The Waterdogs have done the unthinkable by winning the 2022 PLL Championship. This accomplishment by the Waterdogs is one of the best things that could have happened for the Premier Lacrosse League. On a surface level, lacrosse fans were tired of seeing the Whipsnakes dynasty unfold and frustrated by the Chaos making it to the championship game despite a poor regular season. When we look more deeply into what the Waterdogs winning the 2022 PLL Championship means for the Premier Lacrosse League, we see that this is a glimpse of what the future of professional lacrosse holds.
A New Champion Is Crowned
It feels like a breath of fresh air to see a team other than the Whipsnakes or Chaos lifting hardware at the conclusion of the season. Even though the PLL only has four seasons under its belt, the groundwork has already been laid for what exactly the league was and what history it has already established over such a short amount of time. The Whipsnakes arguably have already created a dynasty, the Chaos are always the underdog who plays best during the playoffs, the Archers can never make it past the semifinals, etc. What makes professional sports so exciting is the expectations that come with every team and whether teams can live up to those expectations.
If the Waterdogs loss this game, this current article would have been about how the league has to fix its playoff structure. A 2-8 team should never have the opportunity to win a championship, regardless of how well the team plays during playoffs. The regular season has to mean something. The Chaos very heavily play into the fact that they are “counted out” of the playoffs due to their poor regular season record. It is expected the Chaos will play its best lacrosse come playoffs. If the Chaos won the 2022 PLL Championship, it would have been a bad look for the league.
Despite a very successful regular season, the Whipsnakes did not make it to the championship game for the first time in PLL history. That is a really big deal. There were expectations based on this year’s performance and performances from years prior that the Whipsnakes were the clearcut best team in the league. Based on all of these factors, if the Whipsnakes had won the 2022 PLL Championship, this would have been a bad look for the league.
Thankfully, the Waterdogs were able to defy expectations by upsetting the Whipsnakes in the semifinals and downing the Chaos in the finals. The Whipsnakes and Chaos making it to the finals every year was growing stale. So, the Waterdogs defying expectations is a nice change of pace and shows that any team can go the distance.
Teams Can Build from the Ground Up
Another fascinating aspect of professional sports is how a team develops over time. As fans, we like to see our teams take risks when it comes to coaching hires, draft day selections, and player trades. These risks hopefully inevitably lead to our team having a better record by the end of the season which is the reason why these teams play. The Waterdogs winning the 2022 PLL Championship is the first time a team in the PLL has shown that they can develop a team in multiple different facets over time.
In case you have forgotten, the Waterdogs were an expansion team to the league. This meant that the team’s roster during their inaugural season consisted of guys that were not kept by their original team. This is where the Waterdogs slogan “every game is a revenge game” comes from. This showed during the team’s inaugural season in the 2020 COVID-19 bubble season as the team finished with a record of 1-4.
Andy Copelan then made multiple moves in order to build a more cohesive unit. He traded a draft pick to the Atlas in exchange for Ryan Brown along with another draft pick to the Chaos for netminder Dillon Ward. Copelan drafted Michael Sowers with the second overall pick to quarterback his team’s offense. In that same draft Copelan, traded away yet another pick for defenseman Eli Gobrecht. All of these changes elevated the Waterdogs to a 6-3 season along with a semifinal’s appearance for the 2021 season.
Copelan has shown that it is possible to develop a team through acquisitions and draft picks. The Premier Lacrosse League differs from many other professional sports leagues due to the nature of only having eight teams all housed under the same roof. This creates a discrepancy when it comes to trades stacked on top of a lack of player contracts/salary incentives that the league is currently attempting to figure out. Before the Waterdogs won the 2022 PLL Championship, it was still not certain if turning around a PLL team was even a possibility. The only team other than the Waterdogs that has seen massive change over the years is the Atlas and they certainly fell below expectations this year.
It is nice to see that the PLL is starting to mirror other professional sports leagues in terms of growing a team from nothing to something. This couldn’t have happened overnight however, as it took the Waterdogs three years to prove that it is possible to develop teams over time in the PLL. The Waterdogs winning the 2022 PLL Championship is a sign that the Premier Lacrosse League is heading in the right direction and starting to look like a more professional sports league.