The 2015 NLL awards were announced on Tuesday, only four months after the season ended. This was a dumb idea last year, and it’s a dumb idea this year. I get that they’re trying to raise interest in the league during a quiet time when there’s no other lacrosse going on anywhere, but they can do that with the draft. Handing out the awards the night after the draft marginalizes either the draft or the award, and NLL fans that aren’t die-hard fans probably didn’t even notice. Handing them out during or right after the playoffs makes so much more sense. If you want to have it be a big event rather than just announcing the winners, that’s fine but four months later just doesn’t make sense.
Anyway, on to the winners. With one exception, there were no real surprises in the player awards. Shawn Evans was named MVP for the second time in two years, and deservedly so. Kyle Rubisch won the Kyle Rubisch award again. Kyle Buchanan won the Sportsmanship award after playing 18 games with 0 penalty minutes. Rookie of the Year went to Ben McIntosh, who had an excellent rookie campaign. Josh Sanderson won the inaugural “Pinty’s Wingman of the Year” award, following in the footsteps of the Pinty’s Wingman of the Week award, which unofficially went to the person who picked up the most assists every week.
I’d never even heard of the “Shoeless Joe’s Shot of the Year” award until they announced it – Miles Thompson’s sitting-on-his-butt-over-the-shoulder shot. I can’t decide if that’s an ugly goal that’s also beautiful, or a beautiful goal that’s also ugly.
The exception is the Goaltender of the Year award. Matt Vinc won his fifth in six years, with lots of people wondering why Aaron Bold didn’t get it. I have less of a problem with Vinc taking it. First off, the award is supposed to be based on the regular season only. The playoffs (and the fact that Bold’s Rush won the Championship), the Mann Cup, and the WILC should have no bearing on this award. There’s another reason why the awards should be given out during, not after, the playoffs.
Bold allowed one fewer goal in 13 more minutes but in those extra minutes, he still faced ninety fewer shots than Vinc, and Bold’s save percentage was 2.4% lower than Vinc’s. A very close race, to be sure, and either one could definitely have won it, but to say that Bold should have won because he won three Championships in the same year is just wrong.
The three non-player awards had one gimme, one minor surprise, and one huge one. Terry Sanderson won GM of the Year posthumously, and I’m sure the early death of this much-beloved and respected man played a part in the voting. But he also turned a 9-9 Rock team into a 14-4 powerhouse, the top team in the league. He picked up 50-goal-scorer Brett Hickey off the scrap heap and traded for Brodie Merrill, Brock Sorensen, and Jeff Gilbert to shore up the defense. Posthumous or not, T deserved the award.
Head coach of the year was a bit of a surprise to me, in that I expected Derek Keenan to take this one for the second straight year. Keenan missed the first two games while dealing with the death of his wife, two games that the Rush lost. On his return, the Rush started looking like the Rush of 2014, and Keenan’s influence on that team was obvious. But I don’t want to take anything away from the winner, John Lovell, who also had a great season. The Rock lost only one of their first ten games on their way to a franchise-best 14-4 record, first in the league. Lovell’s leadership allowed the Rock to thrive despite losing Garrett Billings and Colin Doyle, and also allowed the seamless additions of Hickey, Merrill, Sorensen, Gilbert, and Kevin Crowley into the dressing room.
The huge surprise is Executive of the Year. Nominated were Lewis Staats of the Knighthawks, Scott Loffler of the Bandits, and Bruce Urban of the Rush. Wait, what? Bruce Urban? He didn’t really get nominated, did he? Yes, he did. Oh well, he has no real chance of winning it, does he? Yes, apparently he does. And he did.
This is the guy who refused offers from the Oilers to buy the franchise. He complained about the mayor and the city and was called out for it. He effectively threatened the Edmonton fans with relocation during the season. Then once they won the championship, he did move the franchise. Thanks to all of you awesome Edmonton fans for your support during the playoffs! I could sell to the Oilers and make sure the team stays in Edmonton, but screw you, I’m taking my team and getting out.
As Gerry Moddejonge of the Edmonton Sun tweeted, Scott Loffler created the #BraverThanBrave campaign which had the attention (and pulled on the heartstrings) of every NLL player, employee, and fan around the league, while Urban announced a charity event that neither had a winner nor gave anything to charity. Nice.
Maybe this is based on the regular season as well so the actual team movement shouldn’t be considered. But given all the other crap that went on, I can’t believe Urban won. But it was the other executives in the league (AFAIK) that chose him, so perhaps he did lots of stuff behind the scenes that made him worthy. I’m trying to give Urban and the NLL the benefit of the doubt here, but I’m still shaking my head.