Hockey is (sort of) back! The Vancouver Canucks hit the ice Monday night in North Saanich for their first of eight preseason tune-ups, and let me tell you, I could be more excited.
That's not a typo. I could be more excited. I'm excited, of course. Hockey's back(ish)! But I'm saving most of my excitement for the regular season. After all, having endured several preseasons now, I've got a pretty good handle on how this is gonna go. Here are six things to remember about the preseason:
1) None of these games matter in the slightest.
There are two names for this spate of games: preseason and exhibition. I prefer exhibition. Preseason makes it sound too important, as though this stretch is in any way connected to the season that will follow it. But it really isn't. It's a meaningless display. It's two hockey organizations putting on a show. It's an exhibition.
2) Some veterans will disappoint.
There are a few reasons for this. The first is that these guys, more than anybody, know these games don't matter, that they're just a way for the owners to make a little extra money while the players work off the rust. You could go 0-8 in the preseason. Everyone will care way too much until the moment you open the season 1-0.
Which makes it hard to play your heart out, especially if your spot on the team is all but guaranteed. I mean, sure, you can't sleepwalk out there -- you still have to look like you deserve to be on the team -- but little is expected beyond a modest amount of effort. Couple that with the rust you're working off -- the Sedins don't skate in the summer, so it takes them a while to go from Dad Mode to NHL Mode, for instance -- and you have a recipe for mediocrity.
This applies especially to goalies. While I'm sure every goalie wants to be in midseason form on day one, it takes awhile to readjust. Goalies often talk about finding the puck, but have you ever actually considered how difficult that is? Somewhere on this sheet of ice is a tiny black disc, and it's moving faster than any of the 10 skaters on the ice. Oh, and there are 10 skaters on the ice, many of whom are intentionally trying to block your vision. Oh, and the most common scoring play is to take the puck really far away from you, then shoot it really hard towards you, into a maze of bodies, and hope that it pinballs in. Oh, and the guys shooting are the best shooters in the world. Anyway, good luck. It takes time to train the eye to see the puck through all this action, and even then, goalies lose sight of it constantly.
Now imagine you have to track a puck during an NHL game for the first time in months. It might be tough.
3) Some prospects will look like superstars.
One argument for the value of exhibition games is that it's a chance to see how the prospects stack up against the veterans. But that's only partly true. As mentioned, the veterans aren't really trying. They're just out there to stretch their legs, y'know, do a little hockey to see if they've still got it. So when Hot Prospect X undresses Veteran Defenceman Y, try to remember that Veteran Defenceman Y is really just out there for a lark. People get really excited about highlight reel stuff like this, but usually, it's less a sign that the prospect is on the veteran's level than a sign the prospect is trying harder today.
And of course he is. For these kids, the NHL is still but a dream. For the veterans who achieved the dream some time back, it's occasionally just an obligation. This is a safety committee meeting to them, just one of those work nuisances you have to endure before going back to your real job. (And the prospects are that annoying go-getter who volunteered to chair this committee.) I'm not suggesting the veterans don't care about hockey. I'm just suggesting they don't care that much about this hockey.
So when the prospects stand out, it's important to remember that they should -- they're the only ones trying to stand out.
4) Fighting is never stupider than in the preseason.
As I said last week, fighting is stupid and unnecessary and it's ruining lives. So it's frustrating to see it in exhibition games, where the outcome doesn't matter at all. There are three kinds of preseason fights:
- Two fighters fight each other to show how tough they are.
- A prospect fights a fighter to show how tough he is.
- Two prospects fight one another to show how tough they are.
They're all a complete waste of time, and it's frustrating to watch players put their brains on the line for a meaningless contest. Granted, it means something to them, since they're on the road to their childhood dreams, which is why it's particularly despicable for the NHL to keep the enforcer track open.
5) It's the preseason for everybody.
The coaches. The refs. The ice crew. The announcers. The broadcast team. The bloggers. Everyone is shaking off a summer's worth of rust. The hot sun makes you stupid. There will be mental errors as people adjust. Try to cut people some slack. These are previews.
6) If the Sedins aren't playing, it's not a Canucks game.
Unless you're new to the Canucks, you know that this season is going to be full of ups and downs, scandals and shockers, manufactured and naturally-occurring controversies, disappointments, pleasant surprises, and at least one dirty hit that divides the fanbase into two groups: those that can look beyond their fan allegiance and those who can't. You're gonna need your emotional energy for the civil war -- don't waste it all getting upset about how the Canucks play in the preseason.
To that end, this is a handy way to remind yourself these games don't matter: if the Canucks decided to let the Sedins sit this one out, they obviously don't care whether or not they win this one. So you shouldn't either. It's a long season. Don't waste your emotional energy getting upset about a Canucks game that features zero Sedins.
All of this isn't to say that the preseason sucks. It doesn't. It's a fount of great storylines. For instance: Adam Cracknell is making his Canucks debut tonight, and he's from Saanich. "This is a dream come true to put on a Canucks jersey for the first time, in my hometown," Cracknell told the media. But it's beyond a dream come true, because when Cracknell was a kid, he probably didn't dream of making his Canucks debut in Saanich. The Canucks don't play there.
They do Monday night, though, and Cracknell will be there for it. That's more than enough for me to watch this game, even if the outcome doesn't matter in the slightest.