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?
In 1981, Dino Cicarelli was a fresh-faced rookie for the Minnesota North Stars. In the playoffs, he went on the greatest scoring run of any rookie in NHL history, scoring an amazing 14 goals in 19 games, a rookie record that still stands today. Ciccarelli was third behind Steve Payne and Mike Bossy in goalscoring that year. He even had as many points as Gretzky! Granted, Gretzky played in 10 fewer games, but still.
In Cicarelli’s honour, I inaugurated the Dino Ciccarelli Award last year for the NHL’s best rookie in the playoffs. The regular season has the Calder for top rookie, but it takes something special to excel in the playoffs as a rookie. Many of the league’s top rookies don’t even make the playoffs, as teams with high-impact rookies generally aren’t particularly good. There’s a reason they have ice time available for rookies.
The first round of the playoffs had some excellent performances from rookies. Let’s run down the top candidates for the 2013 Dino Ciccarelli Award. Warning: get ready for a lot of Ottawa Senators:
It’s been nearly a month since Sidney Crosby played a game and someone finally passed him for the league-lead in scoring on Wednesday. That’s remarkable on it’s own, but what’s truly remarkable is who passed him.
With a hattrick against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Martin St. Louis took over the lead for the Art Ross Trophy and with just a two or three games remaining for his closest competitors, it appears that he’ll hang onto that lead. Barring heroics from Patrick Kane, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, or some insane pre-playoff comeback attempt by Sidney Crosby, it seems safe to say that St. Louis will win the second Art Ross Trophy of his career.
It seems like every hockey fan online, other than those in Detroit, Dallas and Minnesota, has jumped on the Columbus Blue Jackets bandwagon, rooting for them to make the playoffs. Fans on Twitter have latched on to the #Lumbus hashtag, started by the Los Angeles Kings’ twitter account, with every improbable victory leading to eruptions of virtual support.
I admit, I have a purely selfish reason to be rooting for Columbus. At the start of the season, I made the absolutely crazy prediction that the Blue Jackets would make the playoffs, before they had played enough games to make any statistical analysis worthwhile. I was just going with my gut. A month later, the Blue Jackets were 5-12-2 and I was feeling like the biggest idiot in the blogosphere.
Then the Blue Jackets started grinding games into overtime and the shootout and began stringing wins together. They currently sit in eighth in the Western Conference, tied with the Minnesota Wild in points and just one point ahead of the Detroit Red Wings. The Wild and Red Wings both have a game in hand, as do the Dallas Stars, who sit three points back. If the Blue Jackets make the playoffs, I get to play the only-guy-who-predicted-the-Blue-Jackets-would-make-the-playoffs card. If they don’t, I get to play the at-least-I-was-closecard, which isn’t anywhere near as fun.
Here are 5 much better reasons why it would be awesome for the Blue Jackets to make the playoffs.
Certain players in the NHL have specialized abilities that you periodically see and go “oh wow, he does that at a level better than everyone else.” It could be post-to-post speed by a goalie, it could be a heavy shot, it could be shot-blocking, whatever. Maybe it’s face-mashing, ala John Scott.
Those skills are easily identifiable though, and don’t go without praise from the general public.
One thing I don’t think you get as much of a sense for on TV is the guys who make the fans get out of their seats the second they get the puck and start cruising through the neutral zone. There’s a jump to their step and an air of danger, like the fact that it’s a one-on-two is irrelevant because somebody is going to have to stop this uber-talented human going mach five through the neutral zone at some point.
I thought it was time to pay homage to those most-electric players in the league, so today we’re looking at the 10 NHL most dangerous men through the neutral zone. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments, of course.
Before the season, on this thing called the Backhand Shelf Podcast (which you should totally listen to because we’re awesome), I predicted that Al Montoya would be the Winnipeg Jets starting goaltender by the end of the season because I needed something random and arbitrary and I think Ondrej Pavelec is terrible. On Saturday, Montoya got a shutout. On Monday, amongst Montoya discussion, our little podcast gang determined that Montoya was the definition of an “average” goaltender and, thus, the Montoya Line was born. Basically, if Montoya is the standard for being average, a goalie can rank above or below the Montoya Line. It’s a complicated system.
Today I had the thought Bourne told me to rank all the goalies in the NHL on the Montoya Line. I created a three-point system on either side. Basically, a goalie can rank anywhere from 1 to 3 points either below or above the line. Sometimes higher, though. And sometimes I just ranked goalies wherever I felt like it. Keep in mind this is entirely my opinion based on a rating system that I made up. YOLO, etc.
This year, I thought I’d give it a slightly different twist: Instead of doing teams, I wanted to do the lines I most enjoyed watching. The problem is, coaches like to spread around the talent, so I’ve narrowed it down to powerplay units. Some teams are stuck without any elite talent, while others can put out a five-man unit that literally looks like an all-star team. They may not necessarily have the highest conversion rates, but when your team is up a goal late in the game, these are the units you’d least like to see hopping the boards.
With a stick-tap to DailyFaceoff for some of the information, here are…