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.

Whose heads should roll if the Boston Bruins miss the playoffs?

Matt Larkin
Zdeno Chara. (Getty images)

Pop quiz, Bruins fans: where were you when the Joe Thornton trade went down Nov. 30, 2005?

And how did you feel when the ticker crawl on the nearest TV unveiled the return for your team’s franchise center?

BREAKING: Boston Bruins trade C Joe Thornton to San Jose Sharks for LW Marco Sturm…

…C Wayne Primeau…

…and D Brad Stuart.

“Wait. That’s ALL!?”

It was a doomed deal from the start, and Jumbo Joe went bananas upon arrival in the Silicon Valley, amassing 92 points in 58 games en route to his lone Hart Trophy and scoring crown. It also marked the darkest point in Bruins history since the team finished low enough to draft Thornton.

So why talk about it today? Because, if the Bruins miss the playoffs this season, they’ll reach easily their lowest point as a franchise since Nov. 30, 2005. They’ve made the big dance seven straight seasons since Claude Julien took over as coach, posting point totals of 94, 116, 91, 103, 102, 62 (in 48 games, pro-rated to 106), and 117. The run includes a 2011 Stanley Cup, another final appearance in 2013 and the Presidents’ Trophy for the league’s top record a season ago.

But 2014-15 hasn’t been overly kind to the Big, Bad Bruins. They’re 36-25-12, good for 84 points with nine games remaining. The surging Ottawa Hamburglars Senators have nudged them out of a playoff position and have the dreaded game in hand. The Bruins spent a good chunk of the year without captain Zdeno Chara, they’ve been sans David Krejci for a month and, worst of all, Dougie Hamilton’s breakout season is paused indefinitely with a mysterious injury. The signs don’t exactly scream late-season comeback.

The Los Angeles Kings may miss the playoffs despite playing very much like themselves, taking it easy during the regular season and still posting strong puck-possession numbers. The Boston Bruins can’t say the same. They’re scoring less, possessing the puck less and allowing more goals. They look little like the perennial powerhouse of the past half-decade. It’s fair, then, to ponder an off-season of questions for this team. Which heads will roll? Who needs a change of scenery?

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Bracket busters: which NHL playoff Cinderellas could cause April madness?

Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Why does college basketball get to have all the fun?

There’s something magical about the first four days of the NCAA tournament every year. Are you one of the people who enjoy the rounds of 64 and 32 more than the rest of the bracket and gradually tune in less and less, almost forgetting to watch the national title game? There’s a reason for that. The earlier rounds produce the upsets, the Cinderella stories that steal our hearts.

The home stretch of the NHL season has produced a few exciting Little Teams That Could, too. Which have the best potential to pull insane upsets come April, should they squeak into the bracket? A few come to mind immediately, one of which makes analytics advocates wet themselves, another of which is out to steal your Royale With Cheese.

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Which NHL team would be the best in 3-on-3 overtime? We rank them

Matt Larkin
Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. (Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

With Ryan Kennedy

The NHL’s GM meetings yielded some interesting news from Boca Raton, Fla., Tuesday. General managers recommended a coach’s challenge for goalie interference calls and penalties for pucks shot out of play. The other proposed rule change generated even more buzz: 3-on-3 overtime.

Oh, the possibilities. We could see five minutes of 3-on-3 in overtime as soon as next season, or we could see an AHL-style format in which teams play four minutes of 4-on-4 and a maximum three minutes of 3-on-3. Per the USA Today’s Kevin Allen, GMs will ask the NHL Players’ Association and competition committee which they prefer. The 3-on-3 format has drastically reduced the number of shootouts in the AHL, about one-third as many overtime games decided that way versus last year, so the idea is extremely exciting for anyone who hates the shootout.

Dreams of 3-on-3 danced through our heads in the THN office. Colleague Ryan Kennedy and I started talking about which team would field the deadliest 3-on-3 trio. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith? Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang? We pitched a Steven Stamkos-Tyler Johnson-Victor Hedman trio to Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, too. The main challenge for teams would be deciding on what positions to deploy. Three forwards? A dominant center and two speedy D-men? Two forwards and a D-man? Does Yzerman know what he would do with the Bolts yet?

“No,” he said with a laugh. “It depends on our players, I guess. Ask the American League coaches what they think would be best. I don’t have an opinion one way or the other, but there are lots of options for the coaches.”

Lots of options indeed. We’ve taken our best shot at ranking the top 30 teams in 3-on-3 overtime situations. Keep in mind that games will end quicker this way, so there’s nothing wrong with loading up on your best players for the first shift. Also, we’ve factored out current injuries since the format would start next season.

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Forward-thinking Ken Hitchcock is fourth coach to 700 wins. Who’s next?

Matt Larkin
Ken Hitchcock. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Ken Hitchcock won his 700th game as an NHL head coach Thursday night, and it was an easy milestone to root for. ‘Hitch’ is obviously one of the most successful bench bosses of his generation, but he’s also one of the quirkiest, most approachable and most adaptable.

Flash back to the NHL Awards in Las Vegas, June 20, 2012. Hitchcock had just been handed his first Jack Adams Award as coach of the year after taking over the St. Louis Blues in November 2011, going 43-15-11 and pulling his team within two points of the Presidents’ Trophy. He took the backstage podium and turned what could’ve been a softball question into an insightful answer.

“Is this Blues team the best you’ve coached since winning the Stanley Cup in 1999 with Dallas?” I asked.

His goalies at the time, Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak, were in the room and within earshot, showing off their shiny new Jennings Trophy. Of course ‘Hitch’ would play it diplomatically with “yes, easily my best team since Dallas,” right?

Wrong.

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Fantasy hockey mailbag: MacKinnon vs. Drouin, and other keeper league pickles

Matt Larkin
Jonathan Drouin. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Seeking advice in your fantasy hockey pool right now? You must be:

(a) Seeking upgrades or smart last-minute roster adds for your post-season push
(b) Scraping the roadkill that is your team off the pavement, and assessing keeper players

Today’s mailbag tackles questions from both perspectives.

Jeremy Aubin (@JAubs19) asks
Strictly a points league, better player to draft next year: Nathan MacKinnon or Jonathan Drouin?

Answer: Who knew this would be such a good question? It boils the blood of any MacKinnon owner, especially after he was shut down with a broken foot last week, adding injury to the insult of his sophomore slump. MacKinnon made poolie mouths water as an 18-year-old rookie in 2013-14, churning out 63 points, spurred by a great second half, and dominating in the post-season.

This year? A measly 12 goals and 38 points in 64 games. Yikes. And just when he showed signs of life with five goals and nine points in his past 10 games, his season ended. So it’s understandable to wonder if Tampa Bay left winger Jonathan Drouin, Mackinnon’s former Halifax Mooseheads teammate and the young man picked two spots after him in 2013, is a better keeper-league option.

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Senators start Anderson over Hammond, have learned nothing from Brady and Bledsoe

Matt Larkin
Craig Anderson (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

Nobody likes a second-guesser. What about a first-guesser?

I reserve the right to call out the Ottawa Senators for botching their goaltending over the past 72 hours, considering I said it during the Calgary game and, more importantly, before Ottawa’s crucial loss to the Boston Bruins Tuesday night. The four-point swing made the difference between trailing Boston by three points in the Eastern Conference wild-card race, with a game in hand, to a seven-point deficit. Woof.

The frustrating thing about Tuesday’s defeat: Senators coach Dave Cameron did not put his team’s best foot forward. Apologies to Craig Anderson, but he isn’t the premier option in net right now. He’s been almost always outstanding since a 2011 trade brought him to Canada’s capital. He has a .921 save percentage as a Senator, with a .925 mark this season.

But Anderson, as good as he is, did not start a game between Jan. 21 and March 8. The Ottawa Senators’ record during that period: 10-5-2. They played their best hockey of the season during Anderson’s absence, largely because of Andrew ‘The Hamburglar’ Hammond’s play in goal. He found his way into Ottawa’s lineup Feb. 16 to mop up Robin Lehner’s mess and never looked back. The Sens handed Hammond the keys, and all he’s done is go 7-0-1 with a 1.54 goals-against average and .954 SP. He’s the first goalie in 76 years to allow two or fewer goals in each of his first eight starts. He shut out the friggin’ Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings in back-to-back starts on the road. No goalie in the history of the universe had done that.

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2018 Olympic hockey format unveiled. Which countries will make it?

Matt Larkin
Sidney Crosby. (Getty Images)

Olympic hockey will happen in 2018, NHLers or not. At the very least, the tournament will feature the world’s best female players. Will the men’s elite make the trek to PyeongChang, South Korea? We’ll see. Whatever happens, the IIHF is proceeding as if everyone will come to play. It released the respective formats for Olympic men’s and women’s hockey qualification Wednesday. Let’s break down how each field will be determined – under the assumption NHLers play.

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What Jose Theodore’s Hart Trophy season says about Carey Price’s chances

Matt Larkin
Carey Price. (Getty Images)

The Carey Price Hart Trophy whispers simply aren’t whispers anymore. They’re screams. They’re wall-rattling trumpets. No player in the NHL has been more dominant or valuable to his team this season.

Price leads the league’s goaltending class in wins (37), goals-against average (1.89) and save percentage (.936), the latter two triple crown categories by a wide margin. His seven shutouts trail only Marc-Andre Fleury’s nine. Price has been remarkably consistent, posting a GAA of 2.48 or better and an SP of .920 or better every month. He’s also somehow improved since the all-star break, going 13-3-1 with a 1.34 GAA and .953 SP. Those numbers don’t even look like they’re from the modern era. The GAA seems stolen from Alec Connell.

Better still, Price has done all this for a team with the 21st-best Corsi Close rating in the NHL, and for a team that scores less than any other in a playoff position right now. His backup Dustin Tokarski’s numbers pale in comparison. This is no Martin Jones or 2013-14 Chad Johnson looking all-world understudying a superstar goalie on a dominant defensive team. Every possible way you slice Price’s season, his success is his own. He’s the best player in the NHL.

And yet, while the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie is all but cemented, history suggests the odds remain against Price in the Hart Trophy race. Dominant goalie seasons like Tim Thomas’ 2011 haven’t been enough to earn MVP status. No stopper has done it since Jose Theodore in 2002. Before that it was Dominik Hasek in 1997 and 1998. Then you have to flash all the way back to Jacques Plante in 1961-62. John F. Kennedy was alive and well then. Humans hadn’t landed on the moon.

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