Kovalchuk Snipes, Wipes Out; Devils Fall In Overtime

It’s often debated how star players should be used in the pre-season, if at all. It can be devastating to lose a star player due to injury, but it’s even more devastating if that injury occurs during a (somewhat) meaningless exhibition game. When New Jersey’s Ilya Kovalchuk fell into the boards late in the third period of Thursday night’s pre-season loss to the Rangers, Devils fans were left collectively holding their breath.

Then he got up. And we could breathe again. But of course the debate rages on. Should we even use star players during the pre-season? If a player already knows he is on the team, what does he have to prove by playing in the pre-season? Can you get into “game-shape” by only taking part in scrimmages and training camp exercises?

Let’s say Phil Kessel trots onto the ice in the next Leafs pre-season game and falls awkwardly into the boards, tearing his ACL. A serious injury like that means he would miss a significant amount of time, all because he was forced (and lets face it, most star players don’t even want to participate in camp, never mind a pointless exhibition game) to play a pre-season game. Thoughts on the issue throughout the media would surely change. Right now we’re all just hoping and praying it doesn’t happen to our team’s star player.

Side-note: The situation above was purely hypothetical, and as cold-hearted as I am towards the Leafs, I would never wish such an injury on any player in the league not named Sean Avery.

Training camp is dangerous enough without the games. Early injuries sustained in practice have already started to hit the Devils hard. If Marty Brodeur didn’t get into one single game this pre-season, I would be delighted. Unless you are trying to make the team, or make an impression for next season, there is absolutely no need to run the risk of an injury by playing in a pre-season game. These players are professional athletes, and already show up at camp in good enough shape to play in a regular season game.

Wait, what’s that? Keith Tkachuk and Kyle Wellwood disagree? Okay, let me rephrase that. These players are professional athletes, and most don’t go on a Wendy’s binge during the offseason, so they are in good enough shape to play in a regular season game by the time they arrive at camp.

I’d much rather have the Devils’ new top line of Parise-Zajac-Kovalchuk gel together in an intra-squad game, where players aren’t out to kill each other, they’re ultimately team-mates after all. As long as you don't see 'Rosehill, Jay' or 'Guerin, Bill' listed as invitees to your team’s camp, the players are pretty safe. Sorry Leafs. Sorry Flyers.

Oh yeah, the Devils lost again, 4-3 to the Rangers in overtime. Kovalchuk also had a beautiful breakaway goal on Martin Biron that will all but be forgotten once the actual season starts. As you can see from the tone of the article, I was much more concerned for the health and well-being of the Devils’ new $100M man than at the outcome of an exhibition match.

Remember when I said I don’t wish a pre-season injury on any player? Key word there was ‘player.’ Certain broadcasters are exempt. If only, if only…

Greg Balloch


evilbobsaget's picture

You lost credibility at "..as cold-hearted as I am towards the Leafs, I would never wish such an injury on any player in the league." Leafs players deserve nothing less than humiliation or death!! Or better, a humiliating death!

In my experience a good or bad training camp sets the tone in the dressing room for the entire season. It also gives the opportunity for players to experiment, break in equipment and get stuff in order before the season.

Should Ovechkin and Crosby play every game? No. But putting a prospect on a line with a "star" does give them ( player and team) a perspective on how far the kid has come/ regressed, gives the player a gage on what to work on but most of all, it gives the youngster a taste of "the bigs".

Injuries happen. Whether its Kovalchuk crashing to the boards. Markov's tendon slashed or Brian Leetch's famous and debatably sober slip and fall due to ice on the porch it's all just a cosmic turn of events.

In the end, I believe it is a balancing act between coaching, management and regular players as to who wants to play, who should play and in Wellwood's case, needs to play.

George Prax's picture

Very interesting topic Greg. I think that if star players, or anyone plays exhibition games it's for a reason. Other than the grinders and fringe players who fight every chance they get and hit a lot to impress their coaches, the mood in exhibition is generally a bit looser (except in Montreal of course) and players take it easy. It's a good opportunity to shake the cobwebs and get used to new linemates before things start to matter int he season. Yes, there have been a lot of injuries so far at camp, but a lot of them (Lupul, Savard, Staal, Markov, etc) are injuries that have carried over from last season.

As I said the star players generally get less ice time (if the coach is smart anyway) in favor of the kids and it's more like an exercise or scrimmage against other top players frankly. Otherwise you could have a guy like Kovalchuk entering game 1 of the regular season out of shape and without his legs.