Sunday, May 1st, 2016

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.

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5 Responses to “The Exhibition Strategy”
  1. peanutflower says:

    Well, I say all power to GMMG for figure this out so well. Lawyers are pretty smart at finding advantageous “loopholes” in the rules. The argument is put paid in that Rome broke a finger in a preseason game. What if that had been Henrik? Yes, the Canuck brand is powerful — i paid to see a game and it was great. No discontent on my part. The win in Edmonton should serve to get the Oiler fans riled up about how Oiler management is actually, well, managing the team.

  2. beingbobbyorr says:

    Putting the cost of tickets aside, pre-season games (with a healthy mix of vets & kids) have always been a crucial tool in showing the prospects where they stack up against NHL talent and what they have to work on to be more competitive in the future. With that in mind, the number of pre-season games seems about right to me (remember, training camps start with 60 bodies), and if anythig, teams err by making their first cuts too soon (within 5 days of camp opening, IIRC) and robbing those first cuts of more exposure to NHL standards.

    If more teams do what TB says the Canucks are doing, then pre-season games = AHL games, and talent development takes a greater hit . . . . . as if the current CBA — which Tom railed against years ago for its’ predicted negative effects on talent development (which have come true: fewer Euros + fewer rounds of entry draft + shorter mid-summer prospect camps) — hasn’t damaged the product enough.

    • JS says:

      Well, yeah, but … saying the preseason needs to be this long in part because there are 60 guys in camp seems a bit irrelevant. Why have 60 guys in camp? I doubt there is any team, even the dregs, that have more than 5 available roster spots. Are the camp fodder at 45-60 going to get those five spots? Unlikely. Run the minor league camps with the minor leaguers. If one of those 45-60 guys shines in AHL camp, the bring him up. Make the waiver rules lax during the first part of the season to allow for this.

      As far as value for money …. it’s the preseason. I agree with the comment above that one should not expect much more than they are getting for preseason. There are two useful rules in life. #1 isn’t relevant, so I won’t burden you with it. #2 is don’t always try to get your money’s worth. Just enjoy whatever you enjoy.

    • Tom says:

      If more teams do what TB says the Canucks are doing, then pre-season games = AHL games, and talent development takes a greater hit . . . . .

      The first several exhibition games = AHL exhibition games. If that happens, early games will be a lot tougher to sell. Revenues will go down. That’s the reason the NHL has the rule and that’s the reason the league will stop the Canucks from flouting it. If there is a talent development issue with the strategy, it is pretty minor.

      The Canucks have effectively had two camps.


Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. […] TOM BENJAMIN’S HOCKEY BLOG: Tom acknowledges the Vancouver Canucks strategy of not playing their veterans in preseason to avoid injuring them in meaningless games and providing them more rest following a short off-season, but scolds them for not providing fans attending those games the full entertainment value for their overpriced tickets. […]

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