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 Mike Cammalleri and the Devils chose each other

Matt Larkin
MikeCammalleri

At the risk of sounding blasphemous, Mike Cammalleri’s deal with the Devils was all about faith. He chose the team that believed in him most and the team he believed in most.

Calgary fans were disappointed but not surprised when he left in free agency after a resurgent 26-goal campaign. After all, team president Brian Burke retained Cammalleri’s expiring contract at the trade deadline. Burke tried to deal his veteran, but he felt the offers weren’t good enough. He decided to risk losing Cammalleri for nothing and stated his desire to keep him.

Burke and new GM Brad Treliving made offers this summer to Cammalleri for a long-term pact, but they couldn’t compete with what Lou Lamoriello and the New Jersey Devils tabled: five years and $25 million for a 32-year-old who’s missed 15 or more games in four of his past five seasons and is six years removed from his best numbers.

That didn’t matter to Lamoriello, who says he followed and admired Cammalleri’s game all the way back to the University of Michigan.

“He played with an edge and had results,” Lamoriello said. “He’s very diligent and he competes. When you see that in a player, it naturally sticks out. When we were looking at the potential free agencies and the type of player we needed, we felt we needed a scorer. Mike stood right out, and he was one of the top players we looked at, if not the top player.”

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Fantasy Hockey: Who is this year’s…

Matt Larkin
Semyon Varlamov

You can set your watch to certain events every fantasy season. One free agent bust gives way to the next, and one breakout rookie passes the torch to another. The “Who is This Year’s…” game helps poolies because it provides a ton of information by comparing two names. “Jake Allen is good” says a little. “Jake Allen is this year’s Semyon Varlamov” says a lot. Time to play.

 

WHO IS THIS YEAR’S…

 

…RYAN JOHANSEN?
Post-hype breakout

Johansen, the fourth-overall pick in 2010, scored 14 goals in his first 107 games. In 2013-14, he exploded for 33 goals. A young gun set to go off this season is Alex Galchenyuk. He hasn’t been bad, tallying 58 points over his first two seasons, but he’s just scratching the surface of his ability, and he missed 17 games in 2013-14. He’s a future star, and a leap into the 60-point stratosphere is within reach.

…SEMYON VARLAMOV?
Out-of-nowhere goalie sensation
Varlamov wasn’t a nobody entering 2013-14, but he was struggling. Then Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy arrived to coach Colorado. ‘Varly’ was a changed man and a profitable late-round grab in pools. This year, Jake Allen will pay off similarly. He’s guaranteed an NHL job and will post outstanding numbers with the stellar Blues defense in front of him. He’ll earn at least a split of the starts with Brian Elliott, with potential for a lot more.

…TYLER SEGUIN?
Return to grace
Boston was silly to give up on Tyler Seguin. He was too talented to stay down after a poor year, and he was just 21. Dallas jumped at the chance to get him, and he finished fourth in league scoring. Watch for a bounce-back from Eric Staal. A 61-point campaign after eight straight seasons at a pace of 70 or more? Toss it out. He’s still just 29.

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Detroit signs Ken Holland to new deal. Is Mike Babcock next?

Matt Larkin
Ken Holland

The Detroit Red Wings have secured one piece of their future. Will the second domino fall soon?

First, GM Ken Holland. There was the occasional whisper of him leaving Detroit for a new challenge, but the odds were always slim. He’s fuelled the Red Wings’ seemingly endless success for decades, including the last 17 years as GM. The franchise is synonymous with finding diamonds in the rough, including current stars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, and Holland has always been the mastermind behind that brilliant drafting.

Worry not, Wings fans. Your GM is back. Holland has signed a four-year extension, keeping him in Hockeytown through 2017-18. Owner Mike Illitch’s statement mentioned stability as “key to success of any organization,” and that Holland is crucial for maintaining that stability. It makes sense with a new arena all the way and this team in serious transition.

On the surface, 23 straight playoff berths say it’s business as usual in Detroit, but we know that’s not the case. This team barely squeezed into the playoffs last season, and Datsyuk and Zetterberg seem destined to battle health problems for the rest of their careers. Jimmy Howard’s goaltending hasn’t met the expectation set by the six-year, $31.75-million deal he commenced last season. With the team’s future success in flux, it’s good news for the Wings to have Holland manning the ship.

More good news: the youth movement is in full-swing, and Detroit seems more wiling than ever to give youngsters chances to play. Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar look like the latest late-round draft steals, poised to become building blocks for years to come at forward. Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan, who were higher-regarded prospects than Nyquist and Tatar when drafted, made the team last year as well. Anthony Mantha, who scored a goal a game in junior last season, could be the exception to Detroit’s unwritten rule of making every drafted prospect wait three to four years before making the NHL. That’s what happens when Detroit gets a top-20 pick after none from 2006-2012. The Wings’ blueline is solid if unspectacular, with clever college signings like Danny DeKeyser complementing solid vets like Niklas Kronwall. Maybe now that Holland has a contract, he can work on upgrading the defense corps further with an acquisition like, say, Mike Green.

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Teddy Purcell has no hard feelings after Tampa Bay traded him

Matt Larkin
Teddy Purcell

There are trades, and then there are trades that ship you 2,366 miles northwest.

The late-June swap that sent right winger Teddy Purcell from Tampa Bay to Edmonton was a shock. His closet said it all. It contained zero winter jackets and hadn’t for seven years. He’d spent his entire NHL career in California and Florida, and it seemed as recently as a year ago he wasn’t going anywhere for a long time.

The undrafted college free agent didn’t blossom in parts of three seasons with L.A., but the Lightning took a chance on him with a 2010 trade. He realized his potential as a top-six forward, posting 51- and 65-point seasons, often as Steven Stamkos’ linemate.

Something changed this past season, however. Young guns Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat burst onto the scene, and Purcell’s role diminished. Coach Jon Cooper, and even teammates like Valtteri Filppula, publicly asked Purcell to shoot more. He slipped to 12 goals in 81 games and tumbled to the fourth line. Purcell became expendable when the team identified other needs and off he went in the Sam Gagner deal.

Standard storylines would have Purcell entering 2014-15 motivated to prove Tampa wrong, but that’s just not him. He’s about as easygoing as it gets. He’s happy to call frigid Edmonton his new home, pointing out he grew up in Newfoundland and played in Saskatchewan and Maine. And he’s not angry at Tampa Bay. He speaks highly of GM Steve Yzerman.

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KISS gets Leaf jerseys, confirms team’s tanking strategy

Matt Larkin
KissLeafsJerseys

It all makes sense now.

Retain coach Randy Carlyle and GM Dave Nonis after missing playoffs and posting horrible possession numbers.

Bringing in young, possession-oriented assistant GM Kyle Dubas as an understudy.

Sign a defenseman fresh off two broken legs in one year, and add many plucky veterans on tradable, one-year deals.

Lastly, get KISS Leaf jerseys before a Tuesday concert in Toronto.

Brendan Shanahan’s plan is clear now: this is a rebuild, a tank-job for Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. It wasn’t a sure thing until KISS happened. Any team associating its jersey with the most overrated rock band in history has nowhere to go but down, right?

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What burning questions remain this NHL off-season?

Ryan Johansen is coming off his entry-level contract with the Blue Jackets, but hasn't signed an extension yet. (Getty Images)

These truly are the dog days of summer. Players, GMs and coaches get their brief time off between the free agency boom and training camps. Media have time to do fun stuff like rank every logo in the NHL. With no hockey, we spend our nights watching Bachelor in Paradise baseball.

But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing happening in the NHL. If you squint, you’ll notice several important questions still unanswered, such as…

1. Will Columbus mend fences with Ryan Johansen and sign him long-term?

The most recent reports out of Columbus had restricted free agent Johansen and the Jackets still $3 million apart. Per season. That’s a Grand Canyonesque gap. So far, the P.K. Subban story isn’t working as a cautionary tale about short-term bridge contracts. After his bridge, Subban won the Norris Trophy and his new long-term cap hit is probably about $2 million more than it would’ve been had Montreal ponied up two years ago and paid him, say, Drew Doughty money.

The Jackets want Johansen to prove his 33-goal breakout was for real, just as they wanted Sergei Bobrovsky to back up his Vezina Trophy campaign when they inked him to a bridge deal last summer. The difference? Nothing about Johansen’s development says fluke. He has pedigree as the No. 4 overall pick in 2010. He was always supposed to be this good. There’s every reason to trust him. Columbus could live to regret a bridge contract. The East is wide open, and this team can contend with its top pivot signed and happy.

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Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask looks like EVERYONE

Matt Larkin
Tuukka Rask

From the files of Typical Summer Story, Bro comes the world’s growing fascination with Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask and his magical powers.

He isn’t just a fantastic goaltender. He’s a shapeshifter who would make Mystiqueand Sam Merlotte proud. The guy looks like everyone. It’s uncanny.

If you’re a THN magazine reader, you know we run a feature called Separated at Birth in the back of each issue. We take fan submissions of players and their famous doppelgangers. Sidney Crosby looks a lot like Andy Samberg. Dustin Tokarski and Michael Buble are long-lost twins. And so on.

But for every one NHL player submission we receive, five Rask ones pour in. We’ll get the same Rask comparisons from multiple readers and we’ll get multiple Rask submissions comparing him to different people.

Behold:

TUUKKA RASK

 

 

TUUKKA RASK, A.K.A MILOS RAONIC

 

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Nashville Predators GM David Poile breaks down his (many) off-season moves

Matt Larkin
David Poile

Surely, some Nashville Predators fan out there took trip to a remote country in early June and just got home now.

“What did I miss? Preds do anything?”

“Gary, you better sit down.”

There’s a ceiling on how exciting it is to cheer for Nashville at the moment. Sharing a division with Chicago, St. Louis, Minnesota, Colorado and Dallas will do that. Still, the Predators’ wild flurry of off-season activity should have their fans as amped up as they could possibly be. A year ago, the Preds had drafted Seth Jones, but GM David Poile’s biggest off-season additions were, drumroll, Matt Cullen, Eric Nystrom and Viktor Stalberg.

This summer: no more Mr. Nice Poile. He realized the team needed a complete philosophical shift, and he went for it. First, Poile said goodbye to Barry Trotz, the only coach in franchise history. It was an amicable split, but a difficult one. In came offense-minded Peter Laviolette. The change in coaching approach was as drastic as can be, as Laviolette teams tend to forecheck ferociously and pay less attention to defense.

“That’s partly why we made the changes,” Poile said. “We need to push forward a bit more. We feel very confident in our goaltending with Pekka Rinne coming back healthy this season, and our defense led by Shea Weber, Roman Josi, young players like Seth Jones, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis. We feel we’re terrific in goaltending and defense, and as Peter Laviolette says, we need to go forward more. We need to try to be a more dangerous team offensively. I don’t think we’ve scared too many teams offensively in the past. They knew they were going to get a good, hard game, but we have not been able to put up a lot of goals on a regular basis. That’s prevented us from making the playoffs the last couple years.”

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