The 2012 NLL season is almost upon us, so it’s time to look around the league and see what’s changed. Obviously the loss of the Blazers changed the landscape quite a bit, but there were also some pretty major trades so just about every team has some significant changes from last year. We’ll look at the East division first, and then the West division in an upcoming article.
Biggest personnel change: Luke Wiles
Comments: Once again this year, not a lot of changes for the Bandits, but the ones they made were pretty significant. The addition of Wiles, former Blazer Kevin Buchanan, and journeyman Mat Giles may turn the Bandits from a very good offensive team to a holy-crap-good offensive team, rivalling the Rock. The trading of Chris Corbeil caught some people off-guard, but the return of Billy Dee Smith helps replace the loss of Corbeil. If Mikey Thompson is as good in net as he has been over the past couple of years, the Bandits will make it tough for the Rock to get out of the East, let alone repeat as Champions.
Bad news for the Bandits defense out of a pre-season practice, as Darryl Gibson will miss 8 weeks with an ankle injury.
Prediction: A close second
Biggest personnel change: Dan Dawson
Comments: Wings fans who haven’t been keeping up over the off-season are in for a shock when they return to the arena in January. Gone are Athan Iannucci and Ryan Boyle, replaced by Dan Dawson and Brodie Merrill. Former captain Tom Hajek returns after a year in Boston, and the Wings also traded for MLL superstar Ned Crotty who is relatively unfamiliar with the indoor game, only having played 8 NLL games with the Mammoth last year. If all these guys plus first overall draft pick Kevin Crowley can gel with the returning Wings, this could be a very good team, but there’s too much uncertainty for me to rank them any higher.
Biggest personnel change: Shawn Williams
Comments: Williams played ten seasons for the Knighthawks, serving as their captain for the last two, before being traded to Edmonton. The Knighthawks also traded Shawn Evans to the Roughnecks and in a stunning offseason oversight, didn’t pick up a single guy named Shawn. They did pick up Casey Powell in the Blazers dispersal draft but he’s unlikely to play this year. They also got Ryan Cousins and Kedoh Hill in the Williams trade. For the third straight year, the Knighthawks are looking forward to watching an exciting young rookie they drafted – first it was Sid Smith, then Cody Jamieson, and this year there are two, Stephen Keogh and Johnny Powless. If they both play well, the Knighthawks could be very good. But I have a feeling that without Powell, the Knighthawks are a little young to make a huge splash this year. They have set themselves up nicely for some pretty successful years to come.
Biggest personnel change: Bob Watson
Comments: The retirement of Bob Watson will be huge for the Rock. The Rock have only had one #1 goaltender in the history of the franchise, and Watson was one of the top three goalies in the league pretty much every year of his career. But even if Roik isn’t at that level, he’s a solid goaltender who can play very well when he’s “on”. Many teams are built from the goaltender out, but with the Rock’s defense and especially their offense, I don’t think they need a superstar goalie to be dangerous this year. As long as Roik does a good job, he may not need to be outstanding. That said, he can be outstanding.
The Rock lost a few very good defenders in the offseason, namely Kyle Ross, Jeff Gilbert and a player I really liked, Creighton Reid. But Ryan Sharp is returning after missing almost all of last year with an injury, and Drew Petkoff will hopefully return this year as well. With the addition of Bruce Codd, the Rock defense could be as solid as any. A very good offense only got better with the additions of Dan Carey and Josh Sanderson. Sanderson, Manning, and Doyle were three of the top four scorers in the league in 2005, but that was seven years ago. Manning hasn’t been anywhere near the player he was then, but now the Rock also have Leblanc, Billings, Carey, Biernes, and Rob Hellyer (and Aaron Pascas, but it sounds like he might be missing the season due to work commitments), so there is no shortage of strong offensive threats for Sanderson to pass to.
Prediction: First as long as Roik doesn’t completely defecate in his sleeping apparatus, and I have no real reason to believe he will.