Watson vs Eliuk vs Vinc

For many years, the question of “best goaltender in NLL history” has had two answers: Bob “Whipper” Watson and Dallas Eliuk. Some say Dallas, some say Whipper, some can’t decide between the two. It’s rare that you hear someone other than one of those two described as the best ever. But the question of Whipper vs. Dallas as the best ever may soon become outdated. Nothing’s being clarified, however; the waters are getting even muddier.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Matt Vinc has been the best goaltender in the NLL over the past decade. The awards and numbers certainly back that up:

  • Five Goaltender of the Year awards in six years
  • Three Championships plus two other trips to the finals
  • Led the league in GAA in 2013, finished in the top three four other times
  • Holds three of the top ten spots in the “Best GAA in a Season” list (see weird aside below)
  • Has the second-lowest career GAA among starters in NLL history
  • Second in NLL history in career saves; will overtake Anthony Cosmo in game two or three next season (he’s 104 behind)
  • Second in NLL history in career minutes; will overtake Anthony Cosmo in game four or five next season (he’s 221 behind)
  • Third in NLL history in career playoff GAA
  • First in NLL history in career playoff minutes and saves, ahead of second place by over 300 minutes and 170 saves

Weird aside: Here’s an odd one for @NLLFactOfTheDay: A starting goalie has finished a season with a sub-10.00 GAA only 17 times in NLL history. Matt Vinc has done it four times. Nobody else has done it more than twice. Yet Vinc didn’t lead the league in GAA in any of those four seasons. And here’s the craziest part: in 2010, Vinc finished with a GAA of 9.51, the seventh best of all-time, but he finished fourth in GAA that season.

Photo credit: Micheline Velovulo

Vinc has won five Goaltender of the Year awards, while Watson won only two and Eliuk never won any. This is, of course, meaningless since the award didn’t exist before 2001. Eliuk’s career was more than half over by the time the award came into being and from 2002 until the end of his career, his teams were generally pretty lousy. (His 2008 LumberJax made the finals, but Eliuk was the backup goalie by then.) Having said that, Watson won the 2008 Goaltender of the Year award on a sub-.500 team that missed the playoffs.

When comparing players’ careers, I never compare the number of Championships they won. That is entirely a team statistic and has no bearing on whether one individual player was better than another. Brodie Merrill has never won an NLL title but he’s arguably better than an awful lot of players who have. But if you must know, Eliuk won six with the Wings, Watson six with the Rock, and Vinc three with the Knighthawks.

If we’re going to compare these three goalies, shouldn’t we just compare their stats directly? Let’s try. Vinc has a lifetime GAA of 10.88. Watson’s was 11.14, while Eliuk was 12.24. So Vinc’s GAA is 0.26 lower than Watson and 1.36 lower than Eliuk. Pretty clear that he’s the best of the three, right? Actually, no.

During Dallas Eliuk’s career spanning 1992-2008, the average number of goals scored in an NLL game was 25.66. During Bob Watson’s career from 1998-2011, the average dropped to 24.82, and during the Matt Vinc years from 2006-2018, the average was only 23.41. Eliuk had a higher GAA because more goals were scored in general during his career (2.25 more per game) than during Vinc’s. Thus you’d expect Eliuk’s GAA to be higher than Vinc’s. If you assign half the difference in goals scored to each goalie, Eliuk would have a sort of “handicap” of 1.13 over Vinc, so the 1.36 difference in their GAAs is really only about 0.23. Similarly, Watson’s adjusted GAA is actually lower than Vinc’s.

I don’t have numbers for shots faced before 2005, so I can’t compare their career save percentages. But from 2005-2018, Vinc has a save percentage of 78.2%, third behind Steve Dietrich and Ken Montour (and a handful of others with just a couple of games played). Watson is only three players back of Vinc at 77.4% while Eliuk is a fair ways back at 75.9%. Again though, that only covers the last three years of Eliuk’s career, not his prime.

Not that this is news, but there’s no really good way to compare players who played in different eras. Eliuk’s career and Vinc’s only overlapped by three years, but Eliuk was past his prime by then and Vinc wasn’t yet the standout goalie he would become. The game was different enough during the years before and the years after that statistics can’t be directly compared. Watson’s career overlapped both for a longer period of time but there is a twelve-year age difference between Watson and Vinc (and six years between Watson and Eliuk) so comparisons are still difficult.

So which of the three is the best ever? There’s no correct answer – arguments can be made for any of the three. Maybe we have to say Eliuk is the best of the 1990’s, Watson the best of the 2000’s, and Vinc the best of the 2010’s, and leave it at that. The only thing we can definitively say is that this is no longer a two-horse race.

 

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The Blazers and the Sting: It’s drafty in here

The mid-to-late 2000’s were a tumultuous time in the NLL. Teams were popping up, moving, and vanishing all over the place. This all reached “peak weird” in about 2007-2008 and if you are new to the NLL, you might not know about all of these strange goings-on. Even if you’ve been following the league since then, some of this is still hard to believe.

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2018 Expansion Draft

I’ve been looking forward to the upcoming Expansion Draft for months. We get to see two teams get created from scratch, which is every armchair GM’s dream. Trades and free agent signings and such are always exciting, so imagine eighteen of them all on the same day! As I’m sure many others have done, I’ve made my list of which players I would protect if I were an NLL GM. Some are obvious, some might be controversial, and there are probably a few “What are you thinking?” picks in there too. Let me know watcha think!

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NLL team names

Recently, a Rush fan named Rob King tweeted an article suggestion:

Challenge accepted. There isn’t much of a story behind a few of them, but others are very interesting. I had a lot of fun researching this one, and I hope you enjoy these stories. I threw in a couple of “Did you knows” as I came across them.

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2018 NLL Awards

It’s that time of year again! When some NLL players gear up for the playoffs while others dust off the golf clubs or join their MLL teams. It’s also time for the annual NLL award voting. I don’t have a vote in the NLL awards but I’ve submitted my picks for the real awards, which are of course those published on IL Indoor. In that series of articles, probably published next week sometime, I will have comments about who I picked to win so I won’t repeat them here. I will also mention my pre-season picks for these awards so we can either stare in amazement at my insight or laugh at my “insight”.

In my season preview articles (West and East), I picked a player for each team who I thought might have a breakout year, so I’ll also go over my “Look out for…” choices. Some panned out, while others were not as prescient as I might have hoped.

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Game report: Rochester 14 @ Toronto 11

After a long trip to and from tonight’s game (see the last “Not awesome” point below), I’m too tired to write a full article. So, like I’ve done in the past and as we do on the Addicted to Lacrosse podcast every week, I’ll do an “awesome / not awesome” summary instead.

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Game report: Colorado 11 @ Toronto 7

When Tom Schreiber got injured, some Rock fans were worried that the offence wouldn’t adjust. After a few rough outings, they went and scored 14 against New England and 17 against Calgary, and we thought they had adjusted. Well if they did, they adjusted right back on Friday night.

Most aspects of the Rock game were pretty good: Nick Rose was solid for the most part, the defense was also strong, and the transition was excellent. Anytime you get five transition goals and two from defenders you put yourself in a good position to win – assuming the offense does anything. But if they don’t…

In what might be an NLL first, not a single Rock offensive player scored a goal on Friday night. Kieran McArdle picked up one assist as did Reid Reinholdt (both on the same Challen Rogers goal), but that was it. Adam Jones, Rob Hellyer, Brett Hickey, newcomer Dan Taylor, and Phil Caputo combined for ZERO points. Props to the Mammoth defense who were exceptional at preventing many shots from occurring at all, and to Dillon Ward for stopping those that made it through.

I don’t know if there is a scouting report on Ward saying “shoot 5-hole!” but if there is, it was inaccurate on this night. The Rock seemed to be shooting there a lot (if they weren’t hitting Ward in the chest), and he stopped every one of them. It looked as if the Rock forwards were snakebitten again – shooting opportunities would come up and they’d pass instead. Lots of shots were taken from a fair ways out. I won’t say they weren’t trying to get inside but when they did try, the Mammoth D wouldn’t let them.

Meanwhile the transition guys were hitting the top corners. It got to the point where the Rock were down by two with three minutes left and I wanted them to send Rogers, Merrill, and Harris out instead of the regular O guys.

Dillon Ward (Photo credit: Colorado Mammoth)

There was a comment on Facebook from a guy who complained about Nick Rose and suggested that the loss was his fault. Was Rose fantastic in this game? No, there were one or two goals that he probably could have stopped, and a couple of times he made a save though it seemed clear that he had no idea where the ball was. But he played well enough to keep his team in the game which is all you can ask from your goalie. The same commenter said later that sometimes a goalie can “steal” a game for you and Rose didn’t. While that’s true, we don’t get to decide when a goalie should steal a win for you. If your team only scores seven goals, blaming the goalie for allowing more than six is a little unrealistic. Blaming Rose for a loss like this smacks of “I don’t like Rose so I’ll blame him for everything”.

So as of right now (Saturday morning), we have four 7-7 teams in the East, and one 6-7. The West playoff picture is mostly set – it’ll very likely be Rush, Mammoth, Roughnecks in that order. The Mammoth could still catch the Rush for first, so something could change there. But in the East, we still have no idea and probably won’t for a couple of weeks. It wouldn’t surprise me if the very last game of the regular season (Georgia @ New England on April 29) decides the playoff fate of the entire East division.

Other game notes:

  • Right at the end of the first quarter, a Rock player took a last-second shot on Ward. Mammoth defender Jordan Gilles grabbed the rebound and shot on the Rock net from his own goal line and scored. Top left corner. No bounce. The buzzer went while the ball was in flight so it didn’t count, but it was a beautiful shot nonetheless.
  • The shot clock at one end of the floor was broken for most of the game, so the PA announcer gave teams 10 and 5 second warnings when the clock was running down. It’s the first shot clock problem I remember seeing at Rock games for a number of years, but it did remind me of a few games in one season a long time ago where shot clock problems were relatively frequent.
  • Another weird stat: a week after I wrote an article on unassisted goals, four of the Rock’s seven goals were unassisted. Two more had only assist, and only one goal had two. This means that the Rock had more goals (seven) than total assists (four) in this game.