The Exhibition Strategy
In a perfect world there would be fewer exhibition games, an earlier start to the season, and an earlier finish. We have what we have because in the business world, exhibition games produce revenue and because hockey teams in some American markets want late starts to avoid having to compete with the World Series.
Teams certainly don’t have to spend nearly a month sorting out a few roster decisions around the team fringe. Players need a few weeks of practice, a few tuneup games and they are ready to go. Anything more costs energy and risk better saved for the regular season.
Alain Vigneault is acting like he believes exactly that. The vast majority of this year’s edition of the Canucks has been scratched throughout the first five games. Players battling for jobs have played, those assured a spot have not. For the first portion of the exhibition season, the team iced mostly the Chicago Wolves. For the final portion they will dress mostly Vancouver Canucks.
This should help both squads get ready for their respective seasons and nobody critical can get hurt during the truly meaningless games of the fall. While the Wolves have been in tough most nights talent-wise, they couldn’t ask for a better chance to show what they can do. Meanwhile, the real Canucks have a few weeks of practice, a few tuneup games, and they’ll be raring to go when the season opens.
This may be a good way to prepare for the year, but the team is flouting the spirit, if not the letter, of the law on the subject. So far they have dressed very near the minimum experience they are required to dress. They have not yet given the fans real value for outrageously priced tickets. That the Vancouver fans will sit for it without much complaining demonstrates the power of the Canuck brand in British Columbia. But was it fair to Oiler fans when they paid big bucks to watch an “in name only” NHL team beat the home side? What if more teams adopt this strategy?
I don’t think the league will let the Canucks do this again next year.
Update: Harrison Mooney over at Puck Daddy explains how I underestimate the Canuck perfidy with this post. They signed a bunch of veterans – Nolan, Fedoruk, et al – just so they could play this preseason game.
Update II: Lyle Richardson comments:
I usually agree with Tom, but in this instance, I don’t. Folks, it’s preseason hockey. If you’re dumb enough to pay big bucks to watch preseason hockey, you take your chances with the roster of your favorite team. Preseason is for evaluation, and I have no sympathy for anyone who pays expensive ticket prices to watch an inferior product.
I’m not sure that we do disagree. It is caveat emptor for these games. My intent was to marvel at the fact that the Canucks get away with it, at least as far as the fanbase is concerned. Opponents and the league surely don’t like it. Vancouver has found a loophole. I think the league will attempt to close it. If they do not, the Canucks will keep exploiting it.