<
>

Why morning skates are useless

It's madness.

It's the single stupidest thing in hockey -- except, perhaps, for Sean Avery's mouth.

It's outdated, unnecessary and counterproductive.

The first coach to have the pucks to junk the ridiculous ritual will give his team an immediate advantage.

The reason it will take such pucks is that it would provide one more outlet for second-guessing a coach if and when things don't go well. But it still would be the right thing to do.

It is the morning skate, the light workout on the ice the morning of the game. First the home team, then the visiting team.

It's nothing particularly strenuous, of course, and any strategic work touching on the night's opponent is cursory.

The evening's scratches and rehabilitating injured, plus the backup goalie, usually stay out longer than the rest. (In recent seasons, the shinny involving those players and assistant coaches could be more entertaining than the NHL game that night.)

But the point is: Though some veterans are allowed to consider the morning skates optional, most, and sometimes all, players have to waste energy on game day.

Some teams hold their morning skates at suburban practice facilities, usually cutting down travel time for the players.

Regardless of the location, though, the realities are the same. The players put on the equipment. They skate, they sweat, they shower, and then they either head home or back to the hotel, and before they know it, it's time to head to the arena for the game.

Ridiculous.

This is a business in which:

-- The regular season is a marathon.

-- Players have a finite number of productive hours in their legs, meaning there is a fine balance between conditioning and honing skills on one side of the equation, and wasting energy on the ice on the other.

-- Athletes in all sports are in much better condition and generally take far better care of themselves than did their forerunners. The morning skate as a deterrent or punishment for the previous night's partying, or its use as a roll call, no longer makes sense in the NHL.

Once asked about the three worst inventions in hockey, Brett Hull responded: "The invention of the trap. The invention of the morning skate. And the invention of the extremely ugly uniform."

This is why we miss Brett Hull, whose from-the-hip offerings, unlike Avery's, at least were in the same zip code of accuracy. And in this case, he was dead-on correct. Though the morning skate was invented, frankly, with good-time guys like Hull in mind, having them in 2005 is nothing short of silly.

Even Colorado captain Joe Sakic, who otherwise revels in the nickname "Quoteless Joe," wants to sign on to this cause. In recent years, Sakic has gone on the ice for morning skates only rarely because of what amounts to a veteran's exemption (and the universal recognition that he is in superb condition), but he has been skating with Colorado in the mornings often this season.

"Oh, I agree!" Sakic said this week. "You're playing later on, why waste energy in the morning? Save it for the game. I've been skating lately." He laughed and added, "But I'm done."

In the interest of equal time, veteran Red Wings winger Brendan Shanahan takes the opposing view. "I like morning skates," Shanahan said in Detroit last week after (you guessed it) a Wings' morning skate.

"I come down and go for a little skate. It's nice to take the morning off every once in a while, depending on your travel schedule. But for the most part, when you're home and you have kids, you're up anyway. You might as well go down to the rink."

Former NHL winger Peter McNab, who had quite a few good-times teammates over the years at Vancouver, Boston and New Jersey, said he believed the 1972 Summit Series helped popularize the morning skate as something more than a roll call.

"Until then, what you mostly did was come down to the rink in the morning with your slacks on and go on the ice and make sure you had your edge on your skate, and that was pretty much it," McNab said. "But then, the Soviets came over in '72 and they had these one-hour, or even 90-minute, hard morning skates.

"All of a sudden, that became the thing to do. We used to have them just to make sure everybody was going to be there. For me, personally, it just seems like so much energy wasted, but it's become such a part of the game and routine. You know how hockey players are about rituals. If they don't have them now, I see guys who have been raised on this getting edgy. So I guess you can make a case either way."

Yes, players have been brought up on the ritual, regardless of which feeder system they come from. There is nervous energy on the days of games, and perhaps having an outlet to work off some of it can help a few players.

But they don't need it.

One of the biggest questions asked about the differences in the sport over the decades is the general conditioning level. It's not even close. The modern players win in a rout. They still know how to have a good time, but nowhere near as often, or with the vehemence, of their predecessors. Charter travel, which allows teams to depart from road cities right after the game, eliminates the opportunities for "winding down."

So there's no reason -- none -- to have morning skates. Even making them optional presents the problem of peer pressure or making marginal players think they have to show up to show their dedication. The ideal? If the scratches are predetermined, they can skate with the players who are rehabbing, whether at the practice facility or the arena.

Tell everyone else to stay home or at the hotel. If the players feel they need some sort of aerobic exercise on game mornings, they can go to their private gym, to the team's practice facility or to the hotel's health club.

In many cities, it takes players 30 minutes to get to the arena from their suburban homes. That's an hour-long round-trip. (And some of the drives can be even longer.) Then they go home, take a nap and come back again?

What a waste.

Any strategy-based video work and meetings can take place before the game, rather than at the morning skate.

Ban morning skates.

The first coach who gets it gives his team an edge.

Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."