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Screen Shots: NHL season outcome at the mercy of random events

Alex Ovechkin is assisted off the ice after sustaining a knee injury during a NHL game against the Carolina Hurricanes. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Alex Ovechkin is assisted off the ice after sustaining a knee injury during a NHL game against the Carolina Hurricanes. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

As an information provider, I should on some level be pleased we’re living in the Information Age. But I have many levels – and at least a couple of them can see some downside in the maelstrom of media content we’ve created.

I have the greatest amount of respect for anyone who devotes his or her energies to the best qualities of journalism – to examining; to questioning; to remembering and sharing – but I think we’ve now bypassed the Information Age and have regressed into the Too Much Information Age.

The hockey information business is a perfect microcosm: it wasn’t very long ago that an NHL reporter’s duties all but vanished during the summertime. If it wasn’t a teacher’s schedule, it was mighty close. There was a truly seasonal feeling to the job. Readers and writers had time to breathe and recharge.

However – and in much the same way that we really don’t have subtle changes in seasons anymore – that’s changed now that the NHL has got with the program and appreciates the economic advantages of keeping your product visible all day, every day. (Look no further than this week’s NHL Research & Development Camp, which had a cackle gaggle of media types in attendance.)

Most of us now see that the media beast’s appetite is nakedly insatiable. Now, only the most stubborn of us would deny that the virtue of The Thinker’s bent elbow and knee-on-chin pensiveness has been chased down and trampled by the restless leg syndrome of our collective mind.

The hockey media today looks at every story from every possible angle – no matter how preposterous that angle may be. It speculates on players’ personal lives. It sucks in and blows up issues as fast as it knocks them down and flushes them out.

And what has it gotten consumers of hockey information? Is any pre-season hockey prediction infallible because of some stats sort, value system or secret magic formula? Do we understand the game more now that the NHL has figured out a way to calculate what Manny Malhotra’s plus-minus ratio is anytime it’s a Tuesday in Nashville and his feelings haven’t been hurt that day?

Of course not. Stanley Cups – and the enjoyment of the pursuit of them – always wind up being about unforeseeable bad bounces, inexplicable reversals of fortune, freak injuries, silent self-challenges, out-of-nowhere rookies and right-guy-at-the-right-time fringe veterans.

That’s the reality that no amount of analysis ever can break through.

Yet somehow, for instance, we’re expected to believe that a video game simulation of the Cup tournament is news. That’s where I get out a very thick pen and draw an extremely distinctive line.

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When we’ve arrived at that line, it’s safe to say the infolanche is becoming a distraction from the core appeal of the game.

There’s a school of thought in the horror movie industry which holds that someone who reacts to a monster you can’t see on the screen is far scarier than showing the monster itself. In other words, the evil you can’t see is more emotionally engaging than the evil you can.

I think that’s the truth behind every NHL GM’s ulcer collection: the knowledge that, no matter how meticulously their organizations prepare for a season, they’ll all still be susceptible to the whims and cruelty of the monster (a.k.a. chance) they can’t see.

Such a philosophy may be troubling for hockey fans. But it’s also a machete to help them cut their way through the thick jungle of articles and columns that appear before them on an hourly basis. No matter what any of us say or write, it’s all beyond our control – and respecting that roller-coaster randomness can liberate your enjoyment of the game again.

I’m not here to tell you to shun any and all of the new technologies and media options out there for hockey fans. Indeed, I’ve come to appreciate the power and benefits of Twitter in a short span of time.

Nonetheless, I think we lose our way when we get wrapped up in and riled up by each and every sliver of information.

The magnifying glass is a central tool for the curious mind. But employing it as some of us are doing today – essentially, to fry ants for our juvenile amusement – gives the middle finger to its true purpose.

Follow Adam's hockey tweets at twitter.com/TheHockeyNews, and his non-hockey observations at twitter.com/ProteauType.

Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears regularly, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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