Let’s just get this out of the way: this NLL season will be historic.
With training camps around the league about to start, each of the nine active teams are starting the process to claim the next Champion’s Cup. While nothing about that is notable in of itself, what takes place over the next few weeks has the potential to shape the league for the next several years.
There has been a serious buzz around the NLL for the past year. With a new commissioner making big promises, the hype was real, but we needed to start seeing results. He delivered.
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Large rumors of expansion have so far been met with two announced teams. The San Diego Seals will be out west and the new Philadelphia (Wings) will be in the east.
Now, they aren’t officially announced as the Wings, but they’re going to be the Wings. Let’s be serious.
According to Marisa Ingemi of Lax Magazine, there may still be a third team announced for next season, but the deadline for that announcement (end of October) is quickly approaching.
Talking Dollar Signs
With these expansion teams comes a big price tag. Each franchise came with an infusion of cash for the franchise fee of five million dollars.
That means that virtually overnight, the league became ten million dollars richer.
In a sport where liquid capital is in short supply, that amount of cash can really enable some longer term expansion objectives to begin, as well as allow the league to support the existing teams more effectively.
The pending expansion for next season, and expected expansion beyond that, means the league should be entering a period of explosive growth. The league’s success in sustaining new teams is somewhat spotty in years they added (not moved) multiple teams in the same season.
Two Steps Forward, No Steps Back
The last time was in 2007, with the Chicago Shamrox and New York Titans, which both wound up folding. The year prior was the Edmonton Rush and Portland Lumberjax, out of which we still have the Rush, albeit in a different city.
2002 saw the creation of the Roughnecks, New Jersey Storm, and Vancouver Ravens. Only the Roughnecks remain from that round. The only other time we saw multiple expansions in the same year was back in 1998 when the Syracuse Smash and Ontario Raiders started. The Smash lasted a few years, but the Raiders turned into the Toronto Rock after a season.
Even though we hope to see all the new teams stay in the league going forward, even keeping just a few of them means we are likely to carry well above the current nine team total for the foreseeable future.
Here Comes the Future
There’s a reason why the known and unknown expansion teams matter as we head into training camps. We are walking into the most talent-rich league that we will see for years.
GMs and coaches know that the team they take the floor with in just over a month will not be who they have in a year. A fun exercise each time you see training camp cuts is to make your dream team out of who is left.
Well, that exact thing will be happening in a year, except you will be making two (or three) teams out of pieces from existing teams and the free agents (not to mention rookies).
This is the season where teams will need to figure out which veterans can build the culture they want for the next few years. Which rookies show enough promise to carry forward, and which players can be the right role players for the next few years.
These are all important each year in training camp, but there is some added importance to making sure you get it right, or else the franchise could be on the wrong path for years.
Planning Over Luck
Perhaps the biggest question everyone needs to answer is who will help them win a championship now.
You can have a multi-year plan, but there are going to be more and more question marks than they have had to deal with the year before with multiple expansion drafts looming.
So, in these training camps, every player is trying to find a spot not just for this year, but they are also trying to make the case for why they should be part of that franchise going forward.
Which goalies are going to make the case to be a starter in this league, and who might be destined to work the door? Which defenders and forwards are able to fill the roles that their coaches need the most? And also, which assistant coaches are building up their resume to lead one of these new teams?
As much as we are all looking off into the bright future of the NLL, do not let that blind you from what is right in front of us.
You are going to see the most competitive season from top to bottom than we may have in years.
Every player on a roster this year is beating out over 38 hopefuls that likely would have found a home if we were just one year in the future. The room for error has never been smaller and the pressure for spots has never been greater.
This 2018 season will be one to remember.