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.
It doesn’t matter how piping hot the Florida Panthers are. Losing their Clydesdale sophomore defenseman, Aaron Ekblad, is a devastating blow. He was scratched from the Cats’ lineup Monday night with an upper-body injury entering their game against the Vancouver Canucks.
A night earlier, Ekblad took this massive hit from behind from the Edmonton Oilers’ Matt Hendricks. Another look, if you haven’t seen it:
Jonathan Drouin, currently a member of the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch, does not want to play for the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning anymore. Agents don’t publish formal trade requests without their clients’ approval, so every word published in the release from Octagon’s Allan Walsh reflects a united front between him and Drouin.
The request is an intelligent strategic move by Drouin and Walsh. It casts more public scrutiny on Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, which could motivate him to rid himself of the situation sooner, i.e. mid-season, rather than later, i.e. the 2016 off-season. The request also acts as a honey pot to attract additional Drouin suitors, as there’s a big difference between “the media say Drouin might want out of Tampa” and “Drouin officially wants out of Tampa.”
I’ve already speculated on which destinations make most sense for Drouin, though Nashville and Columbus no longer apply. We can speculate further on whether Yzerman will “cave” or “hold his ground.” But perhaps the better question to ask right now is: what caused the rift between Drouin and the Lightning? Knowing the answer would offer a better clue as to whether the situation is reconcilable. With guidance from some sources close to the situation, THN offers a brief timeline of career roadblocks Drouin has experienced since the Bolts drafted him third overall in 2013.
Most NHL teams have reached the halfway points of their 2015-16 seasons, give or take a few games. It’s thus a fun time to double every player’s individual statistics and project how they’ll close out the year. Fifty-point guys are 100-point guys, 20-goal men are 40-goal snipers, and so on.
The midpoint also offers the ideal juncture for mid-season awards. We won’t pretend they mean anything official. A lot can change in the second half, and the season’s back nine may or may not carry the recency bias, meaning late-season surges carry slightly more weight than early-season heroics. Andrew Hammond debuted Feb. 16 last season and finished seventh in Vezina Trophy voting and 15th in Hart voting.
Still, the awards are a fun way to take stock of the season to date. We held a vote between eight THN staff members to pick our mid-year Hart, Vezina, Norris, Calder and Jack Adams winners. Finalists received five points per first-place vote, three per second-place vote and one per third-place vote.
Wednesday evening was glorious. It gave us a good, old-fashioned hockey trade of an impact player for an impact player. No picks, no prospects, no retained salary, all real, no gimmicks. Center Ryan Johansen joins the Nashville Predators. Defenseman Seth Jones joins the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The natural question, commonly directed our way on social media over the past 24 hours: who wins the trade? As my colleague Jared Clinton has already pointed out, Johansen makes Nashville a better hockey team today. He’s the bellcow No. 1 center the Preds have never really possessed unless you count the brief whiff of Peter Forsberg.
But what about Columbus’ perspective? Does turning Nashville into a Stanley Cup contender imply the Blue Jackets lost the deal?
Not necessarily. While it’s true Johansen’s departure leaves a gaping hole in the Jackets’ depth chart, Jones becomes a new franchise pillar who could have a larger long-term impact than Johansen.
It’s best not to fight the feeling. Yes, it can be annoying to see snub discussions explode on social media every time an All-Star Game in any major sport names its participants. But it’s a rite of passage, something fans and writers alike just have to do. Think of it as cathartic. Take my virtual hand. We’ll power through this together.
Under the new 3-on-3 tournament format for the 2016 All-Star Game, held in Nashville, players are divided into four teams, one for each division. While I’m confident the gimmick will yield a fun experience Jan. 31, it was built for snubs all along. The Central Division, for instance, is so talent-rich that its B squad could win the tournament.
The All-Snub team thus has a decidedly Central slant to it. Think of this year’s snub selections as “guys done wrong by the format who probably would’ve made the cut in other seasons.” And keep in mind each squad must have a player from every team in the division. That’s as much a reason for the snubs as any.
Face it: the Jaromir Jagr love train has been awfully crowded this season. But rightfully so. He’s not just the apple of our eye because he passed Marcel Dionne in goals and has a strong chance to overtake Gordie Howe in points before the year is up. We don’t just fawn over Jagr because he smites blackmailers and fires off candid quotes like bullets from a six-shooter after every game.
Jagr has earned all the buzz this year because he’s played legitimately excellent hockey at a whopping 43 years old. He had an amazing 24 goals and 67 points with the New Jersey Devils in 2013-14, then regressed to 11 goals and 29 points in 57 games with them last season. The decline finally appeared imminent at age 42. Then came the reinvigorating trade to Florida. As the Panthers’ first-line right winger, No. 68 has amassed 19 goals and 46 points in 56 games.
It got me wondering…where does Jagr’s age-43 season rank, not just in hockey lore, but in major North American team sports lore? Let’s see how he stacks up with the big four.
The 2015-16 NHL season has taught us smoke rarely yields fire in the trade rumor mill, at least so far. Plenty of names have been tossed out as highly likely candidates to be dealt, from Ryan Johansen to Matt Duchene, and nothing has happened. Heck, Travis Hamonic requested a trade from the New York Islanders to help him with a personal family matter, and even he hasn’t changed addresses almost two months later. The Johnny Boychuk injury makes a deal next to impossible now, too.
So just because Jonathan Drouin, via agent Allan Walsh, formally requested a trade from the Tampa Bay Lightning doesn’t guarantee Drouin will be moved. General manager Steve Yzerman has made it clear he’ll do what’s best for his team before he’ll do what’s best for Drouin, so it’s possible Tampa searches for a way to mend fences and retain the youngster. That said, Drouin should attract a ton of interest on the trade front. He’s only 20. He carries the type of raw talent expected of a player taken third overall in the 2013 draft. Whether his early-career struggles are the result of injury, poor play on his part or not getting a proper opportunity on a stacked team, he has plenty of time to make good on his potential. He has another year left on his deal at an $894,166 cap hit, albeit with performance bonuses worth up to $2.3 million.
Bottom line: Drouin is affordable for virtually any team at the moment, as he’s not a restricted free agent until summer 2017, and he’s young enough to appeal to rebuilding teams and buying teams alike. He carries risk in that he still has a high enough ceiling to command a significant return, but we can expect a ton of interest in him.
Who, then, is the ideal fit for a Drouin acquisition? Consider these five candidates.
The eighth Winter Classic is upon us, and it’s a doozie of a matchup. Foxboro, Mass., will host the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens, placing hockey’s greatest rivalry outdoors. Yes, please. Given the history of bad blood between the two squads, the 2016 Classic immediately has a chance to go down as one of the best.
Which Winter Classic is the king of them all so far? It’s time to rank all seven, from worst to best. An important note: quality of hockey isn’t paramount. Indoor NHL rinks with standardized ice conditions treat us to higher-quality hockey every night of the week. So a good Winter Classic is about entertainment value above all else, and while good hockey helps, the entertainment can also include intangibles. Let’s begin.