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Best of Raw Charge, 2016-17 season, Part 1

Last season went by in a blur, and we were dumped into the off-season without so much as a playoff game to tide us over. Then came a month of analysis: what went wrong? What next? And then came the draft, and after that, the Top 25 Under 25. Here we sit in August, finally able to think about the past season — and about all the stuff we wrote while trying to process it.

I asked my staff to give me their own favorite stories from last season, and explain why they wrote what they did, and how it helped illustrate any breakthroughs in thinking that their work might have given them about the sport.

Also, sports writing is pretty ephemeral, but damn, do we put our hearts into it.

JustinG — 91 Days of Stamkos – The Recovery

When Acha put the framework of this series together she inserted “91 Days of Stamkos” after my name.  At first I was shocked, appalled even. Just because I had written 60-some articles about the man didn’t mean that any of them were my “favorite”.  Then, after much thought I realized that she was right.  Which is probably why she is the boss. [I mean, it was kind of your magnum opus. – Acha]

Of all of the many, many Steven Stamkos posts I wrote last winter, “The Recovery” was by far my favorite.  Up until the broken leg, a hockey fan’s casual impression of Stamkos might be of an extremely gifted but laid-back Spicolli-esque person.  His rehab showed that there was a lot more steel and resolve underneath the easy-going persona.

Also, anytime you get to insert a gruesome video of a doctor hammering a steel rod into someone’s leg, well, ya gotta do it.

Another thing that I personally found interesting was comparing his rehab process during the broken leg with what he was going through in real time with the knee injury. There was a lot more doubt and caution about the latest injury.

Acha adds: This entire series was so much work. There’s a lot of planning that goes on in the background for any series (including the Top 25 Under 25 that just finished), and I admit that I freaked out when Justin said “Yep, I’m going to write something every day for THREE MONTHS.” This was on top of the regular season, which as you all know requires game previews / game recaps / game day threads / morning news / any additional news … it makes me ache just to think about what we did every day. What’s good is that everyone shared the work, so we managed to pull it all off.

But back to Justin, I love the chill nature of his writing and the amount of historic knowledge he has about the team. All of his Stamkos writing is deeply affectionate. But my second nomination is probably Finally, Dave Andreychuk is a Hall of Famer. If you remember, Justin lobbied hard for #respect640 earlier in the season, and it was nice to see his faith vindicated, even though he didn’t think it would be.

Allovimo — Matt Taormina voted winner of the AHL’s Eddie Shore Award

Syracuse Crunch fans were certainly lucky to get a much longer season than fans of the Lightning. For the second time in five seasons, Crunch fans watched their team into the middle of June, living and dying with each victory and each defeat. Many players could have been the hero of Syracuse’s 2016-17 season, but for me one player stood out: Matt Taormina.

Throughout the entirety of the season, Taormina pushed himself and his team tirelessly, often carrying a bare-bones roster entirely on his broad shoulders. It made me incredibly happy when his dedication and tenacity was rewarded by the league with the Eddie Shore Award, and it was an honor to get to write this piece in reaction to his win.

It isn’t often that players like Taormina stay in AHL cities. Although he wasn’t rewarded for his hard work in Syracuse with NHL time this past season, it was exciting to see him get rewarded in some way with the Eddie Shore Award.

I’ve always believed that players like him – veterans who are dedicated to the both their dream and the team they play for – continue to be much-needed staples on AHL teams. Being able to write about Taormina’s journey as his leadership role expanded only confirmed the integral part these players have on AHL teams.

Acha adds: What to say about my faithful, dauntless Associate Editor in charge of Syracuse? All of Alex’s work is so heart-felt that it’s easy to see why she’s one of the best-known fans of the team. I feared for her during playoffs this year, and ached for her when the team lost. But not long after, one of her favorite players from Crunch history became a Goalie Coach for the team — and perhaps it was because it was nice to see her expressing joy about hockey again, but I really liked this piece: Confirmed: Tampa Bay Lightning hires goalie coach Karl Goehring.

Clark — Lexi LaFleur Brown does it her way

Acha says: Clark was busy with various real life things and couldn’t weigh in, but I chose this one for him. I felt like it was a beautiful expression of a shift in how hockey partners are treated by the press and by the organization, and Lexi was an amazing young woman to interview. Clark’s lighter work is great too, though. Especially his running commentary about the Amalie Arena freight elevator. I hope to lure him back for a weekly column again next season. (Call me, Clark!)

GeoFitz4 — Yzerman still isn’t going back to Detroit

It really was ironic that almost a year to the day after I wrote an article rebutting a Detroit beat writer’s article about Yzerman returning to Detroit, I had to do it again. My arguments didn’t really change from the one article to the follow-up. They really were just strengthened by the additional information that came out.

Acha adds: It’s ironic that Geo stuck to a short paragraph here. Sometimes Geo’s articles are so long, detailed, and factual that it takes me a good two hours to edit them. This is obviously a blessing, and I’m not complaining — I’ve learned a tremendous amount from his work.

My favorite of his pieces are the ones where he speculates about the questions that the fanbase most wants answered, like What does the cap situation look like post-Drouin? Or who will the organization trade for the expansion draft? Or what will TBL pay Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat? He’s always got a well-informed opinion, and even if it’s sometimes wrong (who can really guess what Yzerman might do), it’s always insightful.

Loserpoints — SHOOOOOOOOT!!!!! Feat. The Overpassers

If I’m being honest, my favorite thing that I wrote this year was my piece on Vladdy Namestnikov. But since that was published recently, I’ll nominate my piece about the idea of overpassing instead. So often in the NHL, we hear coaches preach about the “safe play,” and this risk-averse perspective has permeated the analysis of so many blogging outlets.

This article tried to push back a little bit by illustrating why passing on a good shot to try to set up a great shot can be the right decision. Ultimately, this is about shifting the philosophy so that players are encouraged to make creative plays without fear of being punished if that play doesn’t work.

Acha adds: THIS GUY. THIS GUY AND HIS ANNOYINGLY GOOD VLADDY ARTICLE. What you don’t know about Loserpoints is that even though he’s got these brilliant pieces of analysis that stand out, he also never minds putting his nose to the grindstone and churning out some of the daily work of the blog.

But then Loserpoints also tends to get into these fabulous analytic-panic modes where he gives good yet humorous advice to the front office, like when he begged Yzerman to not sign Dan Girardi, to no avail, or when he advised against drafting Michael Rasmussen, to great avail, because Rasmussen wasn’t signed. There was also this extremely polite piece that shot down Martin Fennelly’s Kucherov article, which was much needed and hilarious too. I want more humor from this guy next season.

Saima1226 — A close look at Vasilevskiy’s unusual season

Vasy had a confusing, frustrating first half of the season. He started strong, struggled, and then really struggled when Bishop got injured. His sudden drop off in performance was staggering and I decided it was worth investigating.

I was fortunate enough to interview two goalie experts – Paul Campbell of InGoal Magazine and Justin Goldman of The Goalie Guild. They both helped shatter the illusion of goalies as “voodoo” – in fact, after writing this article, I think that’s a pretty lazy narrative. Goalies are definitely different from the rest of hockey players, likely due to the high stress of their position, and I learned how much goalies appreciate structure and routine.

Vasy started the season with a schedule and performed well. When that routine was disrupted, Vasy suffered. Shortly after I published this article, Bishop returned to the lineup, Vasy resumed a normal schedule, and he absolutely thrived. This article gave me a better understanding of Vasilevskiy as a player which allowed me to view his performance through a different lens. I have no doubt he will be a phenomenal starting goalie for years to come.

Acha adds: The lovely and hard-working Saima is doing her medical residency this season, which means that she doesn’t have the time to pour into Raw Charge like she had before. But the best thing about blogging is that we had her for a moment, and her work will last forever here at Raw Charge.

But what was the best thing I think she did this season? Saima transcribed audio for the hearing impaired. This takes hours, and Saima did so much transcription that we gave her a section of her very own. She did it out of love for the Bolts fan community, and respect for Raw Charge’s founding Editor in Chief, John Fontana, who has a hearing impairment. I vow to carry on her work this coming season too.

El Seldo — After four years of trying, four years of close losses, the Erie Otters couldn’t win the Memorial Cup

I had the opportunity to attend one of the biggest hockey tournaments of the year, and it was something I never would have done without Raw Charge. I could have gone just under the guise of writing about Jeremy Bracco for the Leafs, but having five Lightning prospects in the tournament kept me busier than I’ve ever been at a hockey game. [You’re welcome. – Acha and the Bolts front office, probably]

The Erie Otters, with Anthony Cirelli, Taylor Raddysh, and Erik Cernak, were a blast to watch and fun to talk to, even if I had to hide behind a fern to talk to the more popular players sometimes.

There were two things that stood out the most for me at this tournament:

First, the emotional gauntlet that the players go through, I was almost in tears myself talking to Bokondji Imama and Mathieu Joseph after the Saint John Sea Dogs lost the semi-finals to Erie. On the flip side, getting to be on the ice while the Windsor Spitfires celebrated the Memorial Cup win, in front of their hometown fans, was more joy I’ve felt than ever before.

Second, the community that junior hockey has formed. It’s a niche part of the sport but joining a hundred other fans as they raised over $10,000 for charity, and how close so many people were despite only seeing each other once a year at this tournament as amazing. I’m hoping to go to Regina next spring so I can soak it all in again.

Acha adds: If I am site mom, Seldo is surely site dad. His writing is a treat to read, although his minefield of typos always keeps me on my toes (heart emoji).  The bulk of his work is over at our sibling site, Pension Plan Puppets, and you should go stalk him over there. Here’s hoping he gets a Junior Hockey site of his very own, someday.

More tomorrow!

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