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.
Only two teams left to forecast for the 2016 World Cup of hockey, and we’ve reached the murkiest entry. Team Russia is perpetually toughest to predict because politics play a role in the choices. How many KHL players will be honored for their loyalty to their country and make the team over superior NHLers? It’s a delicate exercise.
I’ve given it my best shot below. Note the lack of right-handed shots on the blueline. It’s typically better to achieve balance, but shockingly few elite Russian defenseman shoot right.
We continue our virtual tour of 2016 World Cup of Hockey rosters with Team Sweden. The Swedes are a unique case in that, unlike the other European nations, they can assemble virtually their entire team from NHL players. Per quanthockey.com, Swedes comprise 8.1 percent of active NHLers. That’s more than double the representation of any country other than Canada and the U.S. Veteran power forward Jimmie Ericsson, a Swedish League vet now playing in the KHL, was the only non-NHLer on Sweden’s 2014 Olympic silver medallist squad in Sochi.
Carving out a 2016 lineup is especially difficult with the Swedes. They have tremendous depth and, with few true superstars, they have little separation between their 10th- and 15th-best guy at each position. Let’s get to it.
How serious are Bill Foley and company about landing an NHL Las Vegas franchise? Super Bowl commercial serious.
During Sunday night’s wild Super Bowl, which featured everything from miracle catches to dancing sharks, the Foley-led ownership group aired the following ad on local television:
The Finns have performed consistently well in recent international competition. They’ve medalled in four of five Olympic tournaments since NHL participation began. They won the 2011 World Championship and finished second last year.
But the Finns are witnessing a changing of the guard, saying goodbye to Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu. They’re a team in transition that must rely on new, younger pillars. Their 2014 world junior gold suggests they can do so successfully. What type of roster might they field at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey? Here’s a rough projection.
The dust has finally settled on the next World Cup of Hockey, set to commence Sept. 17, 2016. The rumored format came to fruition, with the eight-team field including Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, a Euro all-star squad and the North American Youngstars team.
The latter two groups are highly polarizing, of course. Will the Euro all-stars have any motivation to succeed without playing for their nations? Is the Youngstars team a cheap gimmick? I’m fine with both entries – It’s not like we know this tournament replaces the Olympics – though it’s surprising to learn any players 23 and younger can only play for the Youngstars. That means a Nathan MacKinnon or Johnny Gaudreau can’t even make Canada and the U.S, respectively, on merit.
After forecasting Canada, the U.S. and the Euro all-stars, it’s time for the difficult task of predicting the 23-and-under group. Here goes. I’ll deploy 25 players again, even though the official designation is 23, as I’m factoring in the taxi squad members. Also worth noting: the league has not yet designated an age cutoff date. In this case, we’ll go with players 23 and younger on Sept. 17.
We knew it was coming, and now it’s official: Martin Brodeur does not play hockey in the NHL anymore. The man who rewrote the goaltending record books as a New Jersey Devil will end his brief stint in the St. Louis Blues’ crease and join their front office.
How do we say goodbye to Marty? For starters, let’s fondly reflect on his best career moments. Here are 10 to ponder.
Aaron Ekblad’s maiden NHL voyage is equally predictable and shocking.
On one hand, everything the mammoth defenseman has accomplished with Florida matches what the world expected of him. Prospects didn’t come more can’t-miss than Ekblad, who at 15 was the first defenseman to earn exceptional status and join the OHL a year early, a la the John Tavares rule. Ekblad logged Clydesdale minutes with the Barrie Colts. He spearheaded a serious stab at the Memorial Cup in 2013. He manned Canada’s blueline at the 2014 world juniors with middle-aged poise. Months after the Panthers made him the first D-man in eight years to go first overall in the NHL draft, he entered the world’s best circuit already 6-foot-4 and 216 pounds.
Ekblad wasn’t old enough to legally drink, and he was barely eligible to attend an R-rated movie without mommy and daddy, but he was as ready as he could possibly be, built like a tank and noticeably polished in interviews. It seemed like the kid would make it look easy, and he largely has. His 24 points after 40 games placed him third among rookies and miles ahead of the pack for the lead among freshman blueliners. Only Damon Severson averaged more minutes among rookies. It was precisely the smooth transition Ekblad was supposed to make.
“I didn’t feel intimidated at all, actually,” he said. “I had guys like Willie Mitchell, and obviously this is a young team, so guys like (Aleksander) Barkov and (Nick) Bjugstad were able to welcome me with open arms. So that counts as fairly easy in my mind.”
Fairly easy? It makes you want to grab Ekblad’s enormous shoulders and shake him. Don’t you realize what you’ve done?
The defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings fed the NHL a harsh dose of reality less than 24 hours after the league displayed its silliest side at the All-Star Game.
The Kings placed center Mike Richards on waivers Monday, per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. Yes, that Mike Richards, the world junior champion, the 2010 gold medallist, the two-time Stanley Cup winner. Richards had appeared in many recent trade rumors, most commonly involving Toronto’s Dion Phaneuf, but the Kings reportedly could not find a taker. It’s not exactly a shocker no team wanted to give up something to acquire Richards, 29, at a $5.75-million cap hit for five more seasons after this one. He is nowhere near the player he was as a Philadelphia Flyer, and it appears he’s even lost a step since last season. Richards has sputtered to 15 points in 47 games, he’s won fewer than half his faceoffs, and it’s fair to wonder if Kings GM Dean Lombardi regrets not using a compliance buyout on Richards this past off-season. The euphoria of a second championship in three years understandably clouded his judgment.
As per the new(ish) collective bargaining agreement, the Kings can’t fully “bury” Richards’ contract for full relief from his cap hit. If he clears waivers, they will only save $925,000. They obviously hope some team claims Richards.
The question is – does any team have the stones to blow that much cap space on Richards? Re-entry waivers no longer exist, meaning the claiming team must take on his full cap hit and term. Richards still has some value to a contending team, as he’s still a plus in the possession game and he’s a winner who elevates his game in the post-season. But that may not matter at his price.