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.
What happens when you’re caught between man among boys and boy among men?
It’s a question Jonathan Drouin had to answer a year ago, and it’s the same one Buffalo mega-prospect Sam Reinhart faces now. The Sabres announced Friday they were returning Reinhart to the Western League’s Kootenay Ice. At 18, he’s far from eligible for the American League, and he’d played his ninth NHL game, meaning one more would burn a year of his entry-level contract.
And the truth is Reinhart belongs in junior. Taken second overall in last June’s draft, he’s an oustanding prospect, a heady two-way center who can make everyone around him better. His superb hockey sense made plenty of scouts call him the draft class’ most NHL-ready player, but watching him this season suggested otherwise. His 6-foot-1, 185-pound frame isn’t quite ready to do battle against grown men. Tuesday when the Sabres visited Toronto, it was one of those games that had you checking the box score afterward to make sure he played. He was a non-entity, registering one shot and little else in 12:41 of ice time. That was largely the case through Reinhart’s first nine NHL games, in which he averaged 10:21 and managed one assist and three shots. In that tiny sample, his 31.1 Fenwick Close rating was 565th out of 568 qualifying NHLers.
Those numbers aren’t meant to harp on Reinhart. He has an outstanding career ahead of him. They do, however, suggest the Sabres were smart to send him down. And, to his credit, he gets it. I spoke with him after Tuesday’s game in Toronto. The elephant in the hallway was that he had one more game until his probable return to the WHL. In his short stay, he learned plenty. He lists veterans Brian Gionta, Cody McCormick, Matt Moulson and Josh Gorges as hugely helpful with their day-to-day advice. And game situations opened his eyes as well.
“Obviously you knew it was going to be a challenge,” Reinhart said. “It’s the best thing in the world, and to try and make the jump is difficult. The biggest thing I’ve tried to focus on and learned is the pace and intensity. It’s not as much the speed skating up and down the ice – it’s the overall speed and intensity with the puck. To want the puck, that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned.”
Gordie Howe, one of the game’s true legends, suffered a serious stroke earlier this week. His condition remains serious but his family says it is improving.
Amid the well wishes for Howe, 86, we’ve seen an outpour of nostalgia and people sharing their favorite memories of him, from his dominant play as the original power forward to the way he always took time for others and never minded being adored, as he understood what it felt like to be on the other end.
We’ve also seen lots of Howe photos popping up, and the one above, of Howe fishing for tuna, blew me away. The imgur user who posted it said it best: “Now I know how he knocked so many people around.”
The before: my summer conversation with Buffalo Sabres right winger Chris Stewart.
“You look at our team now and there are 13 or 14 new faces. So we come in and think of last year as an anomaly. There’s nothing we can do now. We can worry about the future. I hear everybody talking about tanking for Connor McDavid. That’s not in my DNA, personally.”
The after: my conversation with Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers after Tuesday’s humiliating loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“It didn’t go our way because we didn’t work. That was an embarrassing effort, top to bottom, from our group, including myself. We hung out our goalie (Michal Neuvirth). He battled as much as he could, and we didn’t give him any help.
“Something’s got to change. This is probably the worst we’ve had it.”
It’s not like optimism in Buffalo was sky-high entering 2014-15, but there was a glimmer of hope the team would improve. General manager Tim Murray brought back Matt Moulson and added a cadre of veterans, including Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges and Andrej Meszaros. Maybe, just maybe, the Sabres would trudge their way up the basement stairs.
But, goodness, Tuesday in Toronto was a sight to behold. The Sabres’ 10 shots set a 44-year franchise low. They’ve been shut out four times in six games and are on pace to double the record for the most donuted team in one NHL campaign. They average 1.1 goals per game. After posting an NHL-worst 41.0 Corsi Close percentage last season, they sit at 36.6 percent after 10 contests.
The hits – and breaks – just keep on coming for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Nathan Horton’s degenerative back condition may cost him his career. Ryan Murray missed the first three weeks with a lingering knee injury. Boone Jenner broke his hand. Brandon Dubinsky had abdominal surgery. Nick Foligno sustained a stinger in a dangerous collision on the weekend. Matt Calvert landed on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. Cam Atkinson got cut across his eyelid and cheek by a skate and needed 40 stitches.
Despite all the maladies piling up, the Jackets and their fans could take solace in the fact they had Sergei Bobrovsky. He was the great equalizer, having posted a 2.27 goals-against average and .925 save percentage across 104 appearances since joining the Blue Jackets in 2012-13. He almost carried a talent-thin team to the playoffs two seasons ago, winning the Vezina Trophy.
For the second straight year, however, ‘Bob’ will miss a meaningful chunk of time. He fractured a finger Monday when a puck hit him during practice. The team hasn’t indicated exactly how it happened. The initial prognosis is just 1-2 weeks, which isn’t too bad at all, but it seems overly optimistic for a goaltender. You need that finger to be tip-top any time pucks fly toward it. The short timetable suggests it’s just a hairline fracture and/or an injury to a non-significant digit (i.e. blocker hand instead of catching hand).
The spotlight shone on Kings blueliner Slava Voynov last week after he was arrested on domestic violence charges, but it’s shifted back to Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov now. Varlamov’s ex-girlfriend, Evgeniya Vavrinyuk, has slapped him with a civil lawsuit stemming from last year’s domestic violence incident.
Last fall, misdemeanor assault charges against Varlamov, which could’ve resulted in jail time, were dropped. Denver prosecutors filed a motion to dismiss the charges because they believed they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt Varlamov assaulted Vavrinyuk Oct. 29, 2013. District attorney spokeswoman Lynn Kimsborough insisted “that’s not to say we don’t believe our victim,” however.
Now, Vavrinyuk will look for justice a second time against Varlamov, as TMZ Sports has learned of the lawsuit, in which she will seek more than $1 million, according to TMZ’s sources.
The suit, filed in Colorado by attorney Keith Fink, contains scathing and serious allegations. Stick tap to Pro Hockey Talk, who obtained a copy of the lawsuit, which can be read here. It corroborates TMZ’s reports and alleges Vavriynuk “feared for her life.” The suit describes the alleged assaults in disturbing detail. Here’s an excerpt chronicling the first alleged assault. To warn you, the content is graphic:
If you’re a football fan, you know the best coach tirades don’t always come from the professional ranks. Ask Mike Gundy. And while the likes of John Tortorella get the headlines in the NHL, major junior can provide us with gems, too.
Tuesday night was a tough one for the Sudbury Wolves, who lost 7-2 to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyounds. The season has been nothing short of hellish for the Wolves, who are 1-10-0 and have lost 10 straight since winning their opener. They’ve been outscored 49-19.
Coach Paul Fixter decided he was simply fed up while answering post-game questions from reporters. The first interviewer, CTV’s Lincoln Louttit, grinds his way through few awkward silences, trying to get Fixter’s thoughts on the obvious: that he’s frustrated with his team’s play. But the real fireworks start around the 0:55 mark when off-camera interviewer Peter Ruicci of the Sault Star questions the team’s work ethic:
Do hockey players believe in curses? The easy answer is “Of course not.” An athlete who lets superstitions dictate his game isn’t made for The Show. But if there were ever a player to start believing, could you blame David Clarkson?
In the summer of 2013, fresh off landing a seven-year, $36.8-million contract, Clarkson appeared on THN’s cover, postured as Toronto’s next great fan favorite. He grew up a diehard Leafs fan, so he happily posed for the shoot, after which we photoshopped blue blood trickling down his cheek.
He was positioned for a season he’d never forget. And while that did come to pass, it wasn’t what he imagined. There was the 10-game suspension to start the year after he left the bench to join a fight during a pre-season game. There was the gruesome elbow gash that cost him eight contests. And there were the slumps. A man expected to chip in 20 to 30 goals gave Toronto five in 60 games.
This September, excited to have a blank slate, Clarkson broke his cheekbone in a fight with Buffalo’s Cody McCormick just days before the season started. Ugh. Even the most scientific person would start to wonder about a hex at that point.
“It definitely went through my head,” Clarkson said. “It was tough. After hitting that reset button and feeling good this year and doing everything I did over the summer, to break the bone, that wasn’t fun.”
It’s a horrific day for Canada, as a shooting tragedy has shaken the nation’s capital.
At least one gunman opened fire at Ottawa’s National War Memorial Wednesday morning, wounding a soldier, who was later pronounced dead. The assailant then moved to Parliament Hill, firing upon and wounding a security guard before the assailant was killed, reportedly by the Parliament’s sergeant-at-arms.
Police continued a hectic chase after the incident and more shots were fired, suggesting multiple attackers may still be on the loose. Parliament itself and an increasingly large portion of the downtown core is on lockdown as police continue their pursuit. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was safely moved away from Parliament Hill and out of harm’s way.
The Hockey News’ thoughts are with the citizens of Ottawa and anyone affected by these atrocities. It feels trivial to bring hockey into the discussion, but it’s our job to tell you everything you need to know about the sport.
UPDATE: The NHL has officially postponed tonight’s game. It posted the following on its website: