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.
It hasn’t been the happiest week for EA Sports’ NHL 16 launch, as the company decided to remove Patrick Kane from the new video game’s cover amid the police investigation surrounding him. Thursday brought some better news, as EA’s new gameplay trailer sheds some intriguing light on the Be Pro Mode.
We can pinpoint the moment Tom Wilson went from background grinder to bona fide shift disturber. You can probably guess it: Game 4 of the first round in the 2015 playoffs, with his Washington Capitals visiting the New York Islanders.
The full-speed angle makes it look like Isles defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky got in Wilson’s way and paid the price. The slo-mo angle looks like Wilson carried out a search-and-destroy mission on Visnovsky. Wilson received a charging penalty but no suspension. The debate is played out, and there’s no point reopening it.
Regardless of how clean or dirty that collision was, it symbolized something. The Capitals trailed the series 2-1 at that point and pulled out a 2-1 overtime win to draw even. Afterward, the Isles were furious at Wilson. Kyle Okposo called him an “idiot.” New York arrived in D.C. hot under the collar for Game 5. Anders Lee challenged Wilson to a fight that left both parties bloodied. Casey Cizikas speared Wilson in the groin. The Isles took 31 minutes in penalties to the Capitals’ nine. Washington won 5-1 and took three of the final four games to capture the series.
“I’m just not getting the bounces” often sounds like a lame excuse for a struggling player. Sometimes, though, the numbers tell us that player is right.
Underachievers fall off statistical cliffs year to year because of anything from age (Patrick Marleau) to injury (Zdeno Chara) to changing environments (James Neal). Once in a while, though, a bad season is more the result of poor luck than anything else. Advanced statistics can tell us who didn’t “deserve” his struggles as much as it may seem and who is poised for a major rebound season as a result.
Here’s a short list of players who should return to respectability in 2015-16.
Meghan Agosta has charged into many a corner during her career. But none like this one.
There’s no puck waiting for her. No screaming fans. No goaltender. She might have a target to shoot at, but she can’t see it. She doesn’t know who it is, what it is, how big it is or if it wants to shoot back at her. She’s a Vancouver Police officer, on the trail of a criminal, and no amount of pressure-packed overtime games could’ve prepared her for this life-and-death situation. She’s first on the scene. She doesn’t know what’s behind that proverbial door.
And yet, there’s nowhere she’d rather be. She’s doing what she’s always wanted to do. A lucky handful of people on Earth have not one, but two true passions in life, and even fewer get to fulfill both. Meghan Agosta belongs to that select group.
We know her best as arguably the world’s top female hockey player. She’s a three-time Olympic gold medallist with Team Canada. She won the tournament MVP in 2010 with nine goals and 15 points in five games. She’s finished her career as NCAA women’s hockey’s all-time leader in goals and points. She demolished the CWHL’s single-season points record with 80 over 27 games in 2011-12.
It’s little surprise, then, to learn Agosta dreamed of playing hockey at the highest level since she was six. At the same time, another dream beckoned. Between every highlight-reel goal and tournament and trophy growing up, she’d hear the sound of sirens echoing somewhere in her native Windsor, Ont.
“I was looking and always wanted to know where they were going,” she said.
Dare I whisper the NHL off-season has…quieted down? A signing, re-signing, hiring, firing or retirement probably happened in the time it took to write this sentence. It’s been that kind of summer.
Seriously, though, we’ve reached the point at which most NHL teams have completed their major personnel moves. We’re far enough along that we’ve completed our standings predictions at the THN office. A few key unrestricted free agents remain out there, though, and one in particular could still shift the power balance in either conference.
Cody Franson? Nope. He’s a close second, as he’d be a high-impact signing, but his list of suitors is small. He should command $4.5 million per season at minimum and as much as $6 million. He’s a right-handed shot, after all. Too few teams can fit him under the salary cap. Of the 13 with $5 million or more in space, several look like tankers playing for the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft. Franson has declared himself “sick of one-year deals,” so a short-term, sign-and-fip-for-picks deal seems out of the question. Other teams who could afford him on paper, such as the Winnipeg Jets and Anaheim Ducks, have depth charts too jammed with young talent already. The Buffalo Sabres may have the best shot at him, as they’re bursting with dollars and supposedly done trying to nosedive. It’s a matter of convincing Franson they’re ready be competitive.
So while Franson is the best player still out there, the one with the highest potential impact is Mr. Christian Ehrhoff.
Nothing puts Cam Talbot’s new life in a nutshell like the simple act of trying to speak with him.
He’s easy enough to find at Smashfest, Dominic Moore’s charity ping-pong tournament. Talbot, 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, towers over most of the NHL players, journalists and fans in attendance. He’s a game interview subject, too, polite as can be and suggesting we find a quieter part of the building to hear each other better.
Every step Talbot takes, however, he’s mobbed. Fans cling to each of his appendages, begging for photo ops, and he obliges each with a smile. Every time it appears he’s home free, three more people grab him.
He apologizes, but I just shake my head.
“Don’t worry about it. Welcome to life on a Canadian team.”
The 2015 off-season hit Logan Couture like a punch in the face, because it began in April. It’s a horrible feeling to realize your season is over the day the regular season ends, and Couture, 26, never experienced it in his first five NHL seasons. His San Jose Sharks missed the post-season for the first time in his career this past spring, and he makes no effort to sugarcoat how much he hates that.
“It sucks. It really sucks.”
Couture resents the fact he hasn’t played competitive hockey since April 11 – a date he quotes, like he circled it on his calendar. He and the teammate he calls ‘Jumbo,’ fellow center Joe Thornton, felt a wave of frustration hit them earlier this summer when they realized they were used to playing hockey in May.
“We were golfing, and we both talked about how much this sucks, how we don’t want this to happen again,” Couture said. “It makes you hungrier and hungrier, and we’re ready to get an extra serving right now.”