The Dog Days of the NHL Off-season.

The current NHL off-season has been quiet compared to last summer. Read on for the reasons why.

This has been a quieter-than-usual NHL off-season.

Sure, there was plenty of late-June trade activity, followed by the early July free agent spending frenzy, but given the lack of quality talent in the latter, things petered out fairly quickly in terms of notable signings.

Of course, UFA signings still continued, but when the biggest recent one was that of a fairly unknown former Islanders defenseman (Jack Hillen, or “Jack Who?” for most non-Isles fans, followed by “You don’t know Jack” from Islanders die-hards) with the Nashville Predators, you know you’ve hit the NHL summer dog days.

The status of several unsigned restricted free agents, specifically Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos and the LA Kings’ Drew Doughty, kept things interesting for about three weeks in July, until the former got re-signed (thus killing off a lucrative string of ridiculous trade speculation for blogosphere gossip mongers), and it became apparent the latter not only won’t be dealt, but won’t be getting an offer sheet from a rival club.

Arbitration made things a little interesting toward the end of July, as time ticked down to the hearing dates for New Jersey’s Zach Parise and Nashville’s Shea Weber.

Parise re-signed a one-year deal with the Devils hours before his hearing, putting an end (for now, at least) the trade rumors which dogged him for months, while Weber received a one-year $7.5 million contract award from an arbiter.

One would’ve thought that would result in an entire month of wild Weber trade rumors, but it appears those who dream up such things have grown weary of him for the time being, instead turning their sights upon lesser RFAs, like Winnipeg’s Zach Bogosian and Toronto’s Luke Schenn. Both of whom, by the way, intend on re-signing with their respective teams.

One reason for the quiet summer is most teams re-signed their best players to long-term deals well before their eligibility for UFA status, meaning less notable star talent was available.

Another is most hockey reporters are either currently on vacation, or are writing about other sports for the time being until September, when training camps open.

The biggest reason for such a quiet summer, however, is there hasn’t been any truly interesting stories involving potential trades or free agent signings.

Last summer, of course, was a different story.

The UFA pool wasn’t any deeper, as last summer’s was headlined by only one superstar, forward Ilya Kovalchuk, but unlike this year, when Brad Richards, the best UFA in this year’s market, was signed within two days of his free agent eligibility, Kovalchuk’s saga would drag on throughout the summer.

For a couple of weeks, it was the New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings who were Kovalchuk’s suitors. By July 19th, Kovalchuk signed a 17 year deal with the Devils, but the league’s rejection of the contract on the grounds of cap circumvention. That led to challenges by the Devils and the NHLPA of the league’s decision, but an arbiter upheld the league’s decision, which ultimately forced the Devils into reworking the deal that he would eventually sign on September 4th.

Kovalchuk’s contract status held hockey fans rapt throughout the summer, but his wasn’t the only saga, as weeks of trade speculation concerning then-Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Tomas Kaberle also dominated headlines.

Kaberle had a two-month period in his contract which would allow the Leafs to trade him to a team of their choosing without having to get his permission.

For weeks the speculation built, thanks largely to the Toronto media. That’s not knocking them, merely pointing out the fact that when rumors a notable Leafs player could be dealt is covered by the biggest hockey market in the NHL, it tends to reverberate around the league.

Kaberle’s “trade window” ran until August 15th, and as the date neared, speculation grew to a near-fever pitch, resulting in a “Kaberle trade watch” that lasted right up until the fateful deadline.

Even though ultimately Kaberle wasn’t dealt, his trade status generated considerable interest amongst hockey fans throughout what is usually the quietest period on the NHL calendar.

Other notable names also floated through the mainstream media as possible trade candidates.

The status of Tim Thomas in Boston and Jason Spezza in Ottawa was uncertain heading into the off-season, leading to rumors  their respective clubs might have either explored options or received some interest in those players.

While neither was moved, their names still popped up from time to time in the rumor mill throughout the summer.

Bobby Ryan’s contract talks with the Anaheim Ducks also drew its fair share of notable headlines.

Like Drew Doughty’s current situation, Ryan was a restricted free agent, but his contract talks appeared to stall over term, with the Ducks seeking a five-year deal, Ryan a three-year one so that he could qualify sooner for UFA status.

Ryan’s name frequently appeared in trade rumors throughout the summer, but ultimately he re-signed with the Ducks by September 15th, telling the press he informed his agent he didn’t want an offer sheet and never wanted to be dealt, while Ducks management claimed they never had an intention of trading Ryan and didn’t receive enquiries from other clubs about his availability.

That might explain in part why there’s hasn’t been as much “trade buzz” regarding Doughty, or for that matter Boston’s Brad Marchand, Toronto’s Luke Schenn and Winnipeg’s Zach Bogosian.  Expectation appears to be, like Ryan, they’ll re-sign with their clubs before training camp.

All this adds up to a quiet August, but look on the bright side, hockey fans, training camps start next month, and before you know it, a shiny new regular season, full of hope and promise, will begin.

Enjoy the rest of the summer.