The NHL was the last league to start up outside of a bubble last night, not that any of the other ones have particularly gone well. All of them, even MLS if you are so inclined, have had their schedules deformed and positive tests all over the place, yet just plowed through while claiming everything was working exactly as it should and praying the car didn’t hit a wall. There’s little reason to think that the NHL will be any less scathed. In fact, the Dallas Stars may not even get to debut until next week, thanks to their own outbreak. Heck, good seats are still available at American Airlines Center!
There’ll be time enough for all that, though. For one night, we should give ourselves a break and just think about the actual play. You don’t draw any conclusions off of one game. In fact, the whole regular season can lead you down a rabbit hole, hockey being what it is. But there was some comfort in the sights and sounds back on the television again, and some teams living up to themes well set, at least for one night.
For example, the Lightning still look like a powerhouse, simply toying with the Hawks in a 5-1 win, while never really taking the newspaper out from under their arm. The Hawks clearly blow chunks. The combination of the Penguins’ away jerseys and the Flyers’ home ones still look great together. The Leafs and Oilers can’t play defense, but Toronto can outscore that problem most nights. The Oilers cannot. This kind of familiarity feels like a warm blanket.
There were some new wrinkles. Helmet ads were rolled out, and by the end of the first period, it became unlikely any fan would ever again notice the difference. Player tracking provided some new stats during the broadcast, though there’s still more that can be done. Arenas look different with tarps and signage instead of fans, but that’s how things are now. The Lightning had Adidas logos all over the glass, which gave off a vibe of a first-grade classroom.
And, of course, there’s the normal event of hockey taking a back seat whenever any other sport sneezes. Sure, someone like James Harden doesn’t get traded every day, but it was comedic that on hockey’s big night, the NHL was so far behind in the headlines thanks to the kind of trade that only happens in the NBA.
Same as it ever was.
Cool story out of the NWSL yesterday, as Trinity Rodman, Dennis’s daughter, was taken No. 2 overall in the NWSL draft by the Washington Spirit. Trinity has already torn the competition apart at U20 level, and there doesn’t seem to be much stopping her from becoming a star shortly down the road in the pros.
Another story coming out of the NWSL draft was that the No. 1 prospect, Catarina Macario, was leaving Stanford to sign with Lyon in France. Lyon are the gold standard at club level in Europe and the world, racking up Champions League and French League titles like true hoarders (the last five Champions Leagues, the last 16 French championships). It strikes the eye when it’s already been a year that’s seen the most U.S. players heading overseas. Though that was due to the NWSL just having not much of a schedule after its cup competition in the middle of the summer thanks to the pandemic.
But it’s worth keeping an eye on. The facilities and salaries are going to be higher in Europe, and already the technical skill of European-based players is rapidly catching up to its American counterparts. Some would argue that it might have already passed the U.S. by, and the U.S.’s success is based on being so superior athletically, rather than technically, as it was in the past. Much like on the men’s side, the “high school —> travel team —> college scholarship” method just doesn’t produce technical skills like the club academy system of Europe can. Even right now, internationally, teams like Holland, France, Spain, and England can knock the ball around on par with the U.S. machine. Macario likely won’t be the last to head to Europe at the first chance, especially as England’s WSL continues to grow, and more and more big clubs like Real Madrid get more and more involved in the women’s game.
The NWSL will never be the developmental/retirement league that MLS is, because so many U.S. stars stay. But it does feel like the league is going to have to have a plan for what it will do with more of its best young players wooed by the allure of plying their trade in Europe. Especially those who don’t get the national team salary that the top players do here.