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.
Don’t sleep on them Desert Dogs.
The Buffalo Sabres sure have held our attention this year, plummeting into the standings abyss in an unofficial push to win the Connor McDavid Sweepstakes. The Edmonton Oilers tire fire has populated plenty of headlines in Canada, as has the Toronto Maple Leafs’ shift toward a full rebuild.
But these Arizona Coyotes, I’ll tell ya. They struggle to fill their own building, so it’s no wonder they get lost in the noise. Yet in a span of 24 hours, they’ve set themselves on quite the path toward a bright future.
There’s often a disconnect between rumor and result as the NHL trade deadline approaches. No so with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the month of February. Name the rumored departure and it’s happened so far like clockwork. Unrestricted free agents-to-be Cody Franson, Mike Santorelli and Daniel Winnik were supposed to go, and they did. Early. No dillydallying from GM Dave Nonis. Off they went for picks, a prospect and warm bodies Zach Sill and Olli Jokinen.
The moves signalled the beginning of a rebuild but not a demolition of the team’s core just yet. It was obvious Nonis would ship out the UFAs to ensure he got something with his team way out of playoff contention.
Then came the David Clarkson bombshell. Essentially buying out Clarkson’s contract by acquiring the injured Nathan Horton, who doesn’t count against the cap, sent a message to the rest of the team: Toronto truly wants to shake up its nucleus. The operation is broke and needs fixing.
Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier played arguably his best game of the season Thursday night, turning away 47 Philadelphia Flyer shots in a 3-2 victory, and it was all the more impressive considering he and his teammates learned of the Clarkson news shortly before game time.
The team called a meeting and Clarkson wasn’t there. Bernier said he and the players knew something was up at that point.
We take a second crack at mock NHL trade deadline moves, this time shifting to the blueline. Defenseman trades are interesting because they involve such a premium position. It can lead to overpays. Stay-at-home Douglas Murray netted two second-round picks in 2013. Andrew MacDonald? A second- and third-rounder in 2014. Offense-minded D-men, especially those with manageable contracts and an additional year on their deals, can haul in more still. Jay Bouwmeester got Calgary a first-round pick when it sent him to St. Louis in 2013. Marek Zidlicky alone brought three skaters and two picks to Minnesota in 2012.
What, then, of sought-after Keith Yandle, Mike Green and Jeff Petry? Yandle has boom potential with a year left on his deal. Green and Petry make for handy rentals as pending unrestricted free agents. Here are some mock trades to consider.
Better rush to get this blog up before every name in the headline above finds a new team.
The writing on the wall is pretty much in perma-Sharpie for right winger Jaromir Jagr and center Antoine Vermette. Left winger Joffrey Lupul has a decent shot at changing addresses before March 2′s trade deadline, too, assuming the Toronto Maple Leafs eat some of his $5.25-million cap hit.
Admit it: one of the funnest things to do this time of year is speculate on deals and propose some of your own. Let’s take a crack at it in this space with a few plausible swaps for each on-the-block player.
The trade deadline marks a time of buyers and sellers, of lopsided deals helping one side in the short term and the other down the road.
That’s why Tuesday’s swap between the Anaheim Ducks and Montreal Canadiens feels odd. They rank second and first in their respective conferences and completed a true “hockey trade,” with right winger Devante Smith-Pelly, 22, going to Montreal for left winger Jiri Sekac, 22. Both players have one year remaining on their deals, Smith-Pelly at $800,000 and Sekac at $925,000, before becoming restricted free agents. They were born four days apart in 1992.
The NHL schedule makers were at their most poetic when they slotted Vancouver in for a Feb. 26 visit to Buffalo. Doing so would’ve put Canucks goalie Ryan Miller in town, and most likely slated to start, against his former team almost one year to the day after the Sabres traded him. He went to St. Louis in a pre-deadline blockbuster last Feb. 28.
Sadly, a leg injury sustained Sunday night against the New York Islanders cut Miller’s road trip short. He had to fly back to Vancouver for an MRI and is expected to be out four to six weeks. That means missing the Buffalo return altogether.
Sure, the “emotional return” to face a former team is sometimes a narrative constructed by journalists, but that is absolutely not so in Miller’s case. He and the Canucks practised in New York last Wednesday on an off day before facing the Rangers, and he was open and reflective about his time in Buffalo. Miller had plans to meet up with important people in his life he had left behind last year after the trade. He said he wanted his new teammates to tag along and meet some of his favorite people. He relished the chance to drag some Canucks out of their hotel and show them a different side of Buffalo. Miller speaks with pride about his former home. He clearly wants to dispel the myth perpetuated by, for example, Joffrey Lupul’s 2011 tweet from Buffalo in which he asked if there were any “windowless rooms” in his hotel.
What type of respect does a 73-point season earn you in today’s NHL? A lot, considering scoring has dipped sufficiently enough that we won’t have a 100-point scorer this season.
In 2013-14, Anze Kopitar had 70 points. Jonathan Toews had 68. Fourteen players had 73 or more points, including seven centers.
New York Rangers pivot Derek Stepan, 24, isn’t often if ever mentioned in the same breath as the elite at his position. And yet, after notching two more points in Thursday nights’s shootout loss to Vancouver, Stepan has 73 points over his past 82 games dating back to last season. He’s been even hotter if you shorten the timeline to last March onward, in which he’s amassed 62 points in his past 64 games. And that’s all the more impressive considering his 41 points in 42 games this season came after breaking his leg in a freak accident at training camp. It took three weeks of game action to feel comfortable, and Stepan told THN Thursday night he’s 100 percent now.
Bo Horvat strolled off the ice after the Vancouver Canucks’ Wednesday practice in New York as the quintessential rookie and anything but, all at once.
Horvat wore a turquoise, old-fashioned Jofa helmet emblazoned with teammate Henrik Sedin’s No. 33. The lid perched itself like a toupee, high on Horvat’s head, and looked like something any team would force a rookie to wear. But there was no hazing involved whatsoever. And here’s where Horvat’s contradictory nature comes into play.
“I saw it and wanted to try it on,” Horvat said with a smile. “It doesn’t even fit me, but it’s a cool helmet.”
He saw something he liked and he grabbed it. He wore it with the confident swagger of a seasoned veteran, looking very little like a 19-year-old that played in the OHL nine months ago and more like a filled out 25-year-old at six-foot and 206 pounds.
It’s been abundantly clear since the Canucks withheld Horvat from playing for Canada at the 2015 World Junior Championship that they believe he’s arrived. He’s been as hot as any Vancouver forward of late, amassing eight points in his past 10 games, delivering on the promise that made him the ninth overall pick at the 2013 draft.
He’s come along way considering coach Willie Desjardins didn’t think Horvat had a snowball’s chance in hell of making the team while conferring with GM Jim Benning just a few months ago.