Yesterday, Terrace, a small forestry town in Northern B.C., hosted an NHL exhibition game between the Vancouver Canucks and the New York Islanders. Today, Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia was the site of an exhibition match featuring the Ottawa Senators and the Florida Panthers.
For the majority of the residents of both locales, it will be the closest that they ever get to live NHL hockey, and for the residents of Halifax, they paid a pretty penny getting into the game.
While Terrace residents received free tickets courtesy of being the winners of the 2009 Kraft Hockeyville Challenge, they only received the opportunity due to months of hard work leading up to being named as the winners.
As great as this may sound, upon closer inspection, one cannot help but feel a tinge of pity for the residents of these great locales.
Expecting to be treated to NHL hockey, the fans got to see something of a much lesser quality. In Terrace, notes Vancouver Sun writer Elliot Pap "Canucks captain Roberto Luongo and the Sedin twins were left at home. So were Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows and Mikael Samuelsson." Indeed, Kyle Wellwood and Shane O'Brien were the only Canucks on the ice who saw a regular shift with the team last season.
In Halifax, the story was similar as Senators stars Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson were notably absent and glorified third-liner Mike Fisher held down the number-one pivot position for the night.
Understandably, this is exhibition hockey and fans, regardless of their locale, should be expected to know that they are not going to see a full, NHL-calibre line-up.
Furthermore, in the interest of reducing the burden and wear-and-tear on veteran players, the current CBA limits the amount of exhibition games in which vets are required to appear. However, on an emotional level, the actions of the NHL are nothing short of despicable.
Most of these fans will never get to see a live NHL game—these exhibition games are as close as they will ever get. While hometown fans get 41 chances a year to see NHL quality hockey, these fans only get the rarest of opportunities to see something that vaguely resembles the NHL.
These fans buy jerseys and other merchandise and live and die by their teams just as much as fans in Vancouver and Ottawa do, they deserve to be treated with a little more respect.
To tell them that they are going to see NHL hockey and to benefit financially (tickets in Halifax were going for over $50) and in terms of publicity (you can’t turn on CBC without seeing a commercial about Kraft Hockeyville), and then to put out a product of such low quality is nothing short of insulting, a slap in the face to these loyal fans.
The NHL has to make some serious changes, out of respect, for its fans in non-NHL cities. There are a myriad of options, from encouraging teams to ice their better line-ups in offsite games to forcing it upon its teams.
Ideally, every team would play an off-site exhibition game (truly off-site regular season games would be great, but that’s another story altogether) towards the end of the exhibition season, when they are close to nailing down and playing with their opening night roster. That would show respect, and that would be what these fans deserve.
With regards to offsite games, the NHL can do better, and it must.