by SENShobo on 09/26/08 at 02:39 PM ET
I noticed an earlier post today, regarding pre-season games. As I love a good debate, I read just enough to determine the stance of the post, but hopefully not enough that my own ideas are all rebuttals. With that, here is my take on the flip side of pre-season games, hopefully understood as a good-natured counterpoint.
What is the point of a pre-season game? There are 82 games spanning over half the year in the regular season, plus up to 28 more games over another two months in the post-season; you would be hard pressed to find someone who thinks we need to add to this. Nonetheless, the awkward-child pre-season games still serve many purposes.
Without pre-season games, players would go half a year, quite possibly, without ever playing hockey, and then jump into the regular season in a hurry. Sure, there’s off-season training, but I would be curious to ask players how many of them train over the summer by playing with their teammates against another NHL team. I have my suspicions that it is few, if any, who do.
Sure, you can train all summer and come to the rink in peak shape, but if you’re lifting weights and riding bikes, you are not playing hockey, and your body is not likely to be picture-perfect at its old tricks. How many times have you heard goalies want to play game after game after game, even mid-season, just to get into a hot streak and stay there? If playing didn’t matter, there would be no need for that.
But there is a need to get practice playing games before they start to count. To take a completely random example, look at the Ottawa Senators. Since last year, one goalie has switched, four defensemen have left, and the forward ranks could see half a dozen new faces. Toss them into the regular season against a team with no turnover, and that complete unfamiliarity would be a potentially disastrous liability that puts teams at a distinct disadvantage, merely for having players retire, be traded, or move on.
Aside from that, think about the thought processes after the last two Cup champs. When the big, bruisy Ducks won over a then-decried-as-gritless Ottawa team, the offseason led to many a team opting to stock up on bulkier, more physical forwards, and switch to strategies to match. This season, after Detroit’s puck-possession game won them the Cup, teams have been thinking of switching their rosters and on-ice behaviours to try to emulate that success.
As I mentioned in my earlier post today, the Senators themselves are going for a more without-the-puck responsible game this season, a new, less risky style that differs greatly from last year’s approach. Shouldn’t every team be given a chance to retool their rosters and methods without being punished? After all, how many times have you heard a coach remind their team and their fans that 2 points earned in March are as important as 2 points earned in October?
Aside from that, pre-season games offer a very interesting opportunity. Normally, you are restricted to a 23-man roster, and any retooling is a mere shuffling of the deck. Yesterday I read that Columbus just cut their roster to somewhere in the 40s, insane by comparison. But this does let the coaches and GMs evaluate the players.
Some may have worked on strength over the summer, and you can see their strides improve. Others may have practiced their shot, and the goalies take notice. Along with that, simple aging and maturity might mean that old chemistry is wearing out, or that new ones with new players that never played for the team the season before are starting to take shape.
The fact that you have so many players means that you can shuffle the deck, take out all the clubs, add in some more aces, and see what happens. You can even cram games closer together, since many times you can have a team play one night that is nearly no part the same as the team that played the night before, which actually brings to light a neat thought: you might have seven pre-season games, which seems like a lot to add, but how many games are you adding onto a player’s schedule when they play half and let rookies or new players suit up for the others?
What other, often overlooked opportunity exists? I am very clearly a Sens fan, but out past Toronto I don’t get much of a chance to see my team, given the 7h drive home and the incomprehensible unavailability of tickets to Sens games in Toronto. Last year, however, I was given an extra game when Philadelphia hosted the Sens in London, and I most certainly enjoyed the chance.
What about when Phoenix hosts teams in Winnipeg, when the Canadiens visited Roberval, Hockeyville, and defeated the Sabres in front of very many very lucky and very excited fans, or when this year, Alfie will get to play a game against his old team, the Frolunda Indians, in Sweden? Does that not present an incredible opportunity to spread the joy of hockey? Why, it could even be used to push hockey into new markets, or to gauge others for the possibility of expansion, perhaps with a game at Copps Coliseum.
It will always be that pre-season games will seem like a money grab or a point-less waste of time to some. But to others, they represent a chance to try new things, to get new chances, and to explore new opportunities, and indeed those opportunities are not lightly missed.
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