Do Benefits of NHL Preseason Outweigh Injury Risk?


May 7, 2013; Ottawa, ON, CAN; Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson (65) and Montreal Canadiens centre David Desharnais (51) collide in the third period in game four of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs at Scotiabank Place. Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

It’s always a battle. Is it worth playing your starters, ultimately for a game that doesn’t matter in the standings?

Every major sport has a preseason and critics debate whether or not it’s worth it to ask a team’s stars to go all out for a game that means nothing.

A lot of factors come into play, notably, conditioning. For the most part, players try to workout and train together over the offseason, but nothing really compares to in-game competition.

Obviously last year’s offseason wasn’t the norm, so we won’t touch on that, but this offseason in particular is paramount for teams because they need to prepare for a full 82-game season. It’s impossible to truly prepare, unless a team gets some full speed action. That’s where the debate heats up.

The NFL has seen its fair share of injuries this offseason and some of them have been devastating to teams. The Philadelphia Eagles lost their top wideout, Jeremy Maclin for the season with a torn ACL – and that was just in practice.

It certainly wasn’t the preseason, but Ottawa Senators fans know all too well how tough it is to lose their best player to a season ending injury in the first month of a season. When Erik Karlsson’s ACL was lacerated by the skate of Matt Cooke, every Sens fan’s heart dropped.

Luckily the team was able to battle through the season without their Norris trophy defenseman, and made it to the postseason where he was able to return and help them on the ice.

Now, no one is saying teams shouldn’t practice hard, but is it really worth it to battle in an exhibition game that otherwise means nothing towards a team’s success?

Unfortunately, they have no choice. It would be too detrimental to a team’s chemistry and conditioning not to participate in exhibition play. Injuries are a part of any game. Some are devastating and some you can work around. Athletes play hurt all the time and some even learn to live with the pain. That’s just how it goes.

A preseason’s importance varies for each sport, as does its overall effect on a team’s success. In football, the season is compacted into 16 games. Your workhorse running back’s nagging hamstring injury that keeps him from a full workload for the first four games of the season hurts a lot more than a hockey team’s number one center missing a few weeks with an ankle sprain. Over the course of a full 82-game schedule, those few weeks seem minimal. Four NFL games mean a quarter of the season is gone. A team’s shot at a playoff spot could be gone by then.

Jun 14, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien (middle) skates with left wing Milan Lucic (right) during practice the day before game two of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center. Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The preseason and prepping for one helps coaches and GMs to see what their system has in youth and offers them a chance to try and fit their draft picks into the squad’s plans for the upcoming season. Both the NHL and NFL have salary caps and in this day and age finding suitable roster players from within at a considerable discount is the best way to maximize a team’s product on the ice or field.

The risk for injury is still there, but it seems as though the benefit outweighs that risk. It’s still a gamble. Any significant injury could affect a young kids development, and a couple preseason games with bigger NHLers probably increases that risk, but in the end that’s part of the game.

Part of what draws people to hockey is seeing a team fight, claw, and scratch their way through a rigorous 82-game schedule, then do it for another two months in the playoffs. The sacrifice, the blood, sweat and well, broken bones make it all the more exciting.

Ask any fan if they’d sacrifice a player’s passion for the game to ensure their star players don’t get hurt.  Would anyone say yes? I know I wouldn’t.

Is the preseason really worth it? Tweet us @tmmots or @arbuckletv. Email us any questions, comments, or concerns at