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.

Can Drake Berehowsky’s program change how we evaluate players?

Matt Larkin
Drake Berehowsky. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

Advanced statistics have permeated hockey so much that they now reside on in their own category. We don’t need to repeat how many teams have hired experts. But that doesn’t mean the numbers game won’t evolve again. As Toronto Maple Leafs assistant GM Kyle Dubas once told me, hockey’s analytics are 20 years behind baseball’s. Sooner or later, someone will invent a more accurate way to track statistics like possession.

Is Drake Berehowsky that someone?

It’s been a long time since we saw Berehowsky, 43, manning a blueline. He last suited up in the NHL for the Leafs, the team that took him 10th overall in 1990, late in the 2003-04 season. He bounced around the Swedish League, AHL and German League after that and retired in 2006. But Berehowsky stayed busy. He’s spent the better part of the past decade behind various benches, from OHL Barrie to AHL Peoria to ECHL Orlando and WHL Lethbridge, where he was head coach the past two seasons. Now he’s back in the OHL as an associate coach with the Sudbury Wolves.

Along the way, through the ups and downs helming all those different teams, ideas danced around in his head. Was there a better, faster, more accurate way to evaluate his players? Could he pinpoint what data would help him and others make wiser decisions, be they in-game line combinations or even just deciding who should and shouldn’t make the team?

Drake and his sister, Danielle, began work on idea called StatsTrack, an application that tracks player and team events on the ice in real time. Drake provided the ideas and concepts behind what the program would track, Danielle ran the business side of things, and they worked with a team of digital technology specialists to develop the concept. The NHL Alumni Association also came on board as a partner.

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Why suspending Raffi Torres 41 games was the right decision

Matt Larkin
Raffi Torres (Getty Images).

We had a feeling Raffi Torres wouldn’t play hockey again for a long, long time the minute Jakob Silfverberg fell to the ice Saturday night.

Torres had every conceivable strike against him. He’d run up a significant tab of suspensions in recent seasons. He got 25 games, appealed down to 21, for a devastating head shot that knocked Marian Hossa out of the 2011-12 post-season. Torres also earned a rest-of-playoffs ban for a head shot on Jarret Stoll in 2012-13. So Torres was in trouble the second he caught Silfverberg with a questionable hit Oct. 3. If the league deemed the play suspendable, Torres’ history of repeatedly violating one particular rule – 48.1, illegal check to the head – would greatly expand his sentence length.

But did anyone expect 41 games? Half a season? It’s a staggering punishment – and a staggeringly strong decision by the NHL Department of Player Safety.

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Crosby versus Ovechkin: who’s better, 10 years later?

Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/NHLI via Getty Images)

It will be 10 years this week since Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin debuted in the NHL. The 2004-05 lockout produced the happy accident of two No. 1 overall picks commencing their careers simultaneously and, fair or not, they were destined for constant comparison. It didn’t matter that they played different positions, Crosby center and Ovechkin left wing. They were the most exciting young forces in a league desperate for new flag bearers, and they’ve delivered on that hype time and again.

Who’s better? The pendulum seems to swing back and forth year to year:

It’s Ovechkin, the big, fast, energetic man-child who helps Russia to world junior gold and goes first overall in the 2004 draft.

No, it’s Crosby, the generational talent who torches major junior like no player since Eric Lindros and goes first overall in 2005.

No, it’s ‘Ovie,’ the 2005-06 Calder Trophy winner. He outscores Crosby with 52 goals, many of them with jaw-dropping beauty.

No, damn it, it’s ‘Sid the Kid.’ He explodes for 120 points as a 19-year-old sophomore to win the Art Ross and Hart Trophies in 2006-07. Youngest MVP in league history. Youngest scoring champion in major professional sports history.

Come on. It’s Ovechkin. Sid sits out with a bum ankle for a large chunk of 2007-08 while ‘Alexander the GR8’ becomes the first player to score 65 goals in 12 years. He wins two straight MVPs.

Crosby’s turn. The pair face off in the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinal between Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins and Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals. Both stars notch hat tricks in Game 2. The best player torch passes back to Crosby, whose Penguins play for the Stanley Cup for the second straight year and this time take it home. He’s the youngest captain in league history to hoist the chalice. A year later? Golden goal in overtime at the Vancouver Games to crown Canada Olympic champion.

Then it’s Ovechkin again, by default. His game slips under coach Dale Hunter, but at least Ovechkin is on the ice. Crosby misses bushels of games with concussion woes. He plays just 63 times from 2010-11 to 2011-12. His career is in jeopardy. Ovechkin scores 32 goals in an abbreviated 48-game season, and 2012-13 yields his third MVP.

Surprise: it’s Crosby again. He’s back healthy. He wins the 2013-14 scoring crown by 17 points. Another MVP. Ovechkin answers in 2014-15 with his second straight 50-goal campaign and fifth Rocket Richard Trophy.

And on it goes.

After a decade of constantly mentioning them in the same breath, where does the debate rest? Does one finally have an edge over the other? And is the answer still relevant as they approach the end of their primes?

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THN’s top 200 fantasy players for 2015-16

Matt Larkin
Edmonton's Taylor Hall (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

OCT. 1 UPDATE: We enter the home stretch of fantasy hockey prep season, with the last league drafts happening this weekend or early next week. This edition of the rankings addresses some injury news, particularly the blow dealt to the Edmonton Oilers. Also, while I’ll make some tweaks based on the latest line combinations, be careful. Don’t get caught chasing coaches’ whiteboards. The minute Paul Stastny draws glowing reviews centering Vladimir Tarasenko, we get news Jori Lehtera’s recovery is ahead of schedule. Sure, you don’t want to reach for a young gun who winds up demoted next week. But, at this point, worry more about talent. Pick guys who are good at hockey, and they’ll find their way into opportunities.

This list blends goalies and skaters into a master breakdown tailored for anyone drafting in leagues with multiple stat categories. The rankings below are based on a standard Yahoo head-to-head format with the following categories: goals, assists, plus-minus, penalty minutes, power play points, wins, goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts.

Did last year’s list steer you right? It helped me win both my pools, so hopefully that buys your trust. Remember, these rankings are about fantasy, not real life, so a few stars will be listed lower than you might expect. Enjoy, and feel free to debate the rankings – and let me know about any glaring omissions – in the comment section below.

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Will NWHL expand to more teams – and bigger salaries – in the near future?

Matt Larkin
Dani Ryan, NWHL commissioner and New York Riveters GM.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The NWHL is the newest pro hockey circuit on the block. But it sure is making up for lost time in a hurry.

It’s already North America’s first paid professional women’s hockey league. And, this week, it did something even the NHL took decades to do: publish complete salary breakdowns for every player and roster. We revealed the league’s 10 highest-paid players Monday. On Tuesday the NWHL published the full list with help from CapPro. You can peruse the one-year salaries here. They’re sortable by name, team, nationality and cap hit.

The social media reaction upon learning the salary numbers has ranged from optimistic, viewing the shift from no pay to at least $10,000 per player as a huge victory, and pessimistic, noting the athletes will still earn less than minimum wage.

Dani Rylan, the NWHL’s commissioner and founder, sees the glass as half full and perhaps even overflowing. After all, she points out, it’s a sixth-month season. Every player earns five figures and has another six months of the year to supplement that income.

“This is a great first step, and we would love to see it eventually get to a point where it can be a one-and-only job,” Rylan said. “But it is pretty special that a lot of players in the league will be making up to or over a thousand dollars per game, which is pretty remarkable.”

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And the highest-paid player in women’s hockey is…

Matt Larkin
Kelli Stack of the Connecticut Whale.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)

The battle for women’s hockey supremacy has begun. The brand-new National Women’s League has commenced pre-season play, while the Canadian Women’s League just announced new branding tying its Toronto and Montreal franchises to their NHL counterparts.

The off-season divided the talent pool between the upstart NWHL, North America’s first paid professional women’s puck circuit, and the established CWHL, which has operated as the world’s top women’s league since its 2008 inception.

The first hurdle for the NWHL in establishing itself as legit competition for the CWHL was, of course, landing some big names. The NWHL has done that. Hilary Knight and Brianna Decker signed with the Boston Pride, Meghan Duggan with Buffalo Beauts, and so on. The next big summit: revealing exactly what its players stand to make. Will the NWHL athletes earn enough to sustain themselves full-time in Season 1?

It’s been common knowledge for several months the league would have a $270,000 salary cap per team, as the NWHL made that number public in March. A $270,000 cap for 18-player rosters averages out to $15,000 per player. But a source close to the league has revealed to THN some additional details about the breakdown. The top 10 highest-paid NWHLers, all on one-year deals:

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We finally understand the Anaheim Ducks’ goalie situation

Matt Larkin
John Gibson (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

The off-season, naturally, is a time for reflection. We try to project the standings. We assess which teams won and lost the summer based on their signings and trades or lack thereof. And, without fail, we speculate on goaltending battles.

If I use Twitter, blog comments and reader emails as the measuring stick, no crease has the world’s hockey fans more puzzled than that of the Anaheim Ducks. Has Frederik Andersen solidified himself as the No. 1? Isn’t John Gibson supposed to be the world’s top goaltending prospect? And what the heck is Anton Khudobin doing in Orange County?

Believe it or not, John Gibson’s new three-year, $6.9-million extension helps us finally understand how GM Bob Murray and coach Bruce Boudreau will sort out the Ducks’ net.

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Jaromir Jagr blackmailed with photo, could not care less about it

Matt Larkin
Jaromir Jagr

Jaromir Jagr, 43, has reached that fun stage of his career where he’s as much myth as he is man. He’s rapidly ascending the all-time scoring ranks thanks to a massive library of highlight-reel offensive plays over the past two-and-a-half decades. He has a real chance to pass Gordie Howe for third in points this season. And yet, Jagr isn’t the old dog we patronize with standing ovations during a bittersweet farewell tour. He remains a relevant NHLer with enough bounce left in his step to land him on a solid first line in Florida with Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov.

The “man” side of Jagr remains a legit force, but he continues to add to the “myth” side, too. He’s inspired a line of peanut butter and a Czech musical. He’s named himself as his own favorite player. He’s made this outfit look cool. And, for his latest trick, he’s taking down blackmailers.

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