Should NHL Teams Hold Joint Practices With Other Teams Like The NFL

Oct 4, 2022; Buffalo, New York, USA; Buffalo Sabres right wing JJ Peterka (77) looks to make a pass as Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Calvin de Haan (4) defends during the second period at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 4, 2022; Buffalo, New York, USA; Buffalo Sabres right wing JJ Peterka (77) looks to make a pass as Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Calvin de Haan (4) defends during the second period at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports /

The NHL preseason is just under a month away. Okay, it’s not as exciting as the regular season, but it’s something. Right before players take the ice for the first time, the NFL season kicks off at the beginning of September. We’ll enjoy a little football and chicken wings while we wait for the puck to drop.

The NFL just wrapped up its own preseason and Lindsey Thiry of wrote an article summarizing and explaining the trends throughout the league during the preseason contests. One interesting think she noted was the rise of “joint practices”, with teams practicing against other teams. The vast majority of the league participated in joint practices and coaches such as Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams prefer the idea over preseason games. That got us thinking, could joint practices be something that can be applied to the NHL?

There’s a trend in the NFL of different teams practicing together to simulate game action. That might not work out as well if tried in the NHL.

Thirty pointed out two specific reasons coaches prefer the joint practices. First, the joint practices are more of a controlled environment than any game would ever be. The second reason goes hand in hand with the first, but it’s that quarterbacks are “contact free”, so joint practices come with little risk of injury.

That first reason, being in a controlled environment, might be the main reason why we can’t see an NHL team getting the same benefit of a joint practice as an NFL team. Football preparation is completely different with the stop and go nature of playing on multiple downs in the game of football. Hockey is continous, and unpredictable, which makes preparation a completely different process. It’s easy to replicate throwing passes in the red zone, but it’s harder to replicate being on the power play halfway through the first with your best defenseman in the box after a questionable tripping call.

NFL coaches spoke about the competitiveness of practicing against different teams and opponents. The NFL also has a very short preseason of four or so games. It’s not uncommon for NHL teams to play split-squad games during the preseason, where half the team takes on one team and the other half takes on a different opponent in two separate games. Would that also expose teams to different teams and their way of play much like a joint practice does in the NFL? Unlike the joint practices, split-squad games also give more players and more prospects a chance to see actual NHL game action.

Both the New York and Los Angeles media markets have multiple NHL teams in each. Maybe the Anaheim Ducks could practice with and against the Los Angeles Kings, for example? That would be interesting to see between geographical and divisional rivals. Most of the “joint practices” that took place between NFL teams were between two teams that rarely see each other for distance and divisional reasons. For example, my New York Giants held a joint practice with the Detroit Lions, but not the New York Jets who they share a stadium with.

Another obvious, but often overlooked, difference between the two leagues is the absence of any professional football minor leagues (unaffiliated spring football leagues exist, but aren’t comparable to a developmental league). In the NHL, if a prospect isn’t ready for the big show, he can be sent to the AHL or the ECHL or back to his junior team to refine his game. The NFL has no such option.

Players trying to make the league are quite literally in an “NFL or bust” situation (a small number do go on to be signed to practice squad contracts). That makes the information gathering and practice portion of the NFL preseason all the more important. It might be nice to see your teams top prospect get in a few preseason contests before being sent back down to the OHL or AHL for hockey, which is a common occurrence in the NHL, but not for the NFL.

So in a weird way, those joint practices take place of the information gathering that would happen in a minor league game. It’s replicating a real game scenario as much as possible. The NHL has many more avenues to do just that thanks to the minor league and junior hockey system.

It all comes down to if joint practices would be beneficial for the game of hockey. In theory it would. What team wouldn’t want to learn how to face off against elite competition like Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and Jack Hughes in a learning situation where the points don’t matter? The game of ice hockey and how you prepare for it is too different from the game of football for this to be a concept NHL head coaches would ever consider trying.