Renaming the NLL Awards

Hot on the heels of my article last week about the Les Bartley award, a discussion opened up on twitter regarding renaming all of the NLL awards after some of the greats of the game. A bunch of names were tossed around, and the topic was mentioned on both Stealth Classified and Off the Crossebar, two of the top three lacrosse podcasts out there. Since I’m kind of the one who started it all (well, Jake Elliott actually did but it was in response to my article, so it was really me all along), I thought I’d throw out my picks.

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned: there are only so many awards and there are a lot of great players that have come and gone in the NLL. So if you think Joe Laxalot was one of the best players but he’s not listed here, well, not every great player gets an award.

Annual awards

MVP: This one is easy, in my opinion. Gary Gait won the MVP award six times, far more than anyone else,so nobody deserves to have the MVP award named after him more than Gait. Did you know: only four players have won the MVP award more than once: Gait (6), John Tavares (3), John Grant (2), and Shawn Evans (2). (Spoiler: That’ll be an @NLLFactOfTheDay in 2018)

Goaltender of the Year: Just about everyone will agree that this one comes down to two legendary goalies: Bob Watson and Dallas Eliuk. But which one? Going purely by the numbers, I’d have to give it to Watson. Eliuk had a higher career GAA (12.24 to Watson’s 11.14), higher post-season GAA (11.73 to Watson’s 10.16) and only won five Championships while Whipper won six (though that’s really a team accomplishment). Whipper also won Goaltender of the Year twice while Eliuk never did, though that’s hardly fair since Eliuk played ten seasons before the award even existed. But Eliuk played in a different era and had four titles before Whipper ever played a game, so perhaps the stats can’t be compared directly. The one and only time they met in a Championship game was 2001, and Eliuk not only beat Watson, but was named Championship game MVP.

I’m going to let my Rock bias loose here and go with Bob Watson but it could go either way.

Bob Watson

Transition Player of the Year: It comes down to two players for this one in my opinion, Jim Veltman and Steve Toll. Both were quintessential transition players, with great defensive and offensive abilities. Toll had more blazing speed than Veltman so his abilities were a little flashier but Scoop was such a smart player. He had that Brodie Merrill-like ability to make his teammates better and allow them to excel (or more accurately, Merrill has that Veltman-like ability). Veltman is the only transition player in the NLL Hall of Fame and was the first non-offensive player (since joined by Steve Dietrich) to win the MVP award. Gotta go with Jim Veltman.

Defensive Player of the Year: There are only two defensive players in the Hall of Fame: Pat Coyle and Rich Kilgour. I’m not a great judge of defensive ability – especially from memory, since neither of these guys have played in almost ten years – so I will defer to Messrs. Jenner, Elliott, and Challoner, all of whom picked Pat Coyle.

GM of the Year: He only won the award once, in 2015 after his Toronto Rock finished 14-4 and made the finals a year after a 9-9 season, but Terry Sanderson also built the 2011 and 2005 Champion Rock. Maybe it’s my Rock bias coming through again but he’s my pick. However, Johnny Mouradian built the 1999-2003 Rock, who won four titles in five years, so he’s also worthy. The Philadelphia Wings went to nine Championship games in 13 years from 1989-2001, winning five of them. I have no idea if they had a single GM over that span or five of them, but if all that was the work of one guy, that guy deserves credit. I feel bad for whoever ran the team during that time since he clearly deserves recognition for doing an amazing job but I don’t even know who it is.

Executive of the Year: Tough one. I don’t think there’s been one single executive that’s stood out as head and shoulders above the rest. I thought George Daniel did a good job of stabilizing the league over his tenure as commissioner, but was it worthy of renaming this award? Prior to the MILL morphing into the NLL in 1998, all of the teams were owned and run by the league, so there were far fewer executives to choose from. Nobody has won the Executive of the Year award more than once. Maybe we don’t rename this one at all.

Teammate of the Year: You’d have to ask the players about this one; without spending time in the dressing rooms and travelling with the teams, there’s no way to have any significant insight on this. I think Teddy Jenner suggested Casey Powell but maybe this one remains unnamed as well.

Shawn WilliamsSportsmanship Award: Only two players have won the Sportsmanship award more than once – Garrett Billings, who’s still active, and Gary Gait, who has the MVP award. My vote goes to Shawn Williams. In seventeen seasons, he only had five where he hit double digits in penalty minutes, and in 24 playoff games he totalled only 10. He was captain of the Knighthawks for several years, and an alternate captain in both Buffalo and Edmonton. It’s only fitting that the Sportsmanship Award be named for one of the most well-respected players in league history.

Rookie of the Year: Another tough one since by definition, you can’t be good at being a rookie more than once. During the conversation on twitter, my Addicted to Lacrosse co-host Tyler suggested picking someone who won the award and then went on to have an outstanding career. While there are a number of RoY winners who qualify under that criterion (including names like Duch, Kelusky, Manning, Marechek, Merrill, and Benesch) (oh, and Gary Gait again), two of those not still active stand out: Colin Doyle and John Grant. Both have been very active in coaching kids as well, so naming a rookie award after them seems to make sense. I’ll get back to Doyle later, so my vote for this one goes to John Grant.

Other awards

Scoring leader: There is currently no award for this accomplishment, but when there’s such an obvious candidate, we need to create one. Gary Gait and John Tavares each led the league in scoring seven times (though they tied each other in both 2000 and 2004), and nobody else ever did it more than twice. Gait, again, has the MVP award but no listing of legendary NLL players would be complete without John Tavares. He really must appear in this list somewhere and I see no better place than here.

Championship Game MVP: Colin Doyle is the only player to have been named Championship game MVP three times, and similar to Grant and Tavares, I can’t imagine a list such as this without Doyle’s name on it. Doyle was known as a clutch player his entire career, so the Colin Doyle award being given to the Championship Game (or Series now) MVP makes total sense.

Champion’s Cup: IMHO, the ultimate trophy in the National Lacrosse League has a boring name. It’s boring because the Stanley Cup, the Mann Cup, and the Steinfeld Cup are all “Champion’s Cups” in that they are awarded to the Champions of their respective leagues. My first thought was to rename it after the founder of the league but in the NLL’s case, there are two. I can’t say I’m thrilled with “the Cline-Fritz Cup”, and “the Fritz-Cline Cup” will have people in thirty years asking who Fritz Cline was. The CLax trophy was called the Creator’s Cup which was a great name, but I don’t think the NLL should use it even though that league no longer exists.

Another option is to name it after the late Jim Jennings, who was commissioner of the league for nine years (2000-2009). Though Jennings ran the league for a long time, many people have problems with how he ran it – a whole lotta cities had NLL teams fail on his watch. Still, “the Jim Jennings Trophy” has a nice ring to it. If I had to pick a name right now, that’s probably what I’d go with but I’m not stuck on it, so I’d probably elect to leave it for now as well. You really don’t want to get this one wrong.


Having come up with my nominees for the renaming of these awards, it’s important to realize that once they’re named, that’s it. You can’t just go renaming these awards every ten years. Are the names we picked really worthy of that kind of immortality? Terry Sanderson was a great GM, but will we wonder in thirty years why Derek Keenan didn’t get that honour instead? Perhaps we rename MVP, goalie, transition, and defense and leave the rest for now. We can revisit in five years and see if we want to rename some more.

The Les Bartley Award

In 2004, the NLL renamed its Head Coach of the Year Award to The Les Bartley Award. It’s still called that, but the name isn’t really used all that often.  Case in point: the video produced by the NLL announcing this year’s award nominees and winner didn’t include the words “Les Bartley” at all, nor does the page on NLL.com that includes the video.

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The Eastern bias

There’s been a lot of talk over the last few days about the NLL Award finalists and winners, and how there must be an Eastern bias since many Western players who had great seasons have not been nominated. Some of the awards nominations have been quite surprising: Justin Salt and Matt Beers won the IL Indoor* Transition Player and Defender of the Year awards respectively but neither was even a finalist in the NLL awards. Even more interesting is where the finalists come from: of the fifteen finalists for the five awards so far, thirteen of them come from Eastern teams and all fifteen are Eastern-born players.

Clearly this is an Eastern conspiracy, right? Or if not an outright conspiracy, at least evidence of Eastern bias, right?

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Deconstructing the 2008 Minnesota Swarm

While searching for facts for @NLLFactOfTheDay, I stumbled upon a couple of crazy games by the Swarm in 2008. That made me look over the 2008 season for the Swarm in a little more detail, and I found some more fun little tidbits. The 2008 season was long enough ago that there are lots of familiar names involved in these games but not always on the teams you might expect. But it was also recent enough that I remember some of these things happening.

So here’s a summary of the 2008 Swarm season. If you like this idea, maybe I’ll deconstruct some other memorable seasons, perhaps the 2007 Knighthawks or 2005 Rock. But like the ’08 Swarm, it doesn’t have to be Championship teams; it might also be fun to look at the 1-15 2006 Rush. Send in your suggestions! But note that I only have detailed information going back to 2005. Before that I can only talk about wins/losses, final scores, attendance, and season scoring stats.

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Looking forward to 2018: East Division

The 2017 NLL season is now over. Many of the players and some of the coaches have moved on to summer ball or the MLL (or both). The GMs may take a little time off but not much – they’ll be checking out MSL and WLA games all summer as well as watching a lot of game film to figure out what their team needs to change, if anything.

Just to help out those GMs*, here’s my postseason review for each NLL team. We’ll start in the East and get to the West tomorrow.

* <sarcasm>Because guys like Derek Keenan and Steve Dietrich need my help, you know.</sarcasm> Continue reading

The saga of Garrett Billings

Garrett Billings and Stephen Leblanc both exploded into the league in 2010. Leblanc beat out Billings for the Rookie of the Year award, and each beat the other by one point over their first two seasons. But in 2012, Billings took a giant leap forward, recording 114 points and leaving Leblanc’s 65 in the dust. He finished second in league scoring in both 2012 and 2013, and third in 2014, and was an also a top MVP candidate in all of those seasons. Near the end of 2014, however, he injured his knee (in a game in Vancouver, ironically enough) and missed the rest of the season and the playoffs. Nobody knew at the time that it was the last game for Billings in a Rock uniform.

This bummed me out, since I’ve been a big Billings fan since 2010. I have a Rock shirt with his name on it, and I even used a picture of him as the icon for this blog on Facebook.

But once he was healthy again, he didn’t return to the Rock lineup. It soon became clear that he and the Rock were involved in contract negotiations that weren’t going well. I won’t go over all the details here, mainly since we don’t know them all, but during the 2015 season Billings was traded to New England for Kevin Crowley (who was later flipped back to New England for Dan Lintner). He picked up 36 points in 8 games for the Black Wolves and was later dealt to the Stealth in what ended up being a three-way deal that sent Tyler Digby to Calgary and Shawn Evans to New England.

As a Langley native, Billings playing for Vancouver sounds like a dream for both him and the team. He played in 11 games with the Stealth in 2016 and picked up 60 points, a pace that would have netted him 98 over 18 games. But something happened between Billings and the Stealth in the offseason or early 2017, and nobody knows what it was, or at least I don’t. Billings started the season on the IR but once healthy, only played in four games. He was a healthy scratch for six games and once he was added to the holdout list at the end of March, the Garrett Billings era in Vancouver came to a premature end.

Garrett Billings

It’s odd that one of the best players in the league from 2010 through 2014 is on the Stealth roster but doesn’t figure in to their plans. It’s unlikely he’ll suit up for the Stealth again and I hope he’s amenable to travelling since home games for him will be somewhere else next year. I’ve read comments that he’s actually Athan Iannucci’d himself right out of the league – clearly nobody was breaking down Doug Locker’s door last season to get him. I hope that’s not true but we’ll see what the post-season brings.

Where to?

Trade speculation is always a crapshoot but just for fun, let’s have a look at where Billings might end up if he’s traded. We’ll just think about two-team trades that only involve Billings, otherwise there are just too many possibilities.

I imagine the bridges have been burned with respect to the Rock, and with Hickey, Schreiber, Lintner, Beirnes, and Hellyer, they’re packed with righties anyway. Could he fit in on the right side with the Bandits? That would allow them to put Mark Steenhuis back on transition, though they’re not hurting in the transition department anyway so that’s not really filling a need. Rochester is a possibility, particularly considering their offensive woes this season. They have three first-round draft picks this fall and still have their first round picks in 2018 and 2019, so that’s a possibility for what heads west. Billings may not be what he once was (though his 2016 numbers indicate that he could be) but assuming he’s not still injured in some way, I think he’s still worth a first-round pick.

Georgia? Their offense is just fine, thanks. The Black Wolves have Evans, Crowley, and Kyle Buchanan on the right side so I’m not sure adding Billings to that list makes sense but replacing one of those guys might. Kevin Crowley is also from BC so that’s a possibility (could we have a second “Billings to New England for Crowley” deal?) but (a) I believe Crowley lives on the east coast now, and (b) the Stealth don’t need Billings on the right side, so they likely don’t need Crowley on the right side either. Call that a probably not.

The Rush and Mammoth are fine on the right side so the only possibility left is Calgary. They only used three righties in 2017: Dickson, Berg, and Digby. The Roughnecks missed the playoffs in 2017; could they use a guy like Billings to shake things up? Sure they could. If the Roughnecks don’t want to give up a player, they have one first round draft pick this year, plus two in each of 2018 and 2019.

There are always factors involved in trades that we don’t know about. But if I had to guess, I’d say the Roughnecks sounds like the most likely target. Interesting that he and Digby, who were once traded for each other, would end up as teammates in that scenario.

It’s unfortunate that things didn’t work out in Vancouver, but I hope Billings returns to the NLL in 2018 as effective as ever. Maybe I’m biased as a Billings fan as well as a Rock fan who watched him make significant contributions over the years, including helping to bring the 2011 Championship to Toronto, but similar to Cody Jamieson, I think the league is better with Garrett Billings in it.