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Sunday Coffee: Pre-Season Play

by Dave Joseph / Florida Panthers
(Edmonton Oilers)

"You want competition and game-like situations, but you also want practice time between games in order to actually work with your team and correct some of the things you do." - Panthers Head Coach Peter DeBoer

Before they open the regular season this weekend in Helsinki by playing games on consecutive nights against the Blackhawks, the Panthers will play their eighth and ninth games of the preseason against Finnish teams.
The Panthers aren’t the only team playing their way into shape. The Red Wings and Maple Leafs will have played nine games before the season begins and the Kings eight. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Hurricanes will play the fewest preseason games with four and the Devils only five.

      While some teams will play their majority of their preseason contests at home – the Red Wings and Leafs will each play five of their nine at home – others will hit the road. The Panthers will have played eight of their nine games outside Florida and the Lightning six of their seven.
      Preseason games in every professional sport are a way to create revenue. We get that. The question is whether more is better, and it comes at a time other professional sports are asking the same question.
      NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell recently said the league will consider raising the number of regular-season games from 16 to 17 or 18 and cutting down the number of preseason games from four to two.
      “There is a strongly held view (among owners) and with our fans that they don’t believe preseason games are up to our standards,” he said. “It’s clear we don’t need four preseason games anymore.”
      Could the NHL ever agree or the same number of preseason games for each team?
      “I suppose you could do that if everyone wanted,” said Panthers assistant GM Randy Sexton. “But I think it would be difficult to have a uniform schedule because every team has a different approach and different philosophies. I think the number of preseason games is a reflection of the kind of team you have. In our case, we’re young so we want to play more games because we want to get the kids experience and assess them in NHL simulated games. If we had a more veteran team, we’d take a different approach…maybe play only four games.
      “Everyone is in a different situation, financially, too.”
      Coach Peter DeBoer described preseason games as “a fine line.”
      “You want competition and game-like situations, but you also want practice time between games in order to actually work with you team and correct some of the things you do,” he said. "The only way you can do it is to get a nice balance. I don’t think you need 10 (games), maybe somewhere between five and seven would be a good range.”
      Forward Gregory Campbell said he doesn’t favor a lot of preseason games, “but a young guy will have a different opinion because they want every opportunity to be seen and make the team.”
      Defenseman Bryan Allen, the NHLPA player rep for the Panthers, said he’d like to see the number of games cut back, but doubts there will ever be a uniform number throughout the league because “teams are individuals and it’s another money maker for the teams.”
      Depending on how teams do during the regular season and playoffs – depending on the makeup of teams – the number of preseason games will likely fluctuate every year for every team.
      Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford said his team will play only four games this preseason in hopes they stay healthier and rested. But in the same breath, he told The Hockey News; “We haven’t proved anything. We still have to see the results.”
      Couldn’t the situation with Wayne Gretzky in Phoenix have been handled better? Was it in the best interest of Gretzky or the league that one of its most recognizable personalities first not show up to coach the Coyotes but then resign as coach?
      There are a million rumors why Gretzky cashed in his chips in troubled Phoenix, and they all seem plausible from him being upset with how he was ignored by the league and potential owners to wanting to be closer to his family. His father Walter told the Canadian Press his son had simply “had it…that is the impression I got.”

      Whatever the case, Gretzky leaves with a coaching record in Phoenix of 143-161-24. While the situation in Phoenix deteriorated quickly over the summer, one keeps thinking the league and Gretzky should have thought ahead a bit more and considered all the options and the best way to handle them.
      “We have to play. There is no choice. Your team is important, but you have to be loyal to your country. We must play no matter what the NHL does.” Ilya Kovalchuk telling The Hockey News the importance of playing the 2014 Olympics in Russia.
      While the Bruins lost 36 goals when Phil Kessel went to Toronto, it was all for the best, according to team captain Zdeno Chara. “When a guy is not happy, it’s probably the best thing to make a move,” he told the Boston Globe. “We’re happy with what we have in this room. It’s good to solve that kind of an issue.”…Sean Avery is talking (what else is new). His thoughts on last year’s Rangers: “I think there was a lot of smoke and mirrors with the team. I don’t think it was as close to a lot of people indicated.”…Former Panther and Ducks forward Rob Niedermayer begins his 16th season in New Jersey after signing Friday with the Devils….Goalie Olaf Kolzig, who retired last week after 19 seasons, summed up the difference nicely between superstars Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. “Crosby’s more in the mold out of Wayne Gretzky, sees the ice well, leads by example. Ovie’s just a bull. He’s such an infectious player.”…Seems everytime the NHL plays overseas, there’s talk about expanding the league to Europe or elsewhere. But before it could ever happen, so much would have to be evaulated and studied,” said the Panthers Sexton. “You could be looking at a nine or 10 hour timezone swing from L.A. to Moscow. Those are pretty serious logistical concerns. Never is a long time. I don’t know if we’ll ever get there, but its certainly something to consider.”…Theo Fleury’s comeback with the Flames fizzled out last week, and they didn’t offer him a spot on their top farm team. Coach Brent Sutter said Fleury’s biggest problem at 41 was “the legs just aren’t where they need to be.”…
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