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.

Why NHL 16 will turn last year’s jeers into this year’s cheers

Matt Larkin
EA Sports' NHL 16 video game.

If EA Sports’ NHL 15 was a fine Italian sports car, gorgeous to look at but limited in versatility, think of NHL 16 as a fully-loaded luxury SUV. It still has plenty of flash, but you can do a whole lot more with it.

Summer 2014 marked EA’s first foray into eighth-generation console video gaming with its NHL series. It had a great run with the seventh generation’s PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, taking online hockey gaming to new levels of popularity and introducing deep, detailed individual player modes such as Be a Pro. It was time for the company to see what kind of hockey magic it could make with the PS4 and Xbox One.

Our eyes told us NHL 15, Gen 8’s guinea pig release, was beautiful. It came closer to photorealism than any other hockey video game in history. It maintained the smooth play control that has always been a hallmark of EA Sports franchise. Adding Doc Emrick and Ed Olczyk as commentators freshened up the presentation, too.

But ask diehard gamers about NHL 15 and most will tell you that, as great as the game look and felt, its many missing features almost overshadowed its cosmetic appeal. The game had no online team play mode when released, leading to fan outrage before the feature was patched in. It was missing the extremely popular EA Sports Hockey League, which let users create their own characters and join online leagues with all-human 6-on-6 play.

Sean Ramjagsingh, producer of the NHL series, understood fans’ frustration but knew it was a necessary evil for NHL 15 to be missing some features. Electronic Arts couldn’t roll out a powerful new game engine and risk glitches if it wasn’t ready for online play, and he knew the popular features like EASHL would return in later versions.

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Why hasn’t your team done anything this off-season?

Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman.  (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

We’ve seen plenty of turnover on NHL rosters so far this summer, setting up what appears to be even crazier parity than normal in each division. The Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks made major moves in the Pacific. The Washington Capitals jazzed up their top two lines in the Metropolitan. The Chicago Blackhawks did anything but sit on their championship team, making over a quarter of their roster.

A bushel of franchises, however, have been oddly quiet so far. Some are justified in their thought process. Others have their angry fans yelling “DO something!”

Why do some of these teams appear to be deer in the headlights right now? There’s a plausible explanation for each, though some are more maddening than others.

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The many pitfalls of Ryan Kesler’s six-year, $41.25-million extension

Matt Larkin
(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Ryan Kesler trade was a coup for the Anaheim Ducks.

The Ryan Kesler extension, however? Hm.

Kesler, 31 this August, was precisely what Anaheim hoped he’d be in his first season with the team. He was a capable second-line center behind star Ryan Getzlaf. Kesler played close to 20 minutes a game. He killed penalties. He scored shorthanded goals. He saw some power play time. He provided secondary offense with 20 goals and 47 points while playing a shutdown role and finishing 10th in Selke Trophy voting. Gone were his days as a 41-goal scorer, but that wasn’t what Ducks GM Bob Murray acquired Kesler for. Kesler did just what he was supposed to, especially in the post-season, when he was a genuine terror, amassing seven goals and 13 points in 16 games and coming up big in clutch moments time and again.

So Kesler established himself as a crucial part of the Ducks’ Stanley Cup puzzle, and he had another year left on his contract to help with the championship push. The Ducks have added Carl Hagelin, Kevin Bieksa and Chris Stewart, too, while saying goodbye to Emerson Etem, Kyle Palmieri and James Wisniewski. They have a nice blend of youth, superstars and veterans, which is why certain pundits like them to go all the way in 2015-16.

But Kesler’s contract extension, announced Wednesday, bulges the eyeballs out of one’s head. Six years and $41.25 million, good for an average annual value of $6.875 million. Whoa.

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Who are the 10 best NHL free agents left on the market?

Matt Larkin
Cody Franson. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

To sum up the NHL’s free agency season in three words: fits and starts. We saw a deluge of unrestricted free agents sign July 1, albeit not as many as we saw last summer, perhaps because the 2015 class is relatively weak and in lower demand. Over the past week, we’ve seen more restricted free agent signings than UFAs. A few of the more coveted names on the open market remain, however. Let’s explore some of them and where they fit best in light of which teams have filled roster holes and which haven’t.

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Who has lost the most fantasy value this off-season?

Matt Larkin
Antti Niemi. (Photo by Rocky Widner/Getty Images)

On Monday I explored which players have gained fantasy value based on off-season trades and signings so far. Some NHLers, however, lose value based on roster moves, whether it’s because they’re pushed down the depth chart by a new addition or because they’ve lost their key linemate to a trade or free agency.

Which players stand to produce less in 2015-16 based on summer transactions so far? Consider these names.

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Who has gained the most fantasy value this off-season?

Matt Larkin
Phil Kessel (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

With every off-season comes a flurry of trades and signings, which alter many players’ fantasy values. It’s not just the guys switching teams who change in fantasy pool worth, either. There’s a ripple effect. Player X may skyrocket in projected production after being dealt to Team Y, but the roster spot he leaves behind may open a hole for a certain prospect to climb the depth chart.

Which players have ascended the most in 2015-16 fantasy draft rankings so far? Here are some names to consider.

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San Jose Sharks sign Joel Ward, are now very clearly not rebuilding

Matt Larkin
Joel Ward. (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

It sure seemed like the San Jose Sharks were poised to start a rebuild just a couple weeks ago. They’d missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002-03. They’d fired coach Todd McLellan. Goalie Antti Niemi was set to walk as an unrestricted free agent. Former captain Joe Thornton was publicly at odds with GM Doug Wilson. The Sharks even had their first top-10 draft selection since 2007, nabbing Timo Meier ninth overall. It all screamed turning over a new leaf.

But everything Wilson has done since last week’s draft suggests otherwise. Acquiring Martin Jones and signing him to a three-year extension worked whether San Jose was rebuilding or retooling, as Jones is only 25 and someone had to start in net for them in 2015-16. That said, getting him from Boston cost the Sharks a 2016 first-round pick and prospect Sean Kuraly.

Then came July 1 and defenseman Paul Martin signing at $19.4 million over four years. Friday, the next hammer dropped: right winger Joel Ward at $9.825 million over three years. Martin earns $4.85 million per season, and Ward’s cap hit is $3.275 million.

The message is clear: the Sharks refuse to roll over. Martin and Ward are both 34 and received multi-year commitments. It’s “win now,” or Wilson at least believes this team can win now.

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