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.

Maple Leafs keep winning despite bad advanced stats. How?

Matt Larkin
The Leafs believe a "quality over quantity" approach to offense and defense is the key to their strong start. (Getty Images)

Cliches are the hallmark of lazy writers, but the Toronto Maple Leafs warrant an act of laziness, as one cliche fits too darned perfectly: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The front office makeup tells us the Leafs have changed. Brendan Shanahan, 29-year-old analytical whiz Kyle Dubas (who “politely passed” on participating in this story) and Mark Hunter now share decisions with Dave Nonis and had no affiliation with the franchise a year ago. The team makeup tells us the Leafs have changed, too. Randy Carlyle’s glorified three-line system, which gave fourth-liners Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren a few shifts a game, is extinct. Peter Holland gets full-time NHL work now and off-season additions like Mike Santorelli and Daniel Winnik have turned Toronto into a true 12-forward operation.

The standings, for now, emphatically tell us the Leafs have changed. They sit 19-9-3, seven points up on ninth place in the Eastern Conference and winners of six straight games. They lead the NHL in goals per game. They’ve beaten Chicago, Anaheim and Los Angeles this season, albeit at home.

The more wins pile up, the more difficult it is for even the Grinchiest of pessimists to write this team off and insist its almost-annual swoon is coming. That said, I encourage these Grinches to try, as they’ll find plenty of alarm bells to jingle.

The very reason certain pundits didn’t buy Toronto’s 2012-13 playoff run or fast start in 2013-14 was, of course, analytics. They had an artificially high shooting percentage. They ranked among the league’s worst teams in metrics like Corsi, meaning the majority of pucks, including those that were blocked and missed the net, went toward their own goal. They depended too much on goaltending.

Flash forward a year later to the piping-hot Leafs, and you get this friendly quip from center Nazem Kadri after Tuesday night’s 6-2 shellacking of the Ducks:

“Obviously the shot total’s got to get down, but the way Bernie’s been playing, he’s got those. (he laughs and smiles at Jonathan Bernier, sitting beside him). “So I don’t think we’re too worried about that. But I think coming back, we’re keeping them to the outside most of the time.”

It’s a funny comment, and you have to love Kadri’s honesty, but it’s telling, isn’t it? Allowing high shot totals. Relying on Bernier to bail the team out. Sounds. Familiar.

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Replacement coach power rankings: It’s Dan Bylsma, and…

Matt Larkin
Dan Bylsma is the biggest fish in the pond of replacement NHL coaches. (Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

The writing was on the wall. It’s since been wiped clean by the custodian.

Goodbye Paul MacLean. Goodbye Dallas Eakins. The Ottawa Senators and Edmonton Oilers were the first teams this season to fire their coaches. Though both have filled their positions – Ottawa with Dave Cameron, Edmonton with the Craig MacTavish/Todd Nelson Sith Lord apprenticeship – axing MacLean and Eakins got the hockey community chattering excitedly about best and biggest names next in line for head coaching gigs.

With that, I present the Replacement Coach Power Rankings. Excluded from the list are any NHL head coaches currently employed but nearing the end of their contracts (i.e. Mike Babcock). That leaves (a) unemployed coaches; (b) Gainfully employed coaches in other leagues (AHL, KHL, etc.); (c) active NHL assistant or associate coaches.

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Is Calgary D-man T.J. Brodie still a secret? He hopes so

Matt Larkin
Flames defenseman T.J. Brodie is on track for career highs in every offensive category.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

T.J. Brodie is nowhere to be found in the Flames’ dressing room on a Tuesday afternoon at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, and it’s a little surprising given what he’s done this season.

Etch out his name and peruse only his stats on paper. What you see is a breakout star. Fourth in scoring among NHL defensemen. Racking up offense at a 60-point pace. On track to play in the All-Star Game and maybe even contend for the Norris Trophy. Regularly among the league leaders in Corsi relative to his teammates.

When a player producing like that arrives in the media hotbed that is Toronto for his team’s only visit to the city all season, a swirl of microphones and cameras would make sense. But it’s not to be.

“Is T.J. Brodie around?” I ask the Flames media staff.

“No one’s asked for him. But he can be.”

No one’s asked for him? He’s half of what’s been the NHL’s most dynamic pairing this season with Mark Giordano. Maybe it’s because the Flames employ so many ex-Leafs making homecomings on this particular day, from Matt Stajan to Mason Raymond to Joe Colborne. But whatever the reason is, Brodie remains exactly where he’s been so far in his NHL career: in the shadows.

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Aaron Ekblad doing what few defensemen have ever done at age 18. Not even Bobby Orr

Matt Larkin
Aaron Ekblad is on pace for the second most points ever by a D-man who started a season 18 years old. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Somewhere amidst all the well-deserved Filip Forsberg and Johnny Hockey hype, Aaron Ekblad stealthily opened the door to the Calder Trophy race and slipped inside relatively unnoticed.

No more. The No. 1 overall pick has quickly become a revelation on the Florida Panthers’ blueline. He’s playing more than 20 minutes per game. He has seven points more than the next-closest rookie defenseman. He has seven points in his last five games, and he just won the NHL’s third star of the week.

Those are some impressive feats, but they’re not staggeringly surprising. Ekblad was the 2014 draft’s top pick for a reason. He was the second player to earn exceptional status in the Ontario League after John Tavares for a reason. He was a dominant man-child with the Barrie Colts, consistently considered more NHL-ready than your average teenage defenseman.

But none of that information can properly do justice to what Ekblad’s done through his first 26 NHL games. His production isn’t just great. It’s historic so far.

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Why Martin Brodeur’s success is a nightmare for St. Louis

Matt Larkin
Martin Brodeur's early success should earn him more starts, which hinders the development of St. Louis' goalie of the future. (Photo by Scott Rovak/NHLI via Getty Images)

The St. Louis Blues have taken the “win now” philosophy to a new level.

On the surface, the Martin Brodeur signing makes sense. The Blues are as deep as any team in the NHL, and they’re sick of watching idle in the spring as the Blackhawks and Kings step over them. They’ve gained a crucial missing element this season now that Vladimir Tarasenko has blossomed into an elite goal scorer, clicking with Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz. They’re ready to compete for a Stanley Cup.

So when goaltender Brian Elliott sustained a lower-body injury serious enough to keep him out weeks and maybe months, GM Doug Armstrong didn’t hesitate. He went out and got a winner. He got the winner in Brodeur. Marty’s one-year contract with St. Louis oozes win-now, as it’s loaded with incentives, including a $10,000 bonus for every point he helps the team earn.

He’s helped the Blues to consecutive victories. Each Brodeur ‘W’ warms the heart and makes Armstrong look smart for betting on a savvy 42-year-old. But each Brodeur ‘W’ almost comes at a cost. What does it do to the talented kid named Jake Allen?

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Ottawa Senators fire coach Paul MacLean, Dave Cameron takes over

Matt Larkin
The perception among the Senators was that winning coach of the year changed Paul MacLean's approach.  (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

Well, that was oddly timed. Rallying from a 3-0 deficit to win on home ice isn’t quite the low note that typically precedes a firing.

Nevertheless, Paul MacLean is no longer head coach of the Ottawa Senators. The team broke the news today via its Twitter feed. The move comes 543 days after MacLean won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year.

Interestingly enough, according to sources close to the team, that Jack Adams Award was actually the first domino to set MacLean’s demise in motion. Senators beat writer and THN Ottawa correspondent Bruce Garrioch reported in our season preview Yearbook that MacLean entered this season on thin ice, that he “was almost handed his walking papers” after last season and that his players felt he changed after he won coach of the year. MacLean went from a go-to-bat defender of his players to a confrontational personality. General manager Bryan Murray said “the players liked the old Paul.”

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World Cup 2016: What would the Euro all-star team look like?

Matt Larkin
Anze Kopitar would be the Eurostar team's lone Slovenian, but the top forward nonetheless. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Nothing beats the best-on-best excitement of the Olympics. But, hey, World Cup organizers for 2016 deserve credit for tabling something interesting. The new tournament would be self-serving for the NHL, as it would collect the revenue it doesn’t receive from the IIHF’s Winter Games. But it’s more than that. The proposed format creates an intriguing fantasy-draft scenario that would be fun for the fans.

The World Cup would give us the six staple nations: Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic. Rounding out an eight-team pool would be two All-Star squads. One would draw from the remaining pool of nations, including Slovakia, Germany, Austria and Kopitarville Slovenia. The other remains shrouded in mystery but could be comprised of the best young players in the game.

The Toronto Sun’s Mike Zeisberger took a brief crack at a proposed all-star roster a couple weeks ago. I tip my hat to him as I attempt to take the idea further. Let’s focus on the concrete idea: the Euro squad. How would this team look as a 25-man roster? And could it compete with the big dogs?

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Bure and Ovechkin: 702 games, three goals apart. Who’s better?

Alexander Ovechkin equalled Pavel Bure's career games played last weekend, and their numbers are remarkably similar. (Getty Images)

Don’t you love it when a perfect comparison delivers itself to you on a plate?

Credit to a Reddit user named ‘Nuppa Nuppa’ for pointing this out. Alex Ovechkin played his 702nd career game this past Saturday in Toronto. In doing so, he equalled Pavel Bure’s total. So arguably the two greatest pure goal scorers of the last 25 years sat at precisely the same sample size before Ovie reached 703 games Tuesday. Lo and behold, they were just three goals apart.

Bure: 702 games, 437 goals, 779 points
Ovechkin: 702 games, 434 goals, 835 points

Those numbers leap off the page, get down on their knees and beg us to ask: who is better? ‘The Russian Rocket’ or ‘Alexander the GR8′?

Let’s break it down.

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