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.

Logan Couture’s off-season ‘really sucked,’ until…

Matt Larkin
Logan Couture. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

The 2015 off-season hit Logan Couture like a punch in the face, because it began in April. It’s a horrible feeling to realize your season is over the day the regular season ends, and Couture, 26, never experienced it in his first five NHL seasons. His San Jose Sharks missed the post-season for the first time in his career this past spring, and he makes no effort to sugarcoat how much he hates that.

“It sucks. It really sucks.”

Couture resents the fact he hasn’t played competitive hockey since April 11 – a date he quotes, like he circled it on his calendar. He and the teammate he calls ‘Jumbo,’ fellow center Joe Thornton, felt a wave of frustration hit them earlier this summer when they realized they were used to playing hockey in May.

“We were golfing, and we both talked about how much this sucks, how we don’t want this to happen again,” Couture said. “It makes you hungrier and hungrier, and we’re ready to get an extra serving right now.”

Read more

Five things Lou Lamoriello can teach Kyle Dubas in Toronto

Matt Larkin
New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello

Raise your hand if you saw that coming. You, in the back, put your hand down, liar.

Lou Lamoriello stunned pretty much everyone not working for the Toronto Maple Leafs by joining them as their new GM Thursday, solidifying a dream-team brain trust alongside Brendan Shanahan and Mike Babcock.

Before the Lamoriello addition it was public knowledge Mark Hunter, the Leafs’ director of player personnel, helmed Toronto’s draft. Assistant GM Kyle Dubas handled trading. So where will Lamoriello fit into the puzzle? Will Hunter and Dubas relinquish any of their responsibilities?

We’ll find out the plan as the season approaches (and perhaps later today at the team presser, so watch for updates). For now, though, the guess here is Lamoriello will serve as a figurehead and behind-the-scenes mentor. Lamoriello is 72. Dubas is 28. The latter could learn a helluva lot from the former. What lessons could Lou pass on to Kyle?

Read more

Carey Price to Wild? Kopitar to Ducks? Redrafting 2005’s first round

Matt Larkin
Carey Price. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Today marks the 10-year anniversary of the Sidney Crosby draft lottery. We’ve already celebrated by reviewing Sid the Kid’s best career moments. Now it’s time to delve into the 2005 draft. It’s famous for giving us Crosby and Carey Price, two of the best players at their positions this generation. Looking back, though, reveals the 2005 draft class is also memorable for being, well, so forgettable. Drafting Price and other stars such as Anze Kopitar meant navigating a minefield of busts.

A look at 2005’s first round, pick by pick:

1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
2. Bobby Ryan, Anaheim Ducks
3. Jack Johnson, Carolina Hurricanes
4. Benoit Pouliot, Minnesota Wild
5. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
6. Gilbert Brule, Columbus Blue Jackets
7. Jack Skille, Chicago Blackhawks
8. Devin Setoguchi, San Jose Sharks
9. Brian Lee, Ottawa Senators
10. Luc Bourdon, Vancouver Canucks
11. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
12. Marc Staal, New York Rangers
13. Marek Zagrapan, Buffalo Sabres
14. Sasha Pokulok, Washington Capitals
15. Ryan O’Marra, New York Islanders
16. Alex Bourret, Atlanta Thrashers
17. Martin Hanzal, Phoenix Coyotes
18. Ryan Parent, Nashville Predators
19. Jakub Kindl, Detroit Red Wings
20. Kenndal McArdle, Florida Panthers
21. Tuukka Rask, Toronto Maple Leafs
22. Matt Lashoff, Boston Bruins
23. Niclas Bergfors, New Jersey Devils
24. T.J. Oshie, St. Louis Blues
25. Andrew Cogliano, Edmonton Oilers
26. Matt Pelech, Calgary Flames
27. Joe Finley, Washington Capitals
28. Matt Niskanen, Dallas Stars
29. Steve Downie, Philadelphia Flyers
30. Vladimir Mihalik, Tampa Bay Lightning

Woof. Of that draft class, three first rounders, Zagrapan, Pokulok and Bourret, never played an NHL game. Ten players, or one third, failed to reach 100 NHL games, albeit the late Luc Bourdon would’ve had he not died tragically in a motorcycle accident. The 2005 first round has produced four skaters with at least 300 NHL points. For perspective, the 2004 and 2006 groups each had four 300-point guys in the first five picks alone.

So how about we give the league a do-over on 2005’s first round? The rules: (a) any player from the class’ seven rounds is eligible; (b) draft order stays the same; (c) team needs at the time will be factored in; (d) hindsight is very much 20/20. This is all in good fun.

Here we go.

Read more

Three playoff teams who could miss in 2015-16, and three non-playoff teams who could get in

Sidney Crosby (Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

Parity in the modern-day NHL creates such a delicate balance between teams that one year’s powerhouse is the next year’s dud, and vice versa. Just ask the Colorado Avalanche, who went from Central Division champs to out of the playoffs, or the Calgary Flames, who went from rebuilding team to round 2 of the post-season.

In all, 2014-15 swapped Calgary, Nashville, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Washington, the New York Islanders and Ottawa into the playoffs, with Colorado, Los Angeles, Dallas, San Jose, Boston, Columbus, and Philadelphia falling out. That’s seven new teams out of 16, or 43.75 percent.

With that crazy stat in mind, which 2014-15 post-season qualifiers might slide out in 2015-16? And which teams might take their places? I’ve chosen three candidates in each category.

Read more

Fantasy hockey Q&A: Should you trade Evgeni Malkin?

Matt Larkin
Evgeni Malkin

A thought that occurred to me while we finished up our Ultimate Fantasy Pool Guide, which hits newsstands in the next few weeks: we’ve entered a golden age of fantasy hockey. Traditional, pen-and-paper office pools still exist, but we also have massive online league engines and keeper formats that let us track salaries and trade draft picks. The latest revolution, daily fantasy sports, has players changing their lineups seven times a week based on matchups. We’ve never had so many options.

All the different modes of play complicate roster decisions and led to many questions submitted from readers over the past several weeks. They were supposed to run in the magazine, but our 2015-16 Pool Guide is so packed with content that there wasn’t room. I’ll answer them online instead. Here goes…

Read more

Why NHL 16 will turn last year’s jeers into this year’s cheers

Matt Larkin
EA Sports' NHL 16 video game.

If EA Sports’ NHL 15 was a fine Italian sports car, gorgeous to look at but limited in versatility, think of NHL 16 as a fully-loaded luxury SUV. It still has plenty of flash, but you can do a whole lot more with it.

Summer 2014 marked EA’s first foray into eighth-generation console video gaming with its NHL series. It had a great run with the seventh generation’s PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, taking online hockey gaming to new levels of popularity and introducing deep, detailed individual player modes such as Be a Pro. It was time for the company to see what kind of hockey magic it could make with the PS4 and Xbox One.

Our eyes told us NHL 15, Gen 8’s guinea pig release, was beautiful. It came closer to photorealism than any other hockey video game in history. It maintained the smooth play control that has always been a hallmark of EA Sports franchise. Adding Doc Emrick and Ed Olczyk as commentators freshened up the presentation, too.

But ask diehard gamers about NHL 15 and most will tell you that, as great as the game look and felt, its many missing features almost overshadowed its cosmetic appeal. The game had no online team play mode when released, leading to fan outrage before the feature was patched in. It was missing the extremely popular EA Sports Hockey League, which let users create their own characters and join online leagues with all-human 6-on-6 play.

Sean Ramjagsingh, producer of the NHL series, understood fans’ frustration but knew it was a necessary evil for NHL 15 to be missing some features. Electronic Arts couldn’t roll out a powerful new game engine and risk glitches if it wasn’t ready for online play, and he knew the popular features like EASHL would return in later versions.

Read more

Why hasn’t your team done anything this off-season?

Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman.  (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

We’ve seen plenty of turnover on NHL rosters so far this summer, setting up what appears to be even crazier parity than normal in each division. The Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks made major moves in the Pacific. The Washington Capitals jazzed up their top two lines in the Metropolitan. The Chicago Blackhawks did anything but sit on their championship team, making over a quarter of their roster.

A bushel of franchises, however, have been oddly quiet so far. Some are justified in their thought process. Others have their angry fans yelling “DO something!”

Why do some of these teams appear to be deer in the headlights right now? There’s a plausible explanation for each, though some are more maddening than others.

Read more

The many pitfalls of Ryan Kesler’s six-year, $41.25-million extension

Matt Larkin
(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Ryan Kesler trade was a coup for the Anaheim Ducks.

The Ryan Kesler extension, however? Hm.

Kesler, 31 this August, was precisely what Anaheim hoped he’d be in his first season with the team. He was a capable second-line center behind star Ryan Getzlaf. Kesler played close to 20 minutes a game. He killed penalties. He scored shorthanded goals. He saw some power play time. He provided secondary offense with 20 goals and 47 points while playing a shutdown role and finishing 10th in Selke Trophy voting. Gone were his days as a 41-goal scorer, but that wasn’t what Ducks GM Bob Murray acquired Kesler for. Kesler did just what he was supposed to, especially in the post-season, when he was a genuine terror, amassing seven goals and 13 points in 16 games and coming up big in clutch moments time and again.

So Kesler established himself as a crucial part of the Ducks’ Stanley Cup puzzle, and he had another year left on his contract to help with the championship push. The Ducks have added Carl Hagelin, Kevin Bieksa and Chris Stewart, too, while saying goodbye to Emerson Etem, Kyle Palmieri and James Wisniewski. They have a nice blend of youth, superstars and veterans, which is why certain pundits like them to go all the way in 2015-16.

But Kesler’s contract extension, announced Wednesday, bulges the eyeballs out of one’s head. Six years and $41.25 million, good for an average annual value of $6.875 million. Whoa.

Read more