Five things we can learn from the NHL pre-season

Another edition of the NHL’s pre-season has come to a close. We saw the usual: hits, goals, saves, rookies trying hard, veterans coasting and ridiculously-priced beer.

Despite what anyone may say about the preseason’s lack of usefulness or excessive length, we can still take away some important elements from it. So, without further ado, here are five things we can learn from the NHL pre-season:

1. Every minor issue gets blown horribly out of proportion

Remember the very beginning of the pre-season? Everyone was going nuts over restricted free agents who hadn’t re-signed. Alex Pietrangelo was going to walk out on the St. Louis Blues! Nazem Kadri was being greedy and holding out on the Maple Leafs! Jared Cowen was pricing himself out of the picture in Ottawa!

Except, well, none of that happened. Each of the players re-signed with the teams.

Or what about the countless hordes of bubble players forced to clear waivers? Farewell, Jim O’Brien! Adios, Cody Emmerton! We barely knew you, Stu Bickel!

But wait. All those players cleared waivers, too.

“Let the players play the game,” said Mitch Babec, a hockey fan and fourth-year student in medicinal chemistry with specialization in pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Ottawa. “I think it was very much overblown.”

All this is to say that overreactions are the essence of the pre-season. The sky won’t fall and the sun will come out tomorrow, regardless of what happens in one game or even one week.

2. Players don’t perform to expectations

It’s a story as old as time. On one end of the spectrum, you have players who massively over-achieve. A player like ex-NHLer Brandon Bochenski made his name in the pre-season and, although it’s too early to tell who has over-performed this time around, it’s fair to say there have been a few who have been scoring at an unsustainable pace.

“Everyone gets overhyped with points,” said Scott Ford, a fourth-year political science student at Carleton University. “Like, (Ottawa forward Cory) Conacher … is he actually going to get six points every eight games?”

On the other end, you have the veteran players that underperform, who have roster spots locked up and don’t need to try too hard.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a significant concern, but it is a bit of a disservice to the rookies who work very hard to get there,” said Babec. “Some of them even get to witness their own idols at work and, if those idols aren’t willing to perform until the actual season or possibly the post-season, then it can be a little bit disconcerting.”

And then to top it all off, you have the players who inexplicably don’t get signed to a contract initially and are forced to go on professional try-outs. Let’s be honest, how many people expected Tim Thomas to get another job in the NHL? Who expected Damien Brunner to go contract-less until the pre-season?

Players like Thomas, Brunner, Mason Raymond and Ryan Whitney are perfect examples of players who didn’t perform to expectations. This is just another indicator that the pre-season doesn’t mean much in terms of player skill – players shouldn’t be judged when games won’t affect their season.

3. Players are willing to play more fast and loose with the rules

Since pre-season skills don’t matter too much, that gives players free reign to play around with the rules a bit and see what’s acceptable. Paul Ranger decides to go all David Beckham on a shootout attempt and kick his stick? No problem. It even looked pretty entertaining.

Phil Kessel hacks at the bone of Buffalo’s John Scott? No biggie, just a pre-season suspension.

“I think it’s natural for players to want to push the envelope, especially in a pre-season game,” said Babec. “That said, it doesn’t stop the referees or those who decide the rules to push the envelope in terms of harshness either.”

Fighters removing each others’ helmets before a brawl? Still a grey area, as was demonstrated by New York Islanders forward Brett Gallant and New Jersey Devils forward Krys Barch, who intentionally removed each others’ helmets before fighting, since removing your own helmet is now a penalizable offence.

The rules in the pre-season are meant to be bent and twisted, which leads me to…


4. New rules get introduced that make sense but feel weird

I get it. Hockey should be in a constant state of evolution, changing and adapting as necessary to the way the game is played. New rules were the reason behind the forward pass, the elimination of the two-line pass and the goalie “no-play” zone behind the net.

It doesn’t change the fact that something feels off about them. Maybe it’s just unfamiliarity, but hybrid icing – as great an idea as it is in terms of reducing icing races and the injuries associated with them – just feels like there’s something missing.

“This is definitely a greyer area for me,” said Babec. “It’s going to take some growing pains. If the goal is for safety, we’ll see how it works.

“I’m not sold on it, but if the goal is accomplished where you have fewer injuries because of it, then I tentatively say yes (it’s a good idea,)” he added.

Or the new rule for fighters where they can’t remove their own helmets. As far back as I can remember, players flipped off their ‘buckets’ before tossing haymakers. Watching them now just seems odd and out of place, especially since Montreal forward George Parros suffered a concussion in the first game of the regular season from falling on the ice after a fight – despite still having his helmet on!

“I believe it’s a one-off incident,” said Babec. “In this case, the fall was an accident.

“Think if he hadn’t had a helmet. Could the injury have been worse? Could it have been an upper spinal or neck injury?”

Babec insisted that the NHL should make its decisions based on safety, consistency and accountability, as opposed to being reactive like they have been recently.

“You want the players to be safe so they can play the game and keep playing the game in the future,” said Babec. “You want consistency so that you have a clean and far game … and you want accountability so if, unfortunately, something does go wrong, you want to do your very best to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Other new rules seem well thought-out. By reducing the size of the nets and goalie pads, scoring should increase.

“I have smaller pads,” said Ford, who plays as goaltender in a rec league. “I have to squeeze my knees together to cover the five-hole, but it takes away that bit on the ice.”

5. Fans are just glad hockey’s back

Forget the meaningless rhetoric.

Forget the baseless arguing.

Forget the player projections, the standings predictions, the TSN specials, the fantasy hockey leagues, the hundreds of dollars you’ll likely spend on tickets this year.

Even though last year’s lockout made it so that the playoffs didn’t end until later than usual, the break between seasons still felt too long. Pre-season hockey may not have too much impact on the regular season, but it’s still hockey.

It’s good to be back.