by PuckStopsHere on 09/18/09 at 04:31 PM ET
The NHL pre-season schedule is packed with games. 107 pre-season games are played over 18 days. That is an average of almost six games per night with each team playing an average of more than seven times. Is this really necessary? Players come to training camp in good shape. In the salary capped era, the vast majority of team rosters are set by the contract structure of their players. Most teams have at most one to two positions that may be available to be won in training camp. The majority of competition in training camp and pre-season games is to win roster spots in the AHL and not the NHL. The NHL season is enough of a marathon without tacking on an increasing number of pre-season games. These are games that exist for the most part to make the NHL money. Season ticket holding fans are forced to buy tickets to these games. Many of these games are played in neutral sites that have no other access to NHL hockey, so the game will remain a hot ticket despite the fact it is an exhibition game.
The worst thing that can happen in a pre-season game is a serious injury. A player can get hurt significantly playing a game that doesn’t mean anything. That may have happened last night when Dion Phaneuf of the Calgary Flames hit Kyle Okposo of the New York Islanders. It was the kind of big hit that makes highlight reels and Don Cherry’s Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Hockey. It was a legal hit my NHL rules, but the kind of hit that could change Kyle Okposo’s life. Okposo suffered a concussion from the hit that occurred five minutes into the second period. He was taken off on a stretcher. Reports claim that this is a mild concussion, but you never can know for sure with concussions. Some players have missed months with what were originally reported as mild concussions.
It is a shame that Kyle Okposo has to suffer this injury in a game of almost no value. Possibly his career or the New York Islanders season could suffer as a result of the hit.
Tom Benjamin has long argued that head-shots such as this one should be illegal. It isn’t a reasonable way to run a league where a player can suffer a potentially career threatening injury as a predictable, repeatable consequence of a legal play. Sure Okposo should have kept his head up, but is it reasonable to suggest that a concussion is a fair consequence for momentarily having his head down? It is an issue of player safety and one that the NHL has not taken seriously. It is made significantly worse because it happened in a game that had no meaning.
In case you cared (and I bet you didn’t), Calgary won this meaningless game 5-4 in a shootout. The only result that might have meaning this season is that Kyle Okposo is hurt and because concussions can be hard to predict, it might keep him out for a long period of time.
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