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.

Where can Martin Brodeur sign? Here are five destinations

Matt Larkin

Well, Marty, this is awkward.

The winningest goaltender of all-time’s foray into free agency isn’t the sexy bidding war he hoped it would be. As the market for goaltenders gets increasingly arid and Martin Brodeur’s list of potential destinations dwindles, it feels icky to see him flapping in the breeze. It reminds me of the scene in Jerry Maguire when a frazzled, freshly fired Jerry asks the entire office, “Who’s coming with me?” and listens to the pins drop.

Then again, Dorothy Boyd eventually crosses the line for Jerry. And there has to be a team out there willing to employ Brodeur. Here are five that make sense for Marty.

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Can Alex Ovechkin be fixed? Ex-teammates and coaches say yes

Matt Larkin

Watching Alex Ovechkin develop in the NHL is like watching a child grow up. When he entered the league at 20, his ceiling was sky-high, but first he had to learn how to play the game, even how to speak his first words. Of English, that is.

We watched with the same wonder as when a baby takes his or her first steps when Ovechkin hit the 50-goal mark in a freshman campaign for the ages. ‘The GR8’ was born, master of the breathtaking goal. His first coaches in Washington, Glen Hanlon and Bruce Boudreau, knew he was gifted and let him treat the ice like his personal playground. Fifty goals gave way to 60-plus and the Capitals stormed into perennial contention. Ovechkin was the best player on Earth.

But we all lose our innocence sooner or later. Ovechkin received the Capitals captaincy in January 2010 and learned about right and wrong when he blew up Chicago’s Brian Campbell with a hit later that season and wound up suspended. Ovechkin lacked the same youthful abandon when he returned, seemingly holding back. And, after four 100-point seasons in a five-year stretch, he hasn’t hit that milestone since.

Life as an adult NHLer hasn’t always been sunny for Ovechkin, 28. His Caps have regressed, from the second round of the playoffs, to the first, and out of the big dance altogether this season. Washington has burned through coaches, too. Ovechkin and Boudreau clashed when the coach cut Ovechkin’s ice time for a lack of accountability. The marriage with Dale Hunter was worse, and Ovechkin ended up playing checking-line minutes. Adam Oates produced a boom in Ovie’s game by moving him to the right wing, but by the following spring he was publicly lambasting his star for a lack of effort. Next up is Barry Trotz, a defense-minded bench boss who, on paper, doesn’t look like a natural match for Ovechkin.

Ovechkin has gone from the golden child who could do no wrong to a lightning rod for criticism, be it for a lack of leadership, not taking the game seriously and especially for his inability to play defense. Fans and keyboard warriors are no longer convinced he can carry a team to a championship, and his $9.5-million cap hit through 2020-21 suddenly looks more like a burden than a safety net.

Everyone has an opinion on Ovechkin these days, but what is the true story from within the Washington organization? Is he really a bad leader? Does he care about backchecking? It’s time to unearth the Myths of Ovie, with help from past and present coaches and teammates.

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30 teams, 30 questions on draft day

Matt Larkin
draft lottery

It’s Christmas morning, your dad Santa has bitten his cookies and sipped the milk, and you’re tossing and turning in bed, waiting to head downstairs and open presents. That’s the feeling the NHL draft brings to us THN folk, especially when this year’s carries more movin’-and-shakin’ buzz than any other in recent memory. While you count down the hours, here’s one burning question each NHL team should ponder today.

ANAHEIM (10th overall): Can the Ducks win the Ryan Kesler sweepstakes?

To me, there’s no better destination for Kesler. He’s an ideal fit as a No. 2 center on a contending team, capable of playing a shutdown role and contributing offense. How great would he look on a line with Devante Smith-Pelly? The Ducks are the No. 1 team in Future Watch. They have more assets to spare than any other team in the NHL. The advantage is yours, Bob Murray.

UPDATE: And Murray capitalized for a fair price. Perfect trade for the Ducks.

ARIZONA (12th overall): Can the Coyotes find immediate help on offense today?

It’s a near given Phoenix drafts a forward today. The Desert Dogs already have a logjam on defense, with prospects Brandon Gormley and Connor Murphy climbing the depth chart. This team needs to score, and that means adding another high-end piece to complement Max Domi and Henrik Samuelsson. Will a Nikolaj Ehlers or Brendan Perlini be available? Maybe, but it’s disappointing to see Don Maloney shrug off the idea of trading up. How good would Leon Draisatl look in a Yotes uniform?

BOSTON (25th overall): Should the Bruins start planning for life without Zdeno Chara?

Dougie Hamilton projects as a fine defensive pillar and Torey Krug looks like he’ll be a premier offensive defenseman for years to come, but is that enough? Chara will start to age one of these years. Targeting someone like Roland McKeown late in the first round, if he’s available, would make sense.

BUFFALO (2nd overall): Who will become the face of the Sabres?

Even if Aaron Ekblad falls to No. 2, it would be shocking to see Buffalo take a defenseman after it nabbed Rasmus Ristolainen and NIkita Zadorov last summer. It’s not a matter of if the Sabres nab a forward – just which one. Do they go safe and NHL-ready with Sam Reinhart, or think higher-ceiling and take Sam Bennett or Draisaitl?

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Family ties: 22 draft prospects with NHL relatives

Matt Larkin
Sam Reinhart

The 2014 draft class is a geneticist’s dream, as it includes prospects hailing from rich NHL bloodlines. Here are the most noteworthy sons, brothers, nephews and cousins, whose NHL-drafted relatives include Stanley Cup champs and a Conn Smythe Trophy winner.

Father: Paul Reinhart
Brothers: Max Reinhart, Griffin Reinhart

Paul played in multiple All-Star Games as a Calgary Flame. He was one of the better offensive blueliners of the 1980s. Max is working his way into Calgary’s plans after a great AHL season, while hulking D-man Griffin was the fourth overall pick in 2012. Sam, however, should be picked higher than any of his family members. Read more

Why Dominik Hasek is the greatest goaltender ever

Matt Larkin
Hasek Sabres

It was no surprise when the Hall of Fame announced Dominik Hasek as one of its six new members Monday. Learning Hasek was chosen in his first year of eligibility was a mere formality, as he belonged in the shoo-in class of players. He was simply that dominant in his NHL career.

And, ironically, dominant doesn’t do ‘The Dominator’ justice. No goalie in the history of the league has accumulated a resume like his. No goalie has been as head-and-shoulders above his peers for a longer stretch of his career. And dare I say no goalie has ever played the position as well as Dominik Hasek did. Not Patrick Roy, not Martin Brodeur, not Terry Sawchuk.

To make such a claim is to go against some sacred THN rankings. Our Top 100 of all-time, released in 1998, ranked Sawchuk ninth overall and first among goaltenders. Hasek, then mid-career, squeaked onto the list at No. 95 overall. The panel of judges included luminaries from Milt Schmidt to Howie Meeker to Scotty Bowman. It was as authoritative as it gets. Our 2010 update, after Hasek’s NHL career ended, bumped him to fifth, but still placed him behind Sawchuk, Roy, Brodeur and Jacques Plante.

So why go against the experts? I believe that, with each passing year since Hasek’s retirement, his accomplishments look even more impressive. I humbly present a pitch for his status as the best of all-time.

1. His major hardware collection is the closest thing goalies have to Wayne Gretzky’s and Bobby Orr’s.

The only goaltender with more Vezina Trophies than Hasek’s six is Plante, who had seven and won six of those playing in a league with six teams and six starting goaltenders. The NHL had 26 teams when Hasek won his first Vezina and 30 when he earned his sixth. Plante also won all his Vezinas when the award went to the starting goalie of the team with the lowest goals-against average, so Hasek has the most Vezinas under the “real” system, in which GMs vote on the league’s best goalie.

Hasek won a hilarious, ridiculous five Vezinas in a six-year stretch at one point in his career. He’s the only goalie to win the Hart Trophy as league MVP twice, which he did over back-to-back seasons in 1996-97 and 1997-98. In both of those memorable campaigns, he won the Ted Lindsay Award, chosen by the players as MVP. Mike Liut is the only other goalie to win the Lindsay. Hasek is a six-time first-team All-Star. He won two Cups with Detroit (one as the starter) and, before that, got to the final by dragging along a Buffalo team that boasted Mike Peca, Miroslav Satan and Jason Woolley as its best players. His .922 career save percentage is No. 1 in NHL history. Did he play a big chunk of his career in the Dead Puck Era, or is it more accurate to say he was the Dead Puck Era?

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Five free agents who will be overpaid this summer

Matt Larkin

Art imitates life. Imitates art. Whatever. There’s an odd parallel between what we see every summer on the NHL free agent market and what you can find at, say, a fantasy football auction.

I play in a fairly hardcore league, a keeper outfit in which teams manage a $200 salary cap and player “contracts” top out at three years. Half a decade in, we have a recurring problem at our annual auction: cascading classes of free agents at a premium position who wind up vastly overpaid. In our scoring system, quarterbacks are gold. In year one when all 32 were available, a top signalcaller like Drew Brees cost $50-$60, maybe a quarter of one’s budget. Now, only 10 or so hit free agency per season, and their price is grossly inflated. Brees costs you $100, or half your budget, and a mediocre guy like Eli Manning goes for $60. The low-supply, high-demand system drives prices up significantly.

Which brings us to David Clarkson. The seven-year, $36.75-million contract he signed last summer was bad before the ink dried, but it wasn’t totally Toronto’s fault for paying him that much. In an era when most elite players sign extensions long before becoming unrestricted free agents, there’s a low supply of quality UFAs. It took $5.25 million per season simply to land Clarkson, and some other team would’ve paid him about the same had Toronto not.

Just as I know I’ll drop an obscene amount of my budget on a quarterback this summer, I know we’ll see a new class of Clarksons and Stephen Weisses on the NHL market, especially with the cap rising. Here are five UFAs I expect will be vastly overpaid. I’m not saying they stink – only that they’ll earn more than they should.

1. Paul Stastny

Weiss was a 30-year-old pivot with a career high of 61 points coming off an injury shortened campaign, and Detroit still decided to pay him $4.9 million per season. Stastny, a 28-year-old pivot, has topped the 70-point mark three times, is relatively healthy and lit it up with 10 points in seven playoff games this spring. After a subpar 2012-13, it seemed preposterous that he’d match the $6.6-million average annual value of his expiring deal. A year later, he could find $7 million on the open market. Enough teams are desperate at his position that we should see a bidding war. He’s a No. 2 center about to earn No. 1 money. Stastny is solid, but he’s not that good.

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Big-name UFA Ryan Miller was a bad fit with the Blues. What about San Jose?

Matt Larkin
Ryan Miller (Photo by Mark Buckner/NHLI via Getty Images)

Ryan Miller and St. Louis sure looked like an ideal match at first. He went 7-0-1 in his first eight games after arriving from Buffalo via a trade in late February. The Blues were THN’s Stanley Cup pick, and we viewed Miller as the goalie to take them all the way.

The honeymoon phase fizzled quickly, however. The Blues ended the regular season with six straight losses and Miller started five, allowing at least three goals each time. The slump cost St. Louis the Central Division and led to a matchup with the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks. Miller wasn’t the reason St. Louis lost in six games, but he didn’t steal any. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews beat him with backbreaking overtime winners in Games 4 and 5. He posted an .897 save percentage.

Miller’s future is cloudy for the second straight summer. He’s 34 in July and an unrestricted free agent. Pundits can’t decide if he’s overrated or underrated, one good situation away from recapturing his 2010 Vezina Trophy form or doomed never to win the big game. Miller declined a request to discuss his future.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, for his part, reserves judgment given the sample size.

“I wish we had more practices with him,” Hitchcock says. “Because we had played four or five less games than anybody, our March and April were absolutely packed. We had very limited time working with Ryan and the rest of the players.” Read more

Why the Edmonton Oilers should trade down at the draft

Matt Larkin
Oilers draft

Another year, another high draft pick for lowly Edmonton. Before Craig MacTavish and company race to the podium, some benevolent GM around the league, I beg you, save this poor team from itself. Trade up and take the Oilers’ No. 3 overall selection. Assuming Aaron Ekblad goes to the Florida Panthers, the best path to improvement for Edmonton is to acquire an established asset for its first pick, move down several slots and use a lower-first round pick on defenseman Haydn Fleury.

I’m a broken record talking about the law of diminishing returns with Edmonton and skilled forwards at the draft. The Oilers’ first selections each year since 2007:

2007 (6): Sam Gagner
2008 (22): Jordan Eberle
2009 (10): Magnus Paajarvi
2010 (1): Taylor Hall
2011 (1): Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
2012 (1): Nail Yakupov
2013 (7): Darnell Nurse

Last’s year’s selection of Nurse – which I loved – ended Edmonton’s six-year run of applying a “best available” approach and taking a slick forward. Unless you count Taylor Hall as the exception of that group, it’s six consecutive selections of a smallish, defensively deficient, offensively gifted forward. The more clones you have of one player type, the less impactful each one becomes.

Is it any surprise, then, we’ve seen Edmonton morph into the perennially promising team that never delivers? It’s the same song and dance. Sexy video game team, tantalizing offense, no physicality, porous defense, suspect goaltending, nowhere close to the playoffs.

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