’s national television deals in Canada and the U.S. The league has grown significantly in popularity under his’ guidance.

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The Calgary Flames aren’t a good hockey team – and that’s perfectly fine

Matt Larkin
Dougie Hamilton. (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

The pun-packed headline read, “Internal Combustion: Young guns look to ignite the rebuild with a culture of accountability in place.”

Affixed to the top of the page: a prediction, “7th in Pacific,” and Stanley Cup odds of 125 to 1.

It was the Calgary Flames preview in THN’s Yearbook for the start of 2014-15. Oddly enough, 412 days later, it still rings true. If you fell off your bike Oct. 8, 2014 and sustained a coma-inducing head injury, only to wake up today, the Flames would be exactly what you thought they were. You wouldn’t believe the story of Calgary’s magical 2014-15 season.

“Jiri Hudler had 76 points and won the Lady Byng? Sean Monahan scored 30 goals as a 20-year-old? Little Johnny Gaudreau became a legit NHL star as a rookie? Kris Russell set a single-season record for blocked shots? Bob Hartley won the Jack Adams? MY Flames finished third in the Pacific Division, ahead of the Los Angeles Kings? And won a playoff series? That’s it. I’m going back to bed for another year.”

It was a mind-blowing season because the Calgary Flames were so darned ahead of schedule. There was a reason they picked fourth overall at the 2014 draft, snagging future franchise player Sam Bennett: they were deep in the rebuild stage, years away from contention, slowly trying to amass prospects. Then last year happened, and everything went haywire.

Of course, we knew what the advanced statistics suggested: that Calgary was among the NHL’s luckiest teams, that it played way over its head and would regress the next season, just as the Colorado Avalanche from 2013-14 to 2014-15 and the Toronto Maple Leafs from 2012-13 to 2013-14. Bad habits come back to bite you, and the Calgary Flames had too many. They finished with 97 points despite a pitiful 5-on-5 score-adjusted Corsi For percentage of 44.2, good for 28th in the NHL. They actually regressed from 2013-14 to 2014-15. They allowed far more shot attempts than they generated. Winning was not sustainable.

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Who will win the NHL All-Star Game’s 3-on-3? We rank each division

Matt Larkin
Tyler Seguin, John Klingberg and Jamie Benn. (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

By now you’ve probably heard the news about the NHL’s 3-on-3 All-Star Game format for 2016 in Nashville. It pits each division against each other in a four-team tournament, likely with 11-man rosters, and quite possibly with a million bucks going to the winning squad. Wow. I’ll go on the record and declare this whole idea awesome. The fantasy draft format was fun in recent years, but the All-Star Game is at its best when it keeps morphing and innovating. Good on the NHL for trying something wild, especially given the actual game’s diminished reputation. If the public perception is that the players don’t try anymore, the league has nothing to lose in changing things up.

It will be interesting to see how players react and, once all-star teams are selected, which ones will pull out to rest their bodies (sorry, but I just can’t picture Sidney Crosby suiting up. He has played in one – ONE! – All-Star Game). But, for the sake of prognostication, let’s assume all teams are equal. Which division can ice the best 3-on-3 lineup?

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Olli Maatta hit from behind, falls into bench door. Suspension for Niederreiter?

Matt Larkin

Didn’t last season give Olli Maatta a career’s worth of bad luck already? The talented young Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman, 21, dealt with cancer, a case of the mumps and a shoulder injury that required season-ending surgery.

The Pens eased Maatta back into this season, playing him only 16:46 a night in his first 17 games, but at least he was healthy. He chipped in a pair of goals and four points, too.

Then came this unfortunate accident Tuesday night, in which, after a shove from Minnesota’s Nino Niederreiter, Maatta fell into the Consol Energy Center boards just as Wild backup goalie Darcy Kuemper opened the bench door.

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Jordan Eberle doesn’t think Oilers are finished. Here’s why

Matt Larkin
Jordan Eberle. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Could anyone have drawn up the Edmonton Oilers’ 2015-16 season worse to this point? Expectations weren’t particularly high for the struggling franchise, yet the hockey gods have still managed to crush its dreams again.

Few prognosticators had the Oilers making the playoffs after nine consecutive misses, but this season was still supposed to be different in its own way. New GM Peter Chiarelli instantly put his stamp on the team. Coach Todd McLellan replaced Todd Nelson. The Oilers signed blueliner Andrej Sekera and defensive pivot Mark Letestu. They traded for D-man Griffin Reinhart, goaltender Cam Talbot and left winger Lauri Korpikoski. Most importantly, they drafted Connor McDavid. And then…

Right winger Jordan Eberle injured his shoulder at the end of the pre-season. Edmonton started the season 0-4. Top puck-moving defenseman Justin Schultz injured his back Oct. 25. Korpikoski sustained an undisclosed head injury, clearly a concussion, the game after that on a hit from Minnesota’s Matt Dumba. Neither Oiler has played since then, though both are close to returning.

And then, just as Eberle prepared to rejoin the lineup and seriously bolster Edmonton’s top six, McDavid went down with a broken collarbone two weeks ago.

“He went in really hard, and you knew he was struggling, but he got up and picked up his stick, and I didn’t really think much of it,” Eberle said. “It was the end of the period, and you expect him to come out the next, and then he didn’t. And then you get down there and you find out the severity of the injury. It’s tough. Connor has shown he’s that player who’s been touted. It definitely hurts our team.”

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