2018 Expansion Draft results: The expected and the unexpected

The 2018 NLL expansion draft was held on Monday. This was the first expansion draft in ten years so it was kind of new for many fans, but get used to it. This was also the first of at least three over the next few years as the league continues to expand. There were lots of predictions about what would happen in this draft; off the top of my head, I can think of at least three full mock drafts that were done, and there were probably more.

I made my own predictions back in May and got 6 right out of 18 picks, but in my defense I made my choices before the protected lists were announced by the teams. If I’d redone my predictions afterwards, I wouldn’t have predicted Curtis Knight or Eric Fannell to be chosen since they were protected, and I would have predicted Brett Hickey, Josh Currier, and Adrian Sorichetti since they weren’t.

Here’s the list of players chosen (and the team they were chosen from):

Round

Philadelphia

San Diego

1 Brett Hickey – TOR Turner Evans – TOR
2 Kiel Matisz – GEO Brett Mydske – SSK
3 Jordan Hall – GEO Adrian Sorichetti – SSK
4 Josh Currier – ROC Cam Holding – COL
5 Frank Brown – ROC Bryce Sweeting – COL
6 Anthony Joaquim – NE Frank Scigliano – CAL
7 Matt Rambo – NE Garrett MacIntosh – CAL
8 Vaughn Harris – BUF Casey Jackson – VAN
9 Davide DiRuscio – BUF Brendan Ranford – VAN

Immediately following the draft, there were two trades announced, both involving the Bandits:

  • The Seals sent Bryce Sweeting to the Bandits for Ethan Schott and a 2nd round pick in this fall’s entry draft
  • The Bandits sent Zac Reid to the Wings in exchange for the Wings selecting Vaughn Harris

That second one is interesting – I reasoned on Twitter that the Wings wanted Chase Fraser and the Bandits offered them Reid if they didn’t pick Fraser. This was confirmed.

The draft

Before the draft, NLL VP Brian Lemon announced the rules, most of which we already knew. He also said that each team would have two minutes to make their picks, and each could ask for one five-minute extension. But not one of the eighteen picks took as long as it took Lemon to read that rule. The draft was done so quickly that it was very unlikely that it was actually done live. It was probably done earlier in the day and the live stream was just the announcement of who was drafted, and they went back and forth to make it look like a live draft. But when you look at the players that were drafted and where they came from, there’s even more to it than that.

Brett Hickey (Photo: Scott Pierson)

All of the players available from western teams went to San Diego, and all players from eastern teams except Turner Evans went to Philly. Even more telling was the order in which they were announced: Toronto’s two players went first, one to Philly and one to San Diego. Then Philly’s next two picks were from Georgia and San Diego’s were from Saskatchewan. Then Philly took two from Rochester while the Seals took two from Colorado, then New England / Calgary, then Buffalo / Vancouver. Other than Toronto, each team’s two players were chosen in back-to-back picks by the same team, and the players from each division were chosen in the order their teams finished the 2018 regular season.

It seems likely that rather than an actual draft, the two GMs talked and together made up the lists of who gets who. The actual broadcast was them just announcing the results. Maybe they did the draft as intended, earlier in the day, then made some trades among themselves and decided to just skip announcing that part. If that’s the case, I’m OK with it. This is the NLL, so where a player lives very much matters with respect to where he wants to play. Some of the younger guys may not care and are happy to move around the country if they get traded. But there are lots of veteran players who have families and full-time jobs and are far more interested in playing half their games close to home. It makes total sense that the western players were picked by the western team and the eastern players were picked by the eastern team.

That said, if this is indeed how it was done, I’m a little annoyed that they dressed it up like a real draft. If the GMs got together and divided up the available players among them, following the two-players-per-team rule, why not just announce it that way?

The players taken

Given the quality of players available in this draft, it’s no surprise that both teams look pretty good to start with. The Wings have more firepower (Hickey, Matisz, Hall, Harris) while the Seals already have a strong defense (Mydske, Holding, Schott) and transition (MacIntosh, Sorichetti). If I had to pick a winner between the two teams, I’m not sure I could.

Both teams surprisingly picked players with zero NLL experience, Matt Rambo from New England heading to Philly (where he lives) and Brendan Ranford from Vancouver was picked by San Diego. Rambo is a field lacrosse star who was drafted by the Black Wolves last year but didn’t report. I have no idea if he even has any interest in the NLL; maybe he and Paul Rabil watch NLL games online together, saying “I could totally play there if I wanted to.” Ranford is a top prospect from BC but also plays pro hockey, and there was talk that he may play hockey in Europe next season. Perhaps that isn’t the case, or perhaps Patrick Merrill just decided to take a gamble anyway.

Only one UFA was chosen: Brett Mydske from the Rush. Merrill said that Mydske was just too good an option to pass up, and that’s hard to argue. Hopefully (for the Seals), they can sign Mydske to a contract before August 1st, at which time he’s free to sign with whoever he wants. They could also give him the franchise tag, which would prevent him from signing anywhere else but would also guarantee him 10% above the NLL’s maximum salary. Not a bad decision for Mydske to have: play in sunny San Diego and make max bucks, or choose which city you want to play in.

Davide DiRuscio (Photo: Bill Wippert)Philadelphia made a bit of a surprising pick for their goaltender: Davide DiRuscio, who’s been the Bandits backup goalie for a few years though he was injured all of last year. It was widely assumed that the two goalies picked in the draft were likely to be Frank Scigliano and one of Zach Higgins or Alex Buque, but we all picked the wrong Bandits goalie. In previous years DiRuscio has shown signs that he could someday be a starting goalie in the NLL, but has been inconsistent. He’s a big guy and only 26 and while it seems that forwards and defenders tend to peak around 27-28 years old, it can take goalies (those not named Christian, anyway) a couple of extra years to hit their stride. He may not be the next Dallas Eliuk next season but as an expansion team, the Wings are likely to be willing to wait a year or two.

The players lost

Each team lost two players from their roster, but some teams lost fewer than others. As mentioned, two players had never played an NLL game so from that point of view, New England and Vancouver got away a little easier than the other teams. The other guy Vancouver lost, Casey Jackson, has only played four games in the NLL so while he has a big upside for the future, the Vancouver team as it was yesterday is almost unchanged. Buffalo left three goalies unprotected and lost the one that’s recovering from injury. This may or may not be good news for the Bandits, as their goaltender situation was a little dicey last season and that hasn’t changed. They also lost defenders Ethan Schott and Zac Reid but gained another defender Bryce Sweeting. Colorado lost Sweeting and Holding but Holding didn’t play last season anyway, and they’ll be getting Dan Coates back next year, so they’re probably OK.

The teams that lost the most, in my opinion, are the Georgia Swarm and the Rochester Knighthawks. It’s not as though losing Matisz and Hall leaves the Swarm with no strong forwards, but they will be two tough players to replace. Both are versatile and can play forward or transition roles. As I mentioned in my expansion draft predictions article, Hall would be a good candidate for captain of the Wings, but Matisz has been around for a while too and it wouldn’t surprise me to see an A on his chest next season.

The Knighthawks lost Josh Currier, which was a certainty once it was discovered that he was unprotected, and Frank Brown, a defender (though listed as a forward in the Wings draft results article) with a ton of potential. Brown also played half of last year with the Swarm, so he has some familiarity with Matisz and Hall.

Now that the draft is over, I believe the rosters are now “unfrozen”, so teams are free to begin making trades once again. On August 1st, teams will be able to start signing free agents as well, and of course Philadelphia and San Diego will be busy there. They do have players now, but they each have less than half a team. It’s already been one of the most active off-seasons the NLL has seen in years and it ain’t over yet.

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The perfect NLL forward

If you could have the perfect box lacrosse forward, what would he be like? Would you want the small wiry guy with ankle-breaking speed and agility to get around defenders? Would you want the guy with the accurate 110 mph shot who fires the ball between defenders? Or would you want the big strong bull-in-a-china-shop type who plows through defenders? Ideally, you’d want someone who could do all of those things. Obviously a player that’s the best at all of those things doesn’t exist. So let’s create him.

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The Stealth and Doug Locker’s luck

If you’re a regular reader of this blog – first of all, thanks! – and secondly, you’ve probably already heard about the NLL changes in Vancouver. The Stealth franchise was sold to the Vancouver Canucks ownership group, who immediately announced that the team would be renamed, rebranded, and moved to the Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver. Just a few days later, they announced that they had hired local boys Dan Richardson and Chris Gill to be the new GM and head coach respectively. I didn’t actually see an announcement that Doug Locker or Jamie Batley had been fired, but I guess we can assume that. With all the changes to the team, it’s almost like we have three expansion teams coming next season, with the minor difference that one of the three already has players.

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Watson vs Eliuk vs Vinc

For many years, the question of “best goaltender in NLL history” has had two answers: Bob “Whipper” Watson and Dallas Eliuk. Some say Dallas, some say Whipper, some can’t decide between the two. It’s rare that you hear someone other than one of those two described as the best ever. But the question of Whipper vs. Dallas as the best ever may soon become outdated. Nothing’s being clarified, however; the waters are getting even muddier.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Matt Vinc has been the best goaltender in the NLL over the past decade. The awards and numbers certainly back that up:

  • Five Goaltender of the Year awards in six years
  • Three Championships plus two other trips to the finals
  • Led the league in GAA in 2013, finished in the top three four other times
  • Holds three of the top ten spots in the “Best GAA in a Season” list (see weird aside below)
  • Has the second-lowest career GAA among starters in NLL history
  • Second in NLL history in career saves; will overtake Anthony Cosmo in game two or three next season (he’s 104 behind)
  • Second in NLL history in career minutes; will overtake Anthony Cosmo in game four or five next season (he’s 221 behind)
  • Third in NLL history in career playoff GAA
  • First in NLL history in career playoff minutes and saves, ahead of second place by over 300 minutes and 170 saves

Weird aside: Here’s an odd one for @NLLFactOfTheDay: A starting goalie has finished a season with a sub-10.00 GAA only 17 times in NLL history. Matt Vinc has done it four times. Nobody else has done it more than twice. Yet Vinc didn’t lead the league in GAA in any of those four seasons. And here’s the craziest part: in 2010, Vinc finished with a GAA of 9.51, the seventh best of all-time, but he finished fourth in GAA that season.

Photo credit: Micheline Velovulo

Vinc has won five Goaltender of the Year awards, while Watson won only two and Eliuk never won any. This is, of course, meaningless since the award didn’t exist before 2001. Eliuk’s career was more than half over by the time the award came into being and from 2002 until the end of his career, his teams were generally pretty lousy. (His 2008 LumberJax made the finals, but Eliuk was the backup goalie by then.) Having said that, Watson won the 2008 Goaltender of the Year award on a sub-.500 team that missed the playoffs.

When comparing players’ careers, I never compare the number of Championships they won. That is entirely a team statistic and has no bearing on whether one individual player was better than another. Brodie Merrill has never won an NLL title but he’s arguably better than an awful lot of players who have. But if you must know, Eliuk won six with the Wings, Watson six with the Rock, and Vinc three with the Knighthawks.

If we’re going to compare these three goalies, shouldn’t we just compare their stats directly? Let’s try. Vinc has a lifetime GAA of 10.88. Watson’s was 11.14, while Eliuk was 12.24. So Vinc’s GAA is 0.26 lower than Watson and 1.36 lower than Eliuk. Pretty clear that he’s the best of the three, right? Actually, no.

During Dallas Eliuk’s career spanning 1992-2008, the average number of goals scored in an NLL game was 25.66. During Bob Watson’s career from 1998-2011, the average dropped to 24.82, and during the Matt Vinc years from 2006-2018, the average was only 23.41. Eliuk had a higher GAA because more goals were scored in general during his career (2.25 more per game) than during Vinc’s. Thus you’d expect Eliuk’s GAA to be higher than Vinc’s. If you assign half the difference in goals scored to each goalie, Eliuk would have a sort of “handicap” of 1.13 over Vinc, so the 1.36 difference in their GAAs is really only about 0.23. Similarly, Watson’s adjusted GAA is actually lower than Vinc’s.

I don’t have numbers for shots faced before 2005, so I can’t compare their career save percentages. But from 2005-2018, Vinc has a save percentage of 78.2%, third behind Steve Dietrich and Ken Montour (and a handful of others with just a couple of games played). Watson is only three players back of Vinc at 77.4% while Eliuk is a fair ways back at 75.9%. Again though, that only covers the last three years of Eliuk’s career, not his prime.

Not that this is news, but there’s no really good way to compare players who played in different eras. Eliuk’s career and Vinc’s only overlapped by three years, but Eliuk was past his prime by then and Vinc wasn’t yet the standout goalie he would become. The game was different enough during the years before and the years after that statistics can’t be directly compared. Watson’s career overlapped both for a longer period of time but there is a twelve-year age difference between Watson and Vinc (and six years between Watson and Eliuk) so comparisons are still difficult.

So which of the three is the best ever? There’s no correct answer – arguments can be made for any of the three. Maybe we have to say Eliuk is the best of the 1990’s, Watson the best of the 2000’s, and Vinc the best of the 2010’s, and leave it at that. The only thing we can definitively say is that this is no longer a two-horse race.

 

The Blazers and the Sting: It’s drafty in here

The mid-to-late 2000’s were a tumultuous time in the NLL. Teams were popping up, moving, and vanishing all over the place. This all reached “peak weird” in about 2007-2008 and if you are new to the NLL, you might not know about all of these strange goings-on. Even if you’ve been following the league since then, some of this is still hard to believe.

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2018 Expansion Draft

I’ve been looking forward to the upcoming Expansion Draft for months. We get to see two teams get created from scratch, which is every armchair GM’s dream. Trades and free agent signings and such are always exciting, so imagine eighteen of them all on the same day! As I’m sure many others have done, I’ve made my list of which players I would protect if I were an NLL GM. Some are obvious, some might be controversial, and there are probably a few “What are you thinking?” picks in there too. Let me know watcha think!

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NLL team names

Recently, a Rush fan named Rob King tweeted an article suggestion:

Challenge accepted. There isn’t much of a story behind a few of them, but others are very interesting. I had a lot of fun researching this one, and I hope you enjoy these stories. I threw in a couple of “Did you knows” as I came across them.

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