A short summary of each team’s offseason moves, where I think they will end up in the standings, who might have a breakout year, and as always, a haiku for each team. We’ll start with the East, then cover the West tomorrow.
Obviously the biggest news for the Bandits is the retirement of John Tavares. But with only 32 points in 10 games last year, he wasn’t having nearly the impact on the offense that he used to. Dhane Smith and Ryan Benesch are the anchors of that offense now. They did add Daryl Veltman, who averaged 53 points a year over his five years in Calgary.
Andrew Watt is injured, Derek Suddons is in New England, David Brock is on the practice roster, and Chad Culp is suspended for one game. The Bandits have four rookies on their roster.
Look out for
Smith and Benesch already make a formidable scoring combo, but adding Daryl Veltman will give them another weapon. He had somewhat limited playing time being behind Evans, Shattler, Dickson, and Dobbie but in Buffalo, Veltman could see a jump in both his playing time and numbers.
Third in the east.
Veltman on the O
Is great, but no JT means
Confused Bandits fans
Josh Gillam returns after missing last season, Drew Petkoff signed as a free agent, and the Swarm have a bunch of big-name rookies joining their ranks including first rounders Randy Staats, Jesse King, and Chad Tutton as well as first overall pick Lyle Thompson. None of these four have a single NLL game to their credit but given their pedigrees, I imagine opposing teams are still concerned about facing them. Adding Staats, King, Gillam, and Thompson to an offense that already includes the likes of Johnny Powless, Kiel Matisz, Shayne Jackson, and Lyle’s brother Miles could make for a pretty potent offense.
Only one goalie on the roster for now, but Brodie MacDonald will likely be moved from the PUP list by the time opening day rolls around.
Look out for
Lyle Thompson is the obvious choice, and I’m sure he’ll have a great season. But at the Rock / Swarm preseason game in December, I heard the name Randy Staats an awful lot as well. Either one of these guys is my choice for the Swarm. Or Jesse King.
Fourth in east but if I had to pick one NLL team to be the dark horse, it’d be the Swarm.
Swarm moved to Georgia
Much warmer in winter, but
Will fans show up?
The Black Wolves pulled off a pretty big trade in getting Kevin Crowley back from Toronto, and then a huge trade in grabbing reigning MVP Shawn Evans. Adding these two guys, even at the expense of losing Garrett Billings, should make your team better, and I think it has. And don’t underestimate the value of a vet defender like Derek Suddons.
But half of the announced Black Wolves roster wasn’t on the team at the end of 2015. Add to that a new coaching staff and a last place finish last year and my expectations aren’t all that high for the Black Wolves. Shawn Evans is one of the game’s best players and has an outstanding work ethic, and so maybe some of that will spur the team on to great things. But someone has to finish last and for me, there’s too much uncertainty here to rank them any higher than that.
The Black Wolves have a new head coach in Glenn Clark, and Hall of Famer Jim Veltman joins Clark and Tracey Kelusky as an assistant coach. Blane Harrison resigned as head coach after last season, saying that his family moved to Michigan and the travel would be too difficult. Makes sense, except for the fact that he’s now an assistant coach with the Georgia Swarm.
Look out for
Quinn Powless only played 3 games last season before an injury ended his season, but he’s back and healthy and could have a big impact this year.
Fifth in the east.
Glenn Clark is the coach
Crowley’s returned but mostly
Shawn Freaking Evans
Not many, but one could be pretty substantial. Brad Self is on the shelf (see what I did there?) as is Angus Goodleaf, Zac Reid is in New England, and Colin Boucher is out. But I’ve heard great things about #2 overall pick Graeme Hossack. Not that the Knighthawks had serious defensive problems, but can you ever have too much defense?
Brandon Styres (the son of owner & GM Curt Styres) is the new backup goaltender but when you’re backing up a workhorse like Matt Vinc, don’t expect to see a lot of floor time.
Look out for
As a defender, Hossack won’t make the score sheet often but he was chosen ahead of guys like Wes Berg and Randy Staats for a reason.
First in the east.
Not enough Graemes
In this league so thanks to the
Not a lot of changes for the Rock, but one could be either a temporary setback or a significant blow to the offense. Josh Sanderson, coming off a 102-point season (his best in 5 years), has announced that he will not begin the season on the active roster since he’s not physically ready to play. If this lasts just a few weeks before he’s back, I’m sure the Rock offense can step up in his absence. But he’s also hinted that this could mean retirement, in which case the Rock are down 102 points from last season, the vast majority of which were assists.
Kevin Crowley was also returned to New England after effectively being borrowed for the last 1/4 of the season and the playoffs. In return, the Rock got forward Dan Lintner, who I was pretty impressed with in the exhibition game against Colorado in mid-December. At 5’9″, he’s not a big guy but was a dynamic player and when you’re replacing Josh Sanderson (as much as a future hall-of-famer like Sanderson can be “replaced”), you don’t need to be big.
Also joining the offense is Turner Evans, a cousin of Shawn and Scott. Evans is also not a big guy (also 5’9″) but he picked up a couple of goals and a bunch of assists in the pre-season.
Look out for
It wouldn’t be considered a “breakout season”, but Brett Hickey has looked outstanding in the pre-season, scoring 14 goals in the Rock’s three games, putting him on pace for 84 goals in 18 games. This is supremely unlikely, but I think he could certainly break 50 again in the regular season.
Second in the east.
No Sanderson, but
Hellyer and Hickey ready
to run the offense