Sunday, 28 September 2014

Preseason Hurts As Much As It Helps

The NHL preseason is underway, and there are a lot of teams finalizing rosters as we speak. Players are being returned to junior, being sent to the AHL, or, in some cases, being released from tryout contracts, but things are getting a little tougher for some teams as injuries are starting to pile up in these rather meaningless contests. Does it make sense to have your regulars playing the preseason if there's a chance one of your regulars is going to miss significant time?

There's no way to predict when injuries will strike a team. Injuries are one of those variables that can significantly affect a team's outcome in the standings depending on the number of injuries suffered by a team and by whom. Carolina lost a significant piece of their team earlier this preseason when Jordan Staal broke his right leg in a preseason tilt against Buffalo. He's scheduled to miss the next three-to-four MONTHS of hockey, and Carolina's playoff hopes just faded significantly.

Staal isn't the only major player that will miss time. Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta, Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, New York's Derek Stepan, Pittsburgh's Beau Bennett, Toronto's David Clarkson, and Toronto's David Booth could all be lost for significant portions of time to start the season, and a bad start has most teams playing catch-up from which they may never recover. Losing key players hurts the team in the standings in the short-term, and that downturn in their overall success could hurt the team's bottom line in the long run.

The second question we should ask: does anyone actually enjoy preseason hockey? The players on one-way contracts work on getting back into game shape, work on getting their timing down, and work on finding some chemistry with linemates. The players on two-way contracts are looking to find an NHL job on a roster. For draft picks, they are looking to play above their heads to find a roster spot as well. Coaches come into training camp with an idea of what they want, who they want, and basically know who will be on the roster after two or three games. Fans watch the games simply because we crave hockey after a long summer. So do we really need nine games to determine a roster? Could we not start the season earlier in order to end the season earlier?

I know that owners want to make a few more bucks, and can do that by filling the building a few more times in the preseason, I suppose. If I'm a fan, though, I'm not really interested in watching one-third of the normal NHL roster try and find some chemistry with guys who may not see NHL ice until the following training camp. Personally, I understand that the NHL season is supposed to start in October, but we could move it back two weeks, chop the number of preseason games in half, and finish the season before June.

With the number of significant injuries we've seen in this year's preseason, it makes no sense to continue to play long preseasons when teams will suffer without their stars. It also makes no sense to play hockey in June either, but that's a different conversation altogether. If there is a way to reduce the number of significant injuries in the preseason, I'm all ears. Right now, the best way to do that is by reducing the number of preseason games.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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