The GOAT

The Calgary Roughnecks signed Dane Dobbie to a multi-year contract last week. Considering Dobbie had a career year in 2019 and was deservedly named both season MVP and Championship MVP, it’s hard to argue against this, regardless of the term or money he was asking for. But when the NLL tweeted about it, they used a goat icon and I had to roll my eyes.

GOAT stands for Greatest Of All Time and it’s become a term that, in my opinion, is thrown around far too easily in the sports world. By definition, there can be only one GOAT in each sport. There may be controversy as to who it is, but there aren’t lots of them. I don’t think it’s a hot take to say that Dane Dobbie is not the greatest player in NLL history (despite his teammates saying he is). The hot take might be: he’s not even in the top ten. But that’s an article for another time.

Of course you can add your own qualifiers, and a player may be the GOAT of a certain subset of players. As Jake Elliott pointed out, the NLL probably meant that Dobbie is the Roughnecks GOAT, not the GOAT. That’s totally fair and Jake is quite likely right.

But that got me thinking: what about the other teams? Who is their GOAT? Some are obvious – Buffalo comes to mind – while others are more contentious.

One question we have to answer first is what do we mean by this? Is it the best player to ever wear that uniform, or is it the best player to ever have an impact in that uniform? For example, you could argue that the second Dan Dawson takes the floor as a member of the Toronto Rock this coming season, before he’s even touched the ball, he’s among the top three players ever to wear the Rock jersey. But is that meaningful?

For this article, I’m going to say that it’s not good enough to simply have worn a team’s jersey, you have to have played there for a significant amount of time. However I’m not going to define “significant” with specific guidelines (e.g. you have to have played x games or x seasons or have won some sort of major award). Just going with my gut here.

I’m going to skip the expansion Knighthawks 2.0 and Riptide for obvious reasons and also the Wings 2.0 and Seals since they have only played a single season.

Buffalo – Tough one, but I’m going to go with someone who many consider to be the GOAT of the league, if not the entire sport of box lacrosse. Of course it’s John Tavares.

Dane Dobbie (Photo credit: Greg Southam)Calgary – My “tough one” for the Bandits was obviously in jest but this really is a tough one. If you go with the “just wearing the jersey” rule, I’d put Josh Sanderson and Shawn Evans at the top of that list. Sanderson played two full seasons and part of a third and while they were outstanding seasons and included a championship, he’s more associated with the Rock. Evans is a tougher call because he played four seasons including two with 110+ points and one MVP trophy. The guy who started this whole conversation, Dane Dobbie, has played 12 seasons (all with Calgary), won two Championships, and is the incumbent MVP. Jeff Shattler was an MVP and played eleven great seasons in Calgary so he has to be considered. Kaleb Toth was never an MVP but was the quintessential Roughneck for years. What about Tracey Kelusky? Higher point averages than Shattler or Toth, and team captain for their 2009 title.

Given his longevity, I’m going with Dobbie.

Colorado – Is it John Grant or Gary Gait? Gait only played three years with the Mammoth while Grant played seven (well, six plus two games in the seventh). Interestingly, their points-per-game numbers are almost identical: Grant averaged 5.632 points per game over 98 games while Gait averaged 5.625 in 48 games. If Gait had played 98 games with the Mammoth like Grant did, he’d have 551 points. Grant has 552. Both won an MVP award with the Mammoth and neither won a Championship (Gait did as a coach), so basically, they were the same guy. Grant played twice as long in Colorado as Gait did so I’m going with Grant.

Georgia (including Minnesota) – If you just consider the four seasons in Georgia, I think the obvious choice would be Lyle Thompson. But if you include the Minnesota years, Callum Crawford and Ryan Benesch jump into the mix. They each had slightly higher points-per-game numbers than Thompson, but even at their peak, I don’t think either of them were as good overall as Thompson is.

Halifax – (as the Rochester Knighthawks) John Grant is the obvious choice because he’s one of the best players in the history of the league. But Matt Vinc has to be considered here. Grant won one Championship and an MVP award in his ten seasons with the Knighthawks. Vinc won three titles and about a hundred Goaltender of the Year awards. Grant’s dominance with the Knighthawks cannot be overlooked (he had an eight-year stretch with seven 90+ point seasons and only played five games in the eighth) but Vinc is probably the best goaltender of the last decade and definitely top three all-time. I honestly cannot decide so I’m taking the easy way out and calling it a tie.

New England* – Again Shawn Evans jumps out. He only played 2½ years in New England but averaged over six points per game in the two full seasons. Another candidate would be Kevin Crowley, who played most of four seasons with the Black Wolves. He wasn’t quite as dominant with the numbers but Crowley is great off-ball and defensively as well so his numbers don’t show how good he is. I’m going to go with Evans here.

Saskatchewan (including Edmonton) – Mark Matthews was my first thought but Kyle Rubisch is probably the better choice. Matthews has been a top-10 offensive player for his entire career (top 5 for most of it) but there was a four year period where Rubisch was hands down the best defensive player in the league, and he remains in the top three now.

Toronto – I’m going with Colin Doyle not only because he was an outstanding player (#4 in career scoring) but a great captain as well. Like Matt Vinc in Rochester, Bob Watson also needs to be considered. Josh Sanderson is right up there too, and Jim Veltman and Brodie Merrill were also great players and great captains.

Vancouver (including the entire franchise history) – I wondered about Lewis Ratcliff, Gary Rosyski, Colin Doyle, and even Josh Sanderson from the Albany Attack days. But in the end, it’s got to be Rhys Duch. Duch averaged about 5.4 points per game over ten seasons with the San Jose, Washington, and Vancouver Stealths. He led the team in goals, assists, and points in four straight seasons and was either first or second in those categories in three more. He was the face of the Stealth for a decade which is why it was so surprising that they unceremoniously released him before last season. Hey, can someone remind me who scored the OT goal that gave Calgary the 2019 Championship? I forget.

* Maybe others don’t have this problem, but I find it hard to think of the Black Wolves as a continuation of the old Philadelphia Wings. As a result, I didn’t consider Wings players for the Black Wolves GOAT, even though I did consider previous teams in the Vancouver and Georgia franchises. But the Wings were around for 28 years, so they shouldn’t be just tossed aside. For the Wings, I’d have to choose between Tom Marechek (12 years, four Championships, 773 points) and Dallas Eliuk (again, top 3 goalie of all time). Gary Gait only played five seasons in Philly but was named MVP in three of them (in a row), so he’s got to be up there too. I’m going to go with Eliuk.

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Examining the 2019-2020 NLL schedule

Winter is coming.

And this is good, because winter is NLL season! The 2019-2020 NLL season begins on November 29, which is only eleven weeks from now. In fact by the time you read this, it will be less than eleven weeks from now. The league released the schedule for the upcoming season this week, just ahead of next week’s entry draft. Of course the timing is done by design since now that the summer championships (President’s Cup, Minto, Mann, etc.) are done, there ain’t much happening in the box lacrosse world right now.

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PLL Chatter

The PLL made its first and only Canadian stop on the tour this past weekend in Hamilton. I was a little surprised they chose Hamilton over Toronto, but it was probably way cheaper to rent Tim Horton’s Field than BMO Field, the home of the Argonauts and Toronto FC and former home of the MLL’s Toronto Nationals, which would be the logical place in Toronto to host such an event. And while choosing the Hammer over the Big Smoke was surprising, it was a welcome surprise for me since Tim Horton’s field is maybe 20 minutes from my house.

As I’ve said before, I’m not a field lacrosse guy. I’ve watched some games online but I can count on one hand the number of field games I’d been to before this weekend: the first-ever Toronto Nationals game, and three or four Hamilton Nationals games. As a result, I can’t give much insight on the differences between the PLL and the MLL. The field was noticeably shorter which did speed up the game, but I don’t know enough to have much to say on anything else. I have two comments on field lacrosse players which I’m sure I’ve made before:

  • You know how you see the occasional box player switch hands, i.e. a righty flipping the stick over and shooting as a lefty? It’s rare but you see it now and again. Box players tend to do the “twister” far more often, i.e. a righty shooting as a lefty without changing his hand positions. Field players switch hands all the time, sometimes multiple times in the same possession. It makes so much sense that players would cultivate that skill. I’m sure there are reasons why box players do it so rarely but I can’t fathom what they are. Can you imagine baseball if there were about three switch hitters in the whole league?
  • Field goalies: holy crap. Take a box goalie, take away his padding and make the net he’s protecting bigger, and you have a field goalie. Because of the lack of padding, field goalies don’t want the ball to hit them like box goalies do, so they have to be lightning-fast with the stick to make saves. All the goalies made saves that I thought they had no earthly business making.

Since my knowledge of the field game isn’t sufficient to write about the games themselves, I’ll write about the overall experience and various random musings.

Chaos

Up until this weekend, I still hadn’t figured out whether the PLL’s idea of having a tour format over location-based teams is a good one or not. The fact that it’s tour based does mean that fans in Hamilton saw (or had the opportunity to see) every PLL team last weekend, and thus every player, which is a very good thing. It also means that more than six locations would get to see games; in fact, fourteen different cities have gotten or will be getting PLL games. A lot of lacrosse people talk about growing the game, so kudos to Paul Rabil and the rest of the PLL brass for actually doing it.

On the other hand, the fact that there was no Hamilton or Toronto team for me to choose means I had no particular rooting interest. But I watch NLL games all the time for which I have no rooting interest, so NBD. On reflection, I think the only thing I don’t like about the tour format is that I’m just not used to it. Unless they’re going to create this brand new league with a dozen or more teams scattered in cities across the country (which would be very risky), the tour format makes total sense.

In the first game on Saturday, I liked the helmets and jerseys the Chaos were wearing, plus watching Myles Jones play was awesome so I quickly became a Chaos fan. But I’m also a fan of Tom Schreiber, which made me want to root for the Archers so I was torn. In the second game, I liked the Chrome logo and helmets, but the Atlas jerseys were nicer so that was tough as well. In Sunday’s game, the Redwoods jerseys weren’t bad and both teams had green helmets, but both the Whipsnakes name and sharp red jerseys are very cool so I picked them. So the two games where I had trouble picking a team to root for ended up being very close, while the one where there was a clear winner also had a clear winner.

There was a “fan interaction” area down at one end of the stadium, but I arrived late on Saturday so I didn’t have time to walk around, and I came in a different gate on Sunday so I never got down to that end. There were also a few merch trailers and booths around selling t-shirts, jerseys, hats, and the like. Not particularly cheap – t-shirts were $40 – but I saw a lot of people in the crowd who had bought some.

On Sunday, I sat next to a man and his son from Grand Island, NY. They were both Bandits fans, and the son actually plays for the Jr. Bandits. The dad (whose name I didn’t get, so I’m going to have to just keep calling him “the guy”) also plays summer box with some Bandits players. He had played field lacrosse in the past (as he put it while patting his belly, “a bunch of beers and wings ago”) with and against Greg Gurenlian, Kyle Harrison, and others, so he had some good insights on the game. He wondered about the wisdom of getting near “Rock country” wearing Bandits hats, but I said that’s rarely a problem and that I’d worn my Rock jersey to games in Buffalo many times without incident. He said Bandits fans generally have a friendly rivalry with Rock fans, not so much with Knighthawks fans. “We hate those guys. We own them now, but we’ll still hate ’em.”

We were sitting right in the front row behind the Redwoods bench, and he called out to Gurenlian a couple of times and even got responses. Greg won a faceoff and went straight to the net but didn’t shoot. The guy called out to him asking why he didn’t take the shot, and Greg turned and said he didn’t have a shot. Another time he did shoot but missed the net. Later Greg did get a shot on goal after a face-off, but the goalie stopped it. This time when the guy called to congratulate him on getting the shot, Greg turned around, smiled, and said “That one was on goal! That guy [the goalie] is just a jerk.”

I’ve heard lots of NLL players referred to as “a beast”. Greg Gurenlian’s nickname is “beast” and it fits him better than any NLL player. The man is built like a truck – and not like your Ford F-150 or Dodge Ram pickups, I’m talking one of those big dump trucks with ten-foot tires. I watched him practicing face-offs near the bench and the muscle definition in his arms was unbelievable. I didn’t get to see Scotty Rogers play on Saturday (he’s been injured most of the season) but I’ve seen videos of him and he’s also massive.

Myles Jones is pretty damned big as well and as I tweeted during the game, I really hope he plays in the NLL this coming season because he was amazing to watch. When you watch some players, a single word comes to mind. For Josh Sanderson, it was “vision”. For Lyle Thompson, it’s “dynamic”. For Myles Jones, that word for me is “power”.

Redwoods (left) and Whipsnakes (right)

Connor Farrell is the face-off guy for the Chrome. He’s not built quite like Gurenlian, but he’s a pretty big dude. With that, his beard, and his long flowing blond locks, he’s known as Thor. Many players wear eye black but his was basically a big black triangle under each eye covering most of his face. Gurenlian’s eye black was also significantly more than just rectangles under his eyes. They both looked like they’d fit right in as part of Marilyn Manson’s band.

At one point, I could see Joel White giving some tips to Farrell. I couldn’t hear any of it but it looked like how to get around a guy setting a pick on you – “hold your stick like this, take a step that way, then spin around and go the other way”. Awesome to see the seasoned vet passing on his wisdom to the younger players.

The announcer had the perfect FM radio voice and announced most goals the same way: “And that’s a goal for the Atlas!” followed shortly after by the name of the goal-scorer. He said things almost exactly the same way on every goal, and I wondered if it was actually a recording rather than someone talking live. But some of the goal announcements were different and a few referenced something that just happened so it couldn’t have been a recording. One odd announcement he made numerous times was when announcing a save: “A big save in goal by <goalie name>” – of course it was “in goal”, where else would you make a save?

As I said, I’ve seen only a handful of field lacrosse games, but when the Hamilton Nationals were here, I started to appreciate the outdoor game a lot more, and enjoyed watching the intricacies of the game. Because it’s slower than box, it’s sometimes easier to see the strategies playing out. Because of the smaller field, the PLL version of the field game had the best of both worlds: the finesse and strategy of field lacrosse with (almost) the speed of box. On the whole, I still prefer box but the PLL was exciting to watch. It sounds like Paul and the boys have had a successful debut season, and I intend on being in attendance if the league returns to Hamilton, or Toronto, or Buffalo, next summer.

2019 Expansion draft

I imagine the last few weeks have been a nightmare for NLL GMs, and the next couple won’t be much better. The second expansion draft in two years is coming up in a couple of weeks so each GM had to go through their roster and choose eleven players to protect, knowing they could lose anyone not on that list. Then you need to call more than half of your players and tell them they’re not protected. Then you will lose two of them and need to adjust your team afterwards. Luckily they have five months or so before the season starts to do that. Just like last year’s draft, some GMs will have some big holes to fill after the draft, others might barely notice the difference.

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The Raptors and the Rock, part II

Yesterday I talked about the Raptors winning the NBA Championship and how the reaction of the City of Toronto (and much of Canada, actually) made me sad for the state of the NLL. It’s not because the NLL isn’t at the same level of popularity as the NBA, it’s because I’m not confident it’ll ever get there.

I tried to imagine how the NLL can go from what we have now to a league where people who don’t follow lacrosse and don’t know anything about the game are caught up in the hype of a Championship and start watching. Lots of changes are necessary but first and foremost, it would require that many if not all games (and definitely all playoff games) are available on network TV, not through some paid streaming service. I had no problems with BR Live this past season (though I know others did) and I thought 40 bucks to watch every game all season was a pretty good deal. But I’m a die-hard who is willing to pay to watch lacrosse games. The vast majority of people are not. We’re just not going to gain new fans by making them pay to watch.

Of course the league is constantly trying to get on TV but let’s face it: despite the fact that the NLL has been around for thirty years and has been on TV in the past, it’s still unproven and the TV execs don’t have the confidence that televising lacrosse will make them money. Perhaps the league needs to pay them for a year or two to build up the audience. They don’t need to get NBA-type viewing numbers but if the numbers are good enough, then maybe the networks will start paying the league rather than the other way around.

That said, the Toronto Rock did pay for their games to be televised on Sportsnet in Canada for several years. They don’t do that anymore. I don’t know the reasoning behind why they stopped, but I think it’s fair to say that if televising the game drove up attendance (at least enough to cover the cost of TV), they’d still be paying for it. Clearly it didn’t.

Bob Watson hoists the Champions Cup

The PLL made its debut a couple of weeks ago and some of their games are televised on NBC. I haven’t seen any actual numbers but the word is that they’re pretty good. If the PLL can introduce enough people to field lacrosse and get decent numbers, maybe the Rabil boys can help a brother out and start pushing NBC to talk to Nick Sakiewicz about the NLL.

A lot of lacrosse fans have been playing and watching their whole lives so interest in lacrosse has just always been there. Much of the rest of the lacrosse world, myself included, were introduced later and fell in love with the sport. But many people watch and just aren’t interested. The old adage about bringing someone to a lacrosse game and they’ll be a fan for life just isn’t true in general. We dream about getting the NLL on TV and millions of people watching and wondering why nobody told them about this amazing sport and suddenly the players are full-time lacrosse players making big bucks. Yes, that’s the goal but it’s been the goal for a couple of decades and I’m not sure we’re any closer.

The NBA is huge in terms of popularity. Think of the celebrities you routinely see attending NBA games. Drake is always behind the bench in Toronto. Jack Nicholson has been going to Lakers games for many years. During the finals we saw President Obama, Beyonce and Jay-Z, various NFL players, golfers, hockey players, and lots of former NBA players. It’s likely that these people were given free tickets but it’s also not unlikely that many of them went looking for the tickets. They didn’t have the league or hosting team contact them and ask if they wanted tickets, or pay them to attend.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. After originally being sad, I’ve regained my optimism about the NLL. The fact that celebrities are not spotted at NLL games should not be a reason for pessimism. There are many levels of success between where the NLL is now and the NBA. We may not be able to #GrowTheGame to the same level as the NBA, NHL, or NFL, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be more popular than it is, and it’s certainly no reason to stop trying.

The Raptors and the Rock

The 2018-19 NBA season ended this past Thursday with my hometown Toronto Raptors winning their first-ever NBA Championship. I will admit that I’m mostly a fairweather NBA fan. I don’t watch very many games, but I keep an eye on the Raptors, and have even made my way to the ACC for a few games. I generally jump on the Raptors bandwagon when they hit the playoffs, and this year is no exception.

I remember watching Vince Carter miss the buzzer-beater in game seven of the Conference semi-finals against Philadelphia in 2001 so I understand the multi-level significance of Kawhi Leonard making the buzzer-beater in game seven of the Conference semi-finals against Philadelphia this year.

So congratulations to the Raptors. I’m thrilled that they were able to win it all, and I’m happy for my city. But during the Finals I tried to relate the whole Finals experience to the NLL and it kind of made me sad.

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Various musings lacking statistical correlation

I guess it’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. I’ve been writing weekly for IL Indoor and one article for Lacrosse Flash, podcasting every week, and active on twitter, so I guess my thoughts have been dispersed enough in other venues that I didn’t think to write about them here. That ends now.

Congrats

First off, congratulations to the 2019 NLL Champion Calgary Roughnecks. Their season didn’t start they way they wanted it to, with Curtis Dickson and Wes Berg holding out and Jesse King injuring his knee during the preseason. But Dane Dobbie grabbed the team by the lapels and said “Let’s go out and win this f**king thing”, or words to that effect. A month later they had Dickson back and while Berg never returned at all (and likely never will; any bargaining power he might have had vanished as soon as Duch’s shot hit the back of the net), King was able to return for the last two games of the regular season, just as the team was peaking.

Getting hot heading into the playoffs is never a bad thing, and that momentum led the Roughnecks all the way to the title. They weren’t most people’s favourites to win the west, and in fact they finished third. But at the same time, given the strength of the team and particularly Dobbie and Christian Del Bianco, nobody’s really surprised.

Curtis Dickson

I’m sure it doesn’t mean much but I offer my congratulations to the Bandits as well on their amazing season. After missing the playoffs two straight years, the Bandits were many people’s favourites to win the East, myself included. Obviously the biggest addition was Matt Vinc, who had an outstanding season and will probably win his eleventy millionth Goalie of the Year award, but the additions of Corey Small, the emergence of Thomas Hoggarth as a serious scoring threat, and a crop of amazing rookies in Ian MacKay, Chris Cloutier, and Matt Gilray were also instrumental in the Bandits’ success.

MVP

Until a couple of years ago, I wasn’t a big fan of Dane Dobbie. There was no question that he was a great lacrosse player, but I thought he was a bit of a hothead and a little too arrogant for my taste. Not really a team guy.

DEAD. WRONG.

After paying a little more attention, I started to see some of the unselfish plays he would make and it became obvious that his main goal was not to pad his numbers but to help his team win. I had always appreciated the heart and effort he gave game in and game out. The celebrations that I interpreted as “I scored another goal, I’m so awesome” started to look more like “we scored another goal”. Imagine my surprise when I realized I was a Dobbie fan.

Then came the 2019 season. As good as Dobbie was before, he got better. He managed to tack on an extra 25 points to his best season total. He played with more heart and intensity and carried the Roughnecks through their challenges in the early part of the season. And it wasn’t just until Curtis Dickson returned; Dobbie kept up that intensity the rest of the season and throughout the playoffs. And if that wasn’t enough, in a post-Championship interview, the Finals MVP basically deflected all the credit to his teammates and coaches. Yes, he plays with passion but he’s clearly not a hothead, not arrogant in the least, and there’s no bigger team guy in the NLL. Congratulations to Dane Dobbie on an MVP-worthy season and post-season, and a Championship.

Awards

This afternoon, the NLL announced the nominees for the annual awards. Not a lot of surprises but I found it interesting that some categories are near or perfect clones of last year while others are entirely different. None of the players nominated for MVP in 2018 (Matthews, Church, Crowley) were nominated in 2019. Similarly, none of last year’s Les Bartley award nominees were nominated this year. On the other hand, the Transition Player of the Year list contains two players (Zach Currier and Challen Rogers) who were nominated last year, which means that at least one of the two will lose it two years in a row. Defender of the Year also has two (Graeme Hossack and Kyle Rubisch – Hossack won last year), and the third is Steve Priolo who’s been nominated in five of the last six years. The 2019 Goaltender of the Year nominees are Vinc, Del Bianco, and Ward: exactly the same as last year.

I’ve worked with two of the three nominees for the Tom Borrelli award: Bob Chavez is my editor at IL Indoor and has been amazingly supportive of my lacrosse writing for eight years. I wrote an article for Tyson Geick’s Lacrosse Flash website this past season, and may be doing more there in the future. They are both deserving but since Chavez has won it before, my vote (though I don’t have one) would go to Tyson. I know very little about Barstool Jordie but I find it difficult to believe that his impact as a member of the NLL media was as big as Teddy Jenner, Jake Elliott, Evan Schemenauer, Stephen Stamp, Pat Gregoire, and others. I’m not a fan of Barstool Sports in general, so I’m pretty sure I saw “Barstool” in his name and thought “Oh, those guys” and ignored him throughout the season. Maybe he’s done an excellent job and I’ve just missed it all.

Expansion

The second expansion draft in as many years is a little over a month away, and I’m excited about it. I’m hoping that they do it in one of two ways: either say in advance “Here are the players that the two GMs decided to choose” or conduct an actual live draft. Last year it seemed that they actually did the former but announced it as if it were the latter. It was obvious that the picks had been made in advance, and the whole thing was over in about ten minutes. It doesn’t need to be a whole three-hour event with Stephen Stamp and Andy McNamara doing analysis after each and every pick, though I’m sure those guys would be happy to do it, but don’t just zip through the picks like a new episode of Game of Thrones is about to start.

Last year, I posted an article where I predicted who would be chosen from each team. However I did that before the teams announced who they were protecting, so my guesses were mainly wrong. This year, I’ll wait until the protected lists are out.