Daniel Wagner

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(Jeff McIntosh, CP)

(Jeff McIntosh, CP)

August is just the worst for NHL fans. It’s at the end of the off-season, so the vast majority of free agent signings and trades have already gone down, but it’s still too early to start thinking about the upcoming season. It’s hockey purgatory, just waiting around until Godot shows up to drop the puck. It’s even worse for hockey writers, who still have to come up with things to write about even though there’s nothing happening. Most end up ranting about things that no one cares about or leap at the slightest bit of NHL news.

The real trouble is that since there’s so little news to talk about, everyone ends up talking about the same news, even if it’s barely news to begin with. Most of the stories that got covered might have merited one article or blog post, but with nothing else to write about, everything gets extra attention.

Thankfully, we’re finally reaching the end of August. Once September rolls around, NHL prospect camps will start up with some teams playing in prospect tournaments to help evaluate their players. That means there will be NHL hockey games, more or less, as early as September 5th. Imagine, actual hockey! Sort of!

In celebration of the end of August, the unhockiest of months, let’s revisit the major stories that hockey writers covered over the last month and figure out which ones are news, sort-of news, not-really news, and definitely not news.

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(Brian Babineau, Getty Images)

(Brian Babineau, Getty Images)

I’m tired of being told that hits and blocked shots don’t matter. The best advanced stats bloggers generally refrain from saying it outright, but I’ve heard the sentiment too many times. I’m also tired because it’s hard to get sleep when you’ve got a newborn and a toddler, but that’s a side issue.

As I spent some time wondering why the idea of hits and blocked shots not mattering bothered me so much, I started to relate it to the shot quality debate. Many proponents of advanced stats will tell you that shot quality doesn’t matter and that shot quantity is far more important. It’s understandable why many traditionalist take issue with hockey analytics when they’re told that shot quality, hits, and blocked shots are unimportant when all three can play a vital role in the outcome of a game.

It’s clear to me that all three do, in fact, matter and that looking at hits and blocked shots in the same light as the shot quality versus shot quantity debate can shed some light on why.

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(Debora Robinson, Getty Images)

(Debora Robinson, Getty Images)

The Anaheim Ducks had a remarkable turnaround last season, finishing first in the Pacific Division and second in the Western Conference after finishing 13th in the West in 2011-12. They were nearly unstoppable all season, getting off to a great start that kept going and going until it stretched the meaning of the word “start.”

Everything was clicking for the Ducks: Ryan Getzlaf bounced back after an off season, Francois Beauchemin amassed points to go with his solid defensive play, rookie Viktor Fasth came out of seemingly nowhere and won his first 8 starts, and the Ducks’ powerplay zipped along at 21.5%.

The Ducks may have lost in seven games to the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs, but things seemed to be coming together for the Ducks. And yet, the outlook does not actually look that bright for the Ducks heading into next season.

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(Noah Graham, Getty Images)

(Noah Graham, Getty Images)

Even as advanced statistics become more prevalent in hockey, it’s still rare to see them used in mainstream media, outside of some outliers like James Mirtle with the Globe and Mail. The doldrums of August can lead a hockey reporter off the beaten path in search of a story, however,  and Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe turned to advanced statistics for a story on Sunday, interviewing Michael Schuckers, a statistics professor who does hockey analysis.

Shinzawa clearly asked Shuckers what was the oddest or most confusing free agent signing of the off-season according to his statistical analysis, which is a reasonable question to ask when looking for a story. What was odd was the answer. Shuckers skipped right past the usual punching bags from the past few months and went with Rob Scuderi, who returned to the Pittsburgh Penguins this off-season on a four-year deal.

According to Shuckers, his signing is “the one that sticks out to me this year” as the statistics show that Scuderi is “well past his prime”  and not worth what the Penguins are paying him. But is that really the case?

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(Len Redkoles, Getty Images)

(Len Redkoles, Getty Images)

Today at 11 am, Daniel Alfredsson will finally hold a press conference in Ottawa after shocking Senators fans by signing with the Detroit Red Wings a little over a month ago. It’s likely that it will be a fairly unsurprising affair: Alfredsson will thank Senators fans for all their support over the years, express how much he loves the city of Ottawa, and explain that it was a tough decision but he felt he had to do what was best for his career.

Except for Senators fans seeking closure, it will likely be bland and boring. In other words, it will be a press conference with a hockey player.

But what if it wasn’t bland and boring? What if it was a surprising and unexpected, full of flights of fancy and bizarre occurrences? What if Alfredsson’s press conference was actually entertaining? I imagined such a press conference in my head and here are the 20 things I want to see:

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Devil’s Luck

(Andy Marlin, Getty Images)

(Andy Marlin, Getty Images)

 

In 2012, the New Jersey Devils made a surprise run to the Stanley Cup Final and were the only team to win more than one game in the playoffs against the Los Angeles Kings. What makes the run particularly surprising is that the Devils missed the playoffs in the previous and subsequent seasons.

The Devils finished the 2010-11 season with 81 points, jumped up to 102 points in 2011-12, then dropped down to 48 points in 2012-13, an 82-point pace. It’s a remarkable trio of seasons, as the Devils jumped from 11th up to 6th in the Eastern Conference, then dropped right back down to 11th.

It’s enough to make you wonder exactly what happened in those three seasons and what will happen in the future, with the Devils losing both Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson, while also adding some significant pieces. To go from well out of the playoffs to the Stanley Cup Final and right back to being well out of the playoffs is a stunning reversal of fortune, and it’s fortune itself that I want to investigate.

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(Dilip Vishwanat, Getty Images)

Alex Pietrangelo might be on this list. Maybe. No promises. (Dilip Vishwanat, Getty Images)

One of the more mundane activities of the NHL off-season is the annual signing of the restricted free agents, which is like the running of the bulls except for everything about it. For the most part, this is a staid and routine affair, with the only excitement coming when a player opts for arbitration (thrilling!) or the ever-rare case of an offer sheet (non-existent!). Normally, it’s just a matter of patience as the two sides come to terms on a new contract.

At this point in the off-season, however, fans start to get a little nervous if one of their talented young RFAs still hasn’t been re-signed. Only 41 RFAs remain unsigned, but that includes some players that are heading overseas to European leagues and the KHL. In some cases, there’s really no need to worry, but in others there’s a legitimate cause for concern.

Here are ten big-name RFAs that remain unsigned and whether you should be worried. Because really, what’s the NHL off-season for if not for worrying endlessly about your favourite team?

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