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.

Advanced stats vs. the old guard: inside the bitter rivalry

Matt Larkin
Simmons tweet

It’s late June 2014. Tyler Dellow and Steve Simmons want to kill each other. Hyperbole? Probably. At the very least, though, Simmons is about to boil over and Dellow calmly relishes it.

Dellow, a Toronto-based lawyer, and Simmons, a Toronto-based sports columnist, are debating the validity of advanced statistics on a radio show and, more specifically, statistical darling Mikhail Grabovski versus clutch playoff performer Dave Bolland. Simmons tells Dellow, one of the leading voices in the analytics community, to throw his stats out the window and look at Grabovski’s lone-wolf tendencies as a center.

“I just judge hockey players based on whether their team scores more goals than the other team,” Dellow says, “and when Grabovski’s on the ice, that happens.”

“One guy, who won a Stanley Cup scoring the game-winning goal in the final minute of Game 6? The other guy’s never been close to that,” Simmons retorts, twice as loudly.

“Yeah, and what did Dave Bolland do?” Dellow teases. “Is he Jonathan Toews’ dad? Because I’m not sure how you’re giving him credit for the team he played on.”

The tension is palpable and very much what we’ve come to expect from a rivalry that exploded over blogs and the social media universe in recent seasons.

“It’s kind of like the Hatfield and McCoy feud,” said Globe and Mail hockey columnist David Shoalts. They went on so long, nobody can remember how or why it got started.”

Little did we know the advanced statistics versus old-guard debate, the nerds versus dinosaurs war, would go from hot fad to revolution over the summer.

It was a full-on NHL takeover for the stat heads. Dellow now works for the Oilers. Sunny Mehta, a pro poker player turned Oilers blogger, was named the New Jersey Devils’ director of analytics. Whiz-kid stat guru-turned Ontario League GM Kyle Dubas, 28, is now the assistant GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who also launched an analytics department and poached the minds behind extraskater.com.

The slew of hirings brought validation to the growing community of thinkers who believe possession-driven statistics like Corsi and Fenwick are the best predictors of success in the NHL. And they poured gasoline on the fiery fight emerging between the stat heads and the traditional-thinking journalists.

“They think I’m a moron, to be honest,” Simmons said. “Not someone who’s covered the NHL for 34 years, not someone who coached hockey for 25 and is a level 3 instructor, not someone who ran hockey schools. I’m a moron.”

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The NHL’s 10 worst contracts

Matt Larkin
(David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

It’s not the pre-season, but it’s the pre-pre-season. That means assessing each team’s chances for 2014-15 and beyond, looking their rosters up and down and even checking out their salary cap situation.

When we peruse the contracts on capgeek.com, our eyes bug out of our head from time to time. “They paid how much for how long for that guy? I forgot about that.” Some deals have cumbersome cap hits, others absurdly long terms for players past their primes, and many have no-trade clauses. The perfect storm of bad contracts contains all three, and some of my picks for the league’s 10 worst deals fit that description.

We’ll start with No. 10.

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THN’s top 200 fantasy players for 2014-15

Matt Larkin
SidneyCrosby

I love the Don Henley track “Boys of Summer.” It’s almost impossible to sing the chorus in karaoke, which sucks, but I dig the way it captures this time of year. Nobody on the road…nobody on the beach…I feel it in the air…the summer’s out of reach.

That feeling – mild chill in the air, slight breeze – gets me thinking about fantasy hockey drafts. It’s that time again. Most of what you need to know for your draft is in our crackerjack THN Ultimate Fantasy Guide, which is on newsstands now. You’ll even find a sorted list of the top 300 projected scorers.

One thing that list doesn’t cover, however, is any league not based entirely on points. What about the head-to-head formats in which you accumulate goaltending stats and penalty minutes on top of your offensive numbers? How do you know when to draft a goalie or defenseman over a forward?

I present to you a new ranking set. This list is based on a standard Yahoo head-to-head format with the following categories: goals, assists, plus-minus, penalty minutes, power play points, shots on goal, wins, goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts.

Personally, I like scrapping penalty minutes for hits and adding saves to the goalie category, but I’ll stick with the standard configuration to ensure these rankings have a wider reach. Let’s get it on! Watch for updates throughout training camps.

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Chris Stewart on Sabres season: “Tanking is not in my DNA”

Matt Larkin
Chris Stewart

It’s hard not to think of Chris Stewart’s 2013-14 season as a slow, smothering banishment. He entered the season with St. Louis as its reigning top scorer, but that feels like an eternity ago. He struggled to find his consistency and fell as far as the fourth line.

Then came the trade to the lowly Sabres, with Stewart heading to Buffalo as part of the Ryan Miller swap. Looking back on it, plenty of players would sugarcoat their feelings and talk about what a great opportunity it was. Not Stewart. He tells it like it is, which is extremely refreshing.

“It was kind of frustrating,” Stewart said. “Being traded from the first place to the last place team in the league, that was definitely a surprise. But I got there, and I’m willing to go anywhere a team wants me and is going to show me that respect, give me a chance to showcase my talents. So I’m excited to be there. We made a lot of changes in the off-season. We’re going to have a team next year with Teddy Nolan leading the charge. We’re going to be ready to compete and surprise a lot of teams.”

And where does Stewart fit into that puzzle? You never know what you’re going to get with him performance-wise. There’s no doubting his raw ability. He’s a hulking power forward, 6-foot-2 and an honest 231 pounds, and still squarely in his prime at 26. He’s a legitimate goal scorer when he’s focused and on his game, having notched 28 twice. He’s capable of taking a team on his back when he’s hot. He sniped 15 goals in 26 games after the Colorado Avalanche traded him to St. Louis during the 2010-11 season.

On the other hand, coaches have called Stewart’s work ethic into question on and off throughout his career. This is a talented player, with a first-round draft pedigree, and his coaches expect high output from him every game. When they haven’t gotten that, they’ve pushed Stewart down the depth chart and even into the press box on occasion.

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New All-Star jersey photo leaked – Should we love it or hate it?

Matt Larkin
ASG jersey 2

The NHL gave us heavy dose of special Stadium Series jerseys last season, consistently infused with a shiny chrome treatment over the logos.

According to a leaked photo posted on the website Icethetics, the chrome takeover continues. The key detail missing: we don’t yet know what this jersey will be used for. If it’s a practice jersey – and it sure looks like one – it’s pretty darned cool. The black and white are simple and classy enough, and the huge, shimmering NHL crest immediately grabs the eye.

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NHL 15 has no GM Connected or EASHL mode on Xbox One, PS4

Matt Larkin
Oshie15

We’re just weeks away from the NHL 15 launch date, Sept. 9. Early teaser videos have whetted many diehard gamer appetites, as has talk of new game physics and recently released overhead footage.

The gameplay in the new next-generation console clips (Xbox One, PlayStation 4), looked crisp and shiny, but surprisingly similar to that of previous versions, especially in how goals were scored, as my colleague Rory Boylen noticed. The pressure is on to deliver a major upgrade in the hockey gaming experience – especially in light of a disappointing announcement this week.

EA Sports released its NHL 15 game modes for the next-gen consoles. Excluded from them are popular EA Sports Hockey League mode, or EASHL, and GM Connected mode. Both will still appear on Xbox 360 and the PS3. The key hook of both: they allow teams of six humans (five skaters and one person controlling the goalie manually like a maniac) to battle other teams of six humans in a fully functioning, take-over-your-life experience. We’re talking leagues, schedules, and even skill-based promotions and relegations like you’d find in your local beer league. In GM Connected, 30 different people can run 30 different franchises. It means giving up your job and love life but, still, it’s friggin’ hardcore.

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Mark Giordano says breakout was about confidence, not stats

Matt Larkin
Mark Giordano

We still have a month left of summer, but you wouldn’t know it standing face to face with Mark Giordano. He’s in great shape, and he has great posture. He’s alert, almost bouncing on his heels. He very much looks ready to play NHL games today.

He’s enjoyed the usual hockey player off-season, full of golf – more than he’d like, considering he was free to hit the links in April – and visiting family. But Giordano, 30, says all the activities designed to get his mind off the game are winding down now.

“At this point of the summer, now you’re getting those butterflies, because you know camp is coming back,” he said.

Back to that exemplary posture of his. He’s by no means cocky, but he has a quiet confidence about him. He doesn’t look like someone just one year into life as an NHL captain. That or it’s simply clear the Calgary Flames made the right choice.

He says his life hasn’t changed too much since the ‘C’ was stitched onto his jersey for the start of 2013-14, that he simply leads by example, and that he believes young players look up to that more than anything. After all, Giordano says, that’s what he always did in his early years in the NHL.

“Lead by example” has become a classic hockey cliché in this era of captain by committee, but Giordano sure seems to back up what he says. His first season as captain was the best of his career. His 14 goals and 47 points were career highs, and he hit those marks despite missing 18 games. He still ranked sixth and 11th among NHL blueliners in those two categories, higher when you exclude Brent Burns, who played forward last year but was listed among D-men. Pro-rate Giordano’s totals over 82 games and he’d have 18 goals and 60 points. Only Erik Karlsson and Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith averaged more points per game. Giordano finished 10th in Norris voting (with one first-place vote), and would’ve been higher if advanced statistics carried more weight on the ballot. Giordano’s Corsi was the best in the NHL relative to who he played with and who he played against.

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Erik Karlsson would accept Sens captaincy. Is he the right pick?

Matt Larkin
ErikKarlsson

At 24, Erik Karlsson is already the best offensive defenseman of his era. His 74 points were 13 more than the next-closest blueliner, Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith, had in 2013-14. Karlsson has outscored every D-man in the league by 29 or more points over the last three seasons.

But should he be a captain right now?

The Ottawa Senators have a vacancy after trading Jason Spezza to the Dallas Stars. This week, when asked about wearing the ‘C,’ Karlsson responded with an open mind.

“Obviously it’s something I wouldn’t say no to, (but) it’s not something that I’m going to ask for,” Karlsson told the Senators website Monday. “Whoever makes the decision is going to make the right one, and whether it’s me or someone else, it’s going to be good for the team and good for the organization.”

The idea of Karlsson wearing the ‘C’ raises the question: what constitutes a captain in today’s NHL? And has it changed in recent years?

Here’s a look at the league’s captains 20 years ago, in 1993-94. Top-30 scorers that year are bolded, as are defensemen who scored in the top five at their position. Age at the start of that season is in brackets.

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