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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2018 NLL Awards

It’s that time of year again! When some NLL players gear up for the playoffs while others dust off the golf clubs or join their MLL teams. It’s also time for the annual NLL award voting. I don’t have a vote in the NLL awards but I’ve submitted my picks for the real awards, which are of course those published on IL Indoor. In that series of articles, probably published next week sometime, I will have comments about who I picked to win so I won’t repeat them here. I will also mention my pre-season picks for these awards so we can either stare in amazement at my insight or laugh at my “insight”.

In my season preview articles (West and East), I picked a player for each team who I thought might have a breakout year, so I’ll also go over my “Look out for…” choices. Some panned out, while others were not as prescient as I might have hoped.

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Game report: Rochester 14 @ Toronto 11

After a long trip to and from tonight’s game (see the last “Not awesome” point below), I’m too tired to write a full article. So, like I’ve done in the past and as we do on the Addicted to Lacrosse podcast every week, I’ll do an “awesome / not awesome” summary instead.

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Game report: Colorado 11 @ Toronto 7

When Tom Schreiber got injured, some Rock fans were worried that the offence wouldn’t adjust. After a few rough outings, they went and scored 14 against New England and 17 against Calgary, and we thought they had adjusted. Well if they did, they adjusted right back on Friday night.

Most aspects of the Rock game were pretty good: Nick Rose was solid for the most part, the defense was also strong, and the transition was excellent. Anytime you get five transition goals and two from defenders you put yourself in a good position to win – assuming the offense does anything. But if they don’t…

In what might be an NLL first, not a single Rock offensive player scored a goal on Friday night. Kieran McArdle picked up one assist as did Reid Reinholdt (both on the same Challen Rogers goal), but that was it. Adam Jones, Rob Hellyer, Brett Hickey, newcomer Dan Taylor, and Phil Caputo combined for ZERO points. Props to the Mammoth defense who were exceptional at preventing many shots from occurring at all, and to Dillon Ward for stopping those that made it through.

I don’t know if there is a scouting report on Ward saying “shoot 5-hole!” but if there is, it was inaccurate on this night. The Rock seemed to be shooting there a lot (if they weren’t hitting Ward in the chest), and he stopped every one of them. It looked as if the Rock forwards were snakebitten again – shooting opportunities would come up and they’d pass instead. Lots of shots were taken from a fair ways out. I won’t say they weren’t trying to get inside but when they did try, the Mammoth D wouldn’t let them.

Meanwhile the transition guys were hitting the top corners. It got to the point where the Rock were down by two with three minutes left and I wanted them to send Rogers, Merrill, and Harris out instead of the regular O guys.

Dillon Ward (Photo credit: Colorado Mammoth)

There was a comment on Facebook from a guy who complained about Nick Rose and suggested that the loss was his fault. Was Rose fantastic in this game? No, there were one or two goals that he probably could have stopped, and a couple of times he made a save though it seemed clear that he had no idea where the ball was. But he played well enough to keep his team in the game which is all you can ask from your goalie. The same commenter said later that sometimes a goalie can “steal” a game for you and Rose didn’t. While that’s true, we don’t get to decide when a goalie should steal a win for you. If your team only scores seven goals, blaming the goalie for allowing more than six is a little unrealistic. Blaming Rose for a loss like this smacks of “I don’t like Rose so I’ll blame him for everything”.

So as of right now (Saturday morning), we have four 7-7 teams in the East, and one 6-7. The West playoff picture is mostly set – it’ll very likely be Rush, Mammoth, Roughnecks in that order. The Mammoth could still catch the Rush for first, so something could change there. But in the East, we still have no idea and probably won’t for a couple of weeks. It wouldn’t surprise me if the very last game of the regular season (Georgia @ New England on April 29) decides the playoff fate of the entire East division.

Other game notes:

  • Right at the end of the first quarter, a Rock player took a last-second shot on Ward. Mammoth defender Jordan Gilles grabbed the rebound and shot on the Rock net from his own goal line and scored. Top left corner. No bounce. The buzzer went while the ball was in flight so it didn’t count, but it was a beautiful shot nonetheless.
  • The shot clock at one end of the floor was broken for most of the game, so the PA announcer gave teams 10 and 5 second warnings when the clock was running down. It’s the first shot clock problem I remember seeing at Rock games for a number of years, but it did remind me of a few games in one season a long time ago where shot clock problems were relatively frequent.
  • Another weird stat: a week after I wrote an article on unassisted goals, four of the Rock’s seven goals were unassisted. Two more had only assist, and only one goal had two. This means that the Rock had more goals (seven) than total assists (four) in this game.

Illegal equipment: Do the crime, do the time

It’s not unusual for a player to be given a penalty that fans of his team disagree with. In fact, it’s unusual if they don’t. But this past weekend, Shawn Evans was given a penalty that a lot of people disagreed with, and not just Bandits fans. That’s because it had nothing to do with anything that happened on the floor.

Evans is one of the growing number of pasty-legged NLL players who have taken a liking to wearing leggings during games. In the fourth quarter of Sunday’s Swarm/Bandits game in Buffalo, Evans was given an “Illegal Equipment” penalty for wearing leggings with the Nike swoosh on them. The NLL is sponsored by New Balance, and there is a rule in the rule book that specifically talks about using clothing and equipment from someone other than the league sponsor:

26.3 SPONSORSHIP EQUIPMENT REQUIREMENTS – Only
NLL sponsored equipment shall be worn unless prior
approval by the League and only authorized Official NLL
Suppliers’ logos/marks must be displayed on the
player’s uniform and/or equipment, which also includes
the shaft and head of the stick.

Any player or goalie in violation with this rule shall be
assessed a delay of game penalty immediately. Should
the player or goalie be unable to comply immediately
after the signal of the penalty, the in-home shall serve
the penalty. The player who was assessed the penalty
shall not be permitted on the floor until the penalty
expires.

Any player who has been found to have marked up,
blocked, or misrepresented any logos or marks shall be
reported to the League office and is subject to a fine.

It’s a little weird that he was given an “Illegal Equipment” penalty rather than the “delay of game” penalty stipulated in the rule, but whatever.

There was a lot of talk on twitter about this being a “bush league” move. There were two main problems that people had with this:

  1. Nothing that happened on the floor was affected so Evans didn’t deserve a penalty at all, and
  2. Such a violation shouldn’t result in a penalty anyway, i.e. something that affects game play – a fine would be more appropriate.

I also saw people using the hashtag “#GrowTheGame”, though I’m not sure why.

#1 is nonsensical. The coach swearing at the ref doesn’t affect the play on the floor either, but it’s a penalty nonetheless. Same with a player given a penalty who slams the door of the penalty box or bangs his stick against the glass in anger – both will get you an additional two minutes for Unsportsmanlike Conduct.

The remainder of this article covers #2. In my opinion, the penalty was deserved and entirely appropriate.

Do the crime, do the time

The penalty was deserved for two reasons. The first is simple: Evans broke the rule so he deserves the penalty. Every player in the league knows about this rule (and if they don’t, well that’s too damn bad because it’s in the rule book). Evans knew full well what he was doing. He’s probably gotten away with it in previous games, so he gambled that he’d get away with it again, and this time he lost. That’s not a negative judgement of Evans; all players do that all the time. A large percentage of the penalties called are for things that other players have done in the same game and gotten away with.

Shawn Evans (Photo: James P. McCoy, Buffalo News)

This is not some obscure rule that nobody remembers; others have been given this penalty in the past. You may remember Colin Doyle wearing Nike shoes during a game a couple of years ago. The opposing coach pointed this out to the ref late in the fourth quarter (I’m sure the timing was deliberate – even if he knew about it the entire game, what coach wouldn’t wait until then?) and after his penalty, Doyle had to go back to the locker room and borrow someone else’s shoes (which were a couple of sizes too small). He assisted on the winning OT goal so it worked out for Doyle, even if he had sore feet.

Follow the money

Secondly, it makes sense that the league wants to prevent players from wearing non-sponsored equipment. Full disclosure: I know nothing of the deal between New Balance and the NLL so this paragraph is all speculation but it’s logical. New Balance is providing all 180+ NLL players with equipment and clothing, and there may be money provided to the league as well. Even the hosts of NLL ReLax have worn New Balance hoodies during the show, and I doubt that’s coincidence. In exchange, the deal likely states that the league will air their ads during games, mention their sponsorship here and there, and make sure that players don’t wear clothing or use equipment featuring logos of New Balance competitors. (Again, I don’t know the details of the deal but if New Balance doesn’t have that kind of clause included, they’re nuts.) The rule does say that league approval for exceptions is possible, likely for those players who have personal endorsement contracts with other companies.

The last thing the league wants is for New Balance to say “players are wearing stuff with Nike or Under Armour logos and you’re not doing anything about it, so we’re out” and pull their sponsorship. If you’re worried about growing the game, that’s exactly what the league is doing by making sure their sponsors are happy.

Update: Under Armour is also a sponsor of the NLL.

Make it count

Should a violation of this rule affect the games themselves, or should the league simply fine players who wear the wrong company’s equipment? Let’s say they decide that directly affecting the outcomes of games is not appropriate, so no penalties or suspensions or anything like that will occur. Players will be fined for violations of the rule, and maybe fines will increase for multiple violations.

In that case, what’s to stop Nike from contacting Shawn Evans and saying “wear our stuff, and we’ll pay whatever fines you get”? Evans can wear what he wants to wear, so he’s happy. Nike gets publicity and their logo is visible on one of the league’s best players, and it probably costs them less than sponsoring the entire league (and it kind of looks bad for New Balance), so they’re happy. The NLL fines Evans over and over and the fines get paid, but guess who’s not happy? New Balance is not happy. Again, the league is not preventing Evans from wearing their competitor’s clothing. But if he knows he won’t get a penalty or a suspension, what incentive does Evans have to comply with the rule? And what if a dozen or more players make the same deal with Nike?

Perhaps the league could increase the fines until the other companies would refuse to pay them. I saw a tweet suggesting fining players $10,000. I guess if a rookie player making $8,000 a year could get fined $10,000 for wearing the wrong equipment, he’s going to make damn sure he doesn’t. But if he makes a mistake, he’s not going to just say “Oops, my bad”, pay a fine of more than a year’s salary, and move on. He’ll retire to avoid the fine and we’ll never see him again. Should this kind of mistake cost a lacrosse player his career? That amount seems unreasonable considering what the players make. Still, a huge company like Nike might look at that as a drop in the bucket anyway.

Even if Nike doesn’t want to pay the fines, some of the owners might. If Cody Jamieson wants to wear Nike and he gets fined, Curt Styres may decide that keeping Cody happy is worth a few bucks – it’s the cost of doing business. (Shawn Evans is a bad example here because the Pegula family haven’t shown nearly the interest in the Bandits as other NLL owners do in their teams.)

It’s in the NLL’s best interest to make sure the players abide by this rule. To do that, they have to make a point of enforcing it and they have to make the punishment matter to the players. Affecting the actual game itself is the best way to do that. A player may be willing to pay the fines himself, but he’s less likely to be willing to negatively affect his team.

By enforcing this rule and making it count, the NLL is making sure their players honour the contract they have with their sponsors. That way the sponsor wants to stay with them, and future sponsors will also know that the league doesn’t take this lightly.

If a company is willing to give your league money, pissing them off is not the way to grow the game.