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.
We’re just weeks away from the NHL 15 launch date, Sept. 9. Early teaser videos have whetted many diehard gamer appetites, as has talk of new game physics and recently released overhead footage.
The gameplay in the new next-generation console clips (Xbox One, PlayStation 4), looked crisp and shiny, but surprisingly similar to that of previous versions, especially in how goals were scored, as my colleague Rory Boylen noticed. The pressure is on to deliver a major upgrade in the hockey gaming experience – especially in light of a disappointing announcement this week.
EA Sports released its NHL 15 game modes for the next-gen consoles. Excluded from them are popular EA Sports Hockey League mode, or EASHL, and GM Connected mode. Both will still appear on Xbox 360 and the PS3. The key hook of both: they allow teams of six humans (five skaters and one person controlling the goalie manually like a maniac) to battle other teams of six humans in a fully functioning, take-over-your-life experience. We’re talking leagues, schedules, and even skill-based promotions and relegations like you’d find in your local beer league. In GM Connected, 30 different people can run 30 different franchises. It means giving up your job and love life but, still, it’s friggin’ hardcore.
We still have a month left of summer, but you wouldn’t know it standing face to face with Mark Giordano. He’s in great shape, and he has great posture. He’s alert, almost bouncing on his heels. He very much looks ready to play NHL games today.
He’s enjoyed the usual hockey player off-season, full of golf – more than he’d like, considering he was free to hit the links in April – and visiting family. But Giordano, 30, says all the activities designed to get his mind off the game are winding down now.
“At this point of the summer, now you’re getting those butterflies, because you know camp is coming back,” he said.
Back to that exemplary posture of his. He’s by no means cocky, but he has a quiet confidence about him. He doesn’t look like someone just one year into life as an NHL captain. That or it’s simply clear the Calgary Flames made the right choice.
He says his life hasn’t changed too much since the ‘C’ was stitched onto his jersey for the start of 2013-14, that he simply leads by example, and that he believes young players look up to that more than anything. After all, Giordano says, that’s what he always did in his early years in the NHL.
“Lead by example” has become a classic hockey cliché in this era of captain by committee, but Giordano sure seems to back up what he says. His first season as captain was the best of his career. His 14 goals and 47 points were career highs, and he hit those marks despite missing 18 games. He still ranked sixth and 11th among NHL blueliners in those two categories, higher when you exclude Brent Burns, who played forward last year but was listed among D-men. Pro-rate Giordano’s totals over 82 games and he’d have 18 goals and 60 points. Only Erik Karlsson and Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith averaged more points per game. Giordano finished 10th in Norris voting (with one first-place vote), and would’ve been higher if advanced statistics carried more weight on the ballot. Giordano’s Corsi was the best in the NHL relative to who he played with and who he played against.
At 24, Erik Karlsson is already the best offensive defenseman of his era. His 74 points were 13 more than the next-closest blueliner, Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith, had in 2013-14. Karlsson has outscored every D-man in the league by 29 or more points over the last three seasons.
But should he be a captain right now?
The Ottawa Senators have a vacancy after trading Jason Spezza to the Dallas Stars. This week, when asked about wearing the ‘C,’ Karlsson responded with an open mind.
“Obviously it’s something I wouldn’t say no to, (but) it’s not something that I’m going to ask for,” Karlsson told the Senators website Monday. “Whoever makes the decision is going to make the right one, and whether it’s me or someone else, it’s going to be good for the team and good for the organization.”
The idea of Karlsson wearing the ‘C’ raises the question: what constitutes a captain in today’s NHL? And has it changed in recent years?
Here’s a look at the league’s captains 20 years ago, in 1993-94. Top-30 scorers that year are bolded, as are defensemen who scored in the top five at their position. Age at the start of that season is in brackets.
At the risk of sounding blasphemous, Mike Cammalleri’s deal with the Devils was all about faith. He chose the team that believed in him most and the team he believed in most.
Calgary fans were disappointed but not surprised when he left in free agency after a resurgent 26-goal campaign. After all, team president Brian Burke retained Cammalleri’s expiring contract at the trade deadline. Burke tried to deal his veteran, but he felt the offers weren’t good enough. He decided to risk losing Cammalleri for nothing and stated his desire to keep him.
Burke and new GM Brad Treliving made offers this summer to Cammalleri for a long-term pact, but they couldn’t compete with what Lou Lamoriello and the New Jersey Devils tabled: five years and $25 million for a 32-year-old who’s missed 15 or more games in four of his past five seasons and is six years removed from his best numbers.
That didn’t matter to Lamoriello, who says he followed and admired Cammalleri’s game all the way back to the University of Michigan.
“He played with an edge and had results,” Lamoriello said. “He’s very diligent and he competes. When you see that in a player, it naturally sticks out. When we were looking at the potential free agencies and the type of player we needed, we felt we needed a scorer. Mike stood right out, and he was one of the top players we looked at, if not the top player.”
You can set your watch to certain events every fantasy season. One free agent bust gives way to the next, and one breakout rookie passes the torch to another. The “Who is This Year’s…” game helps poolies because it provides a ton of information by comparing two names. “Jake Allen is good” says a little. “Jake Allen is this year’s Semyon Varlamov” says a lot. Time to play.
WHO IS THIS YEAR’S…
Johansen, the fourth-overall pick in 2010, scored 14 goals in his first 107 games. In 2013-14, he exploded for 33 goals. A young gun set to go off this season is Alex Galchenyuk. He hasn’t been bad, tallying 58 points over his first two seasons, but he’s just scratching the surface of his ability, and he missed 17 games in 2013-14. He’s a future star, and a leap into the 60-point stratosphere is within reach.
Out-of-nowhere goalie sensation
Varlamov wasn’t a nobody entering 2013-14, but he was struggling. Then Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy arrived to coach Colorado. ‘Varly’ was a changed man and a profitable late-round grab in pools. This year, Jake Allen will pay off similarly. He’s guaranteed an NHL job and will post outstanding numbers with the stellar Blues defense in front of him. He’ll earn at least a split of the starts with Brian Elliott, with potential for a lot more.
Return to grace
Boston was silly to give up on Tyler Seguin. He was too talented to stay down after a poor year, and he was just 21. Dallas jumped at the chance to get him, and he finished fourth in league scoring. Watch for a bounce-back from Eric Staal. A 61-point campaign after eight straight seasons at a pace of 70 or more? Toss it out. He’s still just 29.
The Detroit Red Wings have secured one piece of their future. Will the second domino fall soon?
First, GM Ken Holland. There was the occasional whisper of him leaving Detroit for a new challenge, but the odds were always slim. He’s fuelled the Red Wings’ seemingly endless success for decades, including the last 17 years as GM. The franchise is synonymous with finding diamonds in the rough, including current stars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, and Holland has always been the mastermind behind that brilliant drafting.
Worry not, Wings fans. Your GM is back. Holland has signed a four-year extension, keeping him in Hockeytown through 2017-18. Owner Mike Illitch’s statement mentioned stability as “key to success of any organization,” and that Holland is crucial for maintaining that stability. It makes sense with a new arena all the way and this team in serious transition.
On the surface, 23 straight playoff berths say it’s business as usual in Detroit, but we know that’s not the case. This team barely squeezed into the playoffs last season, and Datsyuk and Zetterberg seem destined to battle health problems for the rest of their careers. Jimmy Howard’s goaltending hasn’t met the expectation set by the six-year, $31.75-million deal he commenced last season. With the team’s future success in flux, it’s good news for the Wings to have Holland manning the ship.
More good news: the youth movement is in full-swing, and Detroit seems more wiling than ever to give youngsters chances to play. Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar look like the latest late-round draft steals, poised to become building blocks for years to come at forward. Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan, who were higher-regarded prospects than Nyquist and Tatar when drafted, made the team last year as well. Anthony Mantha, who scored a goal a game in junior last season, could be the exception to Detroit’s unwritten rule of making every drafted prospect wait three to four years before making the NHL. That’s what happens when Detroit gets a top-20 pick after none from 2006-2012. The Wings’ blueline is solid if unspectacular, with clever college signings like Danny DeKeyser complementing solid vets like Niklas Kronwall. Maybe now that Holland has a contract, he can work on upgrading the defense corps further with an acquisition like, say, Mike Green.
There are trades, and then there are trades that ship you 2,366 miles northwest.
The late-June swap that sent right winger Teddy Purcell from Tampa Bay to Edmonton was a shock. His closet said it all. It contained zero winter jackets and hadn’t for seven years. He’d spent his entire NHL career in California and Florida, and it seemed as recently as a year ago he wasn’t going anywhere for a long time.
The undrafted college free agent didn’t blossom in parts of three seasons with L.A., but the Lightning took a chance on him with a 2010 trade. He realized his potential as a top-six forward, posting 51- and 65-point seasons, often as Steven Stamkos’ linemate.
Something changed this past season, however. Young guns Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat burst onto the scene, and Purcell’s role diminished. Coach Jon Cooper, and even teammates like Valtteri Filppula, publicly asked Purcell to shoot more. He slipped to 12 goals in 81 games and tumbled to the fourth line. Purcell became expendable when the team identified other needs and off he went in the Sam Gagner deal.
Standard storylines would have Purcell entering 2014-15 motivated to prove Tampa wrong, but that’s just not him. He’s about as easygoing as it gets. He’s happy to call frigid Edmonton his new home, pointing out he grew up in Newfoundland and played in Saskatchewan and Maine. And he’s not angry at Tampa Bay. He speaks highly of GM Steve Yzerman.
It all makes sense now.
Retain coach Randy Carlyle and GM Dave Nonis after missing playoffs and posting horrible possession numbers.
Bringing in young, possession-oriented assistant GM Kyle Dubas as an understudy.
Sign a defenseman fresh off two broken legs in one year, and add many plucky veterans on tradable, one-year deals.
Lastly, get KISS Leaf jerseys before a Tuesday concert in Toronto.
Brendan Shanahan’s plan is clear now: this is a rebuild, a tank-job for Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. It wasn’t a sure thing until KISS happened. Any team associating its jersey with the most overrated rock band in history has nowhere to go but down, right?