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Preseason: Too long or just right?

Some say it's difficult for players to maintain focus, others say the time is needed for evaluation, conditioning.

Published September 28, 2003

TAMPA - Three weeks, six games.

Lightning center Tim Taylor said that should be enough to prepare for the season, and the current monthlong adventure during which teams play as few as six games and as many as 11 is excessive.

"When you're looking over a month of training camp, now you're squeezing in as many games as you can," Taylor said Saturday.

"Eighty-two games in a season is a long time. Then you add eight or nine in preseason and you have playoffs. That's a lot of hockey. You can't keep that focus the whole season."

The length of preseason has become a hot topic. The debate took its cue from NFL players who pondered shortening theirs to two or three games. It got a boost from an informal Hockey News poll that said 23 of 30 players questioned (one from every team) agreed preseason is too long.

A story in Canada's National Post said the Players Association would like to see it shortened. The Lightning plays eight games. The Panthers, whom Tampa Bay faces today at the St.Pete Times Forum, have six.

"The old myth is that you need that time to get in shape," Taylor said. "Now guys come in in shape. It used to be you came in and put your new skates on and you were starting out for the first time. Now guys have been skating and preparing for training camp."

Lightning general manager Jay Feaster said there is more to it.

He said the team's heavy conditioning would be impossible in a shorter preseason. Fewer games would make it more difficult to evaluate players, which would hurt those fighting for jobs.

"You're just going to take the guys finishing last year," Feaster said. "They're going to get the games, the reps. That's why I don't think it's too long."

Shane Willis agreed. The right wing, who played last season for AHL Springfield, came to camp looking for a roster spot.

"The more time you have to show your stuff, the better," Willis said.

Coach John Tortorella said seven or eight games is "plenty," though he wouldn't mind seeing the number of days reduced.

"You learn through games," Tortorella said. "The past three or four games, there were a lot of minor-leaguers. The next three or four games, you'll see a lot more NHLers. This is where the pace really picks up and you can see what the guys are all about."

Captain Dave Andreychuk, in his 22nd season, said monthlong camps are appropriate as are eight games, two of which should be played during camp's final week.

"You want to get your timing and game speed," Andreychuk said. "I know we have those three road games (this week). I'll play in two of those I would imagine, and that's what you want."

Feaster said financial considerations for Tampa Bay are negligible. The team gave away many tickets to its three preseason home games and included them in season-ticket packages. "I know we are not getting wealthy in the preseason," he said.

Which brings us back to Taylor. "It's getting better because we're doing team concept and we're getting prepared and getting your legs. You're hoping you time it perfectly for opening night."

Only 12 days and four games to go.

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