Is the NHL pre-season worth it?

The debate begins anew every September: is the NHL pre-season worth it?

As teams begin getting into the swing of things, many are already dealing with serious injuries to key players, the latest being Jordan Staal.

Staal suffered a fractured fibula during a game against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night after getting tangled up with Josh Gorges. He will be out three to four months.

He joins Pavel Datsyuk (separated shoulder), Derek Stepan (fractured fibula), Jonathan Drouin (fractured thumb) and Claude Giroux (lower body) as key players who either will or are likely to miss the start of the regular season.

The NHL infirmaries are filling up quickly, and it’s not even crunch time yet. It begs the question, is it worth playing competitive games against other teams in the pre-season?

I always wondered if it wouldn’t serve the same purpose to simply play inter-squad games until the regular season begins. Teams would be able to get better looks and more work for their young talent, and the competition would still be high enough as players fight to either retain or earn NHL jobs (as evidenced by Cam Barker’s crushing hit on the crown jewel of the Blackhawks’ prospect pool Teuvo Teravainen).

Another interesting part of the pre-season is that every year, almost without fail, some unknown or unexpected player lights things up and is apparently on his way to stardom (if you listen to any local sports talk radio in the city where he happens to be playing).

The one that sticks out most in my mind is Brandon Bochenski, then with the Ottawa Senators. He was a long-shot to make the big club in 2005. He shocked everyone when he produced five goals and nine points in five pre-season games playing with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley.

The Sens and many of their fans thought they had a Calder Trophy candidate on their hands. He ended up traded after 20 games and six goals. He played a total of 156 career NHL games for six teams over five seasons and scored 28 goals.

Who will it be this year? Many in Montreal have had very high praise for KHL defector Jiri Sekac so far, while Coyotes’ centre Justin Hodgeman (who?!) has three goals and four points in just two games.

Ultimately, is the NHL pre-season worth it?