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Saturday Sports: NHL Playoffs Begin, WNBA Celebrates 25 Years, Yankees COVID Outbreak


And now it's time for more sports.


SIMON: The NHL postseason starts tonight, before the regular season ends. That's a masterstroke. Also, happy 25th anniversary to the WNBA. And a COVID outbreak trips up the Yankees just as they were starting to play well.

We're joined by ESPN's Howard Bryant. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: So tonight - let me see - Boston against Washington, Long Island against the Penguins. Minnesota against Las Vegas tomorrow, then the defending champion, the Lightning, against the Panthers. Panthers on ice - who are they kidding? Anyway, how did this happen?

BRYANT: Well, it's the residual of COVID. It's the consequence of COVID. You have a regional playoff now, the first time in forever. The Bruins and the Canadiens didn't even play each other this year because...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Canada has its bracket. All the Canadian teams played in one division. And essentially, the - you're going to have a regional tournament with a best of seven with teams that have really been playing each other...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Almost every night, which has been really sort of interesting. So on the one hand, it creates really tough rivals. But on the other hand, you really don't quite know who's that good. So I still think, obviously, Tampa Bay - they're the champs. I really enjoy watching Toronto because of Auston Matthews and the fact that Toronto hasn't won the Stanley Cup since 1967. They haven't been to the Stanley Cup...

SIMON: That is astonishing to think of...

BRYANT: ...Finals since 19...

SIMON: ...The Maple Leafs, yeah.

BRYANT: Exactly, especially there. I do have to say, though, just from a fan standpoint, an enjoyment standpoint, I really would like to see the Edmonton Oilers go far because...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...They have such wonderful talent between Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. They are the most exciting offensive duo in the game, to me at least. It would be nice to see them go far so people could actually see them play really well. Reminds me a little bit of baseball, where Mike Trout, the best player in the game, never makes the playoffs.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: So we need to see the talent rise to the top.

SIMON: The WNBA - 25 years old. This seems like a moment to mark.

BRYANT: It is a moment to...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Mark. And it's a really special moment to mark because we know what the man's game does to women's sports. Oh, there's no - they can't play. That's not going to make it. It doesn't draw people. But it's been here for a quarter-century, and it's growing more and more in popularity, and it's becoming more into the mainstream. And after 25 years, they've got 12 teams now. And there's a feeling that they could even expand, which is fantastic.

And I think the other thing about it is that when people like to criticize women's sports as much as they do, and especially women's professional team sports the way they do, that it's instructive to remember that it took a really long time for the NBA to catch hold.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: And really, the league had been around 35 years before it had really taken off and really started to catch the sort of traction that we take for granted now. It takes time. And...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...I think that people recognize, or at least I'm hoping that they recognize now that it's a completely viable game. And it's only getting bigger. It's growing.

SIMON: Candace Parker's going to light up Chicago. Just saying. OK?

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: Just saying.

BRYANT: She's home.

SIMON: Yeah, exactly. Eight members of the New York Yankees tested positive for COVID-19. Seven are asymptomatic. This happened just as they were beginning to play almost as well as their payroll. Impact on the season?

BRYANT: We'll see. It's been strange because Gleyber Torres, the one player who did test positive, was actually vaccinated. He had the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. And so the idea - the question now isn't now whether or not you are - whether or not you test positive, but what symptoms you show. And I think that's how they're going to manage this going forward.

SIMON: OK. ESPN's Howard Bryant, thanks so much for being with us.

BRYANT: Thank you.