They don’t like it, but there is nothing they can do about it.
When they speak of it, they do so with reluctance and resignation.
“It is what it is,” is the usual clichéd response, with the player wishing to move on to other subjects that might actually go somewhere – because this one isn’t going away.
It is that long and unnecessary training camp that has only just begun but is already boring the life out of most people tied to the coming NHL season.
The camps cover the better part of a month to decide matters that could adequately be decided in a single week. The vast majority of decisions have already been settled by contract anyway. And anyone who needs the modern training camp to get in shape clearly isn’t a modern NHL player, who not only arrives at the official camp in shape but has been practising, usually with teammates, at an unofficial camp for weeks previous.
When you have TSN and other networks broadcasting meaningless exhibition games as if they were real games, why not make them real games and turn the hockey season back into a true season?
The Winnipeg Jets invited more than 60 players to its training camp. Just a third of them will make the team and you do not have to be general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff to know which of the 23 players will be on the official roster. There may be one or two openings on an NHL team for minor leaguers to battle for and, in a rare instance, a gifted draft pick might earn a spot. But that’s about it.
Winnipeg, in fact, has likely more need of camp time than any other team in the NHL. The players have not only to adjust to new ownership, new city, new general manager – but a new coaching staff with new ideas. Even so, how long does it take to tweak the slight variations on coaching systems? You can send one player in to fore-check or two – you cannot send in all 23. There are only a few variations on breakouts, even fewer strategies for neutral-zone play. And if so-called systems are indeed as complicated as some coaches would love you to believe, how is it that a good NHL player can be traded one day and fit perfectly into the lineup the next night? I may have missed it, but I’ve never seen a new player skate about the ice with the team’s top-secret plays taped to his forearm.
So why not drop the puck three weeks earlier and get to it? These Jets, for example, are already dreading the nine-day gap between their final exhibition game and their first real game.
Starting the season three weeks earlier would help right a ship that has tilted to the point where Stanley Cup playoff hockey goes on so long that this sport that was invented to help get us through winter is ruining our summers.
This creep has been slow but always incremental. Eighty years ago the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup on April 14, 1931. (How appropriate that the ice would be going out of the rinks and the lakes at the same time.) It was still won in April as late as 1964 (Toronto Maple Leafs, April 25).
May Cups were routine for decades, but the slide was still noticeable: May 5 in 1966, May 18 in 1971, May 31 in 1987.
In 1992, the playoffs bled into June when the Pittsburgh Penguins won over the Chicago Blackhawks. Soon it was June 9, June 14. In 1999, the Cup was decided on June 19 and, had Brett Hull not scored for the Dallas Stars in overtime in Game 6, the Stanley Cup would have been awarded in official summer.
How simple to put a little sanity back in the season merely by beginning play when both players and fans are ready for it – early September. Now. And done by May, the end of April in a perfect year.