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.

2014-15 THN office fantasy draft results

Matt Larkin
It was a mild shock when John Tavares went second overall in the THN draft. (Getty Images)

What’s best way to prepare for your fantasy draft? Checking out player rankings is a smart idea. But there’s something especially useful about studying other drafts. When poolies are on the clock, they make slightly different decisions. Gut feelings and biases steer them in unexpected directions. It happened often during THN’s 2014-15 office draft, which spanned 15 rounds in a snake format and included 150 NHL players.

It’s a points-only league, meaning no goalies and a lopsided forward-to-defenseman ratio. Here’s a look at the “experts,” in draft order:

1. Ryan Kennedy, associate senior writer
2. Ronnie Shuker, associate editor
3. Jason Kay, editor in chief
4. Dominik ‘The Hammer’ Luszczyszyn, intern
5. Ken Campbell, senior writer
6. Matt Larkin, associate editor, a.k.a. me, a.k.a. the defending champion
7. Adam Proteau, columnist
8. Brian Costello, senior editor
9. Shea Berencsi, graphic designer
10. Edward Fraser, managing editor

I’m not gonna lie — I made up Dom the intern’s nickname. Like, right now, on the spot. He doesn’t even know it’s his nickname…yet.

Here’s a look at how the draft played out, round by round, pick by pick.

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Capitals’ Eric Fehr writes anti-bullying book for kids

Matt Larkin
Eric Fehr hopes his book can get through not just to bullying victims, but to bullies. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

From the files of “Awwwww…” comes Washington Capitals right winger/center Eric Fehr, who has revealed himself as a budding author. His new children’s book. The Bulliest Dozer, drops Oct. 9.

What’s the book about? It’s exactly what it sounds like. It tells the tale of a bulldozer who happens to be a bully. Bo Dozer is embarrassed because he can’t skate, and he’s nervous about an upcoming holiday performance on ice at school, so he takes out his frustration by bullying other students. That doesn’t work out so well for Bo. The book teaches kids the perils of bullying and why it’s better to rely on friends. Atta boy, Mr. Fehr. Here’s the cover:

 

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THN’s top 200 fantasy players for 2014-15

Matt Larkin
Johnny Gaudreau's impressive pre-season has him shooting up the fantasy draft rankings, including THN's. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

Last chance to cram. The 2014-15 NHL season starts Wednesday, and a bunch of fantasy leagues still have drafting to do. I’m here to provide some 11th-hour help.

Most of what you need to know 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!

OCT. 6 UPDATE: The pre-season winds down, and we’ve learned a few things, from injuries to projected line combinations to buzzy rookies. With those factors in mind, here are my final rankings for 2014-15 drafts.

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Remember the NHL 2K video game? It’s back – and so is cover boy Ryan Kesler

Matt Larkin
After a four-year hiatus, the NHL 2K video game series returns, and it brings back Ryan Kesler as the face of the product. (Getty Images)

The video game stars have aligned this fall. The EA Sports juggernaut has enjoyed a monopoly on the NHL license for several seasons, but it picked a questionable time to release a flawed game. NHL 15 possesses amazing feel and physics, but gamers have marched their virtual torches to EA’s door, angry about a serious lack of game modes.

Quite a time, then, for the NHL 2K series to return after a four-year hiatus. The game drops any day now on iOS and Android, meaning it’s playable on virtually all phones and tablets.

Also making a comeback: 2K cover athlete Ryan Kesler. By my account, he’s the first video game athlete to grace a cover again after a four-year hiatus. He laughs when I point that out, and he seems genuinely honored to be named the face of 2K again.

“It was pretty cool, obviously,” Kesler said. “I developed a relationship over the years with 2K, working with them even before I was on the cover of 2K11. That was a dream come true. When they came to me again and gave me this opportunity, it’s something you don’t turn down.”

And NHL 2K aims to deliver something a little different than the competition, targeting the more casual gamer, maybe the type who finds hardcore simulation games like EA Sports’ NHL and Madden series, SCE’s MLB: The Show and even NBA 2K too daunting. It offers a three-season My Career Mode and has live roster updates, but its bread and butter will be a fast-paced, 3-on-3 mini rink game. It projects to have more of an arcadey feel to it.

Here’s a shot of the regular gameplay:

 

Courtesy 2K Sports

Courtesy 2K Sports

 

Kesler, 30, is grew up in the video game generation, so he knows what he wants in a game. He laments how hard sports games are to control on tablets, but he says NHL 2K breaks that mold. He’s pumped about the mini rink games. Most of all, though, he loves the shootout mode.

“Definitely something that’s going to be a competition on the planes,” Kesler said. “We’re going to be playing each other in shootouts, and it’s going to get pretty heated on the planes during road trips.”

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Drew Doughty disses analytics, accidentally disses himself

Matt Larkin
Drew Doughty calls advanced stats 'crap', but those very stats point out his dominance as a player. (Getty Images)

Of all people to speak out against advanced stats… Drew Doughty?

That’s like Arnold Schwarzenegger speaking out against explosions. Or Psy saying he hates one-hit wonders. Or Jack Edwards lamenting the homerism in today’s broadcasters.

Drew, no. Please. You are the unofficial poster child for advanced statistics. You drive possession like few other players in the game. Your Corsi and Fenwick ratings are through the roof, and they’ve helped you guide your team to two Stanley Cups in three years.

OK, so maybe Jake Muzzin is the actual analytics poster child among players, but it’s pretty clear metrics like Corsi measure team performance better than they do individual performance. That’s why pretty much the entire Kings roster ranks among the league leaders in possession stats, and it’s a big reason why Muzzin is the league’s reigning Corsi champion. He was a solid find for GM Dean Lombardi, but Muzzin keeps great company as Doughty’s partner.

So if we accept Doughty is the league’s true stats darling, it’s disconcerting to learn he can’t stand the concept. Doughty to L.A. Kings Insider, when asked about Muzzin’s Corsi rating:

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Top 10 Hart Trophy candidates for 2014-15

Matt Larkin
Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are again leading candidates to win the Hart. (Getty Images)

The Hart Trophy debate is my favorite of the Great Hockey Debates, largely because nobody knows what the award truly means.

By definition, the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association votes for “the player judged to be most valuable to his team.” It’s debatable whether that happens. Last year, it’s safe to say the Penguins would’ve gone nowhere without Sidney Crosby. But was any player more valuable to his team the year before than John Tavares, who almost singlehandedly took the Islanders to the playoffs? He finished third in the vote, with the Hart going to the defensively deficient but offensively potent Alex Ovechkin.

More often that not, the Hart skews toward prolific point totals, so keep in mind that my top 10 Hart candidates for 2014-15 factor in that common bias. Sorry, Patrice Bergeron and Anze Kopitar.

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Can the Buffalo Sabres get Connor McDavid AND Jack Eichel?

Matt Larkin
Buffalo drafting Jack Eichel, left, and Connor McDavid back to back is a wild idea, but it's not as impossible as you may think. (Getty Images)

McDavid or Eichel. Eichel or McDavid. What about both?

The latter is a question only one team has the luxury of asking this season. The Buffalo Sabres, talked up as one of the franchises most likely to land the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft, have a strong chance to become Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel’s future home. The tandem headlines the most exciting draft class in years. Each projects as a generational talent. We have the next Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin on our hands if the scouts are right.

One storyline I haven’t heard yet, however: what if Buffalo lands McDavid and Eichel?

It’s far-fetched, even borderline silly. At this moment, however, the odds of one NHL team picking first and second in the draft are better than they’ve ever been, excluding the zany days in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the Montreal Canadiens were gifted the first few selections.

The reason is three words long: New York Islanders.

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Did Ryan Ellis deserve a five-year deal? Predators say yes. Here’s why

Matt Larkin
Predators management believes Ryan Ellis can blossom offensively this season. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/ Getty Images)

Take a look at Nashville Predators blueline depth chart. If your eyes bug out of your head, you’re forgiven.

The defense corps’ present and future are blindingly bright. Shea Weber, the game’s most complete player at his position, leads the way, usually paired with rapidly improving, well-rounded Roman Josi. A phenom named Seth Jones joined the fray last year, making the team as a teenager months after Nashville took him fourth overall. Big, steady Swede Mattias Ekholm looks like he’s an NHLer for good after a few years marinating in the American League. And GM David Poile added bruising veteran Anton Volchenkov on a one-year deal this off-season.

Rounding out that top six is the somewhat forgotten man: Ryan Ellis. Amid the headlines in recent years stolen by Ryan Suter’s departure, Weber’s offer sheet and Jones’ arrival, Ellis has faded into the background. Perhaps that’s why, at first glance, a five-year deal paying him $2.5 million annually seems like a lot, more so in term than cap hit. Ellis? Five years? Did he deserve it?

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