Preseason games are meaningless. Shocking, isn’t it?
I’m sure this is the first time you’ve ever heard of this, and for the past month you’ve been watching soon-to-be cuts and castoffs, knowing that your team’s hopes hinge on every September game. They especially hinge on the games featuring third-string goalies named among the three stars, and forwards whose names contain more syllables than George Stroumboulopoulos.
Yes, shocking indeed. Most of you–I hope–are well aware of how meaningless the preseason is, and watched with your grain of salt sitting right next to your bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
The preseason isn’t entirely meaningless. It’s a time to watch and assess young talent, the kids who are the future of hockey who hopefully won’t crumble under the weight of a media market that has lost any shred of reality. It’s a time to watch new acquisitions and signees, and hope they’re gelling and fitting into the offensive or defensive scheme as expected. And, most importantly, the preseason is a time to watch a new head coach at work, especially if he’s known as some kind of hockey Yoda.
But with hockey season now officially underway, the preseason morphs into whatever mirage the dreamy and delusional would like to invent. While most of you are sensible, there are still many–especially in the Great White North–who fit the dreamy and delusional label.
Flames fans have outgrown their hat sizes after Calgary went undefeated in the preseason. If the streak continues into October when it matters, they’ll all say the momentum was built in the preseason. If they stumble, they’ll shrug and say September was “just the preseason,” before going back to slamming Darryl Sutter for bringing back Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay.
It’s all very convenient, and fans of the Minnesota Wild–the preseason’s only winless team–are still using that same “it’s just the preseason” line, and will for a few weeks no matter how many regular season games the Wild lose.
Wins and losses mean nothing in September. It takes only a quick glance through the final preseason standings over the past few years to discover that a lot changes once the games start to mean something.
Here are a few examples:
- The parade down Yonge Street was planned when the Leafs went 6-3 in the preseason. They didn’t win again until Oct.26, as the Leafs lost their first eight games of the season and won only once in the month of October and six times in the season’s first two months. It was just the beginning of a plunge to the very bottom of the Eastern Conference basement.
- If there was such a thing as preseason playoffs, the Blackhawks wouldn’t have made it. Chicago finished with a sub-.500 record in the preseason, good enough for only ninth in the West. I think we all know how this ended.
- The Sharks have a history of choking, and they would have missed the preseason playoffs too. A team that would go on to win the Presidents Trophy finished 12th in the West during the preseason with a record of 3-4-1.
- After winning the East the previous year, the Canadiens did it again in the preseason. That momentum boost led the Habs to barely squeak into a playoff spot as the eighth seed, and then promptly exit after being swept by the Bruins in the opening round.
- Add the Sens to the list of recent undefeated teams in the preseason. In 2007 Ottawa went 7-0-0, a September run that led to Daniel Alfredsson et al narrowly making the playoffs and then being swept aside by the Pens in the first round.
- The Thrashers showed a hint of promise, winning the Southeast with a 5-2-0 record before quickly crumbling and picking third-overall in the draft.
Of Course, there are always exceptions, and good teams are simply good teams, no matter what time of the year it is. The Red Wings have been one of the most consistent franchises in the league, a consistency that can be seen in the preseason, regular season, and playoffs. Same goes for the Capitals in recent years, who now just need to learn how to come through when it matters most.
But Green Day–yes, I’m about to reference a Green Day song–was on to something. Maybe it was years of drug abuse, I’m not sure, but Billie Joe Armstrong once told us to wake up when September ends. At the time we had no idea what he was talking about, other than a corny, sappy love story.
Now we know.