The Knighthawks are gone; long live the Knighthawks

We all know that the NLL is expanding this coming season, with the Philadelphia Wings and San Diego Seals beginning play in a few months. Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz has said that these two were the first in a number of expansion teams planned for the next few years, and the next of these was named on Thursday, sort of. The NLL has seen its share of strange relocation situations, and here’s one more. We kind of have two new teams and one relocating team, but the total number of teams in the league only went up by one.

In two separate announcements separated by about four hours, the league announced that (I’ll need to word this carefully) current Rochester Knighthawks owner Curt Styres will be the owner of a new NLL franchise in Halifax. In addition, Terry and Kim Pegula, owners of the Buffalo Bandits, will be the owners of an expansion franchise in Rochester which will be called the Knighthawks and retain the history of the brand. Both teams will begin play in the 2019-2020 season. The current Knighthawks will continue to be owned and operated by Styres during the upcoming 2018-2019 season.

The simplest way to look at it is that Styres sold the Knighthawks to the Pegulas and is buying an expansion franchise in Halifax. But there’s one sentence in the Halifax press release that makes the situation more complicated than that: “The Halifax franchise will begin play during the 2019-20 season at Scotiabank Centre, with many of the players on the current Knighthawks’ roster.” What? Usually when you buy a sports franchise, you get the team name and brand as well as its employees and players. In this case, the Pegulas are buying a franchise and getting everything but the players. Meanwhile Styres is buying a new franchise but bringing his players with him. On the other hand (and coast), the Vancouver team was sold this summer and the players are the only thing the new owners are keeping.

The Knighthawks will be an expansion franchise and will have five Championships. Meanwhile the brand new Halifax team will be a team full of players who have been playing together for many years. This league is weird.

Dhane and Sid Smith. No relation.

I said on an Addicted to Lacrosse episode last season that I didn’t like the idea of multiple ownership because of the possibility of trades and deals that make one team better at the expense of the other – trades that would never happen if the teams were owned by different people. I gave the possibility of the Bandits, doing well at the box office, trading an exciting player like Dhane Smith to the Knighthawks, who are struggling a little more at the gate, for very little return. This could increase Rochester’s attendance more than it would decrease Buffalo’s, thus increasing the overall revenue for the two clubs. This is unfair to the Bandits but if the overall picture is better, a single owner might not care. Two separate owners would.

I’ve kind of changed my mind on that, because the league approves all trades, and so it has sufficient oversight that such an obvious move would likely not be allowed. But now we have a similar situation: an owner making deals for a team that will be his own competition a year from now. Is Styres taking Rochester’s future draft picks with him? If during the upcoming season he trades a player away for a draft pick, does he take that pick with him to Halifax, or is he leaving it for the Pegulas?

More importantly, if he trades a future draft pick away for a player, whose pick is that? In a normal world, Styres might trade the Knighthawks’ first round picks in 2020 and 2021 for, say, Corey Small. A bit expensive but not outrageous. But Styres won’t be the GM of Rochester in 2020 or 2021, and he’ll likely take Small with him to Halifax, so the Knighthawks give up two first round picks for a one season rental of Corey Small. That’s a little steep.

Styres doesn’t take control of the Halifax team until after the 2019 season ends, so would Styres – while still GM of the Knighthawks – be allowed to trade Halifax’s first round picks for Small? In that case, the Knighthawks get a full season of Corey Small for nothing, which they are probably OK with. But that would mean that Styres has two sets of draft picks to play with for a year*. Does that seem right to you? The league will have to watch any deals that Styres makes this season very carefully – not because he will make deals that are unfair (he seems to me to be a man of integrity), but the league needs to make sure that none of these deals even appears to be unfair.

* Update: I’m incorrect here. As Steve Bermel points out, any draft picks acquired or traded away by Styres move with the team to Halifax. If Styres trades away Rochester’s picks in 2020 and 2021, those move with the team so Halifax will not have picks those years while the new Rochester franchise will.

If I had to hire a GM to build me a winning NLL team from scratch, the only person I’d put ahead of Curt Styres is Derek Keenan. But perhaps Styres isn’t interested in starting over and (warning: total speculation ahead) told the league that the Halifax deal was contingent on him being able to take the roster with him. The league wants the Halifax team but doesn’t want to lose a great owner and lacrosse mind like Styres, so they allowed it. The Pegulas are famously indifferent to the comings and goings of the Bandits, so I doubt they cared.

The Halifax team is rumoured to be known as the Privateers (a trademark has been registered by the NLL). Privateers were basically pirates under another name, which makes sense since Curt Styres is stealing the Knighthawks roster and taking it with him. Another way to look at it is that Styres is taking his team to Halifax, but the Pegulas are stealing the Knighthawks name from him. What’s another name for people who steal stuff? Bandits.

 

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The 2019 NLL Schedule: Byes, doubles, and runnin’ back to Saskatoon

The 2019 NLL schedule was released this past week. Once fans see their team’s schedule, the first thing fans say about it is how “difficult” it is. Usually that involves what teams they’re playing but today I’m going to look at it a little differently.

Each team plays 18 games and the season is spread over 21 weeks, so each team has at least three weeks with no games (called a “bye” week). Each bye week you get beyond three means you have to make up that missed game by playing two games in a weekend (which I’m calling a “double”). If you’re lucky, one will be Friday night at home and the other will be Saturday night or Sunday afternoon in a city not far away, giving you lots of time for travel and potential delays – remember the NLL plays during the winter. If you’re not lucky… well, we’ll get to that.

Let’s look at how many bye weeks each team has as well as how many double weekends they have (and where those games are).

San Diego's Kyle BuchananBuffalo: Five bye weeks, but two of them are the last four weeks. They have two double weekends: first Rochester and New England in week 9 and then Philadelphia and Buffalo in week 15. Last year, they also had five byes and two doubles.

Calgary: Four byes, one double weekend: San Diego and Colorado in week 8. Last year the Roughnecks had three byes and no double weekends at all.

Colorado: Four byes but three of them come in the first six weeks including weeks five and six. The Mammoth play twice in week 17, in Vancouver and at home. Last year, they had five byes and two double weekends.

Georgia: Five bye weekends, all spread out. The Swarm have two double weekends: In week 8 they play in Toronto and then New England, then week 9 is a bye, then in week 10 they play at home on Friday and in Rochester on Saturday. Last year the Swarm had six byes and three double weekends. All three of their doubles last year followed a bye.

New England: Four byes and similar to the Mammoth, they have three in the first six weeks. Only one double weekend: Philly and New England in week 12. Last year, the Black Wolves had four byes and one double weekend.

Philadelphia: Five byes including two back-to-back. They play one game in the first four weeks of the season. They have two doubles: Philly and New England in week 12 (coincidentally, the same as the Black Wolves!) and Saskatchewan and Vancouver in week 20.

Rochester: Five byes and similar to the Wings, they play only once in the first four weeks. Also similar to the Wings, they have two double weekends: Philadelphia and Rochester in week 10 and Rochester and Toronto in week 16. Last year was roughly the same: five byes and two doubles.

San Diego: Five byes including one back-to-back – between January 19 and March 2, the Seals only play twice. They have two doubles: San Diego and Vancouver in week 8 and Georgia and New England in week 19.

Saskatchewan: Four byes including weeks 3 and 4. One double weekend but it’s a doozy: San Diego on Friday and back at home in Saskatchewan on Saturday of week 20. After a brief perusal on Expedia, I found that you can get from San Diego to Saskatchewan in about 7½ hours if you really push it (about 45 minute stopover in Minneapolis) or over 14 hours if you don’t mind a 7+ hour stopover. Either way, that’s going to be a brutal travel day for the Seals and Rush. Five byes and two doubles last year for the Rush.

Toronto: Five byes including weeks 3 and 4 as well as the final weekend of the season. The Rock play two doubles late in the season: Georgia and Buffalo in week 17 and Toronto and Rochester in week 19. Last year, the Rock had three byes and no double weekends.

Vancouver: Four byes and one double weekend: Vancouver and Colorado. Last year the Stealth had four byes and one double.


For my money, the most difficult schedule would be one where you have byes near the end of the season. If you are in the playoff hunt (i.e. every team in the East last season), you want to be playing during those last weeks to control your own fate, not watching others play hoping for the right result. In the last five weeks of the season, the Buffalo Bandits play the Rock twice, the Black Wolves once, and have two byes. Playing teams from their own division is helpful for the Bandits if they’re fighting for a playoff spot but two weeks off is not. On the upside, byes can help players recover from injuries without missing games. If Dhane Smith has a sore knee, a week off before a game with playoff implications could be a godsend.

There are a number of teams that have multiple byes near the beginning of the season but only the Bandits have more than one in the last six weeks or so. In terms of the criteria I’m going by here, nobody has a really terrible schedule. The Bandits byes near the end of the season make them a strong candidate but I’m going to say that the San Diego Seals have the most difficult schedule. They have one game in the first three weeks and then a span of five weeks in the middle with only two games. The game before those five weeks, the game after, and one of the two games in the middle are against the same team – Vancouver. However this schedule challenge is offset by the fact that they get to play half their games in southern California.

I’ll let you, the reader, insert your own joke here: Maybe we should say that [insert team name] has the worst schedule because they have to play half of their games in [insert city you don’t like]. Ha ha!

The league lengthened the season last year in order to try and cut down on the double weekends. The teams that used to be hit the most by long travel days were the Black Wolves and Rush. From most major airports in North America, you can fly directly to Denver or Calgary or Toronto but not Saskatoon, so most flights would have included a stopover. Some of those stopovers can be long, but really, who doesn’t love sitting in an airport for five hours? To get to Mohegan Sun, you need to fly to Hartford CT (also requiring stopovers from many airports, particularly in the west) and then take a several hour bus ride.

Update: Taking public transportation from Hartford airport to Mohegan Sun would be several hours. I would assume teams would charter a bus, in which case travel time is not much more than an hour. Thanks to Thomas for the correction.

In 2019, both of these teams only have one double weekend, so mission accomplished, right? For the Black Wolves, they’re coming from Philadelphia on their double, which is probably the closest NLL city. But as I mentioned above, the Rush have to get from San Diego to Saskatoon in a day. Last year, the Rush had two doubles, playing at home on the back half of each. While one was coming from Vancouver, which is likely a direct flight, the other was coming from Colorado which is almost as bad as San Diego. Those Colorado/Saskatoon travel days were part of the reason for the schedule change in the first place, and yet the Rush still have to deal with one.

It’s not like the people who make the NLL schedule haven’t thought about this, and so it’s likely that as crappy as that weekend will be, it was the best option available.