Rules of the NLL Drinking Game

How to get completely plastered while watching an NLL game:

  • When a player is referred to as a “weekend warrior” or his off-the-floor job is mentioned, DRINK. If he’s a firefighter or teacher, DRINK again
  • When the goaltender calls the trainer out to look at his equipment and the trainer simply applies more tape to his shoes, DRINK
  • When you miss a goal or great play because the online feed is showing the kiss cam or dance cam or some other shot of the audience, DRINK
  • When John Tavares is referred to as “ageless”, DRINK
  • When a player commits a blatantly obvious penalty and then stands looking at the ref with his arms outstretched in the classic “what did I do?” pose, DRINK
  • When a player’s name is mispronounced, DRINK
  • When the announcers try to explain a rule and get it wrong (or play is stopped or a penalty is given and they have no idea why), DRINK
  • When nobody is near the benches during play but the bench door is open, DRINK
  • When a goal is scored that the goalie wants back, DRINK
  • If a player and his brother are both playing in the game, DRINK
  • If a player is from Orangeville or Peterborough, DRINK
  • When a player or coach being interviewed talks about “sticking to our game plan” or “playing our game”, DRINK

Drink twice if it's the coach

How to stay completely sober while watching an NLL game:

  • When Major League Lacrosse (MLL) is mentioned by name, DRINK
  • If a head coach smiles during the game, DRINK. If he laughs, DRINK again. If it’s Troy Cordingley, CHUG the bottle

5 things you never knew about the NLL! #3 will shock you

I originally started this article as a joke, playing on the popularity of sites like Buzzfeed and their click-baity “you won’t believe what happened next”-type headlines. But then I wondered if I could come up with 5 actual things that many NLL fans didn’t know and I hadn’t used on @NLLFactOfTheDay (and that I don’t have to fit into 140 characters). Many people know that John Tavares the (former) lacrosse player is the uncle of John Tavares the hockey player. Many know that Josh Sanderson played for his father Terry (four times, actually: Rochester, Calgary, and Toronto twice). Many know that there are far more failed NLL teams than there are current teams.

But did you know these?

1. Before they secured, the league’s website was (OK, I could have squeezed that one into a tweet.)

Gary Roberts

2. The Calgary Roughnecks once drafted former Calgary Flames star Gary Roberts (after he had retired from hockey). He said he was flattered and surprised, but did not report. The Bandits once drafted Gil Nieuwendyk, Joe’s brother and Derek Keenan’s brother-in-law. He never reported either.

3. The 2007 Championship final was hosted by the Arizona Sting rather than the top seed Rochester Knighthawks because of arena unavailability. A circus had booked the Blue Cross Arena and no alternative arena in Rochester could be found. A 2002 playoff game between the 5th place Washington Power and the 6th place Philadelphia Wings was held in Philadelphia because Washington decided they’d lose more money by hosting it than by travelling.

4. In 2001, the league accidentally posted an article on its web site announcing expansion to Montreal before the deal was actually done. The article was immediately pulled and the deal was put on hold. The Montreal Express joined the league a year later.

5. In 2007, the Arizona Sting went on hiatus and the players were loaned to other teams for a year (through a dispersal draft), the idea being that when Arizona returned the next season, they’d continue with the team they had before. After the 2008 season, the players were returned to the Sting, where the team promptly folded and they were dispersed again.

Did I fool you? One of those five is not true; I made it up. But which one?

The NLL’s most successful franchise

It’s a cycle that almost every pro sports team goes through. If you look back over the history of most teams that have been around for a while, they’ve had periods where they’re really good, at or near the top of the league, and then other periods where they’re terrible. Think of any team that’s been successful over the last year or two: the Royals in baseball, the Clippers in basketball, the Islanders in hockey. It wasn’t that long ago that all three of those teams were terrible, near the bottom of their respective leagues.

Alternatively, think of any team that’s been terrible over the last few years: the Knicks, the Oilers, the Phillies. I can certainly remember times when those teams were at the top of their leagues.  Every team has times where they’re really great and times where they’re really bad. Even the Cubs won the NL Central three times from 2003-2008.

This has certainly happened in the NLL as well. The Edmonton Rush were arguably the best team of each of the last two years but were terrible for a decade before that. The Washington Stealth went to the Championship in three out of their four seasons, but were 4-12 and dead last in the fourth. The Wings won 6 Championships in their first 15 years, then only made the playoffs 3 times in their last 12. The Rock, Bandits, and Mammoth have each won championships and also sat near the bottom of the league during the last 10 years. The Minnesota Swarm may be a bit of an outlier here; they were never a really great team and never reached the finals, but they were a very good team for a few years, getting to the division finals twice. On the flipside, their last couple of years in Minnesota were pretty bad.

(Aside: The NLL is a little different because of the team turnover. I’m only looking at teams that have been around for ten years or more. There are a lot of teams who didn’t have a long enough existence to consider. The New Jersey / Anaheim Storm, Ottawa Rebel, and Montreal Express never stuck around long enough to get good. The Arizona Sting went to 2 Championships in 4 years but never finished above 9-7 or below 7-9.)


But in the NLL, there are two oddball teams that have mostly defied the longevity rule.

The Calgary Roughnecks were terrible in their first season, when they finished 4-12. But in the 13 seasons since then, they  have only finished below .500 twice, have never missed the playoffs, and have finished with 10+ wins 7 times. Even last year when they started 0-6 and finished 7-11, they managed to get to the Western finals. Other than their debut season (when you kind of expect a team to suck) and for part of 2015, the Roughnecks have never really been terrible.

But take a look at the Rochester Knighthawks. In their twenty-one seasons, they have only finished below .500 three times, and all three times they were just below .500 at 7-9. What’s more: they won the Championship in one of those 7-9 seasons. Let me say that another way: they won the Championship in 2012 after finishing the regular season tied for the worst record in franchise history. They have only missed the playoffs twice in 21 years and as we all remember, are the only team ever to win three straight Championships. In their debut season, they went to the Championship (and lost it in OT).

If you had to pick the most successful NLL franchise during its existence, you could argue the Rock might be the best choice given the number of Championships in that time. But they had a four year stretch where they were 10 games under .500 and missed the playoffs twice. The Wings were one of the best choices for the first half of their lifetime, and one of the worst choices for the second half. The Roughnecks would also have been a very good option, but they’ve had strong regular season numbers and not so much in the playoffs.

For my money, the Rochester Knighthawks win the prize. They have never had a single terrible season, but have had some outstanding ones. I know it’s no 22 in a row, Bandits fans, but they won 16 straight games from 2007-2008. They have never finished last in their division. They have won five Championships and appeared in four more, and have seen some of the best players in the game on their benches including the Gaits, John Grant, Shawn Williams, Shawn Evans, Dan Dawson, Cody Jamieson, and Matt Vinc.

They say any NLL team can beat any other on any given night. This is mostly true for the non-Charlottes and non-Anaheims of the league. But let’s face it, there were years that this was not true for the Rock, Bandits, Mammoth, or Roughnecks. But there has never been a time when playing the Knighthawks that they didn’t have a good chance of beating you.

NLL Trades: one big, two bigger

After the huge trades we saw at the trade deadline last year involving names like Billings, Suitor, Powless, and Schuss, you’d think the NLL might be all blockbuster’ed out for a while. It lasted about half a year before we started seeing some more “holy crap” trades. But it all seems like one big trade involving almost half the teams in the league. I almost started to lose track of who went where, so I’ll break it down.

Billings went from Toronto to New England for Kevin Crowley but then Crowley was sent back to New England for Dan Lintner while Billings was sent to Vancouver for Tyler Digby who was then traded to Calgary for Shawn Evans. And a bunch of draft picks changed hands as well.

Got it?

OK. At the trade deadline last season, Garrett Billings was sent to New England for Kevin Crowley. As posited by me and totally unconfirmed and uncorroborated, this deal included a gentleman’s agreement that Crowley would be sent back to New England at the end of the season. This happened in early October, as Crowley was traded to the Black Wolves for draft pick Dan Lintner and a second round pick in 2016. This wasn’t quite a Holy Crap trade, but it was significant.

But the combination of Crowley and Billings on the same roster was not to be. Holy Crap Trade #1 happened two weeks later, sending Billings to Vancouver in exchange for Tyler Digby and a second round pick in 2017. This is where Billings’ part of the story ends. He’s now playing in his home town of Langley, and western goalies are very worried about the impact he’ll have on guys like Rhys Duch and Corey Small. But we weren’t done yet. A day later, Holy Crap Trade #2 happened.

Tyler Digby

Tyler Digby, it was said, wanted to be in the East because he recently moved to Pennsylvania. But the ink on his trade to New England was barely dry before he was traded again. Digby went to the Calgary Roughnecks for who else but the reigning league MVP, Shawn Freaking Evans, who wanted to play closer to his home in Peterborough. New England’s first round draft picks in 2018 and 2019 now also belong to Calgary, and Calgary’s third round pick in 2018 goes to New England. This marks only the second time in league history that the current MVP was traded, the first being Gary Gait who was sent from Philadelphia to Baltimore in 1998. But as surprising as the Evans trade was, the Gait trade blows it away. At that point, Gait had won three straight MVP awards and after the trade, he won the next two as well.

Did you sense the trend here? Billings is back home. Evans is closer to home. Crowley lives in Philadelphia, so he’s also closer to home. Digby wanted to be, but it didn’t work out. And the reason Gait was traded in 1998? To be closer to his home in Baltimore.

The trades themselves might have been surprising, but if the reasoning behind them surprises you, you’re obviously new here. Welcome to the NLL.

In a nutshell

I’ll break down my impressions of each team’s outlook once the rosters are announced in December, but here’s the end result for now:

Toronto is down Kevin Crowley and up Dan Lintner and a second.

New England is down Billings and two first rounders (in 3 years), and up Shawn Freaking Evans and a third.

Vancouver is down Tyler Digby and up Garrett Billings

Calgary is down Shawn Freaking Evans, and up Tyler Digby and two firsts.

NLL Rule changes for 2016

The NLL has announced a number of rule changes going into effect for the 2016 season. The list is here and none of them is hugely significant (though I suppose by definition they are technically all game-changers) but I’ll go over what I think are the more interesting ones.

Rule 28.1: Injured goalie

If the trainer comes out to tend to the ‘tender and he stays more than 50 seconds, the goalie must be replaced. This was 45 seconds last year. The extra five seconds was worthy of a rule change?

nll-logo-750Rule 33.3: Helmet chin cup

Last year, if the chin cup was not properly worn and secured, the player would be removed from the floor. A second violation would get you a delay of game minor penalty. This year, you get the minor penalty right away. Interesting that this rule goes into effect right after the retirement of John Tavares, who was notorious for not wearing his chin cup or leaving it loose.

Rule 44.4: Contesting the ball on the face-off

If a player grabs the ball in the back of his stick during the face-off, he must immediately flip it to the front of this stick or get it to a teammate (“move, rake, or direct it”) before taking more than one step or the other team gets possession. You could call this the Geoff Snider rule but as of this writing, Snider is not on any NLL roster. Plus I believe there was a face-off change made a few years ago that was informally called the Geoff Snider rule though I don’t remember the details.

They tried something like this last year during the pre-season but that rule said that the player couldn’t leave the playoff circle without having the ball in the front of his stick. They dropped the rule before the season started.

Rule 57: Criteria for stoppage of play on a delayed penalty

The only change to this rule is the removal of a clause. In 2016, if the ref has called a delayed penalty and the offensive team pulls their goalie, a loose ball that crosses back over the centerline and rolls towards the open net will not cause a whistle, i.e. the resulting goal will count. I don’t know how often this happens but I suspect it ain’t much.

Rule 63: Illegal cross-checking

A player who cross-checks someone lying down on the turf will get a penalty, whether or not the guy on the floor has the ball.

Rule 67.6: Shooter in crease prior to ball crossing goal line

An oddly specific clause has been added which says that if an attacker shoots and the ball hits the goalie and then a defender and then goes into the net, this will count as a goal as long as the shooter is out of the crease by the time the ball completely crosses the goal line. It sounds like such a goal was waved off last year and someone got angry about it.

Rule 67.9: Contact by a defender

They’ve rewritten this rule entirely (all two sentences of it) to make it clearer. If an offensive player is checked legally into the crease before the ball goes in the net, the goal does not count. If an offensive player is checked illegally into the crease, the defender will get a delayed penalty and if the ball goes in, the goal counts (assuming no other rule violations).

Rule 67.12: No re-entry by ball

If a defender outside the crease gains possession of a ball that’s inside the crease, that defender can now step into the crease as long as the ball wasn’t directed or passed to him by a teammate.

The Crowley Trade Episode II: Attack of the Black Wolves

An odd trade occurred on Saturday that I suspect began back in March. The Toronto Rock sent Kevin Crowley back from whence he came, the New England Black Wolves, in exchange for Dan Lintner and New England’s second round pick next year. Crowley, of course, was acquired at the trade deadline last season in exchange for holdout Garrett Billings. Lintner was New England’s first round pick at the draft two weeks ago, 8th overall.

Jamie Dawick is quoted in the press release: “…we’re not far off with this deal from what was also on the table at the trade deadline in March.   We needed a player last year so the 2016 first round draft pick didn’t make sense at the time.” So they agreed in principle to trade Billings for a first and a second, but the Rock needed a player right away so they changed it to Crowley. Now they’ve basically reversed it to what they agreed on originally.

Pure speculation on my part, but it sounds to me like this was a two-stage trade from the start. Instead of the two draft picks, you give us Crowley for the rest of the season, then we’ll trade him back to you for the two draft picks once the season’s done. Perhaps the talking at the draft was that rather than the 2016 first, we’ll take Lintner since we wanted him anyway.

New England kind of won the trade last season, just based on numbers. By the time the deal was done the Rock only had four games left, while New England had eight. The Black Wolves got twice as many games from Billings than the Rock got from Crowley, and Billings averaged 4.5 points per game to Crowley’s 3.0. Then again, the Rock did have Crowley for five playoff games while New England missed the playoffs entirely, so that evens things out some.

Kevin CrowleySo the deal ends up being Billings to New England for a 1st round pick (Lintner), a 2nd round pick (in 2016), and the use of Kevin Crowley for half a season. Is this fair value for someone who averaged 105 points over the previous three seasons? On the surface, no. But if you factor in Billings’ surgery last year, it’s possible the Black Wolves are not getting  the same Garrett Billings who put up those big numbers. If he returns to his previous level of dominance and puts up the big numbers, then good for him and the Black Wolves win the trade. But it’s also possible that Lintner pulls a Brett Hickey and comes out of nowhere to score 50 goals. Honestly, that seems less likely, but who knows? He was picked in the first round because that is a possibility.

For now, I’d have to say that the Black Wolves are the winners here, but unless Billings returns to his pre-injury form and Lintner is a bust, I wouldn’t say the Rock got fleeced either. As with most trades, we won’t really know who won it until a long time after.

NLL awards: no big surprises except the big surprise

The 2015 NLL awards were announced on Tuesday, only four months after the season ended. This was a dumb idea last year, and it’s a dumb idea this year. I get that they’re trying to raise interest in the league during a quiet time when there’s no other lacrosse going on anywhere, but they can do that with the draft. Handing out the awards the night after the draft marginalizes either the draft or the award, and NLL fans that aren’t die-hard fans probably didn’t even notice. Handing them out during or right after the playoffs makes so much more sense. If you want to have it be a big event rather than just announcing the winners, that’s fine but four months later just doesn’t make sense.

Anyway, on to the winners. With one exception, there were no real surprises in the player awards. Shawn Evans was named MVP for the second time in two years, and deservedly so. Kyle Rubisch won the Kyle Rubisch award again. Kyle Buchanan won the Sportsmanship award after playing 18 games with 0 penalty minutes. Rookie of the Year went to Ben McIntosh, who had an excellent rookie campaign. Josh Sanderson won the inaugural “Pinty’s Wingman of the Year” award, following in the footsteps of the Pinty’s Wingman of the Week award, which unofficially went to the person who picked up the most assists every week.

I’d never even heard of the “Shoeless Joe’s Shot of the Year” award until they announced it – Miles Thompson’s sitting-on-his-butt-over-the-shoulder shot. I can’t decide if that’s an ugly goal that’s also beautiful, or a beautiful goal that’s also ugly.

The exception is the Goaltender of the Year award. Matt Vinc won his fifth in six years, with lots of people wondering why Aaron Bold didn’t get it. I have less of a problem with Vinc taking it. First off, the award is supposed to be based on the regular season only. The playoffs (and the fact that Bold’s Rush won the Championship), the Mann Cup, and the WILC should have no bearing on this award. There’s another reason why the awards should be given out during, not after, the playoffs.

Bold allowed one fewer goal in 13 more minutes but in those extra minutes, he still faced ninety fewer shots than Vinc, and Bold’s save percentage was 2.4% lower than Vinc’s. A very close race, to be sure, and either one could definitely have won it, but to say that Bold should have won because he won three Championships in the same year is just wrong.

The three non-player awards had one gimme, one minor surprise, and one huge one. Terry Sanderson won GM of the Year posthumously, and I’m sure the early death of this much-beloved and respected man played a part in the voting. But he also turned a 9-9 Rock team into a 14-4 powerhouse, the top team in the league. He picked up 50-goal-scorer Brett Hickey off the scrap heap and traded for Brodie Merrill, Brock Sorensen, and Jeff Gilbert to shore up the defense. Posthumous or not, T deserved the award.

THead coach of the year was a bit of a surprise to me, in that I expected Derek Keenan to take this one for the second straight year. Keenan missed the first two games while dealing with the death of his wife, two games that the Rush lost. On his return, the Rush started looking like the Rush of 2014, and Keenan’s influence on that team was obvious. But I don’t want to take anything away from the winner, John Lovell, who also had a great season. The Rock lost only one of their first ten games on their way to a franchise-best 14-4 record, first in the league. Lovell’s leadership allowed the Rock to thrive despite losing Garrett Billings and Colin Doyle, and also allowed the seamless additions of Hickey, Merrill, Sorensen, Gilbert, and Kevin Crowley into the dressing room.

The huge surprise is Executive of the Year. Nominated were Lewis Staats of the Knighthawks, Scott Loffler of the Bandits, and Bruce Urban of the Rush. Wait, what? Bruce Urban? He didn’t really get nominated, did he? Yes, he did. Oh well, he has no real chance of winning it, does he? Yes, apparently he does. And he did.

This is the guy who refused offers from the Oilers to buy the franchise. He complained about the mayor and the city and was called out for it. He effectively threatened the Edmonton fans with relocation during the season. Then once they won the championship, he did move the franchise. Thanks to all of you awesome Edmonton fans for your support during the playoffs! I could sell to the Oilers and make sure the team stays in Edmonton, but screw you, I’m taking my team and getting out.

As Gerry Moddejonge of the Edmonton Sun tweeted, Scott Loffler created the #BraverThanBrave campaign which had the attention (and pulled on the heartstrings) of every NLL player, employee, and fan around the league, while Urban announced a charity event that neither had a winner nor gave anything to charity. Nice.

Maybe this is based on the regular season as well so the actual team movement shouldn’t be considered. But given all the other crap that went on, I can’t believe Urban won. But it was the other executives in the league (AFAIK) that chose him, so perhaps he did lots of stuff behind the scenes that made him worthy. I’m trying to give Urban and the NLL the benefit of the doubt here, but I’m still shaking my head.