Division predictions: where I think each team will end up in the standings and who might have a breakout year.
It’s hard to get really fired up about a team that lost all of their TOP FIVE scorers from last season and didn’t replace them with even one star player. Those top five scored a total of 330 points last season, which is 70% of the team’s total. Kieran McArdle, Connor Kelly, and Haina Thompson will certainly help, but none of the rest of the new additions has more than about 10 NLL games to their name. That’s not to say they’re going to be terrible – only two teams gave up fewer goals than the Firewolves last year, and they still have a solid defensive core, a top-flight goaltender in Doug Jamieson, and Charlie Kitchen will see lots more playing time and could make some big strides. But somebody’s gotta score goals and without a monster year from somebody or an above-average year for several, it could be the dreaded “rebuilding year” for Albany.
Look out for
Connor Kelly hasn’t played an NLL game in almost three years (March 2020 with the Riptide) but if he can shake off the rust quickly, he could have a very good year.
Eighth in the east.
The Bandits have been to two of the past three Championships but are still hungry for their first Championship since 2008. They lost Connor Fields and Chase Fraser is out to start the year, but much of the powerhouse Buffalo offense is returning. I said above that only two teams allowed fewer goals than Albany; well, Buffalo was one of them. With that defense (minus veteran Kevin Brownell) in front of reigning/perpetual Goalie of the Year Matt Vinc, and the aforementioned offense, there’s no reason to believe the Bandits can’t contend again this year. The question will be whether they will be good enough to hold off the surging Rock in the East.
Look out for
Tehoka Nanticoke had a very good rookie season, with flashes of “oh my goodness” here and there. With that year of experience, I think Nanticoke takes his game to the next level in 2023. Maybe not a hundred-point type level, but I can see a 20-30 point jump.
Second in the east.
The Swarm have lost Stephan Leblanc, Joel White, Jordan Hall, and Mike Poulin to retirement, Miles Thompson to injury, and Chad Tutton to free agency. That’s a lot of big names on offense, transition, defence, and of course their starting goaltender. Jeremy Thompson will help out the D and transition, and also gives the Swarm a pretty solid faceoff tandem along with Jordan MacIntosh. On offense, they brought in Andrew Kew from Albany and 2021 second-overall draft pick Ryan Lanchbury will make his NLL debut this year. If those two can gel with former MVPs Lyle Thompson and Shayne Jackson, the Swarm offense could be very good – maybe not Bandits or Seals good, but certainly sufficient to give the team a chance in any game. The biggest question is goaltending – Craig Wende is 31 but has only played 391 minutes in his entire NLL career. Is he up to the challenge of being a full-time starter and playing 800+ minutes in one season? If not, the Swarm better hope that last year’s trend of excellent rookie goaltenders continues since Brett Dobson has played zero minutes in his NLL career.
Look out for
Bryan Cole used to be one of those guys whose name you didn’t hear much. But you started hearing it more often last season as people realized what he does for the Swarm, which is just about everything. You might start hearing that name a lot more often this season.
Sixth in the east.
How does a team lose Shawn Evans, Stephen Keogh, and Rhys Duch in one offseason and still end up better? Well, that’s a bit misleading since they only had Duch for a game and a half and Evans for six games (and was a healthy scratch in a few more). Still, their offense now consists of Ryan Benesch, Cody Jamieson, Randy Staats, Clarke Petterson, Chris Boushy, Eric Fannell, and Austin Shanks. Not too shabby. Ryan Terefenko was an All-Star in the PLL last summer, and along with Tyson Bell gives the Thunderbirds a guys like Jake Withers and Graeme Hossack are among the best defenders in the league. Aaron Bold is not returning to the Thunderbirds so the net is Warren Hill’s once again. Hill has been streaky over his career – he’s had periods of looking unstoppable (eg. most of 2020) but other periods of looking pretty ordinary, so Halifax’s success depends on which Hill they see more of.
Look out for
Terefenko played very well in the PLL and there’s no reason to believe he won’t bring that success to the indoor game as well.
Third in the east.
New York Riptide
A lot of people are talking about the Riptide making a big splash this year, and I see no reason to disagree. They haven’t made a ton of changes, really, adding Reilly O’Connor up front and Kevin Brownell and Jordi Jones-Smith on the D while losing Kieran McArdle. New York’s offense was lights out last year, scoring more goals than anyone but the Bandits. Callum Crawford is 38 and so he may have lost half a step from previous seasons, but half a step down from Crawford’s previous seasons is still better than most. I think it’s safe to say that Jeff Teat’s career has not peaked and after watching him play last year, the thought of him getting better is exciting. Connor Kearnan, Jake Fox, and Larson Sundown are all returning, and Tyler Digby is on the holdout list but assuming he returns, the Riptide offense is just as potent as last year. On the back end, Brent Noseworthy and Dan MacRae start the year on the IR but New York has a strong-looking defense even without those two, especially with the addition of Brownell and Jones-Smith. Steven Orleman didn’t have a great start to his debut season as a starter, only winning one of his first seven decisions. But he went 4-4 over his last eight and lowered his GAA from 13.14 over his first nine games to 11.20 over his last nine.
Look out for
I really enjoyed watching Larson Sundown last season. I don’t know if he’ll put up 80 points or anything, but we’ll hear his name a few more times in 2023.
Fourth in the east.
They lost Kevin Crowley, Corey Small, and Brett Hickey (and Kyle Jackson, though he’s on the “protected” list, whatever that means), but picked up Joe Resetarits. That’s still a net negative from last season, and even with Crowley, Small, Hickey, and Jackson along with Matt Rambo, Ben McIntosh, and Blaze Riorden on the offense, the Wings were second last in the league in scoring last year. A bit of an offensive shakeup might have been needed here. The addition of veteran defender Chad Tutton is one of the more understated free agent signings of the off-season.
Look out for
I think Ben McIntosh will take more of a leadership role on the Wings offense. He won’t outscore Resetarits, but he’ll jump back up to the 70-80 point range where he was in Saskatchewan.
Fifth in the east.
The Knighthawks finished last or near the bottom of the league last year in most categories, so it stands to reason that they’ve made a lot of changes. Connor Fields and Austin Hasen join the offense; Fields got some time during a couple of seasons in San Diego and then had a breakout season in Buffalo last year. Hasen is a rookie but won the Mann Cup with the Lakers over the summer, and looked quite comfortable playing with a pile of NLL stars so expect him to fit right in. Riley Hutchcraft will fight Rylan Hartley for the starting goalie spot (and we know Hartley can fight). One concern with the Knighthawks is the number of injuries: Cory Highfield, Ryland Rees, Jeff Wittig, Tyler Biles, and Thomas Whitty all played significant time with Rochester last year but begin the year on the IR or PUP.
Look out for
Austin Hasen will mesh well with fellow Lakers Holden Cattoni, Thomas Hoggarth, and Turner Evans (not to mention Paul Dawson, Jordan Stouros, Thomas Whitty, Mitch Ogilvie, Matt Gilray, and coach and Austin’s dad Mike Hasen).
Seventh in the east.
The Rock know that they were maybe half a second away from sending their last game of 2022 to overtime, and potentially going to the Championship game. They are in win-now mode and had to get better during the off-season, which is exactly what they did. Their off-season haul is one of the best of any team. Corey Small may not return to the 111 points he had in 2017 but 30 goals and 70 points is not unlikely. Stephen Keogh will fill a Kasey Beirnes type of role but with more grit – he does the “dirty work”, sets hard picks, and generally gets crushed inside so his teammates on the outside get better looks. And like Beirnes, he won’t put up the big numbers that others might but he’ll be instrumental to the Rock offense. And it’s not like he doesn’t score at all – he scores some pretty beautiful goals.
On the back-end, the Rock allowed by far the fewest goals of any team last year – only two teams were within twenty of the Rock’s total. In fact, since the league moved to an 18-game season in 2014, only one team (the 2014 Edmonton Rush) has allowed fewer than the Rock’s 166 last year. They had Defender of the Year Mitch de Snoo, Brad Kri, and Latrell Harris, all three of which showed up in the top 10 of IL Indoor’s list of the league’s best defenders. Now you add Chris Corbeil (also in the top ten) to that incredible defense? I imagine Nick Rose cannot wait to get this season started to be able to watch those guys in front of him. Unfortunately, Corbeil was injured during the off season and had shoulder surgery in October so he won’t be ready to start the season.
Look out for
Challen Rogers will be playing on the offense this season, so watch for his scoring numbers to skyrocket. But I’m going to say Zach Manns has a breakout year, taking over many of the touches that Reid Reinholdt had last year.
First in the east.