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.
Welcome, everyone. Thanks for coming. Just walking through the door is a courageous first step. There’s coffee and donuts on the table in the corner. When you’re ready, sit with me in the circle.
Everyone join hands. It’s time to discuss the real possibility the Edmonton Oilers win the draft lottery this Saturday and pick first overall for the fifth time in seven years.
Their chances: 13.5 percent. It doesn’t make the Copper and Blue the favorite – that would be the Toronto Maple Leafs at 20 percent – but Edmonton has the second-best odds. The Oil sat third-best a year ago at 11.5 percent and still managed to win the Connor McDavid Ping-Pong Sweepstakes, so we know they have a chance, technically a better one this time around.
It’s deja vu, except it isn’t.
Many powerhouse St. Louis Blues teams have disappointed with shockingly early playoff exits in the past five seasons. They got swept by the Los Angeles Kings in Round 2 of the 2012 playoffs; led L.A. 2-0 in the series only to lose in the first round in 2013; led the Chicago Blackhawks 2-0 only to lose in the first round in 2014; and bowed out to the No. 7 seed Minnesota Wild in six games in the first round of 2015.
A loss at home to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 tonight thus wouldn’t blow our hair back. At this point, early-round disappointments feel like second nature for the Blues. There’s a difference this time, however. The stakes are higher. Important heads stand to roll if St. Louis buckles under the pressure once more and loses a series it led 3-1.
Hockey fans living in the central time zone and anywhere east of there may one day remember spring of 2016 as The Red-Eye Playoffs. The need to stagger games has produced some late start times, and we’re not just talking the usual Pacific Division fare that starts at 10:30 p.m. ET and only stops diehard East Coasters from going to bed.
This year’s post-season has produced the oddity of Central-time games being treated like West Coast telecasts. Game 5 of the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues’ Central Division semifinal Thursday started at 8:42 p.m. central and 9:42 p.m. eastern for the third time in the series. The wildly entertaining game was too good to turn off, so it sucked a lot of sleep from a lot of people. Among that group: Chicago Blackhawks play-by-play personality Pat Foley. He decided he was fed up with the scheduling and unleashed this rant, mid-broadcast, before a commercial break cut him off:
The NHL off-season has already begun for eliminated NHL teams. Among them are the Colorado Avalanche, and their starting goalie, Semyon Varlamov, has begun some personal free agent recruiting.
The man Varlamov wants in an Avs jersey next year: KHL superstar and former NHLer Alexander Radulov, who reportedly wants to try his hand at the NHL again. Radulov doesn’t have much left to accomplish in his native Russia. He’s a league MVP, a scoring champion and a Gagarin Cup winner. He was alternately tantalizing and frustrating in his two seasons with the Nashville Predators plus a brief return in 2012, so he has unfinished business in the NHL. He has good years left at 29 and, unlike in his previous comeback attempt, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent.
Varlamov, Radulov’s countryman, is home in Russia for the World Championship right now. According to translated quotes from Russian writer Slava Malamud, Varlamov told Russian newspaper Sport Express this week the Avalanche are “waiting for Radulov. He’ll be one of the leaders there.” Varlamov added, “All (Radulov) needs to do is dial Patrick (Roy) and his return will happen. I hope we can win the Cup with him.”
Say we accept that a Radulov signing will happen. Does it make sense?
We may have witnessed the end of a Hall-of-Fame career Thursday night when Pavel Datsyuk’s Detroit Red Wings fell in Game 5 to the Tampa Bay Lightning, losing the Atlantic Division semifinal matchup four games to one.
Datsyuk, 37, is weighing whether to return to his native Russia and play there next season. Doing so would saddle Detroit with his $7.5-million cap hit for the final year of his contract, as players 35 or older stay on the cap even if they retire from the NHL. Nevertheless, he’s seriously considering the decision, though he said after Thursday’s defeat he wants to take some time to ponder it.
From a personal perspective, sure, it’s understandable. It’s common for European players to head home for a final season or two before fully retiring. Datsyuk has done everything he was ever going to do as an NHLer. He has two Stanley Cups, three (consecutive) Selke Trophies, four (consecutive) Lady Byng Trophies and three All-Star Game appearances. He spent a considerable chunk of his career as a top-five player in the game. He’s one of the best defensive forwards in hockey history. He’s a Hall of Famer, through and through.
The natural assumption is that, on Detroit’s end, Datsyuk staying to finish out his contract is the best-case scenario. Obviously, it would stink for Detroit to be on the hook for $7.5 million, though a trade partner needing to reach the salary floor could remedy that. Datsyuk can also still play. He’s a legit Selke candidate again this season. He had 49 points in 66 games. He’s still dynamite on faceoffs. He’s still Datsyuk, maybe not the 97-point Datsyuk of his early 30s, but more or less the great veteran player he’s been for the past half decade.
The Chicago Blackhawks are one seriously wounded animal right now, trailing their Central Division semifinal to the St. Louis Blues 3-1 and venturing to enemy territory facing elimination after dropping consecutive games at the United Center. Not the result we’re accustomed to from the Madhouse on Madison, especially against a Blues team known for choking in its current era of regular season dominance.
Andrew Shaw will not play tonight in Game 5, justifiably suspended for his homophobic slur in Game 4, creating a hole in coach Joel Quenneville’s lineup. Shaw, a versatile agitating forward who can play center or the wing, the first line or the fourth, has been as effective as any Chicago player in the series so far. His four points in four games tie Duncan Keith for the team lead. Shaw is also one of only three Hawks forwards – three! – with a goal in the series. So his presence will be missed.
Quenneville is painted into a corner right now, and he’s decided to declare a Code Red: he’s busting out the big guns and reuniting superstars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to form a superline. The Game 5 line deployment, as posted by crackerjack beat reporter Mark Lazerus:
Two teams in control of their respective series must soldier on without key contributors for at least one more game in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Dallas Stars center and second-leading regular season scorer Tyler Seguin will officially miss Game 5 against the Minnesota Wild as he continues to recover from his lacerated Achilles, reports Stars beat writer and THN correspondent Mike Heika. Seguin sustained the injury March 17 against the Tampa Bay Lightning and missed a month, returning only for Game 2 against Minnesota April 16.
Did Seguin aggravate his injury by returning too early last week? Not exactly, reports Heika. He asked coach Lindy Ruff and got the following answer: “Not his injury, but this is kind of related and might be kind of a fallout of all of the sudden playing at a high pace.”
It’s toss-everything-onto-the-ice-at-every-NHL-playoff game week, apparently. Bracelets on Ed Snider night in Philadelphia. Beer on Denis Potvin (!!!) at Islanders games. And, in Game 3 of the Nashville Predators’ first-round tilt with the Anaheim Ducks: catfish. Three of them, to be exact. Each weighed between 12 and 18 pounds.
The gentlemen who performed the Music City playoff ritual Tuesday revealed the blow-by-blow details of how they did it via this YouTube video, posted Wednesday: