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Paterson’s Point: Little to lose and lots to gain by shortening the NHL preseason

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Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
6 months ago
The best part about the National Hockey League preseason is so obviously that it’s over for another year. Gone and hopefully not to be remembered. And in a perfect world, never to be repeated, either. At least not in its current form. Whether the Vancouver Canucks went 2-3-1 or 6-0 – or 0-6 for that matter – isn’t the issue. The fact that they played six exhibition games is a reminder that the NHL preseason is unnecessarily long.
Scale it back. Let every team play four preseason games and then get on with the good stuff.
What was gained by the Canucks sending a glorified American Hockey League roster to the slaughter at the Saddledome? What is to be taken from a home game where the Canucks dressed their stars and the Oilers left Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl behind to wander around West Edmonton Mall? And what was the point of last Wednesday’s mash-up of NHL’ers and American Hockey League players going through the motions in Abbotsford while hockey fans in the Fraser Valley were asked to pay NHL prices for a game that certainly didn’t have an NHL feel? The pockets of empty seats at the Abbotsford Centre would suggest the novelty of the NHL preseason has worn off for hockey fans in the Fraser Valley.
Let’s be honest, not many preseason games are fun. Even fewer are memorable. They’re not intense. They’re not often any kind of simulation of the game at its highest level. They are a necessary evil, to be sure, and no one is suggesting to do away with them altogether. But there is just no world in which there has to be as many of them as there are. 
Simply put, shortening the pre-season would force all teams to dress better line-ups. Not all the veterans would play all four games, so there would still be plenty of room for prospects and for coaches and management to go through the evaluation process. A starting goaltender could still get two preseason starts, and the backup could go the distance on another night, leaving an opportunity for a team to take a look at anybody else they want to see in the crease. But if you reduce the number of tune-ups on the schedule, you’ll get a better, more competitive product on the ice. And that, in turn, should be better for everyone involved, from established players trying to find their stride, to goalies facing better shooters, to young hopefuls looking to measure themselves against the top players in the world, to talent evaluators attempting to figure out what they’ve got in their organizations. 
And in a flat cap world, the fact of the matter is most teams head to camp with only a couple of legitimate roster questions to be answered. Again, that process doesn’t require six games. 
Shorten the preseason but extend training camps by a couple of days. Coaches always lament the lack of early season practice time they are afforded. Include a full 60 minute scrimmage at camp if organizations feel they want or need more game situations for some of their players. Use that as an opportunity to measure young hopefuls against stiffer competition to see where they stand in their development. And if they deserve a chance in the preseason, work them into one of the first games to give them a taste of NHL action. But otherwise, get down in numbers early and put the focus where it ought to be – the start of the season.
There is just no need to pretend any longer that NHL teams require six and seven preseason outings to prepare for the 82-game marathon that follows. 
When it comes to the NHL preseason, less would be so much more. 

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