Personally, as a hockey fan, I find this to be the most agonizing time of the year.
We're past the halfway mark of the preseason schedule, which means that after a long summer layoff we finally have some NHL hockey (or at least a version of it) to whet our palates, but the games are basically meaningless.
Any strengths or weaknesses we perceive on our teams could be completely imaginary as there is often a full roster shakeup from game to game. Goalies who look leaky now may be brick walls when the season starts, and special teams that are on fire could go ice cold in the regular season.
There is precious little for one to count on based solely on preseason play, and I for one can't stand ambiguity; hence my agony at this time of year.
As elusive as reliable metrics for handicapping a team might be right now, the preseason does seem to have some value inasmuch as individual players have a chance to show their teams and the fans what they're made of.
Additionally, there are some trends that have developed in this twilight zone between training camp and the regular season that, for good or ill, might affect teams moving forward.
The Detroit Red Wings have three more games to complete in preseason play, but the five they've played to this point have revealed five nuggets of knowledge that may very well impact the team the rest of the year.
Even before Brendan Smith laid out Ben Smith (no relation, but it would be funny) on Wednesday night in Chicago, I was fairly convinced that Detroit's top prospect was not ready for the big game.
But that hit provides a pretty succinct example of why he is destined to sharpen his trade for at least one more year in the AHL.
I don't believe Brendan "targeted" Ben's head, but I do believe Brendan acted recklessly and was careless in his attempted check on Ben. Clearly, Ben's head was the primary point of contact and, for that alone, Brendan needs to be held responsible.
But the larger issue here is that this is just the latest and largest example of why Smith is not quite ready for a shot with the big club.
His talent is massive and obvious, and it's been great to see him play in the preseason, but his decision-making, timing and poise hasn't been on par with what is required for the NHL.
His game needs to mature a bit more before he can be counted on as even a seventh D-man in Detroit. And although he and many others felt that this could be his year to break through, he'd better make the most of his time in the AHL as the clock has officially started ticking on his chances to make the NHL.
The "bubble," the "hot seat," a "short leash," whatever cliche you might apply to Jiri Hudler, it was clear to all that from the beginning of training camp that he needed to look like a man on fire.
He's got a single goal in the preseason, which in and of itself isn't enough on which to judge him.
But combined with his continued invisibility on the ice, a trick he mastered last season, there's little hope remaining that Hudler is due to rebound from an utterly forgettable year in 2010-2011.
There are other Redwings who have proved more worthy of the ice time in the regular season that Hudler needed to earn in the preseason.
Will he stick around on the roster? Will he be traded? Will he be waived?
Honestly, does it really matter?
As evidenced by the picture, clearly Getty Images is not yet ready to recognize "Fabian Brunnstrom" as a Detroit Red Wing, but that doesn't mean he doesn't deserve to be one.
Brunnstrom has looked every bit the desperate, determined man he should be after coming into the league in 2009 as a potential savior of the Dallas Stars, only to fizzle quickly into an AHL player.
Brunnstrom's hands, feet, size and hockey sense have been on full display during this preseason to the extent that not securing him to a contract would be a mistake for general manager Ken Holland.
While it's true that Brunnstrom's career in the NHL started with a large bang and devolved quickly to a small whimper, it stands to reason that his second shot at an NHL job will be more successful in Detroit than was his first attempt in Dallas.
Really, hockey gods?
We're going to go through the never-ending injury plague again?
Granted, it's the preseason, but injuries are injuries, and in just five games the Wings have already lost forwards Jan Mursak, Dan Cleary, Pavel Datsyuk and defenseman Mike Commodore to injuries.
Even if they come back in time for the regular season, this trend of player injuries in Detroit may just be starting anew for the third season in a row. As was the case last season, Detroit's depth should help to stave off disaster if regular players start dropping like flies again, but that's cold consolation for a team that has been constantly banged-up for two seasons in a row.
One of the great things about so many young kids being in the lineup in the preseason is that they provide a very good contrast to the veteran players with guaranteed spots on the team.
The worst thing one can see is a prospect making a so-called "core player" look slow, weak or just plain old.
Though Nick Lidstrom is 41 years old, he still looks like the best defender on the ice.
And though Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have moved firmly into "veteran" status, they too are clearly the most dynamic forwards on a team replete with them.
While it will be great to see players like the aforementioned Brunnstrom and younger guys like Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader take that proverbial "next step," Detroit's big three are still the best reason to get excited about the upcoming season.
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