Why the NLL needs Paul Rabil

Paul Rabil has earned the respect of NLL players and should be the face of the game. (Photo: Ross Prohaska)
Paul Rabil has earned the respect of NLL players and should be the face of the game. (Photo: Ross Prohaska)

Halfway through the 2012 National Lacrosse League season, a major trade took place involving the struggling West Division champions Washington Stealth and the Edmonton Rush. Edmonton was in a brew-haha with star player Athan Iannucci and it seemed the two sides were never going to be able to come to an agreement. Edmonton is also stockpiled with righties of stature in Ryan Ward, Aaron Wilson and Scott Evans. Possibly too much of a good thing? Ironically the Rush had not much to show for departed star Brodie Merrill and needed a kick start for them to stay above their trade partner Washington in the standings. Enter the Iannucci–Rabil trade.

Myself, I originally thought this trade made no sense for either team. Iannucci was untradeable for the Rush, so his value could have been manipulated to a lesser degree than Paul Rabil or so I thought.

On the flip side of that thought process, Washington already had one of the league’s highest payrolls and Rabil was part of that issue. Iannucci’s personal services contract is what prevented him from putting on a Rush jersey in the first place. Adding Iannucci would be tough. Washington would need to relive itself of Rabil’s costs to take on Iannucci’s, which did make sense. Still, by many people’s evaluation, Rhys Duch is the best right-handed player in the game today and bringing in Iannucci would take possession time and shots away from Duch.

A 9-team NLL has made for a much tougher place to gain or hold a job. There are free agents of almost every size, shape and shot a phone call away. So just like Edmonton beforehand, the Stealth pulled the trigger on a deal to give their right side “too much of a good thing.”

The aftermath of this deal left Edmonton with a star player holding out and still no real value for Brodie Merrill in the day-to-day lineup. Unknowingly it gave Edmonton the last laugh with the first pick of the 2012 entry draft but at the time that couldn’t have been predicted. Sadly, it also left the NLL without its most marketable player, Paul Rabil.

I was walking through the mall here in Victoria recently and passed a large covered issue of Inside Lacrosse with Mr.Rabil on the cover (how crazy is that, Inside Lacrosse on the shelves of a non-chain bookstore in Victoria B.C?). I picked it up and read what Paul had on the go in his life and why he didn’t report to Edmonton after the trade. It all made sense. His No. 1 commitment is outdoor lacrosse south of the border; it’s where he markets himself and where his greatest value lies. The MLL knows it. Warrior knows it. I’m pretty sure the NLL knows it. He is our sport’s Sidney Crosby, only in Ovechkin’s body, or for you older guys, Gretzky in Messier’s body.

I was hoping the NLL would include Rabil to the CBS television crew for the late-season indoor telecasts across the USA to add to the hype while exposing Paul and his personality on TV in association with indoor lacrosse. It could have been a real coup for the NLL. Somehow I don’t think Bruce Urban would have been too happy though.

Facts remain. Paul Rabil is the No. 1 recognizable player in the sport of lacrosse. I DIDN’T say indoor lacrosse. To me that is irrelevant. Our sport is collectively fighting for recognition. Field or box, Canada or USA. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Box lacrosse in Canada can’t and never has sustained itself as a whole. It does well in isolated pockets but survives on angel investors and or alumni at the Senior A level and Junior A level. We need a face of the game for the next 5-year cycle of growth in North America. Rabil is it.

I’ve read web boards that mention Rabil is not a good box player and that is absolute crap. From his second season on he was a force on special teams, gaining possession, stretching the floor and crashing the net. Paul put himself in harm’s way every shift, every possession and took all the punishment teams rained on him. He was part of two championship runs and played a big role in both scoring the overtime goal in the Western final to put the Stealth in the 2010 Champion’s Cup game that they won. He is a proven playoff performer, which in my books is the biggest measure of any player’s worth. The stats don’t lie.

If you think he wasn’t tested, think again. I, for one, ordered a hit on him the first faceoff chance we got in the early 2010 match in Everett, Wa., versus the Swarm. Our game plan called for this: “as soon as he enters our end with the ball I want three guys to put a hurt on him.”

Sure enough Rabil got possession of a first-quarter faceoff, cleared center taking some brutal slashes and then made his way down the far boards. Next up he was double teamed. Two Swarm defenders crosschecked and slashed him some more. Paul then slipped double coverage and looked for a teammate to pass to. Enter 235-pound Eric Pacey with jump and a purpose in his step. As Rabil extended his arms to release the ball rendering himself vulnerable Pacey delivered a perfect finishing check that would buckle any other NLL player. Rabil bounced off the boards and glass, unhappy with his treatment and I think drawing a holding penalty from the double team. He took all the abuse we could give him and then ran off the floor ready to return for a couple years more.

Last season in what might have been his last NLL game he dropped the mitts with Pete McFetridge of Calgary who is no slouch himself when it comes to pugilism.

Paul Rabil had lost all fear of fitting into the box world and in the next moment he was gone. He’s not the best box player in the world but he certainly belongs and is getting better which is all we can ask from anyone isn’t it? I can’t ever remember an indoor player with that size and speed combination or the ability to break multiple defenders. I know for a fact that the Swarm players that ridiculed him in 2009 before we had played him definitely toned down their banter about “Rabeeeel” after a few games in his presence. Respect.

So I hope all of you fellow Canadians can see what I’m trying to say here. If the sport of indoor lacrosse is our team we need Paul Rabil on our team for our best chance of survival and growth. He’s marketable and worthy of every dime he gets.

I’ll even suggest and push for a Rabil lacrosse reality show to get us mainstream attention, but that’s up to the powers that be.

Bottom line for me is Paul Rabil has put in his time and paid his dues in the box and he belongs on our team.

O'Neill is a three-time Mann Cup winner and former general manager of the Philadelphia Wings (2001-2004) and Minnesota Swarm (2004-2010), where he was twice named NLL GM of the Year (2007, 2008).

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