One of the initial reactions that's been floating around in the wake of Dion Phaneuf's crushing hit on Kyle Okposo Thursday night has been something along the lines of: what in the name of all that is holy was Dion Phaneuf doing dishing out a hit like that in a preseason game? The NHL FanHouse staff instantly starting debating how much is too much when it comes to physical play during games that don't count in the standings.
Adam Gretz: I think it's a touchy subject. On one hand, I understand the argument that it's a preseason game, it doens't count, and in the overall grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter in the standings. That said, all of these guys are athletes and competitors, and from the first time they step on the ice they're trained -- programmed, if you will -- to win and destroy. Can you flip that switch when you step on the ice and say, "OK, this game doesn't count so I'm not going to light this guy up if he comes into my area like I would in December?"
On the other hand, it's not a meaningless game to every player on the ice. There are some guys out there fighting for roster spots and careers. Hell, in the Islanders-Flames game Theo Fleury, 41 years old, is fighting for a comeback. That's not just another preseason game to him.
Susan Slusser: It's reasonable to expect limited playing time for the big names, especially this early, and for maybe a little less heavy hitting -- again, especially this early. But Adam is right: flipping a switch can't be that easy. It's like guys with injuries who are told to go half-speed, then they go all-out and reaggravate the injury. It's tough to do.
That said, it's tough to see someone get smoked in a game that doesn't count. Injuries are going to happen in NHL and NFL preseason games, but you'd like to think most guys are playing with some awareness that the fellows on the other side aren'ts mortal enemies -- yet -- and no one needs to leave on a stretcher.
I don't want anyone to leave on a stretcher in the regular season, either, but at least you understand that the intensity is going to be higher. Bring it down a notch for the exhibition games. Even if someone's trying to win a roster spot, coaches are perfectly capable of judging performance without anyone landing in the hospital.
Christopher Botta: Full ticket prices are charged. NHL mainstays and wannabes are competing. I don't know how you tell a hockey player to turn down the dial a bit. Dion Phaneuf made the same hit last night that he would have made if the game against the Islanders was three weeks later. Whether you think his hit was dirty or not, it doesn't matter that it was in a preseason game. It only makes Kyle Okposo's injury more unfortunate.
Exhibition games are traditionally wilder, more gooned up. The only thing the league could do -- and they won't -- is have fewer of them. The Islanders have played three games in the last four nights. The only thing the fans will remember about them, and the coaches will take out of them, is Doug Weight and Sean Bergenheim suffering groin injuries and Kyle Okposo getting carried off the ice on a stretcher.
Gretz: The "preseason is too long argument" comes up every year in the NFL, as well, and likewise, it's never going to change because there's a buck to made (major bucks, actually). I'm a season-ticket holder for an NFL team and this season I had to spend a grand total of $248 for two exhibition games. And I have to do that every year. It sucks, but there's nothing you can do about it but hand over the money. It's the biggest ripoff in sports. The only way to approach them with any sort of rooting interest, as a fan, is to say "I don't care if my team wins this meaningless game, but just don't get hurt."
Obviously, you never want to see guys get hurt in any game, especially to the point where they're carted off. If I'm a coach, or a GM -- or, hell, the guy sitting in the nosebleed seats -- I imagine that I'd want to see Dion Phaneuf playing the same way he would play in December or January as long as he's on the ice ... but I'd also be seriously limiting his, and any other established veteran that has his spot and role set in stone, time on ice.
Kevin Schultz: I understand that we're in the heat of the game and we can't just say, "Well, it's preseason so don't hit so hard, shoot so hard, etc." I think there's a certain level of discretion players can have. Just because they're professional athletes and are trained to hit and hit hard doesn't mean they are incapable of pulling up or avoiding contact. These guys are professionals and have professional body control and skating ability. We can only dream what that's like.
However, I am not asking anyone to pull up or change how they play despite my given distaste for what happened to Okposo. You can't schedule preseason games, sell tickets, have the whole circus come to town and ask these guys to play at half speed -- especially the ones competing for a roster spot. What could eventually happen is that coaches take another look at how they approach these games. Or at least within the Islanders organization. Let's face it. Most coaches know who 80-90 percent of the opening roster is going to be comprised of. Now add to that the epic injury problems the Islanders faced last year (exactly two players who finished the season on the roster suited up for more than 70 games. Two.). Maybe coaches need to be thinking about what's more important, sending out a star player for an extra shift and risk injury or get another look at a guy desperate to crack the lineup.
Botta: Here's another aspect you can't do anything about. Calgary and the Islanders play again on Saturday night in Saskatoon. There is no way Dion Phaneuf dresses for that game.
Bruce Ciskie: I think the preseason is important. Sure, there are teams that have no major personnel changeover, and training camp is nothing but a glorified tryout for like four guys who have a realistic chance of cracking the NHL roster. Then, you have a team like Minnesota, where every minute of ice time in training camp has a great value because of the changes that have been made to the system. Pretty hard to tell Todd Richards that he can't have a full preseason to get his guys ready, along with figuring out who's going to make the team.
It sucks when guys get hurt, but Phaneuf's hit was not at all dirty. If we're going to charge normal ticket prices and not label the games non-contact, we can't complain when someone does his job and throws a hit. If you're going to ask that guys like Dion Phaneuf not do their job, then you better stop charging full admission for the games. Hitting's as much a part of the game as goals for some people.