Surprising things happen every year in every sport. This is partially why we love sports, isn’t it? If all of your predictions were correct every year, it’d get pretty boring pretty quick. Here are my top ten surprises from the 2019 season so far. At least these were surprises to me, you will probably have different opinions. Feel free to leave a comment if I missed any.
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
Here are my predictions for the final regular season standings as well as the major annual awards. The “Dark Horse” predictions are my “not as likely but could happen” picks.
- Buffalo Bandits
- Georgia Swarm
- Toronto Rock
- New England Black Wolves
- Rochester Knighthawks
- Philadelphia Wings
- Saskatchewan Rush
- Calgary Roughnecks
- Colorado Mammoth
- San Diego Seals
- Vancouver Warriors
Winner: Tom Schreiber
Short list: Shawn Evans, Mark Matthews
Dark horse: Ryan Benesch
Goaltender of the Year
Winner: Dillon Ward
Short list: Christian Del Bianco, Evan Kirk
Dark horse: Frank Scigliano
Defensive Player of the Year
Winner: Graeme Hossack
Short list: Robert Hope, Kyle Rubisch
Dark horse: Brett Mydske
Transition Player of the Year
Winner: Challen Rogers
Short list: Zach Currier, Joey Cupido
Dark horse: Jordan MacIntosh
Rookie of the Year
Winner: Austin Staats
Full disclosure: I don’t follow MSL or WLA in enough detail to know any of them. In previous years I’d seen a few players here and there but not this year. I have seen Staats play in Six Nations and was impressed so I have some basis on which to list him, but anything else I put here is pure guesswork.
Les Bartley Award
Winner: Pat Coyle
Short list: Glenn Clark, Derek Keenan
Dark horse: Matt Sawyer
GM of the Year
Winner: Steve Dietrich
Short list: Derek Keenan, Mike Board
Dark horse: Patrick Merrill
Here it is: a complete summary of all the roster changes for each team, all in one place.
Note that these are the changes as of the final roster from last season, so a player might be listed as “In” even if he played for that team during 2018. And a player who’s injured but still part of that team will be listed as “out”. Not all teams have announced who’s on their IR, PUP, or holdout lists and only the Seals seem to have an “inactive roster”.
In: Matthew Bennett, Chase Fraser, Matt Gilray, Rich Kilgour (head coach), Ian MacKay, Ethan O’Connor, Corey Small, Matt Spanger, Bryce Sweeting, John Tavares (head coach), Matt Vinc
Out: Reid Acton, Alex Buque, Troy Cordingley (coach), Ryan Fournier, Vaughn Harris, Mitch Jones, Rich Kilgour (assistant coach), Bill O’Brien, Zack Reid, Mark Steenhuis, John Tavares (assistant coach)
IR: Jon Harnett, Mark Steenhuis
Practice Roster: Dallas Bridle, Zach Herreweyers, Devlin Shanahan
In: Brendan Bomberry, Holden Cattoni, Matt Dunn, Joel Tinney, Adam Wiedemann
Out: Jordan Hall, Warren Hill, Brayden Hill, Jesse King, Kiel Matisz, Ethan O’Connor, Joel White
Practice Roster: Tyler Ferreira, LeRoy Halftown, Steven Orleman, Craig Wende
In: Kevin Buchanan, Alex Buque, Tyler Digby, Greg Downing, Dereck Downs, Ryan Fournier, Darryl Gibson (offensive coach), JP Kealey, Jackson Nichimura, Seth Oakes, Andrew Suitor
Out: Aaron Bold, Kyle Buchanan, Mark Cockerton, Kevin Crowley, Dylan Evans, Anthony Joaquim, Tracey Kelusky (offensive coach), Johnny Powless, Derek Suddons, Jay Thorimbert
Practice Roster: Tal Bruno, Dave Emala, Ethan Woods
IR: Blaze Riorden
Practice Roster: Chris Collins, Isaiah Davis-Allen, Justin Guterding
In: James Barclay, Dylan Riley, Darryl Robertson, Pat Saunders, Luke Van Schepen, Warren Hill
Out: Frank Brown, Josh Currier, Eric Fannell, Billy Dee Smith, Sid Smith, Matt Vinc
IR: Sid Smith
PUP: Eric Fannell
Practice Roster: Cam Milligan, Leland Powless, Brandon Robinson
In: Sheldon Burns, Creighton Reid, Phil Caputo, Dan Craig, Riley Hutchcraft, Adam Jay, Johnny Powless, Brandon Slade
Out: Drew Belgrave, Sandy Chapman, Brett Hickey, Jordan Magnuson, Brodie Merrill, Brandon Miller, Reid Reinholdt, Dan Taylor
IR: Jordan Magnuson
PUP: Reid Reinholdt, Scott Dominey
Practice Roster: Mitch Gustavsen, AJ Kluck, Brad Lyons
Protected: Paul Rabil
In: Chris Boushy, Reece Callies, Rhys Duch, Jesse King, Tyler Richards, Eli Salama, Shane Simpson, Dan Taylor
Out: Wes Berg, Holden Cattoni, Curtis Dickson, Tyler Digby, Garrett McIntosh, Curtis Manning, Creighton Reid, Frank Scigliano
IR: Curtis Manning
PUP: Ryan Martel
Practice Roster: Carter Dickson
In: Brent Adams, Dan Coates, Pat Coyle (interim GM), Julian Garritano, John Lintz, Andrew McBride (assistant coach), Shawn Williams (assistant coach)
Out: Dan Carey (GM), Greg Downing, Chris Gill (assistant coach), Zack Greer, Dan Stroup (assistant coach), Bryce Sweeting
Practice Roster: Rowan Kelly, Kyle Killen, Steven Lee, Jeff Wittig
Practice Roster: Jules Heningburg, Nick Ossello, Mikie Schlosser
Inactive Roster: Garrett Billings, Zach Bryant, Austin Divitcos, Connor Fields, Marcus Holman, Quinn MacKay, Brandon Ranford
In: Travis Cornwall, Nick Finlay, Tyler Gaulton, Jordi Jones-Smith, Mason Pynn, Ryan McLean, Connor Robinson, Adam Shute, Jeremy Tallevi (assistant coach)
Out: Nic Bilic, Tyler Carlson, Robert Church, Jeff Cornwall, Dan Dawson, Ryan Dilks, Mike Messenger, Jimmy Quinlan (assistant coach), Adrian Sorichetti
Practice Roster: Zach Gould
In: Keegan Bal, Owen Barker, Aaron Bold, Jean-Luc Chetner, Tyler Codron, Chris Gill (coach), Mitch Jones, Dan Lomas, Jordan McBride, Joel McCready, Cole Porter, Zack Porter, Dan Richardson (GM), Justin Salt, Jarrett Toll
Out: Jamie Batley (coach), Tye Belanger, Casey Jackson, Brandon Clelland, Travis Cornwall, Rhys Duch, Brandon Goodwin, Doug Locker (GM), Seth Oakes, Chris O’Dougherty, Pat Saunders, Corey Small, Andrew Suitor, Cody Teichroeb
IR: Brandon Goodwin, Brody Eastwood, Andrew Gallant
PUP: Chris O’Dougherty
Practice Roster: Travis Burton, Dallas Wade, Nate Wade
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.
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.
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).
Buffalo: 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.
The 2018 NLL expansion draft was held on Monday. This was the first expansion draft in ten years so it was kind of new for many fans, but get used to it. This was also the first of at least three over the next few years as the league continues to expand. There were lots of predictions about what would happen in this draft; off the top of my head, I can think of at least three full mock drafts that were done, and there were probably more.
I made my own predictions back in May and got 6 right out of 18 picks, but in my defense I made my choices before the protected lists were announced by the teams. If I’d redone my predictions afterwards, I wouldn’t have predicted Curtis Knight or Eric Fannell to be chosen since they were protected, and I would have predicted Brett Hickey, Josh Currier, and Adrian Sorichetti since they weren’t.
Here’s the list of players chosen (and the team they were chosen from):
|1||Brett Hickey – TOR||Turner Evans – TOR|
|2||Kiel Matisz – GEO||Brett Mydske – SSK|
|3||Jordan Hall – GEO||Adrian Sorichetti – SSK|
|4||Josh Currier – ROC||Cam Holding – COL|
|5||Frank Brown – ROC||Bryce Sweeting – COL|
|6||Anthony Joaquim – NE||Frank Scigliano – CAL|
|7||Matt Rambo – NE||Garrett MacIntosh – CAL|
|8||Vaughn Harris – BUF||Casey Jackson – VAN|
|9||Davide DiRuscio – BUF||Brendan Ranford – VAN|
Immediately following the draft, there were two trades announced, both involving the Bandits:
- The Seals sent Bryce Sweeting to the Bandits for Ethan Schott and a 2nd round pick in this fall’s entry draft
- The Bandits sent Zac Reid to the Wings in exchange for the Wings selecting Vaughn Harris
Before the draft, NLL VP Brian Lemon announced the rules, most of which we already knew. He also said that each team would have two minutes to make their picks, and each could ask for one five-minute extension. But not one of the eighteen picks took as long as it took Lemon to read that rule. The draft was done so quickly that it was very unlikely that it was actually done live. It was probably done earlier in the day and the live stream was just the announcement of who was drafted, and they went back and forth to make it look like a live draft. But when you look at the players that were drafted and where they came from, there’s even more to it than that.
All of the players available from western teams went to San Diego, and all players from eastern teams except Turner Evans went to Philly. Even more telling was the order in which they were announced: Toronto’s two players went first, one to Philly and one to San Diego. Then Philly’s next two picks were from Georgia and San Diego’s were from Saskatchewan. Then Philly took two from Rochester while the Seals took two from Colorado, then New England / Calgary, then Buffalo / Vancouver. Other than Toronto, each team’s two players were chosen in back-to-back picks by the same team, and the players from each division were chosen in the order their teams finished the 2018 regular season.
It seems likely that rather than an actual draft, the two GMs talked and together made up the lists of who gets who. The actual broadcast was them just announcing the results. Maybe they did the draft as intended, earlier in the day, then made some trades among themselves and decided to just skip announcing that part. If that’s the case, I’m OK with it. This is the NLL, so where a player lives very much matters with respect to where he wants to play. Some of the younger guys may not care and are happy to move around the country if they get traded. But there are lots of veteran players who have families and full-time jobs and are far more interested in playing half their games close to home. It makes total sense that the western players were picked by the western team and the eastern players were picked by the eastern team.
That said, if this is indeed how it was done, I’m a little annoyed that they dressed it up like a real draft. If the GMs got together and divided up the available players among them, following the two-players-per-team rule, why not just announce it that way?
The players taken
Given the quality of players available in this draft, it’s no surprise that both teams look pretty good to start with. The Wings have more firepower (Hickey, Matisz, Hall, Harris) while the Seals already have a strong defense (Mydske, Holding, Schott) and transition (MacIntosh, Sorichetti). If I had to pick a winner between the two teams, I’m not sure I could.
Both teams surprisingly picked players with zero NLL experience, Matt Rambo from New England heading to Philly (where he lives) and Brendan Ranford from Vancouver was picked by San Diego. Rambo is a field lacrosse star who was drafted by the Black Wolves last year but didn’t report. I have no idea if he even has any interest in the NLL; maybe he and Paul Rabil watch NLL games online together, saying “I could totally play there if I wanted to.” Ranford is a top prospect from BC but also plays pro hockey, and there was talk that he may play hockey in Europe next season. Perhaps that isn’t the case, or perhaps Patrick Merrill just decided to take a gamble anyway.
Only one UFA was chosen: Brett Mydske from the Rush. Merrill said that Mydske was just too good an option to pass up, and that’s hard to argue. Hopefully (for the Seals), they can sign Mydske to a contract before August 1st, at which time he’s free to sign with whoever he wants. They could also give him the franchise tag, which would prevent him from signing anywhere else but would also guarantee him 10% above the NLL’s maximum salary. Not a bad decision for Mydske to have: play in sunny San Diego and make max bucks, or choose which city you want to play in.
Philadelphia made a bit of a surprising pick for their goaltender: Davide DiRuscio, who’s been the Bandits backup goalie for a few years though he was injured all of last year. It was widely assumed that the two goalies picked in the draft were likely to be Frank Scigliano and one of Zach Higgins or Alex Buque, but we all picked the wrong Bandits goalie. In previous years DiRuscio has shown signs that he could someday be a starting goalie in the NLL, but has been inconsistent. He’s a big guy and only 26 and while it seems that forwards and defenders tend to peak around 27-28 years old, it can take goalies (those not named Christian, anyway) a couple of extra years to hit their stride. He may not be the next Dallas Eliuk next season but as an expansion team, the Wings are likely to be willing to wait a year or two.
The players lost
Each team lost two players from their roster, but some teams lost fewer than others. As mentioned, two players had never played an NLL game so from that point of view, New England and Vancouver got away a little easier than the other teams. The other guy Vancouver lost, Casey Jackson, has only played four games in the NLL so while he has a big upside for the future, the Vancouver team as it was yesterday is almost unchanged. Buffalo left three goalies unprotected and lost the one that’s recovering from injury. This may or may not be good news for the Bandits, as their goaltender situation was a little dicey last season and that hasn’t changed. They also lost defenders Ethan Schott and Zac Reid but gained another defender Bryce Sweeting. Colorado lost Sweeting and Holding but Holding didn’t play last season anyway, and they’ll be getting Dan Coates back next year, so they’re probably OK.
The teams that lost the most, in my opinion, are the Georgia Swarm and the Rochester Knighthawks. It’s not as though losing Matisz and Hall leaves the Swarm with no strong forwards, but they will be two tough players to replace. Both are versatile and can play forward or transition roles. As I mentioned in my expansion draft predictions article, Hall would be a good candidate for captain of the Wings, but Matisz has been around for a while too and it wouldn’t surprise me to see an A on his chest next season.
The Knighthawks lost Josh Currier, which was a certainty once it was discovered that he was unprotected, and Frank Brown, a defender (though listed as a forward in the Wings draft results article) with a ton of potential. Brown also played half of last year with the Swarm, so he has some familiarity with Matisz and Hall.
Now that the draft is over, I believe the rosters are now “unfrozen”, so teams are free to begin making trades once again. On August 1st, teams will be able to start signing free agents as well, and of course Philadelphia and San Diego will be busy there. They do have players now, but they each have less than half a team. It’s already been one of the most active off-seasons the NLL has seen in years and it ain’t over yet.