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.

We finally understand the Anaheim Ducks’ goalie situation

Matt Larkin
John Gibson (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

The off-season, naturally, is a time for reflection. We try to project the standings. We assess which teams won and lost the summer based on their signings and trades or lack thereof. And, without fail, we speculate on goaltending battles.

If I use Twitter, blog comments and reader emails as the measuring stick, no crease has the world’s hockey fans more puzzled than that of the Anaheim Ducks. Has Frederik Andersen solidified himself as the No. 1? Isn’t John Gibson supposed to be the world’s top goaltending prospect? And what the heck is Anton Khudobin doing in Orange County?

Believe it or not, John Gibson’s new three-year, $6.9-million extension helps us finally understand how GM Bob Murray and coach Bruce Boudreau will sort out the Ducks’ net.

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Jaromir Jagr blackmailed with photo, could not care less about it

Matt Larkin
Jaromir Jagr

Jaromir Jagr, 43, has reached that fun stage of his career where he’s as much myth as he is man. He’s rapidly ascending the all-time scoring ranks thanks to a massive library of highlight-reel offensive plays over the past two-and-a-half decades. He has a real chance to pass Gordie Howe for third in points this season. And yet, Jagr isn’t the old dog we patronize with standing ovations during a bittersweet farewell tour. He remains a relevant NHLer with enough bounce left in his step to land him on a solid first line in Florida with Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov.

The “man” side of Jagr remains a legit force, but he continues to add to the “myth” side, too. He’s inspired a line of peanut butter and a Czech musical. He’s named himself as his own favorite player. He’s made this outfit look cool. And, for his latest trick, he’s taking down blackmailers.

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Why we must accept Max Pacioretty as Canadiens captain

Matt Larkin
Max Pacioretty (Jared Silberg/Getty Images)

We’ve waited with bated breath throughout September for the Montreal Canadiens to announce their 29th captain. And in the days leading up to the inevitable reveal, sheesh, did P.K. Subban ever build momentum.

Subban was already a man of the people – affable, funny, charismatic, more approachable than most athletes and a damn good hockey player. He checked off many a box on the layman’s list of captain criteria. And then, boom, he makes the biggest philanthropic commitment by any Canadian athlete ever, $10 million, to the Montreal Children’s Hospital two days ago. If there ever was a captainly move, that was it. And I’m comfortable admitting I strongly supported the idea of Subban captaining the Habs. Dynamic, fiery player who can carry a team on his back, with a prominent voice and strong community presence? Yes, please. He was my No. 1 vote.

But that doesn’t mean we should hiss and hurl tomatoes at Max Pacioretty, who was unveiled as Montreal’s captain Friday. Subban may be the people’s choice as captain, but he wasn’t the players’ choice, and who are we to dispute that?

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Inside Jonathan Huberdeau’s two-year “prove it” contract

Matt Larkin
Jonathan Huberdeau (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Wasn’t P.K. Subban’s contract last summer, paying him $9 million annually, supposed to be a cautionary tale about bridge deals?

The Montreal Canadiens didn’t lock him down as a restricted free agent in 2012, opting for a two-year extension. He ended up winning the Norris Trophy in 2012-13 and, boom, the bridge deal didn’t look so good anymore. The Ottawa Senators, on the other hand, nabbed Erik Karlsson on a seven-year extension that same summer after his entry-level deal and have him for four more seasons at $6.5 million per, which is a steal. Drew Doughty walked out of his ELC into an eight-year contract with a $7-million cap hit. He’s a steal, too, for four more seasons. John Tavares, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews all signed long extensions for their second deals that turned out to be massive bargains.

The Habs went the short-term route with Subban on his second contract, and he now makes more money per year than all but four NHLers on his third contract, with seven years left on an eight-year deal. You’d think it would scare teams into avoiding the bridge, but that hasn’t really happened. Ryan Johansen has just two years left on his deal after last summer’s arduous negotiation. And this summer has been rife with bridge contracts, from Mika Zibanejad’s to Elias Lindholm’s to Mikael Granlund’s to Alex Galchenyuk’s to Brock Nelson’s and, most recently, Jonathan Huberdeau’s.

The Panthers have inked their first-line left winger, a restricted free agent, to a two-year, $6.5-million contract carrying a $3.25-million cap hit. It’s a bridge deal if there ever was one.

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Steven Stamkos versus flying robots? Yes, please

Matt Larkin

Some things in life need little introduction.

Do you like Steven Stamkos? Yes.

Do you like seeing Steven Stamkos do crazy things with a puck? Yes.

Do flying drone robots, equipped with tiny targets, fascinate you when placed in a hockey rink? Yes.

Is it a good idea for Stamkos to battle the drones, armed with a stick, a puck and his laser-like shot? Of course.

Let’s enjoy the sum of those parts, courtesy of a Sport Chek promo video:

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Report: NHL to use “concussion spotters” at every game

Matt Larkin
NHL logo (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

There’s a sobering regret with the news of Ryane Clowe’s retirement at 32. The Clowe as we knew him has been gone a couple seasons, too. Concussions repeatedly did him in. It’s only natural to wonder if his early demise was preventable. Could Clowe have played five more years if we knew more about head trauma, how to prevent it and how to identify it mid-game before it’s too late?

The NHL took a step toward solving the latter this week. As reported by Renaud Lavoie, “The NHL will introduce spotters for every game this season. The spotters will be for purposes of determining invisible signs of concussion.”

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Is virtual reality the future of hockey video games?

Matt Larkin
Screenshot of NHL 16.

The Jetsons and Back to the Future II sure missed the mark depicting our future. Sassy robots don’t serve us breakfast, skateboards still have wheels and, for the love of God, cars do not fly.

Standing on the ice at Toronto’s MasterCard Centre last summer, however, could almost trick the mind into believing we’d realized popular fiction’s utopian future. Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly and Montreal Canadiens sniper Max Pacioretty darted around the ice clad in black suits, covered in reflective balls. As the players deked, shot and play-fought, cameras surrounding the rink bounced light off the balls, triangulating the visual information. Instantaneously, on a TV screen just behind the boards, video game avatars mimicked each player’s movement in real time. Voila, motion-capture technology, the lifeblood of EA Sports’ insanely realistic hockey video game series.

“It looks a lot more restrictive than it actually was,” Pacioretty said after removing his high-tech gear. “I was expecting to go out there and feel like I wasn’t a hockey player, but we felt pretty comfortable. The technology was amazing.”

Other video game genres, such as action or horror, have actors perform all the movements and dialogue in similar MoCap suits, creating a smooth, cinematic experience. Sean Ramjagsingh, producer of EA Sports’ NHL series, told THN a few years back the company’s goal was photorealism. He envisioned a console presentation virtually impossible to distinguish from a real-life broadcast on TV, so that people would have to stop and stare to realize it was a video game.

We’ve more or less achieved that feat today. Graphics will inch forward a bit each year, especially given the power of eighth-generation consoles PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but it’s the law of diminishing returns now. These games look amazing already. What, then, will the future bring in hockey gaming – and all sports gaming for that matter – in 10, 20 or 50 years? How can we possibly advance any further?

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Curtis Glencross should make Maple Leafs – and become part of their master plan

Matt Larkin
Curtis Glencross. (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)

Another day, another respectable veteran addition to Toronto’s island of misfit toys.

On Wednesday the Maple Leafs signed left winger Curtis Glencross, 32, to a professional tryout. That comes less than a month after right winger Devin Setoguchi joined the Blue and White on a PTO.

Glencross shouldn’t have much trouble making this team. He’s produced eight straight seasons of double-digit goal scoring. He’s a two-time 20-goal man. He’s an accurate shooter, 12 percent or better in seven of his eight full seasons. Glencross disappointed as Washington Capitals trade deadline acquisition from Calgary this past spring, but a guy who produces 35 points in a down year still has a place on any NHL roster.

Why Toronto, though? Why would a scorched-earth rebuild squad want a veteran top-nine forward? It’s all part of a master plan being confidently executed by the Leafs’ suped up new regime, including Brendan Shanahan, Mike Babcock, Lou Lamoriello, Kyle Dubas and Mark Hunter.

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