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NHL Fans' Dos and Don'ts for the Preseason

Sara CivianSeptember 20, 2022

We think Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin is taking notes on Sara Civian's Dos and Don'ts of the Preseason. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The first proper NHL offseason in years is wrapping up, and the 2022-23 season is finally around the corner.

It’s hard to beat the mood this time of year, and the possibilities seem endless as all your favorite players trickle back into town and new faces emerge.

Could this be the year your team hoists the Stanley Cup? Where in the world is Erik Johnson? Which new, exciting faces will the Vegas Golden Knights find a way to alienate?

If history tells us anything, it might be another tumultuous year in Vegas for Jack Eichel and Alex Pietrangelo. (Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

There’s nothing wrong with letting yourself get pumped up for the season, but sometimes this excitement gets the best of us during the preseason and we invest too much energy in the wrong things.

One of the most interesting things I learned as a beat reporter was how to approach the preseason and get excited about the right things. So I thought I’d let you in on a few tips to get you in the best shape of your life.


Do get to know the new star

So, your team just acquired one of the hottest commodities of the offseason. As great as that is, any hockey fan who has gone through this in the past decade or so knows the thrill comes with its burdens.

Not only do the usual pundits start grading the move the second it’s official, but soon everyone with a Wi-Fi connection is suddenly a lifelong expert on this player, your team and the salary cap. This will be something you’re dealing with in varying degrees throughout the season.

But what if I told you there’s a fleeting period of time where you can guarantee that the vibes surrounding this signing are almost entirely good? A time where you get to simply enjoy the fact that this player is on your team and think about the possibilities?

Welcome to the preseason.

For one, this is when the team hammers you with endearing content about the player in question. They’ll have him do that obligatory selfie video from the team Twitter account, he’ll attend a local baseball game and he’ll try the local delicacy. Maybe he’ll even receive his first paycheck without state income tax.

(Matthew Tkachuk, we're looking at you.)

Florida Panthers @FlaPanthers

Welcome to South Florida, <a href="https://twitter.com/TKACHUKycheese_?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@tkachukycheese_</a> 😸 <a href="https://t.co/lkZIJ7rBOM">pic.twitter.com/lkZIJ7rBOM</a>

He loves it here, and you love him for it.

After the off-ice stuff, you’ll get your first look at how the player actually fits on your team. The coach will be reluctant to give any of his returning core significant time on the ice (more on that later). But the coaching staff will play the heck out of the new star, and it’ll give you some unique insight into the team’s thought process.

They’ll likely roll him out on several lines to get a feel for multiple scenarios, and you should remember all of those line combinations because they will be the go-to options in a month or two if the new star starts slumping.

But hey, no need to worry about a slump yet. Just sit back and enjoy your shiny, new addition for a while.


Don't overanalyze the ice time for star players

When covering the Carolina Hurricanes, a player once asked me if I was traveling for an upcoming preseason game. I said, "I think I'm sitting the preseason out." The player laughed, pointed to Sebastian Aho and said, "So is he.”

Don’t get it twisted—Aho is one of the most competitive players in the league. But there are several things at work here, and all of them are more important than winning a game that doesn’t count.

Even the ultra-competitive Sebastian Aho takes it easier in the preseason. (Jaylynn Nash/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Don’t expect your favorite players to get much ice time during preseason games, and if they do, don’t freak out if they’re mailing it in.

1. Whereas the coaches need to see where the new star fits in, they generally know what they have in the returning stars. The NHL season is a grind, and you want to avoid fatigue as much as you possibly can.

2. You also want to avoid unnecessary injuries and wear and tear, especially if your team is expected to make the playoffs. Is anything more unnecessary than a preseason injury suffered because Tommy Tough Guy from the ECHL is trying to make a name for himself and goes after your star player?

3. The name of the preseason game for the core group is conditioning. When playoff overtime comes around, the training camp bag skates will be far more valuable than your top players skating circles around Tommy Tough Guy.


Do get unreasonably attached to a fourth-liner you didn't know existed a week ago

Think about your team’s depth chart—at this point, the open spaces are probably toward the bottom. The team spent the offseason addressing major needs, and now it’s time to let the two-way contracts and PTOs fight it out for the remaining spots.

Preseason is more fun when you’re invested in a storyline, and everyone loves an underdog. Now is the time to do some research on the fringe players. Maybe one has a really cute dog, or he went to your college, or he’s a Scorpio. It doesn’t matter! Find that random connection and root for him like this is a season of American (or should we say Canadian) Idol.

And don’t fret if your favorite character of the preseason gets sent down to the AHL. If he was one of the last remaining fringe players on the roster—and he can kill a penalty or two—he’ll be back when the injury bug appears.


Don't rush the star prospect

Yes, it’s a good sign when the roster starts dwindling down and the 18-to-20-year-old first-round prize is still with the main club. Yes, it’s also a good sign when he tucks in a few goals during the preseason games.

No, it doesn’t mean that he will or should make the opening-night roster.

Shane Wright will see plenty of ice time for the Kraken this season, but there's no need for other teams to rush their top prospects. (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

There are exceptions to this rule every year, especially in this era of skill and speed. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with patience and development. Think of it this way: Would you rather a player expected to play a significant role on your team be too ready or not ready enough?

The harm of rushing a player to the NHL is significantly worse than the harm of an extra development season 99.9 percent of the time—especially considering the past few years, where players were navigating COVID-19 restrictions and had seasons cut short.

I know it’s tempting to call for the coach’s head when he sends your favorite prospect back to Junior, and you might be right that the player is ready. But most of the time—especially on a contender—the risk outweighs the benefit.


Do pay attention to special teams

If you’re a seasoned hockey fan looking for a more advanced focus headed into the season—or if you just want to sound smart—special teams are for you. The coaches (hopefully) spent the summer digging into nitty-gritty film and attending a few conferences.

Read up on various power-play strategies (the Umbrella, the Overload, the 1-3-1) and pay attention to why and when coaches deploy them. Take a look at the personnel on each unit and how the coaches decide to swap them out. Become an expert at left- and right-handedness. It’s much easier to focus on this now than halfway through the season, and you will be able to provide insight and suggestions far superior to “fire the power-play coach.”


Don't let anyone tell you how to be a fan

AP Photo/David Zalubowski

The worst part of the preseason is actually the know-it-alls who tell you that it doesn’t matter. Life is short, and hockey is the best. If the preseason makes you happy, it matters. There isn’t a correct way to be a fan.

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