"It's practice, folks. Settle down."
Normally, when I've seen phrases like that invoked in professional sports, it's trying to walk the fan base back from the cliff due to poor exhibition performances by teams competing in any and all professional sports... And it's a worthwhile statement that all fans need to take heart in. The preseason in the NHL, along with the NFL, or NBA, or spring training in Major League Baseball is just practice. It's organized practice in front of a crowd... But it's practice.
And as I said above, this reminder is usually invoked to temper expectations when things are grim (or if they're going really, really good); over-glorified practice does not give an accurate picture in how a team will play when games start counting. There are many players in uniform for your team (in this specific case, the Tampa Bay Lightning) who won't be wearing a team jersey come the start of the regular season. There are roster cuts forthcoming and yada-yada-yada. The team that's playing in the preseason in these exhibition contests may be wearing the colors of your team... But the team itself won't be the heroes (or goats) that you'll be following during the regular season. They're in the process of rounding out that team (a process of becoming, if you will).
And, the thing is, this story has nothing to do with the wins by the Lightning in games 1 and 2 of the 2013 preseason. I'm not trying to be a killjoy after last night's 5-1 victory...
No, this rant stems from people's eagerness to have these games televised.
I've seen local beat reporters Erik Erlendsson and Damian Cristodero have to repeatedly tell people (via Twitter) that no games are scheduled to be televised during the preseason. When I say repeatedly I really mean it; over-and-over again almost on an hourly basis. "Tonight's game isn't televised"; "No TV for tonight"; "There is no stream of tonight's game," "no preseason games are scheduled to be broadcast."
And why should there be? It's only practice.
Major League Baseball has a 162 game regular season schedule that spans from April (seldom March) until the end of September (seldom the start of October). Before that, there is six weeks of spring training. Rarely are those games televised, though it does happen because every team is playing out-of-market during training at a distance of hundreds or thousands of miles. Much like the NHL, so many games are played by players that you have never heard of - guys who are doing what they can to make their mark in the organization at large and perhaps make the team. That's not going to draw TV ratings that justify airing every single game and every split-squad matchup.
The NFL is a different beast, and I don't mean this in the popularity of the sport context that people will take it as: Players have much less value to an NFL team. While there are 25 roster spots in MLB and 23 in the NHL - there are 53 in the NFL, and the roster is changed over (due to injuries or poor play) on the fly during the regular season to the point you don't even notice it. You're used to seeing preseason games aired locally by way of league popularity, that I can't argue, but the product you're watching is the same incomplete specter of an opening day roster as you'd see in spring training or NHL exhibition play. Most of the time, the NFL games are made up of guys playing for backup roles: Left bench, third-stringer. It's nowhere near the finished product.
But it's on TV, so you watch it. It's live competition. You're either going to watch this or "Two and a Half Men" reruns (again).
The NHL has training camp going on in most home markets, with practices open to the public (not all of them, but most). If you'd really like to check out prospects that are auditioning for roles, you're encouraged to actually go check out practice. If you can't make it to practice, then sorry but you're shit out of luck. Don't feel bad, though, as many thousands can't make it either and even more have no interest in doing so.
You are not missing anything though. It's practice.
That's why NHL preseason games aren't televised - a roster made up of mostly players jockeying for higher positions on the organizational depth chart isn't something the casual fan is interested in. They want to watch Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Teddy Purcell, Ryan Malone and the cast of name-brand characters who will compete in the NHL's new Atlantic Division and fight for the playoffs.
It's why the NFL is thinking of cutting the preseason to two games; extend the season and make games matter earlier, which will add dollars to the billions that the league already makes.
So, yeah, we missed the Lightning practicing against Nashville last night, and missed practice against St. Louis the night before. But you should be okay with that because... Hey, it's practice. If you really want to follow a game as a die-hard fan, listen to the radio and pay attention to the right sources on Twitter, they'll hook you up with juicy nuggets like animated gifs or YouTube video clips taken by fans at the game...
And, no, the game isn't televised tonight. Or tomorrow. There won't be a televised Lightning game until October 3rd in Boston, the season opener.
And you should be okay with that. That's when the games start to count and you can invest yourself in the trials and tribulations of the regular season.