Behind the scenes at the trade deadline

Phone rings

Curt Styres: Hello?
John Arlotta: Hi Curt, John Arlotta here, down in Georgia. How’re things up in Rochester?
Styres: Fine.
Arlotta: That’s great. Listen, we’ve only got an hour until the trade deadline. The Swarm are not currently in a playoff position so you know, we gotta do something. Also, I noticed that Cory Vitarelli seems to be hurt so you guys might be looking for a little bit more offense. I think maybe we can help each other.
Styres: OK.
Arlotta: Tell ya what. We’ll send you Josh Gillam for, say, a first round pick?
Styres: Dreaming.
Arlotta: Well, maybe that was a bit optimistic. What if we give you Gillam and Joe Maracle?
Styres: Nope.
Arlotta: What if we add in <shuffling papers> Randy Staa—OW! Ed, what’d you do that for? He’s a rookie? Oh. Sorry Curt, never mind that last idea. How about Gillam and Maracle for a couple of second round picks?
Styres: Third.
Arlotta: A second and a third? <mini-fist pump> OK, you drive a hard bargain, but we’ll call that a deal. Thanks man, but I have a couple of other calls to make so I’ll get my assistant to give you a call back to finalize things. See ya Curt! Nice talkin’ to ya.
Styres: Bye.

Phone rings

Steve Dietrich: Hello?
Arlotta: Hey Steve, John Arlotta calling.
Dietrich: If the word “Dhane” even comes out of your mouth, I’m hanging up.
Arlotta: No no no, I’m not after Dha… uh, him. Listen I was talking to a couple of my players, I don’t want to disclose any names you understand, but they were talking about this guy you’ve got on your roster but isn’t getting much playing time, and they thought maybe he might be a good fit with them.
Dietrich: Jerome, right?
Arlotta: Yeah, actually! You nailed it!
Dietrich: OK, so who are you thinking you’d send my way?
Arlotta: Well, <sniff> I just strongarmed a deal with Curt Styres and I have one other phone call to make, so I’m actually pretty happy with my roster right now, at least once we add Jerome in. So I was hoping a draft pick.
Dietrich: So Jerome and a draft pick for who?
Arlotta: No, you send us Jerome and we’ll send you a draft pick.
Dietrich: <silence>
Arlotta: Steve? You still there?
Dietrich: You’re sending me a draft pick?
Arlotta: Yeah, in exchange for Jerome Thompson. He’s not playing much right now so I’m thinking sixth round?
Dietrich: You are sending me a draft pick?
Arlotta: That’s the deal so far, is that OK?
Dietrich: Yeah, just let me confirm. I’m sending you Jerome Thompson and you’re sending me a sixth round draft pick? And I’m not sending you any draft picks? At all?
Arlotta: Yup, that’s it.
Dietrich: Ohhhhhh….kaaaaay.
Arlotta: Great! Listen Steve, love to chat but I have one more call to make so I gotta run.
Dietrich: Um, OK, bye John.

Phone rings

Derek Keenan: Hello?
Arlotta: Hey Derek, it’s John Arlotta. I was wondering if –
Keenan: No. <hangs up>

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2016 Pre-season predictions revisited

We’re just past the mid-season point, so I’m going to look over my pre-season predictions for the standings and major awards and see how things are progressing. I don’t think I got any of my major award picks right (except for a “maybe” in ROY), but a few of my “dark horse” picks were surprisingly accurate.

Standings

In the East I had Rochester, Toronto, Buffalo, Georgia, and New England in that order. Clearly New England is doing better than I thought and Toronto is not, but if you swap them and also swap Rochester and Buffalo, I nailed it.

In the West, I had Saskatchewan, Vancouver, Colorado, and Calgary. Obviously I greatly overestimated Vancouver’s success this season. Move them to the bottom and I’m right again.

MVP

Prediction:  Mark Matthews, who’s always a good choice for this award and is having a good season with 66 points in 11 games. But Dhane Smith is on pace to outscore Matthews by almost fifty points and beat the single-season scoring record by 25. Smith is the clear winner here.

Goaltender of the Year

Prediction: Aaron Bold. Again, always a good choice and is having a good season but right now, I’d have to give this to my dark horse choice, Nick Rose, closely followed by Mike Poulin.

Defensive Player of the Year

Prediction: Sid Smith but I’m going to have to go with Chris Corbeil on this one. I watched the Rush defense against the Rock at the ACC recently and they not only prevented looks and shots very well, but they were also really good at knocking the ball out of a forward’s stick and then scooping up the resulting loosie. I thought Corbeil was particularly good at this. He can also score in transition (6 goals so far) and on one transition chance going the other way in the Rush/Rock game, he caught up to Jesse Gamble, which I didn’t think was even possible.

Kedoh says no!Transition Player of the Year

Prediction: Karsen Leung. Leung’s numbers aren’t where they were last year and he didn’t score until his 8th game, so I’m going to go with another dark horse prediction, Alex Kedoh HIll. Hill has 25 points and 73 LBs and is a major part of the Bandits’ super-fast transition game.

Rookie of the Year

Prediction: Wes Berg. No idea if I got this right or not. In terms of points, Berg, Randy Staats, and Jesse King are all within 3 points of each other. But Swarm transition player Chad Tutton is also having a great rookie season, with an impressive 11 goals and is playing solid defense. Graeme Hossack in Rochester is also playing some great D. This might be a cop-out, but I’m going to say there’s no clear winner at this point so we’ll have to see what the second half of the season holds.

Les Bartley Award

Prediction: Dan Perreault. Um, yeah. Not only is Perreault not the coach of the year, he’s not even employed in the NLL right now. I did have Glenn Clark as my dark horse pick, and the way the Black Wolves are playing, he might be my mid-season choice.

GM of the Year

Prediction: Doug Locker. Um, yeah. I still think Locker did a pretty good job in the off-season, picking up Billings, Moleski, Hawksbee, and Travis Cornwall, and the Schuss-for-Powless deal last year was great for both teams. I don’t think it’s his fault that the team isn’t playing well but that said, I can’t give the GM of the Year award to a guy who created a sub-.500 team. John Arlotta also made some significant changes to the Swarm and in three or four years this might be a really good team but similarly, since they’re currently 4-8, we can’t say that now. Plus we’ve thought “this team could be really good in a couple of years” about the Swarm for ten years now and they just never seem to get there.

I may have to go back to the Black Wolves, as GM Chris Seinko did a great job to trade for Shawn Evans, reacquire Kevin Crowley, and also bring in guys like Dan Ball, Derek Suddons, and Sheldon Burns, all of whom are contributing on this surprising team.

Toronto attendance: dropping like a Rock

Attendance has long been a topic of conversation within the NLL community. Some of the news is good, like Colorado, Buffalo, Calgary, and this season, Saskatchewan. Some of it is bad, like Georgia, New England, and any team called Stealth. Rochester is Rochester: not super high numbers but consistent.

And then there’s the Rock.

The Rock were once the darling of the NLL: consistently high attendance numbers and always a great team. They went to five straight Championship games, winning four of them. They went 42-9 at home in the regular season from 1999-2005, and 9-2 in the playoffs. They had the highest attendance in the league from 2001-2003 and again in 2005.

I remember wondering (in about the 2004-2005 time frame) what might happen when the Rock had some down seasons. We’d seen the huge crowds during the 11-5 and 10-6 seasons, but what would we see during a 6-10 season? Or after a couple of them? Well, now we know.

Check out the following chart of average Rock regular season home game attendance per season:

RockAttendance

Six seasons after their debut, the Rock had grown their attendance from 11,075 to 17,123 in 2005. But then it only took five seasons for it to drop to 10,066. What happened? The honeymoon ended. After all the Championship seasons and home victories, they finished 8-8 in 2006, Terry Sanderson was fired, and fan favourite Colin Doyle was traded. Then they had three straight sub-.500 seasons, missing the playoffs in two of them. They went four full seasons between home playoff games. Jim Veltman, the only captain in team history to that point, also retired in that span. Attendance dropped like a rock (pun most certainly intended) and recovery since 2010 has been minimal.

The most misleading thing about this graph is that the biggest single-season decrease came in 2010, when average attendance dropped 3,855. 2010 was also the first year that Jamie Dawick owned the team, making making it look like Dawick’s ownership caused the drop. Could it be that the fans thought the previous ownership group (which included such names as Don Cherry, Tie Domi, and Brad Watters) was giving up on the team, and so they should too? That seems unlikely, so Dawick’s presence is almost certainly not the cause. Indeed, the first thing he did as owner was to get Terry Sanderson back, the re-acquisition of Colin Doyle followed, and the team made the Championship game in 2010, losing to the Stealth.

That playoff success did bump attendance a little, about 900 per game. Winning the Championship in 2011 also gave it a bump but a small one, not even 200. It’s dropped every season since. This year (as of March 19), they’re right smack in the middle in 5th place at 9,039 per game, just below the league average of 9,219. The 0-6 start did not help, nor did the Thursday night game in January or the two home games in the same weekend in mid-March.

You might think that in a city that hosts the hapless Toronto Maple Leafs, who sold out every game at Maple Leaf Gardens from 1946 to 1999 and then every game at the Air Canada Centre from then until 2015, wouldn’t have attendance problems with a team that’s actually good. But it seems that not only is Toronto a Leafs-first city (we always knew that), but they’re awfully quick to dive off the bandwagon once a team stops winning. We also saw that in the mid 1990’s – after the Blue Jays won their back-to-back Championships, the baseball strike plus a mediocre team dropped average attendance at SkyDome from over 50,000 in 1993 to 31,600 only four years later.

So Rock fans, here’s a plea. Get your butt out to the ACC, and bring friends. This is a gate-driven league, meaning the way the league and teams make money is primarily ticket sales. The NFL has such lucrative TV deals that they could play to empty stadiums every week and still make a fortune. That’s not the case with NLL teams, some of whom (like Toronto) actually pay to get their games televised in order to bring in new fans. Jamie Dawick pays big money to get Rock games on TV and to rent the ACC, and I don’t know for sure but I suspect he’s losing money on every one. That can’t continue forever so make sure you support the team by getting to as many games as you can. And buying merch doesn’t hurt either.

Note: Before you accuse me of being a Rock shill, I receive no compensation of any kind (money, tickets, swag) from the Rock or the league. I just want the team to succeed.

Missing the point

In his excellent 30-second shot clock column this week, Teddy Jenner mentioned that if the league used points rather than games behind to decide the standings, they’d look a little different. Then he went so far as to say:

Maybe it’s because the league doesn’t have ties that it’s gone with this system but maybe it’s time to go the route of the NHL and give points for wins and maybe even an OTL point.

Over twitter, I expressed my disagreement with this idea and Teddy asked why, and the best I could come up with on the spot was that I didn’t like rewarding teams that lose. If you lose, you lose. You don’t get a partial win for losing in 18 innings, nor do basketball or football teams gain anything for losing in overtime. So why hockey?

Well, we kind of know why: it’s because hockey used to have ties. Once the NHL initiated the shootout, they should have scrapped the points system since there was no longer the possibility of a tie. For unknown reasons they didn’t. But the NLL never had ties in the first place, so a points system makes no sense.

Callum Crawford wins a 2015 game in OT

Here are five reasons (in no particular order) why this is a bad idea. This assumes the NHL system: a win gets you 2 points, an OT loss gets you 1, and a regulation loss gets you 0.

  1. This kind of points system makes sense if there are wins, ties, and losses. A tie isn’t as good as a win, but better than a loss. But if there are no ties, there are just wins and losses. Why are the points necessary? Teddy says “maybe even an OTL point” – what if you don’t include the OTL point? If you just give two points for a win and nothing for a loss, then you’re just ranking teams by wins. This means that a team that has won more than another team but has also lost more is still ranked higher. In the points system a team that’s 5-4 is ranked ahead of a team that’s 4-3. In the current system, they’d be tied. At the end of the season, it won’t matter but during the season, the points system is less fair.
  2. If you lose a game in regulation time, you get 0 points. But if you lose in OT, you get one point. You are rewarded for keeping the score tied for 60 minutes – making it to OT is somehow “less” of a loss. Does a team really need to be rewarded for taking slightly longer to lose? So shouldn’t winning in OT be “less” of a win? It seems that if we’re going this route, we should give 3 points for a regulation win, 2 for an OT win, and 1 for an OT loss.
  3. It’s near the end of the season and a team is on the threshold of missing the playoffs. With five minutes left in the fourth quarter, the score is tied. The team realizes that if the 4th quarter ends tied, they get a point. They decide it’s in their best interest to play as defensively as possible, making sure that they get the single point, and then fight over the extra point in OT. As a result, we have play-it-safe boring lacrosse. And what if both teams are in the same situation and desperately need that single point? We end up with the most boring five minutes in lacrosse history as both teams run out the clock and take a token shot every 29 seconds.
  4. If you lose a regular season game in OT, three points are awarded. Since the losing team gets one of them, they sort of get 1/3 of a win. What if you lose game 3 of the Championship series in OT? Do you get 1/3 of the Championship? (SPOILER: no)
  5. Related to #4, even the NHL doesn’t use this system in the playoffs. If you lose after 15 seconds of OT in the regular season, you get a point. If you lose after 3½ periods of OT in the playoffs, you just lose. Consistency.

The ironic part is that many NLL players talk in interviews and on twitter and such about a win giving them “two points”. That’s how ingrained the NHL is in Canadian culture.

BTW just to clarify the title of this article, I’m not saying Teddy is wrong or hasn’t thought it through. This is just all my opinion. He’s a very knowledgeable guy when it comes to sports in general and knows more about lacrosse than I ever will. I just thought it was a clever pun.

Goalie tandems

Back in my day, things were simple. You had a goalie who played every day. If he had a bad outing or was sick or something, you put the backup goalie in but the next game, the regular goalie was back. Bob Watson was the man and Anthony Cosmo was his backup. We Rock fans all knew Cosmo was more than capable of being a starter, but he was unquestionably Whipper’s backup at the time. Eliuk was the man in Philly. O’Toole was the man in Rochester. Chugger in Buffalo. Nash in Colorado.

That’s just how it worked, and we liked it.

And then the Minnesota Swarm came along and changed everything.

In 2012, the Swarm started the season with a 20-14 loss to the Mammoth. Longtime Swarm goalie Nick Patterson went the distance and gave up all 20 goals on 50 shots. He was immediately benched and rookie Tyler Carlson started the next game, winning 19-11 over the Bandits. They returned to Carlson for the next two, a 16-14 loss to the Knighthawks and then a 10-9 overtime win over the Rush. Two nights after the Rush victory, the Swarm kept the Knighthawks to only 6 goals with a sparkling debut performance from Evan Kirk. That was when Patterson was released.

Carlson (left) and Kirk

After that, the Swarm just kept going back and forth. Carlson, 11 goals against. Then Kirk, only 7 goals against. Carlson again, 11 goals. The Swarm finished the season at 9-7 and lost in the first round of the playoffs. But they had proved that their tandem of rookie goalies had worked: Kirk played all 60 minutes of six games, winning 4 and holding opponents to <10 goals in three of them. Carlson went the distance in seven, winning four. Both finished in the top 10  in GAA and if you remove the “true” backups, they were first and fifth.

Since then, the Swarm has gone with a tandem goalie plan pretty much every season. First Carlson and Kirk, then Carlson and Higgins, and now Higgins and MacDonald. But the idea seems to be catching on.

The Swarm still have Higgins and MacDonald, though MacDonald has played twice as many minutes as Higgins this year. Toronto has Rose and Miller, splitting time about evenly, just like last year. Calgary had Scigliano backing up Poulin a couple of years ago, then that was reversed last year. This year it’s more even. Cosmo is the main guy in Buffalo but they have a ton of confidence in Davide DiRuscio who filled in very well when Cosmo was recently hurt. At 38, Cosmo is the fourth-oldest player in the league, so a tandem going forward may be in the cards in Buffalo.

But not everyone has bought into it. New England has Evan Kirk, Colorado has Dillon Ward, and Rochester has Matt Vinc, and those guys are the unquestionable starters for their teams. Saskatchewan is having no part of this at all. Aaron Bold has more minutes than any other goalie and his backup, Tyler Carlson, has the fewest.

Vancouver is a weird case. They have said on more than one occasion that Eric Penney is their starter and Tyler Richards is the backup, but Richards has played almost 70% of the minutes in the four games since his return. A Richards/Penney tandem would not be surprising the rest of the way in 2016.

Now having said all that, the Minnesota Swarm didn’t invent this idea. It had been done before. In 2007 the Bandits had Steve Dietrich & Mike Thompson, and the next year they had Ken Montour & Thompson. In 2010, the Washington Stealth had Matt Roik & Tyler Richards. Even the Swarm themselves had Matt Disher & Nick Patterson in 2006 and Kevin Croswell & Patterson in 2009. But it really seemed to take off in 2012 once Kirk and Carlson became the two-headed monster for the Swarm.

In some of those older cases, it might have been “play one goalie until he has a crappy outing, then play the other until he blows it” but the tandems we’re seeing now don’t work that way, and maybe that is what the Swarm started. Kirk would allow 6 goals in a game and Carlson would start the next one. The idea of “ride the hot goalie” isn’t what they were doing.

Maybe in a few years, that will be the norm – every team has their pair of goalies and they each start half of the games. It certainly seems to make more sense than having one goalie play every minute of every game and then when he has an off night, the other goalie who’s played zero minutes for half a season is then expected to come in and be effective. But if we ever get to the point where every team is doing this, I suspect it won’t be until after Matt Vinc and Aaron Bold retire.

Top 6 surprises of 2016

I did this last year and it was fun, so here’s this year’s version of the top surprises at the season’s midway point. I only did five last year, but I couldn’t narrow down this list any further.

6. Logan Schuss & Johnny Powless

These guys both struggled with their original 2015 teams and were traded for each other in what has turned out to be one of those rare trades where each team thinks they got the better of the deal, and they’re both right. Interestingly, Powless and Schuss had almost identical points/game averages at the time of the trade – Schuss at 3.56, Powless at 3.55. After the trade, Schuss’s numbers jumped 1.3 points to 4.86/gm while Powless’s dropped 1.38 to 2.17/gm.

But this year’s a different story for both of them. Nobody’s really surprised that these guys are having good seasons. But they’re not just having good seasons, they’re having career seasons. Each is leading his team in scoring, and that’s saying something when Schuss is playing with guys like Billings and Duch. Each is averaging 2+ points/game more than last season and also 2+ more than their career average. At this rate, Powless will finish with 93 points, beating his career high by 40, and Schuss will finish with 114, beating his career high by 37.

5. Dhane Smith

Dhane SmithSimilar to Schuss and Powless, nobody’s surprised that the Great Dhane is leading the Bandits in points. Nobody’s particularly surprised that he’s leading the league in points. To be 21 points ahead of second place halfway through the season is surprising, but it gets better.

Last season, Shawn Evans shattered the single-season points record with 130, breaking the previous record by 14. Evans averaged 7.22 points per game, a pace many thought he wouldn’t be able to keep up for the whole season. Some have even asked if anyone would ever be able to match it. But only one year later, Smith is not just on a pace to break that record, he’s way ahead. Smith is averaging 8.44 points per game, a pace that will give him 152 points. In fact, Smith only needs to average 6 points per game over the rest of the season to break Evans’s record so even if he falls off a bit, the record is still quite breakable.

4. Welcome to Saskatchewan

Many people, myself included, criticized Edmonton Rush owner Bruce Urban for leaving Edmonton and taking the team to Saskatchewan last year. While I don’t particularly like the way he did it (announcing the possible move as a threat during the playoffs, criticizing the City of Edmonton during negotiations, etc.) and I still think Edmonton is a legitimate lacrosse market, it looks so far like this was a great move. Saskatoon has welcomed the Rush and the NLL with open arms. The municipal government and local businesses seem to have grabbed hold of the team and the crowds have been great. The Rush are averaging 9765 per game, a number higher than eight of the ten seasons they were in Edmonton.

Now, let’s remember that the Rush averaged over 10,000 per game for their first two seasons, when they were a combined 7-25. So perhaps we should wait until season 3 or 4 in Saskatchewan before deciding whether or not this was a good idea long term. But for now, it’s great to see.

Another big pro of having a team in Saskatchewan: I can now type the word Saskatchewan in less than four minutes.

3. Struggling goaltenders

In 2015, six goaltenders had a GAA under 10. One was Cody Hagedorn who played about 14 minutes, and another was Angus Goodleaf who played 92 minutes. But the rest played at least 250 minutes and two of them (Aaron Bold & Matt Vinc) were everyday starters with over 1000 minutes.

This year, only one goalie has a GAA under 10, Tye Belanger who’s only played 43 minutes. Bold is third at 10.53 and Vinc is eighth at 11.76. Bold’s GAA is over a full goal higher than 2015, and almost two higher than 2014. Vinc’s is two goals higher than both 2015 and 2014. He has only had a GAA that high twice in his career: 2006 when he played 14 minutes with the Stealth, and 2012 when he had a 12.22 GAA but won the Championship with the Knighthawks.

But they’re not the only goalies having tough seasons – Nick Rose, Brandon Miller, Angus Goodleaf, Frankie Scigliano, Anthony Cosmo, Zack Higgins, Davide DiRuscio, and Tyler Carlson all have higher GAAs than last season. On the flipside, Dillon Ward, Evan Kirk, and Mike Poulin are all having strong seasons, and Eric Penney and Tyler Richards also have lower numbers than last season though they’re in a weird situation – their roles are reversed and Richards has only played in a couple of games.

2. The Toronto Rock

0-6 to start the season? Have you ever heard of such a thing? The Rock had never started a season worse than 0-4 in their history, and this is a team that went to the Championship game last season. They averaged 6.25 goals in their first four games, and then gave up 18.5 in the next two. Finally they got the offense and defense both working at the same time and have pulled off two wins in a row.

The only reason that this is not the #1 most surprising thing is that the Roughnecks did exactly the same thing last year, including going to the Championship game the previous year. The only difference is that the Roughnecks had never started a season worse than 0-2. The Roughnecks pulled it together though, and not only made the playoffs but went to the Western division final. The Rock seemed to have pulled themselves together as well, so the fact that Calgary salvaged their season last year gives the Rock some hope.

1. The New England Black Wolves

The Black Wolves started last season with a victory over the Bandits and then a 17-7 blowout of the Knighthawks, and things looked very promising for the relocated Wings. But then they must have realized that they were the relocated Wings. When I think about last year’s Black Wolves, I think of a team that wasn’t very good but looking at the numbers, they were even worse than that. After their 2-0 start they went 2-14. Their 14 losses is the second-worst in league history and their -63 goal differential is the fifth-worst in league history. They gave up 20 goals three times, and lost by eight or more five times. Only two teams have ever given up more goals than the 249 that the Black Wolves gave up in 2015 (though one was the Stealth of 2015).

So a coaching change was not all that surprising, though picking up the reigning league MVP was. But Clark, Veltman, and Evans can’t make that much of a difference, can they? Clearly, they can.

Kevin Crowley

Last year, they only had six players with more than 30 points – and it’s really only five since two of them were Garrett Billings and Kevin Crowley, who were traded for one another. This season, they already have four with 30, and they’ve only played seven games. Pat Saunders led the team with 68 points last season; Saunders, Evans, Kevin Crowley, and Kevin Buchanan are all on pace to beat that this year. In fact, Shawn Evans could have that total by the end of next weekend – after nine games.

They’ve already won more games than last season, and are on pace to score 55 more goals and give up 54 fewer. Shawn Evans is still in the MVP conversation (though that conversation is being dominated by Dhane Smith right now), and they have five players above four points per game, something not even the Mammoth can boast. They are allowing a league-low 10.9 goals per game, the defense has been great, and Evan Kirk is playing his best lacrosse since his debut season with the Swarm in 2012. These guys are for real.