The calendar has flipped over to August, which means that all around the NHL, teams are hard at work on…
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Look, we get it. August is the worst month on the NHL calendar by a mile. Almost all the big offseason moves have already happened, training camp is still weeks away, and it seems like everyone who matters is away at a cottage somewhere.
But it's not actually true that "nothing happens in August." Almost nothing, sure, we'll grant you that. But the NHL history book's entry for the month isn't completely blank. So today, let's look back on some of the newsworthy moments that have happened in August, and whether there's any hope of something similar going down this year.
A BIG NAME FREE AGENT SIGNING
While it's rare to see a major free agent sign in August, it has happened. Some seem minor at the time and only loom larger with the benefit of hindsight, like the Penguins' scooping up Matt Cullen last year. But sometimes, the player involved is a genuine star.
Historical precedent: Mike Modano signed with the Red Wings on August 5, 2010, and Owen Nolan joined the Coyotes on August 16, 2006. Granted, both guys were well past their prime when they signed, but they were still stars. And there is a precedent for an elite player in his prime signing a UFA deal in August. Scott Niedermayer did just that with the Ducks on August 4, 2005. And plenty of other big names signed in August that year too, including Peter Forsberg, Eric Lindros and Paul Kariya.
See? It can happen! There's hope!
(This is the part where we hope you won't notice that 2005 was the year that the season-long lockout pushed the start of free agency back to August 1.)
Odds of it happening this year: Huh. Well…. [checks list of remaining free agents href="https://thehockeynews.com/blog/the-top-30-unrestricted-free-agents-of-2016/"]… do Kris Russel or Jiri Hudler count as a big names? Because if not, we may be out of luck, at least until the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes kick in.
A MAJOR RETIREMENT
Star players tend to make up their minds to retire either early in the offseason or right before the season starts. But it's not all that unusual for a player to hold off on finalizing their decision until August.
Historical precedent: Hall of Famers who decided to hang up their skates in August include Chris Chelios, Dino Ciccarelli and Pat LaFontaine. More recently, players like Jeremy Roenick, and Chris Drury have called it quits during the month.
Odds of it happening this year: Not bad, depending on how far you're willing to stretch the word "major." The list of unsigned players features several veteran stars who've yet to declare their intentions for next year. The best of the bunch is Patrik Elias, who hasn't re-upped with the Devils and is unlikely to want to play anywhere else. Other candidates include Dan Boyle, who's been reportedly leaning toward retirement but has yet to make a formal announcement, as well as Marek Zidlicky, who hasn't drawn much interest at 39, and the still as-yet unsigned Alex Tanguay.
Historical precedent: Yes, it has actually happened. While modern fans are used to the draft taking place shortly after the playoffs end, the league did once make it all the way to August before finally getting around to it. That was in 1979, when it took until August 9 to finally divvy up a draft class that ended up being one of the best in NHL history.
Why? Well, 1979 was kind of a weird year for the league. The WHA had just folded, merging four teams with the NHL. The league also lowered the draft age from 20 to 19, essentially pushing two years' worth of classes into a single draft. Then there was the issue of Tom McCarthy, an under-aged prospect who'd threatened to sue the NHL if he wasn't allowed in that year's draft.
The league's response to all of that was to push the draft back to August for the only time in history, giving everyone extra time to sort out their strategy (and coincidentally making McCarthy eligible by a few days.)
Odds of it happening this year: Only if the NHL decided to rule the 2016 draft null and void and redo the entire thing from scratch. Which, given that the Maple Leafs finally won the lottery and drafted the franchise player they've been waiting decades for, is probably not out of the question.
When NHL people get bored, sometimes they get weird.
Historical precedent: Back in 2010, Ilya Kovalchuk signed with the Devils twice – first in July to a $102-million deal that the NHL rejected, and then later in September to a $100-million version that the league accepted. In between, the various sides went to war over the original deal, including an arbitration case that the league ultimately won, the Devils' attempt to restructure the deal, and the long wait to find out what sort of sanctions Gary Bettman would drop on Lou Lamoriello and friends. (The answer to that last one: it didn't end up mattering.)
If that whole ordeal wasn't strange enough, could we interest you in a barn fight? It was on August 2, 2007 that the Ducks officially declined to match the offer sheet that Dustin Penner had signed with the Oilers, setting off the infamous feud between Brian Burke and Kevin Lowe.
Or what about the weird series of Stephane Beauregard trades between the Sabres, Hawks and Jets that landed Dominik Hasek in Buffalo back in 1992? There's also the now all-but-forgotten time that Joe Sakic signed with the Rangers. Or Teemu Selanne announcing his return with a YouTube video of him golfing. Or Phil Esposito trying to get out of a contract by claiming it was smudged by a fax machine. All strange stories, and all from August.
Odds of it happening this year: In 2016, we've already seen a player attack a linesman, a goon win all-star MVP, and a team in Las Vegas. We can't rule anything out.
THE BIGGEST TRADE IN THE HISTORY OF THE LEAGUE
Oh right, that.
Historical precedent: Every diehard fan knows the date by heart: August 9, 1988. That was the day that the Oilers sent Wayne Gretzky to the Kings in exchange for players, draft picks, and a whole big pile of cash.
It was (and still remains) the biggest trade in NHL history, and arguably the biggest in all of pro sports, devastating Canadian fans and setting the stage for the league's foray into new U.S. markets that continues to this day.
Odds of it happening this year: The Bettman-mandated Connor McDavid trade to the Rangers isn’t scheduled until 2019, so … wait, I've said too much.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.