Matt Larkin is a writer and 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.
BUFFALO –– The moment was surreal. Especially considering where the Toronto Maple Leafs franchise was even two years ago. Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock, standing on the stage, handing a sweater to the first overall pick in the 2016 draft, representing the Blue and White? Did Leaf Nation dream this? Nope.
Toronto selected what it believes will be a franchise-defining player in center Auston Matthews. It was only fitting that, when Matthews donned his Leafs jersey, he became the first player to do so. The old getup, associated with too many years of failure, wouldn’t do. The “new” look includes the veined logo worn from 1938 to 1963, a period during which the Leafs won eight Stanley Cups. The rest of the design is understated, simple and classy: two horizontal stripes on each arm and some thicker piping along the bottom.
“It looks good,” Matthews said. “I like it. It felt unbelievable putting on the jersey. Such a storied franchise, so it was a big honor.”
BUFFALO – Weird. Vincent Lecavalier retired. You’d swear it was him, or a magical teenage version of him, sitting on a podium overlooking Lake Erie. That’s what it felt like talking to elite 2016 NHL draft prospect Pierre-Luc Dubois.
Dubois, a friendly, rosy-cheeked tank of a youngster at 6-foot-3 and 202 pounds, carries himself like a young Vinny. It’s a strange coincidence, as the last time the draft went down in Buffalo was 1998, when Lecavalier went first overall. Dubois was calm yet confident, exuding the poise of a man many years older, seemingly enjoying the questions as he sat outside on a windy Thursday. The novelty hadn’t yet worn off.
He was endearingly wide-eyed about the draft experience. He said his old QMJHL teammate, Red Wings 2015 first-rounder Evgeny Svechknikov, told him to have fun and not waste the experience. Dubois was gracious about his off-season workouts, in which he encountered the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Alex Killorn and Andrej Sustr and eventually worked up the courage to approach them for advice. Dubois can’t wait to face his childhood idol, Henrik Zetterberg, and couldn’t believe his eyes when, while he attended the Stanley Cup final in San Jose, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby approached and said, “Maybe I’ll see you soon.”
The NHL hands out its annual awards Wednesday. It will crown hockey’s most valuable player, best all-around defenseman, best goaltender, best defensive forward and more. But a few honors slip through the cracks. We never see the best defensive defenseman acknowledged, nor the best penalty killer, nor the toughest player. Heck, there’s no official award for the actual best player, even if the Hart Trophy has essentially become that.
So we at THN take it upon ourselves to fill the gaps with our annual awards. We still cover off the staples, but we add in a few custom virtual trophies. The 2015-16 results are in. Our system only factors in regular season play. We awarded five points for a first-place vote, four for a second-place vote, three for a third-place vote, two for a fourth-place vote and one for a fifth-place vote.
We’re only as good as our scouts. In the pages of THN’s Draft Preview, we break down every nugget of relevant info we can find on prospects, from their amateur stats to their bodily measurements, but nothing matters more than our scouting reports.
Scouting is a grind. The NHL’s bird dogs freeze their toes in rinks all over the northern hemisphere studying kids to learn their strengths and weaknesses. But it’s also a passion and an art form. What are the secrets of the trade? What are the most important things to seek in a draft-hopeful kid? And what are the red flags? Is the travel as horrible as it’s rumored to be? We assembled a panel of experts with decades of experience in the business to find out.
The most common question I’ve received about next week’s NHL draft is, by far, “What should the Edmonton Oilers do with the fourth overall pick?”
So let’s tackle it. We know GM Peter Chiarelli has indicated the No. 4 pick is available should the right offer come his way. That doesn’t guarantee Edmonton trades it or should want to trade it. Let’s look at a few different options for Chiarelli next Friday night in Buffalo.
Draft day has usurped trade deadline day and free agent day as the NHL’s most exciting off-ice event, and it’s not because of the drafting. The last weekend in June has become a lightning rod for blockbuster trades because, unlike at the trade deadline, almost every franchise is a theoretical suitor for any available player. The market doesn’t necessarily split between buyers and sellers. Every team has winning in mind, albeit some make moves for the short term and some trade for long-term assets.
Last June gave us the jaw-dropping Dougie Hamilton deal on draft day, and that was just the beginning. Milan Lucic, Martin Jones, Ryan O’Reilly and Carl Hagelin, among many others, also changed teams over the weekend. Phil Kessel, Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad followed days later.
It’s a virtual guarantee some marquee names move next week in Buffalo, with all 30 GMs scurrying around the First Niagara Center’s floor. Who are the top 10 draft-day trade candidates? Ponder these players, ranked from least to most likely.
A turn of events many decades ago, after an exhibition game in Saskatoon, told Johnny Bower exactly who Gordie Howe was.
Bower, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ stalwart goaltender, was leaving the rink, and Howe, star right winger of the Detroit Red Wings, caught up to him. The two were off-season buddies, so Howe wanted to walk and talk with Bower en route to their next destination. Bower, now 91, doesn’t necessarily remember where they were going, but he remembers clear as day what happened next.
“We got about a block away, and all of a sudden, he turns around and goes back,” Bower said. “He said, ‘John, don’t go too far. I’ll be right back. Stay right here.’ ”
Gordie Howe was a one-hand legend in the game of hockey. If you rhymed off the best, most influential players ever to take the ice, Howe wouldn’t slip past your first four fingers and thumb. He’s on the shortest of short lists. He was the original record-book smasher before Wayne Gretzky came along and, because of Howe’s unrivalled longevity, he still holds many unbeatable marks.
Howe debuted in the NHL in 1946-47, making the jump from the USHL’s Omaha Knights. The Hockey News debuted the following year. It took young Howe a few seasons to find his footing and become a dominant NHLer. So when did THN first notice him and recognize ‘Mr. Hockey’ in its pages?
The fascinating thing about Howe’s immortal moniker: it wasn’t originally his. Howe’s image first appeared in THN March 2, 1949, in the top right corner of a cover collage depicting a “star array of trophy threats”: