Week 13 picks

Wow. Do I ever suck at this game prediction thing. 1-5 last week, and I’m now getting to the point where if I get every pick for the rest of the season right, I might end up at .500. Just did the math: including the five this weekend, there are 22 games left in the season. To end up at or above .500 (i.e. the same odds as flipping a coin for each game), I have to go 18-4 from now on. Here we go.

Record: 18-32 (.360)

Game

Comments

Pick

CAL @ MIN I know Minnesota beat them a couple of weeks ago, but I still think Calgary is the top team in the league. It was just announced that Ryan Benesch will miss this weekend’s games with a concussion, so that won’t help the Swarm. This is why I usually wait until Friday to post my picks. (Because it’s made soooo much difference thus far.) Roughnecks
TOR @ BUF The Bandits will be pissed after last week, but they’ve been pissed most of the season and it’s done them no good. Yeah, they wiped the floor with the Rock a couple of weeks ago, but the Rock played much better the next week while the Bandits played much worse. The Bandits are over .500 (9-6) lifetime in Toronto, while the Rock are way over .500 (6-12) in Buffalo. Rock
WAS @ CAL Washington has definitely improved in recent weeks, but as determined as they are to make the playoffs, the Roughnecks are just as determined to finish first overall, and a couple of wins this weekend are what’s required to get in front of Colorado. I also know (thanks to an upcoming article) that when a team plays an away game followed by a home game in the same weekend, the most likely scenario is that they sweep both games. Playin’ the odds. Roughnecks
MIN @ EDM Edmonton is a better team than their record indicates and while the Swarm are still a good team without Benesch, I think the Rush will look at this as a golden opportunity to move up and try to get out of last place. Rush
COL @ ROC John Grant returns to Rochester. To my knowledge, there are no hard feelings either way – he didn’t demand a trade, nor is he upset with the Knighthawks trading him, and there were no personal issues with ownership or the coach or anything. There’s no reason to believe (a) he’ll be booed by the Knighthawks fans, or (b) he’ll have a chip on his shoulder and something to prove, so I’m not sure it’ll have that big an effect on his play. That and Shewchuk and Mac Allen are both back bodes well for the Mammoth. Mammoth

Previous weeks:

Week 1 – 0-1
Week 2 – 2-2
Week 3 – 2-2
Week 4 – 2-4
Week 5 – 2-2
Week 6 – 1-3
Week 7 – 2-2
Week 8 – 1-3
Week 9 – 2-2
Week 10 – 2-4
Week 11 – 1-2
Week 12 – 1-5

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More statistics than you require

I was recently sent a spreadsheet containing information on every NLL game ever played, from 1987 to 2011. For each game, it contains the date/time, home and away teams, final score, attendance, and what type of game (i.e. regular season, division finals, championship, All-Star game, etc.). For a numbers geek like me, this is heaven. I immediately imported the data into a SQL Anywhere database and started to write stored procedures and web services to aggregate and analyze the data.

Thanks very much to NLL Chatter reader Dennis for sending this to me, and props for all the work it took putting it together!

Over the next little while (probably more in the off season), I will be posting articles summarizing and analyzing certain aspects of this data. For example: which team has the best record in Friday night games? What about Saturday away games when they also had a Friday home game the night before? What about Saturday afternoons on artificial turf against a lefty starter when the roof is closed? Oh wait, sorry, wrong sport.

If you have particular requests or interests, please leave a comment here or send me an email and I’ll see what I can do.

Just to whet your appetite for the types of information I can get from this data, here are some random pieces. Note again that these numbers do not include the current (2012) season.

Record Value Details
Best regular season winning percentage .714 New Jersey Saints, 10-4 in 2 seasons
Best playoff winning percentage .833 Washington Stealth, 5-1 in 2 seasons
Worst regular season winning percentage .000 Charlotte Cobras, 0-8 in 1 season
Worst playoff winning percentage (ignoring teams that never made the playoffs) .000 Minnesota Swarm, 0-5
Boston Blazers, 0-3
Vancouver Ravens, 0-2
New England Blazers, 0-1
Highest game attendance 19,432 Arizona 13 @ Toronto 19, May 14 2005 (Championship game)
Important note: I was at this game.
Lowest game attendance 1,437 Edmonton 6 @ San Jose 14, April 13 2008
Best overtime record
(>5 games)
.684 Colorado Mammoth, 13-6
Worst overtime record
(>5 games)
.222 Boston Blazers, 2-7
Highest scoring game 32-17 Montreal 32 @ Calgary 17, Nov 23 2002
Lowest scoring game 7-4 Albany 4 @ Toronto 7, Jan 11 2001
Important note: I was at this game.
Biggest goal differential 22 Buffalo 28 @ Charlotte 6, Feb 24 1996
Fewest goals, one team 2 Philadelphia 2 @ Toronto 13, Apr 16 1999 (Semi-finals)
Most goals, losing team 22 Buffalo 23 @ Washington Power 22, Mar 23 2002
Highest average goals/game 15.9 Washington Power (3 seasons)
Lowest average goals/game 8.5 Charlotte Cobras (1 season)
Highest average goals against/game 18.6 Charlotte Cobras (1 season)
Lowest average goals against/game 9.6 Orlando Titans (1 season)

Now, if you have a spreadsheet containing every goal from every game, who scored it, who got assists, what quarter it was scored in, and whether it was a power play; shorthanded; empty-net; or penalty shot, and you feel like sending it to me, that would be perfect.

P.S. Yes, I stole the title of this article from John Hodgman’s second book.

Are Kilgour’s days numbered?

Just before the season began, I wrote up my predictions for the final standings and some of the NLL awards. In the East division, I have 0 correct out of 4, while in the West division I have 1 correct out of 5. Some of my awards picks could still happen: Dan Dawson for MVP, Kyle Rubisch for Defensive Player, and Kevin Crowley for Rookie. My Goaltender (Mike Thompson) and Transition Player (Paul Rabil) picks aren’t looking too good, and my GM pick (Derek Keenan) ain’t looking great either, though you could argue that the Iannucci / Rabil trades were good trades, and the fact that both players ended up holding out wasn’t Keenan’s fault.DarrisKilgour

My pick for the Les Bartley Award was Darris Kilgour. This could also still happen – as long as the Bandits run the table while winning every game 15-0. If Darris can get his team to pull that off, people might forget the 6-game losing streak from earlier this year. But assuming that doesn’t happen, Kilgour will have taken a team that won the East last year, lost Chris Corbeil but added Luke Wiles, Kevin Buchanan, Mat Giles, Jeremy Thompson, and Anthony Cosmo, and coached them to a last place finish. Unless they turn it around very soon, this is likely to be their worst season since Kilgour began coaching the Bandits in 2003. Could this be the end of the Darris Kilgour era in Buffalo?

The problem here is that Kilgour is both the GM and the head coach. It’s unlikely that he’ll resign as coach but stay on as GM, and it’s unlikely that the Bandits owner would fire him from one of those positions and not the other. But for the sake of argument, let’s just talk about Darris the coach.

I’ve been of two minds about Darris Kilgour forever. I have a lot of respect for him as a coach (you don’t become the winningest coach in NLL history by accident), though I frequently disagree with how he coaches. The Bandits have had a particular “style” of lacrosse for years. When someone has talked about “Bandits lacrosse” over the last ten years, you know what they mean – tough, physical, gritty “old school” lacrosse, not always pretty and rarely flashy. One of those things that is hard to describe, but you’ll know it when you see it. I don’t think there have been as many player changes on the Bandits as on many other teams; it seems that players like Chris White, Billy Dee Smith, John Tavares, Roger Vyse, Tom Montour, Mark Steenhuis, and obviously Darris and Richie Kilgour have been Bandits forever. The fact that Kilgour has managed to create a recognizable style and get every new incoming player to adapt to it is a testament to his coaching ability.

If you ever listen to the Voodoocast podcast, they talk about the Bandits as nothing more than a team full of goons, and I’ve heard that sentiment elsewhere as well. For years, it seemed that the way to beat the Bandits was to piss them off – they’d start taking stupid penalties and beat themselves. Kilgour mostly put a stop to that and the Bandits started playing smarter, which corresponded exactly to them turning from a pretty good team to a perennial contender.

But this season, that seems to be gone. The Bandits are less disciplined than in the last few years. Indeed, the Bandits have given up 42 power play goals this year, 3.8 per game, more than any other team by over half a goal. They’ve also allowed more shorthanded goals than anyone (tied with the Rock). Mike Thompson has been wildly inconsistent, and the Cosmo experiment appears to have been a mistake. John Tavares and Luke Wiles are in the top 10 in scoring, but after that you have to drop down to #25 to find another Bandit (Chad Culp). They’ve given up 15 or more goals three times this season, and are dead last in goals against per game at 13.3. The next closest team is Philly, almost a full goal back at 12.5.

Just a couple of days ago, I wrote about Kilgour’s “gentle” reaction to the Bandits being down 11-8 in the first half of last week’s game against the Rock. In the second half of that game, the Bandits played perfect “Bandits lacrosse” – tough but not stupid – and outscored the Rock 13-3 in a convincing win, and then they went out and beat the Swarm the next night as well. But a week later, after the Bandits lost 17-6 to the Roughnecks, Kilgour had this to say about his team:

It’s pathetic. My team’s pathetic. My team’s stupid. I don’t even know what to say about these guys right now. I totally question the hearts of basically everybody but about four guys on our team. Other than that, they’re a bunch of bush leaguers and they don’t give a (expletive).

I get that he’s frustrated, but is this the way to get your team motivated to play for you? One week he makes a very smart coaching decision and gets the guys to play as a cohesive unit, and the next he says that almost everyone on the team sucks. There were three fights at the same time near the end of the game, as the Bandits’ frustration boiled over. For all of you who assumed that Kilgour sent them out there and told them to “send a message” or whatever, he had this to say:

That’s bush league. I didn’t send anyone out there to do that. They took it upon themselves to do it and you know what, I don’t care. That doesn’t show me anything. That doesn’t show me one thing. Show me you can play lacrosse, that’s what I want. I don’t care if you can fight.

But then again, it was Kilgour who sent Irving, Francis, and Priolo out onto the floor at the same time, and I doubt it was because he thought they had the best chance of beginning the Bandits’ comeback.

BanditlandOne problem with having a recognizable style is that you may become predictable. After Calgary’s blowout of the Bandits this past weekend, Shawn Evans said (emphasis mine):

We knew exactly what Buffalo wanted to do and how they play. They fell into our game plan. They took penalties. They ran around, they chased us. We did everything right. We killed them on the power play tonight.

Is it possible that Kilgour has lost the room? Have the Bandits been playing the same kind of lacrosse for so long that the rest of the league knows how to deal with them, and Kilgour’s style is no longer effective? Perhaps it’s time for Banditball to have a new face and a new style. I have no suggestions on who they should bring in, nor do I have any predictions on where Kilgour may go. He’s too good and too young to just retire. Darris has been a Bandit so long, it’s hard to imagine him anywhere else. Kilgour behind the Rock bench? Or the Roughnecks? Or the Swarm? It’s hard to picture, though so was John Grant in a Mammoth uniform at one point. As weird as it is for a Toronto Rock fan to say this, the National Lacrosse League is better with a strong Buffalo Bandits franchise. I’m not sure Darris Kilgour can deliver that any longer.

Top 10 surprises from the 2012 NLL season so far (pt. 2)

In part 1, we covered Steve Toll, Athan Iannucci, Paul Rabil, Tyler Carlson, Evan Kirk, Matt Roik, and Nick Rose, as well as some rule changes. In this article, we’ll cover the top 5 surprises in 2012.

5. John Grant

John Grant being an impact player should not surprise anyone. He’s been an impact player his entire career in the NLL, MLL, MSL, or any other L he’s played in. But I don’t think anyone expected him to be as dominant as he has been this season. Not only is he 37, but he’s only three years removed from missing an entire season because of a serious injury that became life-threatening. He recovered well enough to go out and score 83 points in his last year in Rochester and another 83 in his first year in Colorado. Fine numbers, to be sure, but not Grant-like. In fact, 83 points was Grant’s lowest total (playing a full season) since his rookie year in 2000.

John Grant

Grant is a fierce competitor, so it is no surprise that he’d want to get back to his previous numbers – not because the personal stats are important to him, but because he wants to lead his team to as many wins as possible, and his contribution to that objective is putting up tons of points. Starting the season with 11 points was nice, but following it up with 9 and 10 points was amazing. Nobody thought he could keep up a 10-points-per-game pace, and he hasn’t. But he’s still averaging 8.3 points per game. He has yet to pick up less than 3 goals or 3 assists in a game and his season low for a single game is 7 points. He missed two games with an upper body injury, and then returned with another 7 point performance. Before the injury, he was on pace for 136 points in a season, blowing the old single-season record away by 21 points. In fact, even after missing two games (1/8 of the season), he is still on pace to break the record. Unbelievable.

4. Buffalo’s 6 game losing streak

The Bandits are mostly the same team as last year. They traded Chris Corbeil but got Billy Dee Smith back from injury, and also gained Luke Wiles and Mat Giles. They went 10-6 last year and given the team changes, you wouldn’t expect a huge drop-off this season. Sure enough, they started the season 2-0 with wins against the Rock at home and the Knighthawks on the road. And then it all fell apart. The Bandits lost their next six in a row, something they have never done before in a single season. (They did finish the 1999 season with five losses and missed the playoffs, then started 2000 off with a loss. Similarly, they finished 2009 with two losses and started 2010 with four, but there was a playoff win and loss in between.)

Some of the games were ugly. They managed to shut out Philadelphia for half the second quarter and all of the third, and still lost the game. They lost 19-11 to the Swarm in a game that included a 7-0 third quarter. They lost to the Knighthawks in a game that included a 7-0 second quarter. But there were two one-goal losses in there as well, including an overtime game against the Stealth. Of course, the Stealth were 0-3 at the time and then lost their next three.

Bandits coach and GM Darris Kilgour has a reputation for being fiery and passionate, and I’m sure that during this streak more than a few f-bombs were dropped. But after losing six in a row, the Bandits started their next game against the Rock down 5-1 and losing 11-8 at the half. Did Darris lose his mind and scream and yell like a stereotypical drill sergeant? Not at all. In his IL Indoor interview with Tracey Kelusky, Ty Pilson used the unlikely word “gentle” to describe Kilgour’s reaction. Kelusky said “he just said you guys are sticking with it, you guys aren’t panicking, and that’s something we were doing during that six-game skid… He said we’re playing confident, keep doing that and we’ll have success.” How did that go over with the Bandits? They outscored the Rock 13-3 in the second half and won 21-14. That is solid coaching.

3. This year’s crop of rookies

Every year, one rookie is singled out and given the NLL Rookie of the Year award. And every year, there are arguments that someone else deserved it as well. Last year, Curtis Dickson won it over Cody Jamieson, and in 2010, Stephan Leblanc beat out teammate Garrett Billings. This year, the number of deserving rookies who will not win ROY is crazy. It seems that every team has a rookie who’s having an outstanding season, and some have more than one. In the case of the Minnesota Swarm, you could almost nominate half the team.

There are high-scoring forwards like Crowley, Powless, Jones, Lincoln, and Keogh. There are defenders and transition guys like Gamble, Thompson, MacIntosh, and Cornwall. And there are goaltenders like Kirk, Carlson, and Scigliano. At this point in the season, the race is likely between Crowley and Jones, but all of these guys have played well so far and with a few strong games to finish the season, any one of them could find themselves in the ROY race. I don’t remember another season with such a strong group of rookies – not just in terms of how good they are, but in terms of how many good ones there are.

2. Colorado starting 6-0 and 8-1

Maybe others saw this coming, but I certainly didn’t. This is related to #5 above, the amazing play of John Grant, but even if you thought he’d have a good season, did you foresee Adam Jones being so good? And the defense playing well even without Mac Allen? And Gavin Prout playing so well? And Chris Levis? And Sean Pollock and Jamie Lincoln and Jordan McBride and Derek Hopcroft and Ian Hawksbee and Rory Smith and Creighton Reid and Ilija Gajic and…? Honestly, none of those things individually is an absolute shock but the fact that they all happened at the same time has resulted in the Mammoth being the best team in the league, which is a distinction they haven’t been anywhere near for years. The Mammoth only won 5 games in 2011, and managed to match that total in 2012 after… 5 games. They have a very good chance of doubling their win total from last year.

The team is quite different from last year – Mac Allen is out with an injury, Steve Toll retired (temporarily – see #10 on this list) as did Brian Langtry, Joel Dalgarno is out for the year because of work commitments, Ned Crotty and Dan Carey were traded, and Connor Martin was released. Instead, we have Adam Jones, Jordan McBride, Jamie Lincoln, Jon Sullivan, Rory Smith, Sean Pollock, Mat MacLeod, Creighton Reid, and Derek Hopcroft. Is the fact that a team with this many changes has gelled as well as they have a testament to good coaching by Bob Hamley, or Gavin Prout becoming captain, or some combination of both? I’m sure Mammoth fans don’t care, but they’re certainly enjoying the ride.

1. Washington starting 1-6

It was surprising that a bad team would retool and instantly become a great team, but it’s even more surprising that a great team would make very few changes over the off-season and become a lousy team. And that’s what the Stealth looked like for the first seven games of the 2012 season. They won an overtime squeaker against the also-struggling Buffalo Bandits, but lost to the Roughnecks twice, the Wings, the Knighthawks, and the Swarm, and they got smoked by the Edmonton Rush 16-5 in their own arena.

Rhys Duch

Sure, they lost Jeff Zywicki to injury early in the year, but he only played three games last year anyway. They traded Matt Roik but Tyler Richards played more than twice as many minutes as Roik did in 2011. Richards and Rhys Duch got injured as well, but not until the Stealth were 1-5. They did lose Luke Wiles, who’s tearing up the turf in Buffalo, and didn’t really replace him, so that’s something. But Duch and Ratcliff couldn’t find the back of the net, and Richards had a worse GAA than every starting goalie in the league and several backups.

The Stealth have been struggling with low attendance despite two consecutive Champion’s Cup appearances; the highest Washington crowd this year, 4687, is 600 less than the lowest crowd anywhere else (5267 in Rochester). Maybe you could use that fact to argue that winning and losing has no bearing on attendance in Washington so it doesn’t matter if they win or lose. But I doubt it. And I doubt the players are OK with losing if it doesn’t affect the crowds.

Part, maybe even most, of the problem was the absence of head coach Chris Hall. CH was the heart and soul of the Stealth, but our old nemesis cancer raised its ugly head once again, this time in the form of throat cancer, and Hall had to stay away from the arena to concentrate on his treatment and recovery. Thankfully, it seems that Hall has won this battle, and after missing the first six games of the season he returned cancer-free to the bench. The Stealth lost their first game after his return, but have won two of three since then.

Week 12 picks

The Bandits are back! After I said last week that I wouldn’t be picking the Bandits until they proved they “are worthy of a pick”, they proved just that. Obviously my statement was the straw that broke the camel’s back, the thing that finally kept them going during the games and got them to play as well as we thought they would at the beginning of the year. Similarly, right after I said I wouldn’t pick the Stealth until they started winning, they started winning. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

So I ended up 0-2 on Bandits games. At least I got the Philly / Edmonton game right, though not by much. Six games this weekend, so let’s get to them.

Record: 17-27 (.386)

Game

Comments

Pick

PHI @ COL Now that the Mammoth don’t suck anymore, the Pepsi Center is a tough place for visitors to win again. John Grant will not be back this weekend, though my prediction of the Mammoth offense not being as good without him didn’t really come true. They really stepped up last weekend in his absence, and I see no reason why they couldn’t do it again, though the Philly defense has been really solid lately. Mammoth
BUF @ CAL Before last weekend, this would be a no-brainer, but with Buffalo playing so well last weekend, it’s a tougher now. Buffalo may be confident enough now that they can just keep rolling, but this one comes down to goaltending. I think Thompson at his best is better than Poulin at his best, but average Poulin beats average Thompson. If Cosmo plays as he can, he may be the best in the league but he still seems to be shaking off rust. Roughnecks
WAS @ EDM The Stealth have been looking more like the Stealth we expected over the last few weeks. They split with the Mammoth two weeks ago but even in the loss they looked pretty good against a team that was 7-1 at the time. If Paul Rabil announces he will actually suit up for the Rush I may change my pick, but I don’t see that happening. Stealth
TOR @ ROC The Rock are 3-17 lifetime in Rochester, but of course one of those thee was the Championship game in 2003. The other two wins came last season, so I think it’s safe to say the home-and-home curse between these two teams is over. The Rock will be breaking in new starting goalie Nick Rose and hoping to end their three-game losing streak, while the Knighthawks are looking to continue both their two-game winning streak and their three-game home winning streak. The Rock are my team and I hate betting against them, but they just haven’t impressed me at all over the last three games. Knighthawks
COL @ PHI This was my toughie of the week. Colorado certainly has the talent to sweep the Wings, but Philly has been getting better and better as the season has progressed. Philly’s first in the east though they’re not having the dominant season the Mammoth are having. The fact that John Grant is missing will help the Wings, but as I said above the Mammoth offense managed just fine without him two weeks ago. If one team sweeps this series, they will undoubtedly be the #1 team in the league, but I foresee a split. Wings
MIN @ WAS The Swarm are impressing me more and more, and they’ll be fresh while the Stealth will have played the night before and travelled from Edmonton. Certainly not a guarantee (both Colorado and Calgary have won the second game of back-to-back games this year), but I’ll go with the Swarm’s young legs on this one. Swarm

Previous weeks:

Week 1 – 0-1
Week 2 – 2-2
Week 3 – 2-2
Week 4 – 2-4
Week 5 – 2-2
Week 6 – 1-3
Week 7 – 2-2
Week 8 – 1-3
Week 9 – 2-2
Week 10 – 2-4
Week 11 – 1-2

Top 10 surprises from the 2012 NLL season so far (pt. 1)

2012 has been a season full of surprises in the NLL, and it’s only half over. In true “top ten list” fashion, we’ll start at #10 and move up towards #1.

 

10. Steve Toll’s return

Steve TollHe hasn’t played yet, but Rush GM Derek Keenan has already announced his signing. I guess Toll’s retirement was never official, so he’s just a free agent. What I don’t know is whether his “iron man” streak will continue. He played all 16 games with the Mammoth last year, and wasn’t on a roster for the first part of this season, so does that count as breaking the streak? If not, he’ll only be one game behind the new leader Shawn Williams. Williams and Toll are good friends off the floor, so it stands to reason that Willy was involved in this transaction somehow, but I don’t know whether he convinced Steve to come back, or Steve asked him to put in a good word with the boss.

In case you are wondering, the other Toll on the Rush, Jarrett, is not related to Steve. At least he doesn’t think so.

9. Iannucci and Rabil

The biggest trade of last summer was unquestionably Brodie Merrill for Athan Iannucci. At the time, I thought Philly got robbed blind – not because Iannucci is so much better than Merrill, but because they gave the Rush three first round draft picks among everything else. Well, someone got robbed blind, but it wasn’t Philadelphia. Merrill is playing very well for the Wings, but Iannucci never reported to the Rush. Apparently he didn’t have problems with the team or the city, but the contract negotiations got heated and apparently things started to get personal, and Iannucci refused to play. Five games into the season, Nooch was finally traded to the Stealth, where he’s been OK, though nowhere near his level of play back in 2008. In return, the Rush got transition star Paul Rabil – who then refused to report to the Rush, and the whole thing started over again. This time it wasn’t about money; Rabil had been trying to get traded back east for years, but Washington couldn’t do it. I guess travelling to Edmonton would have been worse than to Washington since there are likely no direct flights from the Baltimore area (where Rabil lives) to Edmonton, so he’d likely end up having to fly to Seattle anyway and then to Edmonton so his travel schedule just got way worse. I guess you can’t blame him for that, but when you hear that someone like John Grant can up and move his entire family, including a young child, to Denver, you feel less sympathy for Rabil.

My impression of Rabil has always been that the MLL and field lacrosse in general is his thing, and the NLL is an interesting pastime and way to make a few bucks and keep up his skills during the winter. That’s not to say he doesn’t try hard; I’m sure he gives 110% when he’s on the floor, but if he had to give up the NLL or the MLL, the NLL would lose in a heartbeat. This is not a judgement or criticism of him, he just likes field lacrosse better. He’s happy to play in the NLL, but if it means lots of travel and major inconvenience, then he’s fine giving it up.

The trading deadline has just passed and Rabil was not dealt, so the deal now looks like Merrill, Mike McLellan, Dean Hill, a 5th round pick in 2011, and a 4th round pick in 2013 to the Wings for Alex Turner, Brodie McDonald, and first round picks in 2012, 2013, and 2014. Given the first rounders, it’s still not that terrible a deal for the Rush long term, but certainly isn’t helping them this year.

There are rumours that Derek Keenan will ask Rabil to report for the rest of the year, but that seems unlikely. I can’t imagine the reception he’d get from the Edmonton fans when his name was announced.

8. The rule change making the most difference

A number of rule changes were announced for 2012. A lot of people, myself included, thought the change from ten seconds to eight would be the most significant, or possibly the “two feet in the box” substitution rule. But when I’m watching the game, the two that make the most difference for me (and I’m putting them together because they’re related) are the delay of game on possession change, and the fast start rule. When the ref blows the whistle to signal a possession change (eg. a moving pick) or the shot clock expires, the attacking player must immediately put the ball down on the floor and give the other team some room. None of this rolling it away from the other team or running around for an extra second or two to give your team a chance to change. It’s been pushed to the limit a few times, where a player will put it down but not completely stop it, and it rolls a couple of feet and the player is given a penalty. That seems excessive, but assuming those kinds of calls disappear as the refs and players get more used to the rule, it really keeps the game moving.

The other one is related – say a player on team A shoots at the net and misses, and then the shot clock expires. If the ball bounces off the boards and all the way out to centre and a team B player picks it up there, the ref blows the whistle and play just continues. In previous years, play would be stopped, the ball would be brought back to the goal area, and team B would start again. Again, the new rule keeps the game going. It makes transition plays more likely and forces teams to either change faster (but the “two feet in the box” rule makes sure that they’re not too fast) or have the O guys play more D, which we’re seeing a lot this year.

7. The goalie situation in Minnesota

At the beginning of the season, it looked like Minnesota’s goalies might be Nick Patterson and Anthony Cosmo, which should have been an excellent tandem. In reality, Cosmo was unlikely to play, as he told the Swarm before they picked him in the Boston dispersal draft. So the Swarm decided to go with rookies Tyler Carlson and Evan Kirk backing up Patterson. After Patterson let in 20 goals in the Swarm’s first game, they gave Carlson a try. Carlson went 2-2 with a GAA around 11 in his first four games, and Evan Kirk and went 2-0 and an amazing 6.50 GAA in his first two games. Patterson was released, Cosmo was finally traded, and Minnesota has just as great a goalie tandem as expected, but not with the players that we expected. After ten games, the Swarm are 5-4 and third in the west, Carlson is 3-2 with a GAA of 11.14, and Kirk is 2-1 with a league-leading GAA of 8.33 and by far the best save percentage with 83.2%. Only one other goalie is over 80%, and that’s Calgary’s Frankie Scigliano (another rookie), who’s only played 51 minutes.

6. The goalie situation in Toronto

Bob Watson decided to retire following the 2010 season but after the Rock lost the Championship Game, owner Jamie Dawick (among others) managed to convince him to come back for one more year. It ended up as a storybook ending that couldn’t have been scripted any better, with a Championship for the Rock and well-earned Championship Game MVP honours for Watson. But as happy as Rock management and fans were with 2011, the question loomed: how do you replace Bob Watson?

Matt RoikThey answered that question in July, when they traded Kyle Ross to Washington for Matt Roik. Over and over, Rock management sung his praises. When Boston announced in September that they would “temporarily suspend operations” (NLL-speak for “vanish forever”), the rumours of Anthony Cosmo’s return to Toronto started almost immediately. The Minnesota Swarm traded three players to the Mammoth to get their first round pick, and they chose Cosmo. When I heard that Toronto and Minnesota had made a trade during the dispersal draft, I assumed it would be for Cosmo. Instead, it was Josh Sanderson coming to the Rock, and once again the Rock said that Matt Roik was their man and that they had no interest in Cosmo.

Five games into the season, it certainly looked like they’d made the right choice. The Rock were 3-2, and Roik had been solid in the two losses and great in the three wins. He was even named Defensive Player of the Week for week 5. Smooth sailing, right? Wrong. Four games later, the Rock are 4-5 and last in the East. So do they stick with the guy they’ve been talking about as “their man” since July? Nope. They release him outright and trade for Calgary backup Nick Rose. Then they talk about how it wasn’t Roik’s fault that they’ve played badly in the last few games, but Roik paid the price anyway with his job, possibly his season, and maybe even his career.

This whole situation is eerily similar to the 2004 Rock season. Legendary coach and GM Les Bartley had announced over the off-season that he was fighting cancer and would not be able to be behind the bench during the 2004 season. The Rock named Derek Keenan and Ed Comeau the interim GM and coach respectively in Les’ absence. But after only 6 games, both were fired and the Rock hired Terry Sanderson (who was an assistant coach with the Bandits at the time – the Rock would give up a draft pick the next year as punishment for “tampering”) as the new GM and coach. Considering that both Keenan and Comeau have gone on to great success in the NLL, both winning the GM and Coach of the Year awards, I have to wonder what might have been if they had been given a little more leeway and time. But Rock fans certainly can’t complain about how things worked out, considering the team went 8-2 over the rest of that season and then won the Championship the next year. (Les Bartley would lose his battle with cancer at the tragically young age of 51 the day after that 2005 Championship game.)

Rock fans may always wonder what might have been had Roik been given more time. But if Rose works out in Toronto as well as Sanderson did, the question may just never come up.

 

Coming soon: the top 5.

Roik out, Rose in

In an attempt to right their listing ship, the Rock replaced the anchor on Monday. Matt Roik was supposed to be the goalie of the future for the Rock but his tenure lasted just over half a season, as the Rock traded for Calgary backup Nick Rose on Monday, releasing Roik outright. Calgary gets Toronto’s first round draft pick in 2014, and if Toronto doesn’t make it to the Championship game this year, they also get a second round pick from Calgary in 2014. Is this the solution? Obviously we won’t know that until a few games have been played, but in order for Rose to be the solution, Roik would have to have been the problem. Was he?

In 10 games, Roik was 4-4. Among regular starters (i.e. 300+ minutes), he ranks ninth in both GAA (12.52) and save percentage (.725). In a nine team league, ranking ninth is not good. The Rock are also tied for last in goals against with 129. From these numbers, it certainly sounds like goaltending is a big problem. But (feel free to gasp out loud here as a stats guy says this) the numbers don’t always tell you everything.

Quite simply, Roik was not the reason for the Rock’s less-than-stellar season thus far. He had his tough games, and in a couple he wasn’t sharp at all. But in those ten games, he’s really only had two or maybe three bad outings, and only one real stinker. Interesting that the Rock decided that this was too much for Roik, when Stephen Leblanc has had more than three lousy outings this year, but he’s not going anywhere (and I’m not suggesting that he should be).

The real problem is that there isn’t a single problem. There were games where the goaltending wasn’t great (pretty much the last three), but there were also games where the defense in front of him gave up too many chances, and other games where the defense was fine but nobody wanted to score. The Rock have scored 13 or more goals in five games, so they can score. They held the Wings to only 6 goals so they can play defense, though that was the only game this year where they’ve held the opposition to less than 11. In the first seven games, the Rock were 4-3, but in the three losses, Roik wasn’t the problem. In the 14-8 loss to Philly, I said in my game report: “I certainly wouldn’t pin the loss squarely on him [Roik]”. Even Terry Sanderson said in the press release “In this case, I don’t feel our guys were playing well enough in front of Matt”. That sounds to me like they are acknowledging the fact that it was a team thing, not just Roik.

None of what I’ve said would be news to Sanderson, Troy Cordingley, Jamie Dawick, or anyone else in the Rock organization, were they to grace my humble lacrosse blog with their presence. So if Roik wasn’t the problem, why did the Rock make this move? I have to think it’s the same reason you sometimes pull the goaltender during a game – just to shake up the team. Mike Thompson had some ugly games for the Bandits, but their 6-game losing streak wasn’t entirely his fault. That didn’t stop Darris Kilgour from picking up Anthony Cosmo, and who’s been the better goalie since then? Thompson.

Rose hails from the lacrosse hotbed of Orangeville, Ontario, and a number of Rock players – Edwards, Gamble, Bryan, Rooney, and Josh Sanderson, according to Eh Game – have played with Rose before, either on the Boston Blazers or the Orangeville Northmen. It’s not like Roik was a complete unknown, but we all know that Terry Sanderson, also an Orangeville guy, would much prefer having players on his team that he’s familiar with.

Are the Rock a better team with Rose? This year, it obviously remains to be seen. Going forward, the answer is likely yes. Rose is eight years younger than Roik, and had a lot of success in junior lacrosse, winning a couple of Minto Cups and being named IL Indoor’s Junior Goaltender of the Year in consecutive years. He hasn’t seen an awful lot of playing time in the NLL, but has been a backup to two of the best in Cosmo and Poulin. Oddly, Poulin was also a backup to Cosmo, and both Poulin and Cosmo were at one time backups to Bob Watson in Toronto. And Cosmo was once traded for Matt Roik. The cycle of goalies is complete.

So what happens to Roik now? Maybe he and Nick Patterson will hang together and watch NLL games online for the rest of the year. It’s certainly possible that he’ll catch on with another team, likely in a backup role unless there’s an injury. Or maybe he’ll get a starting job somewhere if a team starts to falter, even if it’s not their goalie’s fault.