Last week we had a look at the teams in the East division, and where each one may look to improve in the off-season. Now we’ll look at the West division.
It’s hard to look at a team like the Roughnecks and figure out where they need to get better. Offense? Second-most goals scored in the league, behind the Mammoth by one. Defense? Lowest goals against in the league by five over the Rush and twenty over the Swarm. Goaltender? 2012 NLL Goaltender of the Year should be good enough. Coaching? 2012 IL Indoor Coach of the Year and runner-up for the Les Bartley Award. As long as they can avoid playing Edmonton in the first round of the playoffs, the Roughnecks should be OK for next year even if they make no changes at all.
Similar to the Roughnecks, the Mammoth are strong on offense, defense, and goaltending. John Grant is unlikely to repeat his 2012 MVP performance next year, but even a pretty good Junior is better than most of the league. There were a bunch of rookies on the Mammoth this season, all of whom benefited from having Grant around. Jones and Hopcroft and Lincoln and McBride all learned a ton from Grant during his best season and will be better players next year because of it. They will likely be able to pick up the slack even if Junior’s numbers do drop. And even if they don’t, the Mammoth scored more goals than anyone else last year – if they’d scored nineteen fewer goals, they’d still be tied for third.
The Mammoth defense wasn’t as great in 2012 as it was in 2011 – in fact, they were sixth in the league in goals against, and only had two games all year where they gave up less than 10 goals. But they were without defensive stud Mac Allen for most of the season, so having him return was huge. Still, the Mammoth gave up 13 or more goals in 7 of their 16 games; if it wasn’t for their outstanding offense, they wouldn’t have ended up with 11 wins.
I don’t see the Mammoth making any goaltending changes and they certainly don’t need a defensive overhaul, but a bit of an offense-for-defense trade wouldn’t surprise me.
Things are looking great for the Rush’s future. Not only did they make it to the finals, but they have a few first-round draft picks coming their way over the next couple of years from Philly and Washington, including first overall in the next entry draft. Welcome to Edmonton, Mark Matthews. On top of that, they have some trade bait in Paul Rabil and Scott Evans. Although according to Stephen Stamp’s article on IL Indoor, Evans is talking about working out and getting into better shape, and if he can do that and conform a little more to the Rush’s game plan, he may fit into their offense after all. That plus the addition of Matthews (I’m making an assumption here, as is everyone else, that Matthews is the guy they’ll pick) could be the offensive spark the Rush need. They seemed to find that spark in the playoffs, but could have used about a half-game more of it.
Shawn Williams is a free agent – will he want to continue travelling west next season? I’m sure he wouldn’t mind returning to his hometown Rock, but they are already kind of full on the left side with Doyle, Sanderson, and Leblanc. Could he return to the Knighthawks? They just won a Championship without him, so unless he’s part of a package that includes younger players or draft picks, I don’t see Rochester pulling the strings on that deal. The Bandits need to get younger, so that wouldn’t make sense either. If I had to guess though, I see him going back to the Rush since they got so close to a Championship, and the team is likely to be even better next year.
The Swarm have a young team with tremendous potential, and they also have four first round picks in this year’s entry draft. In three or four years, those guys will have a few seasons under their belts, the current group will really be just entering their prime (how scary a thought is that?), and even vets like Benesch and Crawford are young enough that they’ll still be in their prime. This could be a scary good team for a while. Remember how dominant Calgary and Colorado were in 2012? Wait a few seasons, and we might have Edmonton and Minnesota in that situation, and we’ll be talking about the “aging” Roughnecks. Unless they make big changes before then, the Bandits will be sponsored by Ensure.
The biggest issue the Swarm may face is the infamous sophomore slump – if that hits more than one player, they may have a problem. But then again, in recent years Andrew Suitor, Kyle Rubisch, Cody Jamieson, Stephen Leblanc, and Curtis Dickson have all had pretty decent second seasons. I don’t think there’s a single area of concern for the Swarm – third in goals scored, third in goals against, an outstanding goalie tandem, and two of the best transition players in the league in Suitor and MacIntosh. But if the Swarm decide they do need to make some changes, they have a ton of draft picks to fill in the holes, or they could trade one away. A high first-round draft pick will net you a better-than-decent player, and being left with “only” three first-rounders is still pretty good.
This is a tough one. On paper, the Stealth shouldn’t need to make huge changes but after missing the playoffs, they have to do something. Obviously players like Duch, Ratcliff, and Iannucci aren’t going anywhere. On the back end, Sorensen and Captain Bloom are locks, and apparently the Stealth refused to part with Jeff Moleski for Iannucci, so he’s likely staying. Tyler Richards didn’t have the greatest season ever, considering he was 3-9 with a GAA well over 12, but he was also injured for part of the year. How much of that record was his fault vs. the defense in front of him I can’t say, since I didn’t see many Stealth games (and the ones I did see were generally late at night so I was sleepy). But Richards did pick up a few IL Indoor Goaltender of the Year votes, so we’ll assume the Stealth agrees and won’t be dealing him.
The Stealth have the pieces, so I don’t see them making huge roster changes or going into rebuilding mode. There will be a few moves here and there, maybe even a blockbuster to shake things up. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the 2013 Stealth isn’t significantly different from the 2012 Stealth. Unlike the Bandits, perhaps the Stealth’s strategy will be “Hope everyone plays better”. But if they have another season like this one, nobody’s job will be safe.