UPON FURTHER REVIEW: Does the NHL really need a pre-season?

The NHL pre-season isn’t a hotbed of competitive juices. Nor should it be used as a barometer for how one’s favourite team will fare in the upcoming season-more often than not, the best exhibition teams are the worst squads during the real games and vice-versa. Pre-season hockey is really about two things: 1) Guys who attempt to make an NHL club, which if they do, will mean riding the bench for 75 games, and 2) The small town fans. And it’s for reason number two that the NHL pre-season is an important event on the September calendar.

Hockey is unique in that it is a rural sport-the greatest players of all time are mostly from the smaller towns around the larger metropolitan areas. We fans in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa are spoiled as we get to see these hockey titans play live at our whim. But the heart and soul of hockey is in Canada’s more isolated regions-see the CBC’s annual Hockey Day in Canada. Last week, the Pittsburgh Penguins played the Philadelphia Flyers in Moncton, NB, just days after Sidney Crosby’s Cole Harbour friends and family got to see him in Halifax. A week before that, the Phoenix Coyotes-the former Winnipeg Jets-made their return to the city that once adored them. And earlier in the year, the CBC’s Hockeyville contest winner, Salmon River, NS, was awarded the opportunity to host an NHL pre-season tilt.

That’s what the pre-season is for! So the people of Moncton can watch the game they love at the highest level possible; so the people of Cole Harbour can watch their native son dominate; and so the kids of Salmon River can see their heroes live-an experience that we urbanites take for granted.

-Aaron Sigal

I can see why the pre-season was once necessary. I’m sure that back in the days of the Original Six, guys like Maurice Richard and Bobby Hull would show up to training camp overweight, out of shape and having not laced up a pair of skates in months. But like parachute pants and the telegram, there comes a time when certain innovations become obsolete.

Today’s NHLer never really leaves the ice or falls out of shape. On the contrary, the summer is now a time for players to hone their skills and become faster or more powerful for the coming season.

Nonetheless, most NHL teams feature an eight game pre-season schedule crammed into a span of two weeks. Teams cite the need to evaluate talent and build team chemistry as reasons for the lengthy yet compressed schedule.

Of course, these claims are not at all in line with reality. The Montreal Canadiens for example, took 54 players into training camp this year with all but two or three roster spots already locked up. Now, while the goals of building team chemistry and evaluating talent are noble ones, they certainly aren’t best accomplished with 54 bodies running around.

What’s actually taking place here is a cash grab. The Canadiens, for one, charge full admission rates to their most fanatical devotees-because really, who else is watching this stuff-to attend games which pit disinterested stars against scrubs. Absolutely nothing is on the line for 90 per cent of the players on the ice, while hardcores in the stands just get shafted again.

-Charlie Blore

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