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.

Here’s what a 32-team hockey World Cup would look like

Matt Larkin
Canada Latvia

I don’t profess to be a soccer fan. I watch the sport once every four years, just for the World Cup. I don’t say “match” or “footie” or “pitch” or “training” or “nil.” And, like anyone remotely tied to hockey, I cringe whenever I see stuff like this:

I do, however, respect ‘The Beautiful Game’ immensely. The tradition behind it, the passion, and the magnitude of the settings and venues are first-class. I get it into it enough that I watch the games and notice hockey parallels, such as England being the Toronto Maple Leafs of the World Cup. Massive, delusional fan base, massive hype, massive disappointment every time they play under pressure. I pointed this out to troll my friend’s crotchety British dad and he retorted with: “How many play in your sport, 10? You need to travel outside Canada. There is a whole world. You’re a sad boy, no team to support.”

It got me thinking. Is he right? Probably. The IIHF barely scrapes together 12 teams for the Olympic tournament. That said, it’s not like the No. 32 team at the FIFA World Cup, or the 20th-ranked team, for that matter, has a hope in Hell. What would a 32-team hockey tournament look like? Would the quality of play be respectable if it followed FIFA’s zany selection process precisely?

I present to you a mock IIHF World Cup of Hockey, following a soccer format.

Read more

Bruce Boudreau sees a crucial similarity between his Ducks and recent Cup champs. What is it?

Matt Larkin
Bruce Boudreau

Apologies if the horse is long dead and mercilessly beaten, but THN sees good things ahead for the Anaheim Ducks.

It’s fair to assume any team with a fantastic crop of 21-and-younger talent dwells near the bottom of the NHL standings. Endure horrible season, get high draft pick, hoard high-end talent, rinse, repeat. That’s why teams like the Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres rank so highly in our Future Watch edition. But what about spoiled Anaheim, a.k.a. the Lucky Ducks? Our scouting panel rates their farm system as the best in the business and they finished with the Western Conference’s top record this season.

The Ducks had their hearts broken in round 2 at home to the Kings in Game 7, but, sheesh, things are looking up for this squad. It advanced a round further than last year and its new guard of prospects will get to spread its wings even more going forward.

“One of the things we needed as a group was just more experience in those playoff games,” says coach Bruce Boudreau. “We were throwing a lot of – I don’t want to make any excuses, but there were a lot of young guys playing in their first Game 7.”

Read more

The five unluckiest moments of the 2013-14 playoffs

Matt Larkin
Kreider Price

I’m not particularly superstitious, but you know what’s the worst? Realizing partway through Friday the 13th that it’s Friday the 13th. Minding your own business, not dreaming up any negative self-fulfilling prophecies, and BAM, someone mentions the date.

Instead of cowering under our beds, we may as well make something of this scary day. Embrace the bad juju. What are the unluckiest moments of the 2013-14 Stanley Cup playoffs? Consider this quintet.

1. Chris Kreider crashes into Carey Price

This is a truly unlucky moment because, sorry Habs fans, it’s a fluke. Kreider is mid-scoring attempt here and, to me, there’s nothing malicious about the spill he takes into Price. It knocks the star Montreal stopper from the playoffs and, as well as Dustin Tokarski played, we’ll wonder forever what might’ve been if Price stayed between the pipes for the whole Eastern Conference final. Watch:

Read more

Cam Neely returns as Sea Bass in Dumb & Dumber sequel

Matt Larkin
Cam Neely

Admit it. Every time you read graffiti in a bathroom stall, you think about Cam Neely. You think about his Oscar-worthy performance as tough guy ‘Sea Bass’ in the immortal 1994 comedy Dumb & Dumber. It’s one of the most famous athlete cameos in movie history.

Famous enough that Sea Bass is BACK, baby. It was rumored months ago, but now it’s official: Neely recently confirmed he has filmed a scene for Dumb & Dumber To, the sequel, which reunites stars Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels as Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne. It’s Sea Bass’ third film appearance, technically. He made a split-second Easter egg cameo in 2000′s Me, Myself & Irene. A forgotten Carrey joint. Barely remember it. Any good? May have to revisit.

Neely, now the Boston Bruins president, told CBS Boston it actually looked like Sea Bass wouldn’t make it into the movie, but directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly approached him after Boston bowed out of the playoffs and said they could shoot his scene in Boston on a green screen. It’s in the books. Now we wait to see if it makes the final cut when Dumb & Dumber To (amazing title) hits theatres Nov. 14.

Read more

Spezza requests trade: These five landing spots make sense

Matt Larkin
Jason Spezza

Bombshell? No, more of a “bombshell.” Jason Spezza has long been attached to trade rumors, so the news he’s demanded a trade out of Ottawa merely makes things official.

For some fans, this is a sad goodbye. Spezza, who turns 31 Friday, ranks second all-time for the franchise in goals, assists and points. He’s been a crucial part of Ottawa’s plans since it drafted him second overall in 2001 (stick tap to Mike Milbury).

But from a cold, calculating, hockey perspective, this is great news for Spezza and the Senators. He gets a new beginning and perhaps a chance to pursue a Cup, depending on where he lands. The Senators relieve themselves of a $7-million cap hit before the season starts and will likely get the best possible return before Spezza commences the final year of his deal. He’d command less as a trade deadline rental and, given how injury-prone he’s proven in recent years, there’s no guarantee he’d be an available chip by next March. Even better for all parties, Spezza’s actual 2014-15 salary is only $4 million.

Should Ottawa pursue a hockey trade or look to, er, reacquire the type of young talent it gave away in the Bobby Ryan deal? We can’t read GM Bryan Murray’s mind, so let’s focus on the other half of the impending swap. Here are five destinations that make sense for Jason Spezza, keeping in mind he can veto trades to 10 teams as part of his modified no-trade clause.

1. Nashville Predators. I’m not the first pundit to suggest Music City as Spezza’s ideal destination, but that doesn’t mean I can’t agree. Sens beat writer and THN Ottawa correspondent Bruce Garrioch listed the Preds as a team after Spezza, and the deal makes too much sense. The Preds have the cap space, Spezza would have instant familiarity with old teammate Mike Fisher, Spezza would fit coach Peter Laviolette’s high-octane system, and Nashville would have its first and only No. 1 pivot since it borrowed Peter Forsberg for an hour.

2. St. Louis Blues. Doug Armstrong doesn’t have to extend Vladimir Tarasenko for another year, leaving Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Sobotka and Patrik Berglund as his high-priority restricted free agents to re-sign. Even if that takes $15 million, the Blues should have enough left for Spezza. The main thing they lacked against Chicago in the playoffs was a game-breaking offensive weapon. Imagine Spezza dishing passes to Tarasenko?

Read more

If Leafs trade van Riemsdyk, Nonis is making a huge mistake

Matt Larkin
vanRiemsdyk

I’ll start this post with a disclaimer: don’t shoot the messenger. I’m not saying this story is true, only that the rumor exists.

Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos tweeted the following yesterday:

 

Kipper tweet

Wow. If that’s true, it’s extreme. Well, sort of. It makes sense for the Leafs to aggressively pursue change this off-season. They have a new team president in Brendan Shanahan and since, to the surprise of many, GM Dave Nonis and coach Randy Carlyle were retained, it’s easy to read between the lines. If management isn’t going anywhere, players are.

Shopping captain Dion Phaneuf? Perfectly reasonable idea, especially with the entirety of his seven-year, $49-million contract remaining. Trading up to try and draft Aaron Ekblad? Sure. Even the rumors about Jake Gardiner and Nazem Kadri aren’t mind-boggling. Not that I’d rush to move either player, but each is as enigmatic as he is talented, so moving one for a useful return wouldn’t be sacrilege.

If Kypreos’ report is true word for word, however, I draw the line at James van Riemsdyk. If Toronto is actively shopping every player except Jonathan Bernier, Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and Morgan Rielly, deductive reasoning tells us JVR is on the block. Not just available, but actively being shopped. Whoa, daddy. And since his modified no-trade clause doesn’t activate until 2016-17, there’s nothing he can do about it.

Read more

Check out Chris Kreider’s superhuman pool jump

Matt Larkin
Chris Kreider

The “eye test” isn’t everything in sports. Concepts like Moneyball have even taught us not to let our peepers bias us when evaluating talent. But, boy, it’s easy to see why the New York Rangers are excited about power forward Chris Kreider.

This video isn’t the newest thing in town but, hey, it aired during CBC’s Stanley Cup final Game 1 telecast. It’s topical. Again. Check out Kreider’s explosive standing jump out of a pool here:

Read more

Barry Trotz: Chance to coach Caps is “surreal but invigorating”

Matt Larkin
Barry Trotz

Unless your name is Lindy Ruff, it’s hard to imagine how Barry Trotz will feel when he steps behind the Washington Capitals bench for the 2014-15 season.

Will it be like the first day at a new school? That doesn’t do it justice. It’s the equivalent of changing schools after spending 15 years in one class, with one teacher. The Nashville Predators were all Trotz had ever known as a head coach, and vice versa. He and GM David Poile had been joined at the hip since the dawn of the franchise in 1998-99.

“When you’re there in one spot from day one, forming a lot of the culture, making a lot of decisions in a lot of areas when you’re an expansion team, it’s basically four empty walls,” Trotz says. “Being there 17 years, making Nashville your home, and all of a sudden you’re going somewhere else, it is a little bit surreal. At the same time, it’s invigorating.”

The marriage between Trotz and Poile ended amicably. It’s not like Nashville finished last overall and Poile angrily showed Trotz the door amid public calls for the coach’s head. The Preds only missed the playoffs by three points after a late-season surge, but it was simply time for something new.

“It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, you know, I’m done here,’ or David saying, ‘Hey, you’re not doing a good job, ‘ ” Trotz says. “It was just, they needed a little change, and it was time. You can see that, by the way we split it, both sides were very kind to each other and still remain friends.”

Peter Laviolette now helms what will be a more up-tempo Music City team, while defense-minded Trotz will try to improve a Washington squad ranking in bottom half of the NHL in goals against three seasons running. It’s an especially challenging task, because this isn’t a low-stakes hire for a team openly rebuilding and not expecting to contend for years. The Caps lack an identity and still intend to push for the playoffs next season, relying on Alex Ovechkin as their star. They hope Evgeny Kuznetsov becomes an impact NHL forward in his first full season, that Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer or some free agent gives them reliable goaltending, that John Carlson continues to develop as a workhorse blueliner. Owner Ted Leonsis’ oustings of coach Adam Oates and GM George McPhee says the Caps knew the situation was broke – but this team intends to fix it immediately.

Read more