Just like yesterday’s West division preview, today we’ll cover the East: where I think they will end up in the standings, who might have a breakout year, and a haiku for each team.
Coupla changes in Buffalo. The Alex Buque experiment didn’t work out so well last year, but I think they’ve solved that problem. Reigning Goaltender of the Year Matt Vinc was brought in from Rochester to shore up the goaltending. I don’t think Vinc was thrilled with the prospect of the team moving to Halifax next year, and Buffalo is closer to his home in St. Catharine’s, so he’s happy.
But Steve Dietrich also brought in Corey Small, Bryce Sweeting, Ethan O’Connor, and Jon Harnett. Add a couple of defensive/transition studs in Ian MacKay and Matt Gilray (two of the top four draft picks) and the changes to the Bandits roster are impressive. They had a pretty potent lineup last year but needed goaltending and defensive help. They’ve addressed those shortcomings and improved their offense, which makes them my top pick for the East.
Look out for
Shawn Evans didn’t have a great year in 2018 by his standards. 83 points certainly ain’t bad, but after five straight 100+ point seasons, it’s a bit of a drop. I think he’ll want to prove that he’s still got it.
First in the east.
Corey Small up front
Lots of defensive changes
Vino in the net
The Swarm lost Kiel Matisz, Jordan Hall, and Jesse King over the summer. So who’s going to score their goals? Well, let’s not panic just yet. They still have Lyle Thompson, Miles Thompson, Shayne Jackson, Randy Staats, and Holden Cattoni, so I think they should still be OK in the offense department. The transition lost vets Ethan O’Connor and Joel White and replaced them with rookies, so that’s a possible concern. Everyone focuses on the Swarm’s offense so their defense gets kind of ignored. They don’t have the big names like Saskatchewan but I think the Swarm D as a whole is underrated.
Look out for
Randy Staats’s points-per-game average dropped to 4.3 last year, a full point below his rookie season and a point and a half below 2017. With fewer bodies to share the ball, I see his numbers going back up from the “very good” range to the “elite” range.
Second in the east.
Lots of great offense
But their defense is good too
So is Mike Poulin
For a team that had Kevin Crowley (who scored 51 goals), Stephan Leblanc, Kyle Buchanan, and half a season each of Johnny Powless, Shawn Evans and Callum Crawford, it’s surprising that other than the Stealth, nobody scored fewer goals than the Black Wolves in 2018. In 2019 they’ll have a full season of Crawford and while they lost Buchanan, they’ve gained Tyler Digby who will likely be getting more floor time than he got with Calgary. That’s some pretty decent firepower up front but I’m not sure it’ll be enough. They’ll have to get increased production from a guy like Reilly O’Connor and either acquire some more offense or hope for productive rookies.
This is assuming that Kevin Crowley re-signs. If he doesn’t, they’re in a bit of trouble.
Goaltending is also a question as the Black Wolves are trying the Alex Buque experiment, Part II. As I said above, Part I in Buffalo last season wasn’t exactly a rousing success.
Look out for
Tyler Digby had a great sophomore season in Vancouver and two good seasons in Calgary before his numbers fell off a cliff last season. He’ll likely get more playing time in New England and I see his numbers climbing back into the 50s.
Fourth in the east.
Black Wolves big scorers
Crowley, Digby, and Crawford
They’re all freakin’ huge
There are a couple of question marks for the Wings. Matisz, Hall, and Hickey make a pretty good top three, I’ve only heard good things about Chris Cloutier and Matt Rambo, and guys like Vaughn Harris, Blaze Riorden, and Josh Currier give them some pretty good secondary scoring. Will it be enough? Maybe. Defense looks pretty good, with a number of proven NLL defenders like Zach Reid, Liam Byrnes, Liam Patten, and Frank Brown. No superstar defensive studs (though a lot of people are big on Brown) but a decent core. Goaltending is a question since Davide DiRuscio has shown flashes of being a solid #1 stopper but has been inconsistent, and he also missed all of last season with an injury. The only other goalie on the Wings roster is Doug Buchan, who has zero NLL minutes.
Look out for
Brett Hickey’s last four seasons were 81, 28, 79, and 40 points, which means he’s due for another 80-ish point season. I don’t know if he’ll get there, but he’ll have more than 40.
Sixth in the east.
Moose is the captain
Hall, Hickey, and Big Fish too
Philly has its Wings
The Knighthawks made the NLL Finals just last year and didn’t make that many changes but I’m still picking them to finish 5th in the East this year. First off, their appearance in the finals was unexpected. They were the best team in the East down the stretch and beat who they had to beat in the playoffs to get to the finals, so it’s not as if they didn’t deserve it, but I’d say very few were calling the Knighthawks to come out of the East. Secondly and more importantly, they lost Matt Vinc, one of the best NLL goalies ever and a no-doubt Hall of Famer. The Knighthawks are now pinning their hopes on Vinc’s backup Angus Goodleaf, who’s been an excellent backup to Vinc for years. But Goodleaf has only hit 200 minutes in a season once in his career; Vinc has recorded 900 minutes nine times in the last ten years (and recorded 890 in the tenth year).
The Knighthawks also lost Sid Smith to
retirement injury (I heard that he retired but he’s starting the season on the IR) and lost Josh Currier and Frank Brown (who only played three games) to the Wings in the expansion draft, but that’s it. Their offense was very good last year thanks in part to rookies Austin Shanks and Eric Fannell. Can they repeat their success? Is the Joe Resetarits of 2018 the real thing or was that a fluky season? (I suspect it’s the former.) The defense and transition are anchored by Defensive Player of the Year Graeme Hossack and Rookie of the Year Jake Withers, so they should be fine but the goaltending is my concern.
Look out for
Pat Saunders is, I’m sure, happy to be back in the east. Not sure he’ll get back to the 44 goals he had in 2016 but 25-30 isn’t unlikely.
Fifth in the east.
No Vinc, no problem
Knighthawks have faith in Goodleaf
Lots of young kids too
Last year, the Rock without Tom Schreiber was a very different team than the Rock with Tom Schreiber. He’s back and healthy and looked great in the scrimmage against the Mammoth, but I imagine they’ll set up their offense so that they don’t seem so uncoordinated if he’s not there or has an off night. Adam Jones also looked good in the scrimmage as did Johnny Powless. Between those guys and Rob Hellyer, Phil Caputo, Dan Craig, and Dan Lintner, I’m really looking forward to watching the Rock offense. The transition will be great as well, even without Brodie Merrill. Challen Rogers, Damon Edwards, Sheldon Burns, and Latrell Harris make up a pretty potent squad and I’m curious if Jesse Gamble will return. He took last year off for work reasons and I assumed he’d be back this year but I’ve heard nothing about him at all. As for goaltending, I have no concerns about Nick Rose but Riley Hutchcraft has played all of 15 minutes in his career.
Look out for
Dan Lintner was a healthy scratch in a number of games last season. I posted a few times that I felt bad for him and even suggested the Rock should trade him so he’d actually get to play somewhere. I don’t think he’ll be sitting as much this year and his patience will have paid off.
Third in the east.
Powless joins the Rock
Schreiber leads the offense, but
Challen wears the C