2017 NLL rule changes

The league has released its list of rule changes that will be in effect for the 2017 season. As usual, there are a few that might have a big impact, a bunch that will probably not affect things very often, and a few that may never come up at all but they wanted something specific in the rule book just in case. I’ve looked over the list of changes and compared them with the 2016 rule book, and here’s what you need to know.

The most obvious change is that there will be three refs on the floor this year rather than two. Strangely, this was listed on the NLL.com article on the changes, but I couldn’t find anything in the rule book that lists the number of referees. They did add a clause discussing challenges that says “In a three man on the floor mechanic, …” but that’s the only mention of having three refs.

The remaining rule changes are listed with a reference to the rule number.


Faceoffs should be held 25 seconds (up from 20) after a goal is scored. Similarly, if a goal is waved off, teams have 25 seconds (up from 20) to challenge.


Coach’s challenges can now be used for determining whether the ball was batted into the goal, whether the shooter’s stick head is behind the goal line when he shoots (how would that even work? I believe there’s already a rule that says the ball can’t bounce off the goalie’s back), or whether an attacking player went into the crease, left it, and was then the first to receive a pass or gain possession of the ball.


Coaches get two challenges per game plus one more if they win the first two. That now only applies to regulation time. Coaches now get one challenge in OT.

There’s another clause that’s been added that makes no sense to me. Coaches are not allowed to use challenges during the last two minutes of the fourth quarter or the last two minutes of overtime – if they do, they will be charged with using a challenge even if no replay is actually done. But challenges can’t be called at that time anyway so what does it matter if you are charged with using one?


If two refs have a discrepancy in whether a goal was scored or not (i.e. one calls goal and the other waves it off), the crew chief will review the play. Neither team is charged with a challenge.


Each team can have up to 19 players eligible per game, up from 18. No more than 17 runners, up from 16, can be used. Adding only one extra player doesn’t sound like much, but this could have a big impact. Not only will it change up the lines and add more strategies for coaches, but it will give players just a little more rest during games so we don’t see quite as much fatigue (or worse, injuries) near the end of the game.

Note however that the roster sizes are not changing so this doesn’t mean there are more employed players. It simply means that there will be one fewer “healthy scratch” per team per game.


Jerseys are now required to have the player’s number on each shoulder or bicep.


A player given a major penalty with less than 5 minutes remaining in regulation will be given a second major penalty “for accrual purposes only”. The rule specifically says this is “not a time served penalty”. The very next rule says that any player that gets two majors in a game will automatically get a game misconduct, but it’s not clear whether this second “accrual” major counts towards that. If it doesn’t, I don’t know what the point of this penalty is other than to pad one’s PIM numbers.


The previous rule said that players given a match penalty would automatically receive a two game suspension. Now they are given a “one or two game” suspension. No word on how that is decided.


If there’s a delayed penalty and then game time expires, but the officials decide that the penalty warranted a penalty shot, the team gets to take the penalty shot.


If a player (non-goalie) falls on the ball or closes his hand on the ball in his own crease in front of the goal line, the opposing team gets a penalty shot. The new rule is that if it happens behind the goal line it’s just a loss of possession.


This one seems too obvious to even write down. If a player doesn’t contest the ball during a faceoff, the other team gets possession. So if you don’t try to get the ball, you don’t get the ball.



If the ball gets caught in the goalie’s equipment after a pass from a teammate, the whistle is blown, the ball dislodged, and play resumes (with the goalie having possession) but the shot clock doesn’t get reset. New rule: the 8-second clock doesn’t get reset either. This was probably always the case, but now it’s explicit.


If a delayed penalty is called, play continues until a goal is scored, the offending team gets possession, etc. Now play will also be stopped if the offending team takes a second penalty.


I’ll just quote this one since I can’t really summarize it any better: “An offensive player not in possession of the ball cannot exert significant unequal pressure on his defender as an attempt to gain space away from his defender“.


If an attacking player is legally checked into the crease and is then prevented from leaving the crease by a defender, a holding penalty is called. If a goal is scored, it counts (assuming no other violations). This is only slightly different from the existing rule, which talks about a player being illegally pushed into the crease.


This change adds some vague wording to this rule about “officials shall consider the positioning of players when contact is initiated” and “an appropriate penalty for illegal body checking shall be assessed based on the severity of the illegal contact”. The idea is that if a player has his head down or is “unaware of an impending hit”, the ref has the discretion to increase the penalty.


The definition of “aggressor” no longer uses the word “aggressor”. It is now defines as a player someone who keeps fighting even after the ref has told him to stop and tried to pull him away.


Head-butting rules are slightly different. The old penalties were clear: a minor penalty is given if no contact is made, a major is given (possibly with a game misconduct) if contact is made with your helmet on, and a match penalty is given if contact is made with your helmet off. The new penalties are more vague and are probably designed to allow the refs more leeway in giving out such penalties.


When goalies are inspected before the game, their jerseys may be on or off (before it was off), though it doesn’t say if that’s the goalie’s choice or the ref’s. If a goalie is found using illegal equipment, he will get a major penalty (used to be minor). He won’t have to serve it himself but can’t return to the floor until the penalty expires. Also, if a ref is just about to do an inspection and the goalie adjusts his equipment to make it smaller, he gets a 5-minute penalty.


If a player is given the ball on a fast restart, the nearest defender must be 2 yards away or he gets a delay of game penalty. The change is that if the attacking player tries to move closer to draw a penalty on the defender, the attacking player gets a delay of game penalty. I wonder if this ever actually happened.


Top 5 Colin Doyle memories

Last week we talked about Colin Doyle, his retirement, and how well respected he was throughout his career. This week I’ll talk about a few of my own memories of Colin over the years. Here are the top five:

5. The Shoes

In February 2011, the Calgary Roughnecks came to Toronto for a mid-season tilt. As many Calgary-Toronto games tend to be, this one was exciting and came down to the wire, finishing with the Rock on top after an Aaron Pascas winner in overtime. But during a stoppage in play in the overtime period, a ref sent Colin Doyle to the bench. I was at the game and didn’t know why at the time. I only knew that Doyle was not happy about it, vanished into the dressing room, and returned a couple of minutes later.

It turned out that Doyle was not wearing league-sponsor Rebook shoes, and the Calgary bench waited until overtime to notify the refs, who were obligated by the rules to send Doyle off the floor. He went to the dressing room, put on a pair of Reeboks (apparently belonging to the trainer, and 2½ sizes too big), and returned. Calgary’s tactic was sound, but didn’t work. Pascas’s goal was unassisted but Doyle helped set it up.

4. The Fighter

In January of 2010, Colin Doyle made his second debut with the Rock after an off-season trade brought him back from San Jose. His return to the ACC was a game against the Boston Blazers, and things got rough in the first quarter. Five minutes into his return, he got into a fight with the 6’5″ Paul Dawson, one of the better fighters in the NLL. Note that Doyle is 6’3″, so that’s only a 2 inch difference. I don’t have career numbers, but from 2005-2016, Doyle was given TWO fighting majors. In fact, in those twelve seasons he only picked up seven major penalties and no misconducts. What I remembered about this game was that despite not being as seasoned a fighter as Dawson (12 fighting majors since 2008), Doyle held his own.

Both were given facemasking and roughing penalties in addition to fighting, and four other fights broke out while the refs were sorting that one out. All of the additional fighters got game misconducts. In all, 23 penalties were handed out and eight players ejected 4:39 into the first quarter.

Oddly, that game also ended with a Rock victory in OT, this time with Garrett Billings scoring the winner. Doyle got the first assist.

3. The Speaker

The Toronto Rock held a Town Hall meeting in December 2012, where they invited season ticket holders to come out to the brand-new TRAC and talk to owner Jamie Dawick, coach Troy Cordingley, GM Terry Sanderson, and several players (Doyle, Billings, Rose). They talked about the state of the team as well as the TRAC, and answered questions from fans on various topics. One thing I remember about this meeting was that Doyle was very well-spoken. There weren’t a lot of “um” and “uh” and filler words like “well, like, ya know” (i.e. he didn’t sound like me on Addicted to Lacrosse). He used to be a teacher and so is obviously comfortable speaking in front of people. Being a pro athlete in general requires some fan interaction and tons of interviews, and being a veteran and team captain means he was used to having the attention of everyone in the Rock and Stealth dressing rooms. Thus it’s not surprising that he’s a great speaker.

2. The Cup

The Rock won their sixth Championship in May 2011. It was also Doyle’s sixth title. Similar to the NHL and other sports, after every Championship-winning game, the league commissioner (George Daniel at the time) would call up the captain of the winning team and present them with the Champion’s Cup. This was Doyle’s first (and only) Championship as team captain, but he declined this traditional honour. Instead, Doyle sent veterans Cam Woods and Kasey Beirnes up to get it. At that time, Woods had played 12 seasons in the NLL and Beirnes 10, and since this was their first Championship, Doyle decided that he would give them the honour. That’s class.

Photo credit: Carlos Osorio, Toronto Star

1. The Patriot

During the national anthems, many players bounce around from foot to foot and jump up and down. This has bugged me forever. Some say it’s because they just finished warming up and they’re trying to stay loose, but that’s a crock – right after the anthems, most of them go and sit on the bench. Nobody ever jumps around behind the bench trying to stay loose. I’ve also heard that they’re so full of adrenaline and ready to play that they can’t stand still, and I can buy that. But not everybody does this. Many years ago I noticed that Colin Doyle stands completely still during the anthems. Even better, he looks at the Canadian flag and sings along with O Canada (or at least mouths the words). Every game. Respect.


Honourable mentions

  • It didn’t happen in the NLL so I didn’t include it above but I can’t leave it out entirely. When Six Nations Chiefs goalies Brandon Miller and Evan Kirk were both ejected for using illegal equipment during a Mann Cup game in 2013, someone had to step up and strap on the pads. Doyle told the team’s defenders that they were all needed on the floor, so he’d do it, and he did. He played 11 minutes and made 6 saves on 9 shots. Question: This article says that Doyle had to put on his teammates’ soaking wet equipment, but wasn’t Miller’s and Kirk’s equipment illegal?
  • Doyle is known far and wide as a clutch player. Since I know a thing or two about clutch players, I took a look at his Money Baller numbers. I only have these going back to 2005, but Doyle is #10 in those 12 seasons combined (though he only played 1 game in 2015). He’s #5 in the playoffs.
  • I remember paying close attention to Doyle’s first game as a member of the Stealth. It wasn’t that I wanted him to fail, but I didn’t like the trade and so I guess I figured that if he didn’t do well in San Jose, it would somehow make the trade less bad. His first game was decent but not spectacular: a goal and three assists. His next game? Nine assists. The one after that? A goal and seven assists. He ended up with 81 points that season, 88 the next, and 111 in 2009. Safe to say he did well in San Jose. (For the record, that year I became, and remain, a big fan of Ryan Benesch, the guy the Rock received in the Doyle trade.)

O Captain, My Captain

We all knew this day would come, as it does for every player, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Hot on the heels of the retirements of NLL superstars John Tavares a year ago and Josh Sanderson over the summer, another legend has decided to hang ’em up. Colin Doyle is one of the highest scoring players in league history but at 39 he is calling it a career. Like JT and Shooter before him, Doyle will be a no-doubt first-ballot Hall of Famer. And if he’s not a unanimous first-ballot Hall of Famer then I will personally go and find whoever didn’t vote for him and… well, probably just tweet about it.

Doyle played fifteen seasons for the Rock, the last seven as captain. He led the team in scoring six times, but was top three 10 times including last year (despite only playing 10 games). He amassed over 1000 points with the Rock, a number which would put him eighth in league history. But don’t forget the 280 points he picked up as a member of the Washington San Jose Stealth and the 61 as an Ontario Raider. That gives him a total of 1384 points, third on the all-time list. Oh, and you have to tack on 144 career playoff points (also third overall). He was Rookie of the Year in 1998, league MVP in 2005, a six-time NLL Champ (the Rock have never won one without him), and was named Champion’s Cup MVP an unprecedented three times. And that’s just his NLL career – he also won a bunch of Mann Cups, an MLL Championship, and a couple of World Lacrosse Championships – one indoor and one outdoor.

Colin Doyle with the Cup

Doyle was a workhorse, playing in every game for his team for eleven straight seasons. His iron man streak ran 188 games which was, for a short time, the league record (tying Steve Toll and since surpassed by Shawn Williams and Dan Dawson).

But enough of the numbers, amazing as they are. One of the most impressive things about Colin Doyle is how well-respected he is. Among players and fans alike, it seems that nobody has bad things to say about him. I’ve been watching this league for fifteen years and I’ve heard fans say negative things about many great players. Two notable exceptions (among others) are Bob Watson and Colin Doyle. I have never heard a bad word said about Bob Watson; some friends of mine met him at a post-game party in Rochester many years ago and said he was the nicest guy ever.

As for Doyle, the only negative things I’ve heard about him came from… me.

Waaaaay back in 2001, my first year as a Rock fan, I wasn’t a huge fan of Colin Doyle. I acknowledged that he was a great player – there was no arguing that. But I thought he was a bit of a hothead, someone who took unnecessary penalties and all-too-frequently wanted to fight. I even postulated that he wanted to fight more often than he actually did but Rock coach Les Bartley wouldn’t let him because he was too valuable to sit in the penalty box. But over the next year or two , he stopped being that hothead (if he truly ever was). He still played with fire and passion – that never stopped – and the penalties didn’t vanish entirely, but his PIM numbers went down as his scoring numbers went way up.

Despite my initial misgivings, I quickly grew to be a big fan of Doyle and was quite bummed when he was traded west. But after three outstanding seasons in San Jose, Doyle was traded back to Toronto, the Rock went back to the Finals, won another Championship the next year, and all was right in the universe once again.

Me, my boys, and Colin

I did actually meet Doyle a couple of years ago at a Rock season ticket holders party. We had a 15 second conversation and he posed with me and my kids for the picture above. He even told my wife they’d try and give her a birthday present by winning the upcoming playoff game (unfortunately they ended up losing 20-11 to the Swarm). He was a super nice guy and was bigger than I expected.

He was a great scorer, a great passer, played with both toughness and class, could play defense and fight if he had to, and in a pinch could even strap on the pads. He also loved the fans, was a strong leader both on and off the floor, and was a great public speaker. Doyle was pretty much the quintessential ambassador of the game of lacrosse.

Congratulations to Colin Doyle on a fantastic playing career. I look forward to being able to celebrate on March 11 as #7 gets raised to the rafters where it belongs.

I’ll have another article next week with some of my memories of Colin over the years.

Thinking inside the box Part II: Exodus

Last week I wrote about a number of significant MLL players who may be playing in the NLL this coming season. This is significant not just because NLL fans who don’t watch the MLL will be introduced to some great lacrosse players, but because this seems to reverse the trend over the last few years. But where did this trend come from, and why is it changing?

Aside: Jake Elliott and Brad Challoner talked about this a bit on the Oct 21 edition of the Stealth Classified radio show / podcast, a show that you really should be listening to if you’re a lacrosse fan – even if you’re not a Stealth fan.

Another aside: The list of MLL players signed this season has grown since that last article: New England signed both Myles Jones and Josh Hawkins to contracts. Again, it doesn’t mean they’re definitely playing but it does mean they’re interested.

The Wings and the Championships

Back in 2013, the Philadelphia Wings had a whole bunch of guys who also played in the MLL: Crowley, Westervelt, Crotty, Rabil, … actually it would be faster to list the guys who didn’t. Of the 27 non-goalies who wore a Wings jersey in a game that season, 18 of them (67%) also played in the MLL that year. In 2014, they had 25 no-goalies but only 13 of them, or 52%, were MLL players. Why the sudden drop?

In the summer of 2014, Colorado hosted the World Lacrosse Championship, the pinnacle of field lacrosse supremacy. The USA had taken home the gold medal at the event in Manchester in 2010. The World Championships hadn’t been held in the US since 1998, and Team USA wanted nothing more than to repeat their gold medal performance in front of their own fans. As a result, a number of players decided to take the winter off from the NLL to prepare for the Worlds. The Wings lost Paul Rabil, Ned Crotty, Kyle Hartzell, Pat Heim, Brendan Mundorf, and Jeff Reynolds – six players totaling 79 games, 86 points, about a third of their transition, and 71% of their face-offs.

I imagine the Wings brass were less than impressed with this exodus. The intentions of the players were honourable, I suppose – they wanted to represent their country to the best of their ability. But it didn’t help the Wings any, and they dropped from 7-9 in 2013 to 6-12. I can’t be sure about this but I remember hearing at the time that the players who left were not welcomed back by the Wings, meaning that they were not invited to camp for the 2015 season – and other than Heim, they were not released either. Right after training camp at the end of 2014, the Wings added Rabil to their protected player list, Mundorf to the PUP list, and buried Hartzell, Crotty, Reynolds, and Max Seibald (who played for them from 2010-12 and also played for Team USA) on the restricted free agent list. As far as I can tell, they’re all still there, and none of them has played in the NLL since (though it’s possible that none of them have been interested in returning). To add insult to injury, Team USA lost the gold medal match to Canada.

Kyle Hartzell with the WingsAlso interesting to note is the fact that both Kevin Buchanan and Garrett Thul found the time to play for both the Wings and Team USA in 2014. I don’t remember hearing of a single player on the Canadian or Iroquois teams who took the season off to prepare.

The number of MLL players in the NLL has continued to drop. In 2015, the Wings became the Black Wolves and only had six players who played in the MLL that same year. In 2016 it was only four. Of course it’s not just the Black Wolves that are involved; there were MLL players who played in the NLL for other teams, guys like Joe Walters and Mark Matthews, but the overlap seemed to keep declining. And overlap is one of the reasons why.

Us and them

As I said before, we know the NLL and MLL seasons overlap and players who want to play in both will miss games in one league or the other. It’s also true that just as the NLL is a “mostly-Canadians” league, the MLL is a “mostly-Americans” league. These guys grew up playing field lacrosse, not box, so the MLL is more important to them. Some of them think of the MLL as the “real” league and the NLL is a fun league to play in during the winter to keep in shape. I assume there are NLL players who think of the MLL the same way.

It’s also been said that some MLL players have publicly expressed interest in playing in the NLL purely as a bargaining strategy with their MLL team, i.e. “I’ll play with them and skip the beginning of the season if you don’t sign me to a long term contract / pay me more / whatever.” The person who stated this said he knows for a fact that this is happening, though he didn’t say who this was referring to nor was there any evidence given, so take that claim with a grain of salt.

NLL teams won’t be happy if players play the whole season and then leave when the playoffs arrive, while MLL teams won’t be happy if players don’t start playing for a month after the season starts. To my knowledge, the former has never happened while the latter definitely has. From that perspective, it certainly seems that the MLL is getting the worse of this situation. But are there MLL players who don’t play in the NLL at all because they don’t want to leave the team when the MLL starts? It’s likely that both leagues are losing out.

So there are a lot of reasons why a whole slew of MLL players suddenly signing with NLL teams is surprising. Maybe these guys want to stir up some controversy to get the leagues to talk and eventually co-operate. Based on the history of these two leagues, I will say with all the sarcasm I can muster: Good luck with that.

Then again, the NLL has a new commissioner who may not care about the history. If it makes sense for the league to have a partnership with the MLL, he may be more willing than previous commissioners to go to them and say “Hey, let’s forget all of that old animosity. If we start over and work together, we both benefit.” If that’s the case, I will say without a trace of sarcasm: Good luck with that.