Jeff Curry - USA TODAY Sports

EP Rinkside 3 Stars: Take it outside

I'm not in the business of criticizing all the outdoor games anymore because I went to the Winter Classic last season and spent most of the game in the crowd, watching from different vantage points, and I had a ton of fun.

It was my third Winter Classic and the most fun one I attended by far, I thought (the fact that it was like 50 degrees and overcast in January probably helped). Presumably, everyone who goes to the Stadium Series games this weekend will have a similarly good time.

But I gotta ask if this feels like the least-hyped Stadium Series in a while. Again, not for the fans of the teams that are competing in it, because why wouldn't they have fun? Maybe it's the fact that they basically already did pretty much the same setup at Yankee Stadium a decade ago (god, how has it already been 10 years?) and this time just added the Philadelphia Flyers to the mix for some extra spice. Maybe it's the fact that these will be the third and fourth outdoor games of the season. Maybe it's the fact that you can never tell if this is gonna be one of those games where they digitally turn Artemi Panarin into a guy from Nick Jr. and we're all supposed to pretend it's not for babies. But whatever. The thing with the overuse of these outdoor games is that you straight-up don't have to care about them if you don't want to. So it could be worse.

Also, maybe I ask this exact question every time there's a Stadium Series game in February. I probably do. Whatever.

Let's go:

3. Ill portents

The website you no doubt have set as your home page, shop dot nhl dot com, is already a Fanatics experience. What that means for you, the consumer who buys NHL merch, is a thumb in the eye.

"A Fanatics experience," broadly speaking, means that when you place an order and as often as not, you're gonna get crappy merchandise, if you get what you ordered at all. Jerseys with typos and upside-down numbers, hats that say the Blues are in the Eastern Conference, jerseys that get the numbers wrong, jerseys with numbers cut weirdly. But at least that low-quality t-shirt only cost you $50.

And hey look, if you wanna have a situation where your fans don't have a lot of incentive to buy your merch, that's your business. But as we saw this week, that problem may soon extend to your players.

Major League Baseball rolled out its new on-field uniforms, the "Nike Vapor Premier," this week. Problem: The players hate them.

"It looks like a replica," Angels outfielder Taylor Ward told the Athletic. "It feels kind of like papery. It could be great when you’re out there sweating, it may be breathable. But I haven’t had that opportunity yet to try that out. But from the looks of it, it doesn’t look like a $450 jersey. So far, thumbs down."

The shades of red on the gear isn't the same from one piece of equipment to the next, the letters and numbers on the jerseys look bad, pants are less customizable and may also rip from normal use. Players are reportedly complaining to Nike. Players are reportedly complaining to the MLBPA.

And Fanatics is taking over manufacturing of the NHL's official player gear next season. When training camps open next September, I get the feeling you're gonna hear about this stuff a lot, even if the NHL and NHLPA get a move on today as it relates to telling Fanatics "this stuff can't be bad." Because Fanatics has contracts with a ton of major sports leagues and they're doing this to the NFL. They asked MLB commissioner Rob Manfred about it yesterday and he said, basically, that people will get used to the new stuff no matter how bad they think it is now. Gotta be some sort of allegory there.

Anyway, you think the NHL is gonna have the sway with this nasty corporation to prevent the players' uniforms next year from falling apart mid-breakaway? I don't. Guess we'll see.

2. Feeling like Robert Muldoon

"They should all be destroyed."

That's the first thing Robert Muldoon, the game warden for Jurassic Park, says to the scientists who visit Isla Nublar. He's talking about the park's velociraptors.

Connor McDavid is talking about the people ahead of him in the scoring race.

Okay, that was a fun few months for you guys. Ha ha ha, have a little try at the top of the scoring leaderboard, but lemme just check my watch here and yup, it's getting to be about that time.

McDavid had four games this week. He posted 12 points, including nine in his last two. All of them were assists — so much for winning the Rocket Richard, I guess! — but no one else in the league had more than eight total points since last Friday, so here we are. McDavid is now nine points behind Nathan MacKinnon and 13 back of Nikita Kucherov for the league lead, despite playing seven and six fewer games, respectively. If things keep up at something even resembling this pace, it'll be McDavid's Art Ross to lose by the end of the month. And hell, it's a Leap Year so he gets a whole extra day to blow these guys' doors off.

When February began, McDavid was already tied for fourth in scoring and only five points behind David Pastrňák, who's having a whopper season of his own. Now he's up two on Pastrňák and has little reason to check his rearview. Objects in it aren't closer than they appear, after all.

You don't think he's running these guys down? Even accounting for the missed games and the slow start due to some sort of little nagging injury, he's Doing It Again. And now if I may mix the metaphor, it's Kucherov and MacKinnon who are like Robert Muldoon. Because they now realize they're being hunted, and they have to know it's only a matter of time before it's all over for them.

Nice try, though!

1. Trash talk

The guy hit the freaking griddy again!!!! Is that even allowed??

This week began with a prolonged and supremely annoying discussion of whether you should be able to do a slapshot into an empty net against your archrival; and whether someone should be allowed to crosscheck him in the head for doing that; and whether, if you aren't allowed, you should be suspended for more than one game; and whether it's actually a grand, JFK assassination-level conspiracy against the most financially successful team in the league if you are suspended for more than one game after all that.

Unfortunately, the stuff that leads people over the age of 50 to start harrumphing about what is or isn't "classy" continued unabated. The guy did the stupid dance again and this time it wasn't so epic. Then another player told a third player that people pay to watch him play hockey. Then an additional player did a bad parody of the dance to make fun of the guy who did the stupid dance in the first place.

All of which, to be clear, is good. Except the crosschecking and the conspiracy theorizing. That sucked.

But is it too much to hope for that we are going to end up with a league where guys legitimately don't like each other because they do or don't break the sport's various unwritten rules? Because it's cool when that kind of thing happens, and it doesn't happen often. Look, if these bozos are gonna insist on fighting each other over clean hits, you might as well get them talking shit to each other, too.

It's at least personality-adjacent. We'll take what we can get.

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NHL Edmonton Oilers New York Rangers NHL Connor McDavid Artemi Panarin
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