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.

Top 10 NHL milestones that should be reached this season

Matt Larkin
Jaromir Jagr has a litany of milestones in his sights, most notably 1,800 points. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Call 2014-15 the year of the sneaky milestone, the season that’ll have people on the street saying “He’s played how many games?” and “That guy has that many goals? Who knew?!”

Perusing the top 10(ish) high-water marks that should be reached, you’ll find at least one legendary name and more than a few surprises.

10. Marc-Andre Fleury’s and Ryan Miller’s 300th wins

Even if both tenders have their share of critics, especially when it comes to their recent playoff performances, Fleury and Miller have done generally fine work in the regular season. At 288 and 294 victories, respectively, each guy should join the 300 club easily, becoming the 30th and 31st members.

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New Dallas Stars mascot is hideous – and that’s OK

Matt Larkin
Courtesy of Dallas Stars

By now, you’ve probably had a look at Victor E. Green, the Dallas Stars’ freshly unveiled mascot. You’ve also visited the nearest emergency eyewash station, flushed thoroughly and patted your face dry with a paper towel.

Victor is ugly. He’s that friend with a great personality who never gets responses on OkCupid and doesn’t know why. Oscar the Grouch, Youppi and a cockroach held hands, stepped inside Jeff Goldblum’s telepod from The Fly, and out popped Victor. He’s that giant toy you win at the beginning of a day at the amusement park and wish you could throw away.

The Victor vitriol is intense. A small sample from enraged Stars fans on Twitter:

“It looks like a booger with legs…”

“As long as his name is the Grinch that stole the Stanley Cup. ???”

“Vomits uncontrollably. WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS TO YOUR FANS?”

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Top 10 players to avoid in 2014-15 fantasy drafts

Matt Larkin
Drew Doughty is all-world in real life, but he's a surprisingly lackluster fantasy hockey performer. (Photo by David E. Klutho /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

The fascinating thing about creating a bust list: it’s complicated.

It does you no good to simply tell you, “Don’t draft Willie Mitchell in your fantasy league.” Nothing against Willie, as he remains a useful stay-at-home presence, but the tools in his belt aren’t used in hockey pools. Everyone knows that.

A proper fantasy bust list isn’t even a list of players I don’t like for 2014-15. It’s imperative I make that clear. My top 10 guys to avoid are not all guys I expect to have bad years. Factoring in my top 200 versus average draft positions in Yahoo leagues, as I did for the top 10 sleepers, I’m primarily identifying guys being drafted too early. Those who meet my criteria:

(a) Players whose production won’t match their average draft position
(b) Players being drafted ahead of players who will outperform them

Primary influencers: aging, new teams or linemates, and overhype. Hot rookies get drafted before Jason Pominville every year. Why? They labor to 45-point campaigns while Pominville calmly eclipses 60 points in his sleep. The key to avoiding a bust is ensuring you draft guys at the right moment. I’m plenty high on Jonathan Drouin, for example, but he’s going 10 picks before Pominville on average. That’s ludicrous unless it’s in keeper leagues. Everything has to go perfectly for Drouin merely to reach Pominville’s yearly production.

With those red flags in mind, here are my top 10 players to avoid in 2014-15 drafts based on their ADPs.

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10 players who should break out in 2014-15 based on analytics

Matt Larkin
Brandon Saad already looked like a strong breakout candidate for 2014-15, and his great possession numbers make it even more likely. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

Just when you thought the advanced stats horse was beaten dead, we bust out the Tommy gun one more time and give it the Sonny Corleone treatment.

It’s common to predict breakout candidates before every season, but the Great Analytics Boom of 2014 lets us do so through a new lens. Will advanced stats change our prognostications? Here’s a look at 10 players who will bust out if the fancy numbers tell us anything. Team stats come from progressivehockey.com. References to individual Corsi Close numbers come from the THN Ultimate Fantasy Guide.

10. Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils

On one hand, advanced statistics, at least the popular ones like Corsi and Fenwick, tell us little about goaltenders. On the other hand, those stats are much better indicators of team success than of individual success. We know (a) Cory Schneider is already great, having posted a 1.97 goals-against average and .921 save percentage last season; (b) he has the No. 1 gig to himself for the first time in his career after the Devils and Martin Brodeur parted ways; and (c) the Devils are the hidden darlings of advanced statistics. They were a top-four Corsi team last season. A great goalie with an expanded role on a team that does a great job limiting scoring chances? Looks like a recipe for eye-popping numbers, especially in wins and GAA.

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What would a 32-team NHL realignment look like?

Matt Larkin
One proposed realignment would put the Jets and Canucks in the same division, reminiscent of their Smythe days. (Photo by Lance Thomson/NHLI via Getty Images)

Talk of NHL expansion just won’t go away. It’s pluckier than the ice bucket challenge, despite Gary Bettman’s claims last week that expansion talk was “complete fabrication.”

Investigative reporter Rick Westhead’s story for TSN is plenty interesting. It asserts that, Bettman’s stance be damned, several senior NHL team sources suggest expansion will be a serious discussion topic at the NHL board of governors meetings Sept. 30. Sources also told TSN a team in Toronto would command a North American sports record $1.2-billion expansion fee via auction. Wow. You need Grand Canyon-like pockets to make the Toronto dream happen.

Let’s say it does, however. I’ll borrow from colleague Rory Boylen and call the team the Toronto Toros. And let’s say one of the other rumored expansion franchises comes through – Quebec City, Seattle or Las Vegas. What would a 32-team NHL look like? With a 16/14 imbalance between the East and West already, realignment would be a near certainty once a second Toronto team arrived. Eight divisions of four teams spread across two conferences makes plenty of sense. Assuming Rich Uncle Pennybags shells out $1.2 billion at an auction, I’ll draw up the NHL with Toronto 2.0 and one version with each of the other candidates. My assumed playoff format would differ from the NFL’s, in that I’d still put 16 teams through. But would it be best to have the top two from all eight divisions comprise the playoff picture, or just the division winners plus four wild cards? I’m guessing the latter.

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Pixels and pucks: a history of hockey video games

Matt Larkin
NHL 94 image

Hockey video games have made an incredible journey over the past three decades, from pixelated characters to the spitting images of real players, from mindless fun to managing a salary cap, from something little kids play to something NHL players compete to represent. THN delves into the world of consoles to unearth the nuts and bolts of every 
landmark release and paradigm shift in how our great sport has appeared in game form.

 

THE 1980S: COLD, HARD STEEL

 

It is 1988. I am five years old. I kneel before a large Zenith television, encased in wood panelling, inches away from a black screen, brow furrowed in frustration. It worked yesterday. I thought Dad fixed it. I pop the hood of my Nintendo Entertainment System and yank out the cartridge. I stick my bowl-haircutted head against the console and blow inside of it until my lungs are empty. He said it was dust. I jam the game back inside, turn it on and hear the sounds I’ve giddily awaited. First the high-pitched SCHLING! Then the familiar, muffled voice: “Blades…of Steel.”

It brings Dad jogging into the room. We grab controllers, choose our teams and go head-to-head for three hours straight. He beats me 10 times in a row. I cry. His rapid puck movement reminds me of those Red Army guys he told me about. The game’s voice, which I swear has a hand covering it, haunts me: “HITS THE PASS. HITS THE PASS. HITS THE PASS.”

Mom, furious, tells Dad to let me win. “No way,” he says. “When he beats me for real, it’ll be that much better.” And he’s right.

Ice Hockey. The simplistic name implied its creator didn’t understand the material. You know who calls our sport “ice hockey”? People who don’t watch or play it.

It was thus not a huge surprise the Nintendo Entertainment System’s 1988 release Ice Hockey had four skaters per team, not five, and a few faceless nations to choose from. Colin Moriarty, senior editor for the juggernaut video game publication IGN and a classic games expert, describes it as one cog in NES’s nondescript sport series, which included such original titles as Golf and Baseball.

“The ice was a little bit more wide open and the game wasn’t a simulation at all as much as it was a very arcadey experience,” Moriarty says. “But it was still fun. It was still a classic game.”

Anyone who played Ice Hockey remembers it fondly for one fun feature. Among those gamers: Sean Ramjagsingh, producer of EA Sports’ NHL series, the pinnacle of modern hockey gaming.

“Nintendo hockey: the skinny guy, the fat guy and the medium guy,” he says. “Very basic game mechanics. The fat guy was strong and the skinny guy was quick and fast. That’s how it started. Back then it was figuring out the easiest way – the consoles weren’t anywhere close to what they are now – to get something that looked like hockey. That being a player moving on an ice surface, as opposed to all the other sports with running, and trying to make that as real as possible.”

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What’s new in NHL 15? It’s a matter of physics

Matt Larkin
NHL15

Sometimes, it’s OK to enjoy the sizzle more than the steak.

If you’re a diehard hockey video gamer, you know it’s good to temper expectations when a game debuts on a new console. An entirely new generation means new bugs to work out. It’s thus not fair to compare NHL 15, the first release on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, to the final couple releases on Xbox 360 and PS3.

Chances are, there will be some kinks to work out between NHL 15 and NHL 16. Some 13-year-old kid will discover a glitch goal and annihilate the online competition. Much fuss has been made over the lack of game modes in this year’s edition, too.

But when EA Sports officially launched its newest game at the Mastercard Centre outside Toronto on Thursday, there was no point nitpicking. It’s too early for that. Instead, it was a day for wide-eyed appreciation at the latest leaps the game has made. There are many, and most of them relate to the look and feel.

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