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.
McDavid or Eichel. Eichel or McDavid. What about both?
The latter is a question only one team has the luxury of asking this season. The Buffalo Sabres, talked up as one of the franchises most likely to land the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft, have a strong chance to become Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel’s future home. The tandem headlines the most exciting draft class in years. Each projects as a generational talent. We have the next Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin on our hands if the scouts are right.
One storyline I haven’t heard yet, however: what if Buffalo lands McDavid and Eichel?
It’s far-fetched, even borderline silly. At this moment, however, the odds of one NHL team picking first and second in the draft are better than they’ve ever been, excluding the zany days in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the Montreal Canadiens were gifted the first few selections.
The reason is three words long: New York Islanders.
Take a look at Nashville Predators blueline depth chart. If your eyes bug out of your head, you’re forgiven.
The defense corps’ present and future are blindingly bright. Shea Weber, the game’s most complete player at his position, leads the way, usually paired with rapidly improving, well-rounded Roman Josi. A phenom named Seth Jones joined the fray last year, making the team as a teenager months after Nashville took him fourth overall. Big, steady Swede Mattias Ekholm looks like he’s an NHLer for good after a few years marinating in the American League. And GM David Poile added bruising veteran Anton Volchenkov on a one-year deal this off-season.
Rounding out that top six is the somewhat forgotten man: Ryan Ellis. Amid the headlines in recent years stolen by Ryan Suter’s departure, Weber’s offer sheet and Jones’ arrival, Ellis has faded into the background. Perhaps that’s why, at first glance, a five-year deal paying him $2.5 million annually seems like a lot, more so in term than cap hit. Ellis? Five years? Did he deserve it?
If you followed and enjoyed HBO’s 24/7 hockey series, you’ve heard the news by now: the marriage is over. HBO has walked away from the NHL. We’ll still see a behind-the-scenes show covering the Winter Classic, plus an additional outdoor game. It’ll appear on a carrier called EPIX in the U.S. and Sportsnet in Canada.
The “EPIX fail” headlines are unavoidable already. But I question if they’re warranted. More importantly, I question why HBO left the partnership. Sure, the network insisted the split was amicable and that there was never an assumption HBO would cover the Winter Classic every year. But it’s difficult not to blame the breakup on the decline in content quality – which stemmed from a decline in access.
If you take a closer look at what played out between the Wings and Maple Leafs last season, it’s apparent 24/7 as we know it ended with the previous entry, the outstanding Flyers/Rangers season.
It’s a tough time to play goalie for the Minnesota Wild. Josh Harding, fresh off an outstanding season in which he led the league in goals-against average and save percentage, already had a major hurdle to climb two days ago. Multiple sclerosis would limit his ability to handle a full starter’s workload. Things went from bad to worse for Harding Wednesday when he broke his foot. The details remain foggy, but so far we know Harding kicked a wall after an off-ice altercation with a teammate. He’s out indefinitely.
Next up is Darcy Kuemper, 24, who was good but not great in chunks of starting duty last season. In theory, he could step right into Harding’s role, but he’s a restricted free agent and contract talks have not gone well. Wild coach Mike Yeo and GM Chuck Fletcher publicly expressed their frustration about the process. Kuemper has even threatened to bolt for the Kontinental League. Kuemper wants a one-way deal, but the Wild prefer a two-way. Kuemper apparently hasn’t quite played well enough to win the organization’s confidence.
That leaves Niklas Backstrom as the “sure thing.” The Finn is 36 and fresh off core muscle surgery. He looked like a shell of his old self when he did play last season. He’s supposedly healthy now, but he’s only healthy relative to his 2013-14 self.
Minnesota’s net situation is dire enough that GM Chuck Fletcher invited Ilya Bryzgalov back for a training camp tryout. Bryzgalov accepted. Maybe Fletcher simply wants to up the heat on Kuemper’s camp. Or maybe the Wild believe they can get by with a Backstrom/Bryzgalov tandem. Bryz was brilliant at times for Minnesota down the stretch last spring after coming over at the trade deadline, going 7-1-3 with a 2.12 GAA and .911 SP. He left a lot to be desired in the playoffs, however, losing six of nine starts with a yucky .885 SP. That’s the problem with Bryzgalov. You never know when he might Bryzgalov things up.
And that’s where I see an opportunity in Minnesota. Martin Brodeur, this is your cue.
Andrei Nazarov had quite the heel turn in Wednesday’s Kontinental League tilt between Barys and Admiral.
Nazarov, Barys’ coach, wasn’t pleased with a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty. He took it out on the refs, flipping them off, and when he was tossed out of the game, he turned his attention to the Admiral fans.
Nazarov was extremely efficient in his obscene gestures, packing many into a rapid-fire barrage. Take a look:
Call 2014-15 the year of the sneaky milestone, the season that’ll have people on the street saying “He’s played how many games?” and “That guy has that many goals? Who knew?!”
Perusing the top 10(ish) high-water marks that should be reached, you’ll find at least one legendary name and more than a few surprises.
10. Marc-Andre Fleury’s and Ryan Miller’s 300th wins
Even if both tenders have their share of critics, especially when it comes to their recent playoff performances, Fleury and Miller have done generally fine work in the regular season. At 288 and 294 victories, respectively, each guy should join the 300 club easily, becoming the 30th and 31st members.
By now, you’ve probably had a look at Victor E. Green, the Dallas Stars’ freshly unveiled mascot. You’ve also visited the nearest emergency eyewash station, flushed thoroughly and patted your face dry with a paper towel.
Victor is ugly. He’s that friend with a great personality who never gets responses on OkCupid and doesn’t know why. Oscar the Grouch, Youppi and a cockroach held hands, stepped inside Jeff Goldblum’s telepod from The Fly, and out popped Victor. He’s that giant toy you win at the beginning of a day at the amusement park and wish you could throw away.
The Victor vitriol is intense. A small sample from enraged Stars fans on Twitter:
“It looks like a booger with legs…”
“As long as his name is the Grinch that stole the Stanley Cup. ???”
“Vomits uncontrollably. WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS TO YOUR FANS?”
Stumbled upon what appears to be a cool video today. We’d know for sure if we spoke Slovakian. What we do know is Marian Hossa tried to score from the top of an arena, hit the Zamboni and felt bad about it.
Have a look and try and decipher this video, which may or may not be a masterpiece: