2017 NLL Milestones

A number of player and team milestones can be reached this year. Here’s a list of the most likely:

Teams

Wins & losses

Calgary needs 11 wins for 150, while Rochester needs 8 for 200.

Buffalo needs six away wins to give them 100 in franchise history.

Toronto needs five home wins to give them 100.

Goals

Buffalo is 36 away from 2500 goals at home.

Rochester needs 14 goals on the road to give them 2000, and needs to allow 55 on the road to have allowed 2000.


Players

Goals

Player… Needs… To reach…
John Grant 34 700
Kasey Beirnes 31 400
Dane Dobbie 4 300
Cody Jamieson 1 200
Zack Greer 1 200
Adam Jones 6 200
Jordan Hall 15 200
Robert Church 7 100
Tyler Digby 8 100
Logan Schuss 13 100
Cory Conway 14 100

John Grant needs 34 goals to reach 700 in his career, a figure only ever attained by one other player. And after those 34, he’d need another 115 to reach the lofty heights of Mr. John Tavares.

John Grant

Interesting that Greer and Jones, who were traded for each other this past off-season, can both reach 200 career goals. Greer only needs one while Jones needs six, but both could do it in game 1.

Another interesting fact: James Earl Jones played Admiral Greer in The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger.

Assists

Player… Needs… To reach…
John Grant 25 800
Dan Dawson 34 800
Shawn Evans 23 600
Callum Crawford 49 500
Garrett Billings 7 400
Jeff Shattler 33 400
Stephan Leblanc 2 300
Kasey Beirnes 7 300
Chad Culp 9 300
Daryl Veltman 12 300
Kevin Ross 5 200
Dhane Smith 8 200
Kevin Buchanan 13 200
Cliff Smith 1 100
Bill Greer 1 100

Points

Player… Needs… To reach…
Dan Dawson 83 1300
Mark Steenhuis 66 1000
Shawn Evans 92 1000
Ryan Benesch 31 800
Rhys Duch 66 800
Callum Crawford 9 700
Dane Dobbie 23 600
Garrett Billings 31 600
Chad Culp 30 500
Curtis Dickson 56 500
Brodie Merrill 2 400
Adam Jones 36 400
Corey Small 36 400

Note that Evans hasn’t scored less than 105 points in a season since 2012.

For me, it’s hard to think of Ryan Benesch as being all that high on the career points milestone list, since I still think of him as a young kid. Well, maybe not that young, he’s been around for a while. OK, more than a while. Turns out the 31-year-old Benesch is entering his eleventh NLL season. Only 15 players have scored more career points than Beni, and he’ll likely pass four of them in 2017.

In the “not bloody likely” category, Derek Keenan needs six points to reach 100 for his career. He’s actually needed those six points for a number of years now.

Loose Balls

Player… Needs… To reach…
Scott Self 6 1100
Ian Hawksbee 50 1000
Sandy Chapman 2 900
Kasey Beirnes 16 900
Dan Dawson 40 900

PIM

Player… Needs… To reach…
Billy Dee Smith 13 600
Patrick Merrill 36 600
Brodie Merrill 13 400

Games

Player… Needs… To reach…
Curtis Hodgson 3 200
Chad Culp 7 200
Patrick Merrill 8 200
Bill Greer 10 200
Dean Hill 2 100
Garrett Billings 3 100
Corey Small 3 100
Ryan Dilks 3 100
Jarrett Davis 5 100
Andrew Watt 5 100
Pete McFetridge 5 100

Goalie Minutes

Player… Needs… To reach…
Brandon Miller 263 8000
Aaron Bold 337 6000

Goals against

Player… Needs… To reach…
Brandon Miller 36 1600
Aaron Bold 44 1000

Saves

Player… Needs… To reach…
Matt Vinc 25 5900
125 6000
Tyler Richards 13 3500

Leaders

This section is for players who are close to passing a retired player on the career list in a particular category. First overall in goals, assists, and points is likely safe for another year.

Player… Needs… To tie… For…
John Grant 149 goals John Tavares 1st
Mark Steenhuis 9 goals Jeff Ratcliff 8th
13 goals Shawn Williams 7th
18 goals Josh Sanderson 6th
Kasey Beirnes 14 goals Tracey Kelusky 13th
22 goals Mike Accursi 12th
30 goals Tom Marechek 11th
Shawn Evans 4 goals Ted Dowling 16th
7 goals Chris Gill 15th
Shawn Evans 44 assists Gavin Prout 7th
Callum Crawford 42 assists Jim Veltman 13th
John Grant 308 points John Tavares 1st
Mark Steenhuis 25 points Jeff Ratcliff 8th
Ryan Benesch 4 points Tom Marechek 15th
54 points Tracey Kelusky 14th
58 points Mike Accursi 13th
64 points Blaine Manning 12th
Anthony Cosmo 71 goals against Dallas Eliuk 1st
Billy Dee Smith 40 PIM Kyle Laverty 1st
Patrick Merrill 18 PIM Geoff Snider 3rd
Shawn Evans 15 PIM Pat McCready 5th
Brodie Merrill 51 LB John Tavares 2nd
210 LB Jim Veltman 1st
Mark Steenhuis 50 LB Steve Toll 6th

It’s possible the targets for Mr. Grant are a little optimistic for 2017.

2017 NLL rule changes

The league has released its list of rule changes that will be in effect for the 2017 season. As usual, there are a few that might have a big impact, a bunch that will probably not affect things very often, and a few that may never come up at all but they wanted something specific in the rule book just in case. I’ve looked over the list of changes and compared them with the 2016 rule book, and here’s what you need to know.

The most obvious change is that there will be three refs on the floor this year rather than two. Strangely, this was listed on the NLL.com article on the changes, but I couldn’t find anything in the rule book that lists the number of referees. They did add a clause discussing challenges that says “In a three man on the floor mechanic, …” but that’s the only mention of having three refs.

The remaining rule changes are listed with a reference to the rule number.

Rule 11: GAME CLOCK OPERATION
11.2 TIME BETWEEN GOAL AND ENSUING FACE-OFF

Faceoffs should be held 25 seconds (up from 20) after a goal is scored. Similarly, if a goal is waved off, teams have 25 seconds (up from 20) to challenge.

Rule 17: REFEREES
17.81 CRITERIA OF CHALLENGE

Coach’s challenges can now be used for determining whether the ball was batted into the goal, whether the shooter’s stick head is behind the goal line when he shoots (how would that even work? I believe there’s already a rule that says the ball can’t bounce off the goalie’s back), or whether an attacking player went into the crease, left it, and was then the first to receive a pass or gain possession of the ball.

Rule 17: REFEREES
17.82 NUMBER OF CHALLENGES

Coaches get two challenges per game plus one more if they win the first two. That now only applies to regulation time. Coaches now get one challenge in OT.

There’s another clause that’s been added that makes no sense to me. Coaches are not allowed to use challenges during the last two minutes of the fourth quarter or the last two minutes of overtime – if they do, they will be charged with using a challenge even if no replay is actually done. But challenges can’t be called at that time anyway so what does it matter if you are charged with using one?

Rule 17: REFEREES
17.84 OFFICIALS’ MECHANICS

If two refs have a discrepancy in whether a goal was scored or not (i.e. one calls goal and the other waves it off), the crew chief will review the play. Neither team is charged with a challenge.

Rule 24: PLAYERS IN UNIFORM
24.1 ELIGIBLE PLAYER LIST

Each team can have up to 19 players eligible per game, up from 18. No more than 17 runners, up from 16, can be used. Adding only one extra player doesn’t sound like much, but this could have a big impact. Not only will it change up the lines and add more strategies for coaches, but it will give players just a little more rest during games so we don’t see quite as much fatigue (or worse, injuries) near the end of the game.

Note however that the roster sizes are not changing so this doesn’t mean there are more employed players. It simply means that there will be one fewer “healthy scratch” per team per game.

Rule 26: UNIFORM REQUIREMENTS
26.1 NUMBER AND NAME ON JERSEY

Jerseys are now required to have the player’s number on each shoulder or bicep.

Rule 38: DEFINITION OF MAJOR PENALTIES
38.1 MAJOR PENALTY

A player given a major penalty with less than 5 minutes remaining in regulation will be given a second major penalty “for accrual purposes only”. The rule specifically says this is “not a time served penalty”. The very next rule says that any player that gets two majors in a game will automatically get a game misconduct, but it’s not clear whether this second “accrual” major counts towards that. If it doesn’t, I don’t know what the point of this penalty is other than to pad one’s PIM numbers.

Rule 41: DEFINITION OF MATCH PENALTY
41.2 MATCH PENALTY AUTOMATIC SUSPENSION

The previous rule said that players given a match penalty would automatically receive a two game suspension. Now they are given a “one or two game” suspension. No word on how that is decided.

Rule 43: DEFINITION OF PENALTY SHOT

If there’s a delayed penalty and then game time expires, but the officials decide that the penalty warranted a penalty shot, the team gets to take the penalty shot.

Rule 43: DEFINITION OF PENALTY SHOT
43.4 CREASE VIOLATION

If a player (non-goalie) falls on the ball or closes his hand on the ball in his own crease in front of the goal line, the opposing team gets a penalty shot. The new rule is that if it happens behind the goal line it’s just a loss of possession.

Rule 44: FACING AT CENTER
44.4 CONTESTING THE BALL ON THE FACE-OFF

This one seems too obvious to even write down. If a player doesn’t contest the ball during a faceoff, the other team gets possession. So if you don’t try to get the ball, you don’t get the ball.

Faceoff

Rule 51: BALL CAUGHT IN LACROSSE STICK OR EQUIPMENT
51.2 BALL CAUGHT IN GOALIES STICK OR EQUIPMENT

If the ball gets caught in the goalie’s equipment after a pass from a teammate, the whistle is blown, the ball dislodged, and play resumes (with the goalie having possession) but the shot clock doesn’t get reset. New rule: the 8-second clock doesn’t get reset either. This was probably always the case, but now it’s explicit.

Rule 57: CRITERIA FOR STOPPAGE OF PLAY ON A DELAYED PENALTY

If a delayed penalty is called, play continues until a goal is scored, the offending team gets possession, etc. Now play will also be stopped if the offending team takes a second penalty.

Rule 59: OFFENSIVE SCREENS/PICKS/BLOCKS

I’ll just quote this one since I can’t really summarize it any better: “An offensive player not in possession of the ball cannot exert significant unequal pressure on his defender as an attempt to gain space away from his defender“.

Rule 69: CONTACT WHILE SHOOTING ON NET
69.8 CONTACT INITIATED BY DEFENDER ON ATTACKER INTO THE CREASE

If an attacking player is legally checked into the crease and is then prevented from leaving the crease by a defender, a holding penalty is called. If a goal is scored, it counts (assuming no other violations). This is only slightly different from the existing rule, which talks about a player being illegally pushed into the crease.

Rule 70: ILLEGAL BODYCHECKING
70.1 CONTACT WHILE PURSUING A LOOSE BALL
70.4 CONTACT ON A FAST BREAKING OPPONENT
70.9 MATCH PENALTY

This change adds some vague wording to this rule about “officials shall consider the positioning of players when contact is initiated” and “an appropriate penalty for illegal body checking shall be assessed based on the severity of the illegal contact”. The idea is that if a player has his head down or is “unaware of an impending hit”, the ref has the discretion to increase the penalty.

Rule 80: FIGHTING
80.3 AGGRESSOR

The definition of “aggressor” no longer uses the word “aggressor”. It is now defines as a player someone who keeps fighting even after the ref has told him to stop and tried to pull him away.

Rule 81: HEAD-BUTTING
81.1 MINOR PENALTY
81.2 MAJOR PENALTY
81.3 GAME MISCONDUCT

Head-butting rules are slightly different. The old penalties were clear: a minor penalty is given if no contact is made, a major is given (possibly with a game misconduct) if contact is made with your helmet on, and a match penalty is given if contact is made with your helmet off. The new penalties are more vague and are probably designed to allow the refs more leeway in giving out such penalties.

Rule 88: EQUIPMENT INSPECTION
88.2 PREGAME INSPECTION PROCEDURE
88.6 DURING/AFTER GAME INSPECTION ILLEGAL GOALIE EQUIPMENT
88.7 GOALIE ADJUSTING EQUIPMENT BEFORE INSPECTION

When goalies are inspected before the game, their jerseys may be on or off (before it was off), though it doesn’t say if that’s the goalie’s choice or the ref’s. If a goalie is found using illegal equipment, he will get a major penalty (used to be minor). He won’t have to serve it himself but can’t return to the floor until the penalty expires. Also, if a ref is just about to do an inspection and the goalie adjusts his equipment to make it smaller, he gets a 5-minute penalty.

Rule 92: DELAYING THE GAME
92.2 THROWS, RETAINS OR ROLLS BALL AWAY

If a player is given the ball on a fast restart, the nearest defender must be 2 yards away or he gets a delay of game penalty. The change is that if the attacking player tries to move closer to draw a penalty on the defender, the attacking player gets a delay of game penalty. I wonder if this ever actually happened.

Top 5 Colin Doyle memories

Last week we talked about Colin Doyle, his retirement, and how well respected he was throughout his career. This week I’ll talk about a few of my own memories of Colin over the years. Here are the top five:

5. The Shoes

In February 2011, the Calgary Roughnecks came to Toronto for a mid-season tilt. As many Calgary-Toronto games tend to be, this one was exciting and came down to the wire, finishing with the Rock on top after an Aaron Pascas winner in overtime. But during a stoppage in play in the overtime period, a ref sent Colin Doyle to the bench. I was at the game and didn’t know why at the time. I only knew that Doyle was not happy about it, vanished into the dressing room, and returned a couple of minutes later.

It turned out that Doyle was not wearing league-sponsor Rebook shoes, and the Calgary bench waited until overtime to notify the refs, who were obligated by the rules to send Doyle off the floor. He went to the dressing room, put on a pair of Reeboks (apparently belonging to the trainer, and 2½ sizes too big), and returned. Calgary’s tactic was sound, but didn’t work. Pascas’s goal was unassisted but Doyle helped set it up.

4. The Fighter

In January of 2010, Colin Doyle made his second debut with the Rock after an off-season trade brought him back from San Jose. His return to the ACC was a game against the Boston Blazers, and things got rough in the first quarter. Five minutes into his return, he got into a fight with the 6’5″ Paul Dawson, one of the better fighters in the NLL. Note that Doyle is 6’3″, so that’s only a 2 inch difference. I don’t have career numbers, but from 2005-2016, Doyle was given TWO fighting majors. In fact, in those twelve seasons he only picked up seven major penalties and no misconducts. What I remembered about this game was that despite not being as seasoned a fighter as Dawson (12 fighting majors since 2008), Doyle held his own.

Both were given facemasking and roughing penalties in addition to fighting, and four other fights broke out while the refs were sorting that one out. All of the additional fighters got game misconducts. In all, 23 penalties were handed out and eight players ejected 4:39 into the first quarter.

Oddly, that game also ended with a Rock victory in OT, this time with Garrett Billings scoring the winner. Doyle got the first assist.

3. The Speaker

The Toronto Rock held a Town Hall meeting in December 2012, where they invited season ticket holders to come out to the brand-new TRAC and talk to owner Jamie Dawick, coach Troy Cordingley, GM Terry Sanderson, and several players (Doyle, Billings, Rose). They talked about the state of the team as well as the TRAC, and answered questions from fans on various topics. One thing I remember about this meeting was that Doyle was very well-spoken. There weren’t a lot of “um” and “uh” and filler words like “well, like, ya know” (i.e. he didn’t sound like me on Addicted to Lacrosse). He used to be a teacher and so is obviously comfortable speaking in front of people. Being a pro athlete in general requires some fan interaction and tons of interviews, and being a veteran and team captain means he was used to having the attention of everyone in the Rock and Stealth dressing rooms. Thus it’s not surprising that he’s a great speaker.

2. The Cup

The Rock won their sixth Championship in May 2011. It was also Doyle’s sixth title. Similar to the NHL and other sports, after every Championship-winning game, the league commissioner (George Daniel at the time) would call up the captain of the winning team and present them with the Champion’s Cup. This was Doyle’s first (and only) Championship as team captain, but he declined this traditional honour. Instead, Doyle sent veterans Cam Woods and Kasey Beirnes up to get it. At that time, Woods had played 12 seasons in the NLL and Beirnes 10, and since this was their first Championship, Doyle decided that he would give them the honour. That’s class.

Photo credit: Carlos Osorio, Toronto Star

1. The Patriot

During the national anthems, many players bounce around from foot to foot and jump up and down. This has bugged me forever. Some say it’s because they just finished warming up and they’re trying to stay loose, but that’s a crock – right after the anthems, most of them go and sit on the bench. Nobody ever jumps around behind the bench trying to stay loose. I’ve also heard that they’re so full of adrenaline and ready to play that they can’t stand still, and I can buy that. But not everybody does this. Many years ago I noticed that Colin Doyle stands completely still during the anthems. Even better, he looks at the Canadian flag and sings along with O Canada (or at least mouths the words). Every game. Respect.

 

Honourable mentions

  • It didn’t happen in the NLL so I didn’t include it above but I can’t leave it out entirely. When Six Nations Chiefs goalies Brandon Miller and Evan Kirk were both ejected for using illegal equipment during a Mann Cup game in 2013, someone had to step up and strap on the pads. Doyle told the team’s defenders that they were all needed on the floor, so he’d do it, and he did. He played 11 minutes and made 6 saves on 9 shots. Question: This article says that Doyle had to put on his teammates’ soaking wet equipment, but wasn’t Miller’s and Kirk’s equipment illegal?
  • Doyle is known far and wide as a clutch player. Since I know a thing or two about clutch players, I took a look at his Money Baller numbers. I only have these going back to 2005, but Doyle is #10 in those 12 seasons combined (though he only played 1 game in 2015). He’s #5 in the playoffs.
  • I remember paying close attention to Doyle’s first game as a member of the Stealth. It wasn’t that I wanted him to fail, but I didn’t like the trade and so I guess I figured that if he didn’t do well in San Jose, it would somehow make the trade less bad. His first game was decent but not spectacular: a goal and three assists. His next game? Nine assists. The one after that? A goal and seven assists. He ended up with 81 points that season, 88 the next, and 111 in 2009. Safe to say he did well in San Jose. (For the record, that year I became, and remain, a big fan of Ryan Benesch, the guy the Rock received in the Doyle trade.)

O Captain, My Captain

We all knew this day would come, as it does for every player, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Hot on the heels of the retirements of NLL superstars John Tavares a year ago and Josh Sanderson over the summer, another legend has decided to hang ’em up. Colin Doyle is one of the highest scoring players in league history but at 39 he is calling it a career. Like JT and Shooter before him, Doyle will be a no-doubt first-ballot Hall of Famer. And if he’s not a unanimous first-ballot Hall of Famer then I will personally go and find whoever didn’t vote for him and… well, probably just tweet about it.

Doyle played fifteen seasons for the Rock, the last seven as captain. He led the team in scoring six times, but was top three 10 times including last year (despite only playing 10 games). He amassed over 1000 points with the Rock, a number which would put him eighth in league history. But don’t forget the 280 points he picked up as a member of the Washington San Jose Stealth and the 61 as an Ontario Raider. That gives him a total of 1384 points, third on the all-time list. Oh, and you have to tack on 144 career playoff points (also third overall). He was Rookie of the Year in 1998, league MVP in 2005, a six-time NLL Champ (the Rock have never won one without him), and was named Champion’s Cup MVP an unprecedented three times. And that’s just his NLL career – he also won a bunch of Mann Cups, an MLL Championship, and a couple of World Lacrosse Championships – one indoor and one outdoor.

Colin Doyle with the Cup

Doyle was a workhorse, playing in every game for his team for eleven straight seasons. His iron man streak ran 188 games which was, for a short time, the league record (tying Steve Toll and since surpassed by Shawn Williams and Dan Dawson).

But enough of the numbers, amazing as they are. One of the most impressive things about Colin Doyle is how well-respected he is. Among players and fans alike, it seems that nobody has bad things to say about him. I’ve been watching this league for fifteen years and I’ve heard fans say negative things about many great players. Two notable exceptions (among others) are Bob Watson and Colin Doyle. I have never heard a bad word said about Bob Watson; some friends of mine met him at a post-game party in Rochester many years ago and said he was the nicest guy ever.

As for Doyle, the only negative things I’ve heard about him came from… me.

Waaaaay back in 2001, my first year as a Rock fan, I wasn’t a huge fan of Colin Doyle. I acknowledged that he was a great player – there was no arguing that. But I thought he was a bit of a hothead, someone who took unnecessary penalties and all-too-frequently wanted to fight. I even postulated that he wanted to fight more often than he actually did but Rock coach Les Bartley wouldn’t let him because he was too valuable to sit in the penalty box. But over the next year or two , he stopped being that hothead (if he truly ever was). He still played with fire and passion – that never stopped – and the penalties didn’t vanish entirely, but his PIM numbers went down as his scoring numbers went way up.

Despite my initial misgivings, I quickly grew to be a big fan of Doyle and was quite bummed when he was traded west. But after three outstanding seasons in San Jose, Doyle was traded back to Toronto, the Rock went back to the Finals, won another Championship the next year, and all was right in the universe once again.

Me, my boys, and Colin

I did actually meet Doyle a couple of years ago at a Rock season ticket holders party. We had a 15 second conversation and he posed with me and my kids for the picture above. He even told my wife they’d try and give her a birthday present by winning the upcoming playoff game (unfortunately they ended up losing 20-11 to the Swarm). He was a super nice guy and was bigger than I expected.

He was a great scorer, a great passer, played with both toughness and class, could play defense and fight if he had to, and in a pinch could even strap on the pads. He also loved the fans, was a strong leader both on and off the floor, and was a great public speaker. Doyle was pretty much the quintessential ambassador of the game of lacrosse.

Congratulations to Colin Doyle on a fantastic playing career. I look forward to being able to celebrate on March 11 as #7 gets raised to the rafters where it belongs.

I’ll have another article next week with some of my memories of Colin over the years.

Thinking inside the box Part II: Exodus

Last week I wrote about a number of significant MLL players who may be playing in the NLL this coming season. This is significant not just because NLL fans who don’t watch the MLL will be introduced to some great lacrosse players, but because this seems to reverse the trend over the last few years. But where did this trend come from, and why is it changing?

Aside: Jake Elliott and Brad Challoner talked about this a bit on the Oct 21 edition of the Stealth Classified radio show / podcast, a show that you really should be listening to if you’re a lacrosse fan – even if you’re not a Stealth fan.

Another aside: The list of MLL players signed this season has grown since that last article: New England signed both Myles Jones and Josh Hawkins to contracts. Again, it doesn’t mean they’re definitely playing but it does mean they’re interested.

The Wings and the Championships

Back in 2013, the Philadelphia Wings had a whole bunch of guys who also played in the MLL: Crowley, Westervelt, Crotty, Rabil, … actually it would be faster to list the guys who didn’t. Of the 27 non-goalies who wore a Wings jersey in a game that season, 18 of them (67%) also played in the MLL that year. In 2014, they had 25 no-goalies but only 13 of them, or 52%, were MLL players. Why the sudden drop?

In the summer of 2014, Colorado hosted the World Lacrosse Championship, the pinnacle of field lacrosse supremacy. The USA had taken home the gold medal at the event in Manchester in 2010. The World Championships hadn’t been held in the US since 1998, and Team USA wanted nothing more than to repeat their gold medal performance in front of their own fans. As a result, a number of players decided to take the winter off from the NLL to prepare for the Worlds. The Wings lost Paul Rabil, Ned Crotty, Kyle Hartzell, Pat Heim, Brendan Mundorf, and Jeff Reynolds – six players totaling 79 games, 86 points, about a third of their transition, and 71% of their face-offs.

I imagine the Wings brass were less than impressed with this exodus. The intentions of the players were honourable, I suppose – they wanted to represent their country to the best of their ability. But it didn’t help the Wings any, and they dropped from 7-9 in 2013 to 6-12. I can’t be sure about this but I remember hearing at the time that the players who left were not welcomed back by the Wings, meaning that they were not invited to camp for the 2015 season – and other than Heim, they were not released either. Right after training camp at the end of 2014, the Wings added Rabil to their protected player list, Mundorf to the PUP list, and buried Hartzell, Crotty, Reynolds, and Max Seibald (who played for them from 2010-12 and also played for Team USA) on the restricted free agent list. As far as I can tell, they’re all still there, and none of them has played in the NLL since (though it’s possible that none of them have been interested in returning). To add insult to injury, Team USA lost the gold medal match to Canada.

Kyle Hartzell with the WingsAlso interesting to note is the fact that both Kevin Buchanan and Garrett Thul found the time to play for both the Wings and Team USA in 2014. I don’t remember hearing of a single player on the Canadian or Iroquois teams who took the season off to prepare.

The number of MLL players in the NLL has continued to drop. In 2015, the Wings became the Black Wolves and only had six players who played in the MLL that same year. In 2016 it was only four. Of course it’s not just the Black Wolves that are involved; there were MLL players who played in the NLL for other teams, guys like Joe Walters and Mark Matthews, but the overlap seemed to keep declining. And overlap is one of the reasons why.

Us and them

As I said before, we know the NLL and MLL seasons overlap and players who want to play in both will miss games in one league or the other. It’s also true that just as the NLL is a “mostly-Canadians” league, the MLL is a “mostly-Americans” league. These guys grew up playing field lacrosse, not box, so the MLL is more important to them. Some of them think of the MLL as the “real” league and the NLL is a fun league to play in during the winter to keep in shape. I assume there are NLL players who think of the MLL the same way.

It’s also been said that some MLL players have publicly expressed interest in playing in the NLL purely as a bargaining strategy with their MLL team, i.e. “I’ll play with them and skip the beginning of the season if you don’t sign me to a long term contract / pay me more / whatever.” The person who stated this said he knows for a fact that this is happening, though he didn’t say who this was referring to nor was there any evidence given, so take that claim with a grain of salt.

NLL teams won’t be happy if players play the whole season and then leave when the playoffs arrive, while MLL teams won’t be happy if players don’t start playing for a month after the season starts. To my knowledge, the former has never happened while the latter definitely has. From that perspective, it certainly seems that the MLL is getting the worse of this situation. But are there MLL players who don’t play in the NLL at all because they don’t want to leave the team when the MLL starts? It’s likely that both leagues are losing out.

So there are a lot of reasons why a whole slew of MLL players suddenly signing with NLL teams is surprising. Maybe these guys want to stir up some controversy to get the leagues to talk and eventually co-operate. Based on the history of these two leagues, I will say with all the sarcasm I can muster: Good luck with that.

Then again, the NLL has a new commissioner who may not care about the history. If it makes sense for the league to have a partnership with the MLL, he may be more willing than previous commissioners to go to them and say “Hey, let’s forget all of that old animosity. If we start over and work together, we both benefit.” If that’s the case, I will say without a trace of sarcasm: Good luck with that.

Field players: Thinking inside the box

The winds of change might be sweeping over the lacrosse scene this winter, affecting not only the NLL but the MLL too. OK, that’s a little melodramatic, but there have been some significant signings over the past month or so. A few NLL teams have signed a number of MLL players to contracts and some of those players seem excited to join the NLL. This is not unprecedented, but it does seem to be reversing a trend.

There have been players who’ve played in both the MLL and NLL for many years. The roster of the inaugural Toronto Nationals back in 2009 looked like an NLL All-Star team. Some guys like Brodie Merrill, John Grant, and Kevin Crowley have played in both leagues every year, while others like Jesse Gamble, Kiel Matisz, and Chad Tutton were listed on MLL rosters this past year but did not play. There have also been players who were primarily MLL guys but played in the NLL too, guys like Paul Rabil, Ned Crotty, Max Seibald, Brendan Mundorf, and Connor Martin. Some were successful indoors, others weren’t. Rabil scored 161 points in 68 games over 5 seasons and won a Championship with the Stealth, while Connor Martin’s NLL career consisted of 6 games with the Mammoth, picking up 2 goals and no assists – though his backflip off the boards after his first was memorable. None of these guys has played in the NLL since 2013.

Paul Rabil with the Stealth

But the NLL and MLL seasons overlap, and to make matters worse for players who want to play in both leagues, the NLL season has become longer over the past few years. First they expanded the regular season from 16 to 18 games and then they also extended the playoffs. As a result, NLL players end up missing the beginning of the MLL season. In 2011, Kevin Crowley went to the NLL finals with the Toronto Rock and missed at least a month of MLL games.

So when it was announced in July that the Toronto Rock had traded a draft pick to the Black Wolves for the rights to Paul Rabil, it seemed like a weird move. Why bother trading for someone who’s already been in the league and has seemingly given up on it? But when Rabil acknowledged the trade and didn’t immediately say “yeah, not gonna happen”, a few eyebrows were raised. Could he actually report to camp and suit up for the Rock? Rabil is obviously a very skilled player but I don’t think that was even the main reason the Rock went after him. He’s probably the most famous lacrosse player in North America so what he brings to the team in attention off the floor may be worth just as much as what he brings on the floor.

Almost three months later, the New England Black Wolves drafted Myles Jones in the fourth round. Jones went first overall in the MLL draft earlier this year and is regarded as the steal of the (NLL) draft – if he plays. It sounds like this is unlikely (or he would have gone earlier) but it got people talking about MLL players in the NLL again.

Tom SchreiberBut then the bigger news came down early in October. The Rock signed MLL stars Tom Schreiber and Kieran McArdle to one-year contracts and both have gone on the record as “looking forward to the challenge“. And these aren’t just MLL guys. These are really good MLL guys. McArdle was Rookie of the Year in 2014 and led the Florida Launch in scoring in 2016, finishing 6th in the league. Schreiber led the Ohio Machine in scoring, finished 3rd in the league, and was named league MVP. For comparison’s sake, Callum Crawford was 3rd in league scoring last year with 115 points and Mark Matthews was 6th with 109. This is not exactly the same since Schreiber and McArdle have no box experience but if you’re that good at field lacrosse, you’re unlikely to suck at box.

The same day, the Buffalo Bandits announced that they had signed Blaze Riorden, another MLL player. This one’s a little weird in that Riorden is a field goalie but was signed by the Bandits as a forward. Both Matt Vinc and Anthony Cosmo are goalies in box but not field, so there’s no reason Riorden couldn’t do things the other way around. And he’s familiar with the other end of the floor field too; here’s some (dizzying) video of Riorden the goalie scoring a goal.

Ten days after signing Schreiber and McArdle, the Rock signed McArdle’s Florida Launch teammate Connor Buczek. Buczek finished second in scoring on the Launch this past year and just like Schreiber and McArdle, he’s said that he’s looking forward to playing in the NLL.

For me, the big deal here isn’t that NLL teams are signing MLL stars. That’s happened before. But after the last three years where many MLL players have shied away from the NLL, the big deal is that now they’re not. Rabil hasn’t said whether or not he’ll report but hasn’t ruled out the possibility, at least not publicly. I haven’t heard anything from Riorden but the others have said that they are looking forward to it.

I have to think that if more MLL players are interested in playing in the NLL, this is good for both leagues. More players will start asking the two leagues to work together to make it easier, and eventually the leagues will have no choice but to work something out. But that possibility is a whole other kettle of fish – or can of worms. I’ll discuss that in a future article.

The NLL Draft is not about building for the future. It’s all about now.

While I was growing up as a hockey and baseball fan, drafts never interested me. I knew they happened but they were never televised and barely covered in the media at all, and there just wasn’t the hype about these young players that we have now. We all knew the names Sidney Crosby and John Tavares and Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews for months, sometimes years before they ever played an NHL game but a few decades ago, that’s not how it worked. I’d read about the draft results in the newspaper but it never meant anything to me because I don’t follow minor league baseball or hockey, so I’d never heard of any of the drafted players.

Most of the time, it didn’t really matter much anyway. Other than the very top draft picks, most players would sit in the farm system for a year or two (or five in baseball) before making the big club. If you remembered any names from the draft after the first round, you might never hear them again, or at least not for a long while.

Connor Brown, Stealth drafteeFor the players and teams, it’s more of a big deal. Being drafted by a team means they thought highly enough of you that they want you in their system. And even if you can’t contribute right away, they’re willing to wait. It’s somewhat of a commitment. Sure, you can be cut at any time but a team has the option of playing you in the minor leagues for a year or two and see how you adjust to their playing system, get along with teammates and coaches, all that sort of thing. The draft is used to build the team for the future, not just next year.

The NLL is different

For most fans, the NLL draft is much the same – if you don’t follow the Canadian summer leagues or NCAA, you may not have heard of the players either. I was there last week and I certainly hadn’t heard of most of them. And there will be some whose name you never hear again after the draft.

But for the players and teams, it’s different from other sports. Teams aren’t drafting for the future, they’re drafting for now. And players aren’t hoping to get drafted and play for the big club sometime in the future, they’re hoping to play now. The reason for this is simple: there is no farm system. There are no minor leagues. Teams can’t draft a player and send him to the minors for a year or two before he’s ready. If you get drafted, there are three options:

  1. you make the roster for the upcoming season, or
  2. you make the practice roster for the upcoming season, or
  3. you are released.

That’s it. Players in the NLL aren’t drafted as much on their long-term potential, it’s all about next year. And this affects who gets drafted, by what team, and when.

Take the Toronto Rock for example: they have an older goalie in Brandon Miller and a younger one in Nick Rose. If they have a farm system, they might have drafted a young goalie like Doug Jamieson or Warren Hill and put him in the minors for a year or two for seasoning until Miller retires. Then they have Rose in his prime and a 22-year-old to back him up and everyone’s happy. Or if Miller plays well for a few more years and doesn’t retire, they have either Rose or a 22-year-old goalie as trade bait which nets them Curtis Dickson or Randy Staats or someone like that and still everyone’s happy. But there are no minors to put Jamieson or Hill in. They can’t pick them for the future. If there’s nowhere on the roster for one of them next season, they draft somebody else.

This is why the Rock’s choice of 18-year-old Latrell Harris at #12 is a little puzzling. I don’t know anything about the kid, but he’s only 18. Maybe he’ll be 19 when the season starts, and others like Shawn Evans and Rob Hellyer have excelled in the NLL at that age. And it’s certainly possible I’m underestimating how great a player he is; as I said, I know nothing about him. But if they decide during training camp that he’s too young or too raw, they either have to cut him or leave him out there, and trying to recover from a season where you missed the playoffs is not the best time to be using a roster spot on someone who’s not ready.

I only went to one or two CLax games in the few years it was around, and I feel kind of guilty about that now since it’s gone. But if they had partnered with the NLL, I think it could have been great. Imagine NLL teams drafting young players and sending them to CLax, or bringing up players when an injury hits, or using CLax for conditioning players returning from injury. There would have to be a western division of CLax, probably in Vancouver, and perhaps there are other factors that I don’t know about that would have made this impossible. But it seems like it would have been a good idea.

Except…

There is one exception to what I’ve said above. It is possible to draft someone and hold onto him for the future: a team can put a player on the holdout list. As long as he’s got a contract and doesn’t qualify as a free agent, he can stay there indefinitely. Teams don’t even have to pay players on that list. But the list is limited so you can’t just throw all of your draft picks that didn’t make the roster on the holdout list and keep them as long as you want. A team might use that strategy for one special player, as the Stealth have done with their 2015 draft pick Connor Brown (not the Toronto Maple Leaf). As long as he continues his hockey career, he’ll be unavailable to them but if he ever decides to play in the NLL, the Stealth will own his rights, even if that doesn’t happen for another few years.

 

Thanks a bunch to Teddy Jenner for consultation on the draft and holdout list rules.