I’ve been a Toronto Rock fan for about eighteen years. From a personal point of view, I always want them to win. But I’m also realistic, and I recognize that they’re not always going to win. Last week, they faced the Philadelphia Wings, who were sitting at 3-10 and tied for last in the league, and they scratched and clawed and managed to come out with a one-goal win. This week, the Rock faced the 12-4 powerhouse first-place-overall Buffalo Bandits so I was hoping for a win but honestly, I wasn’t expecting one. I was expecting an exciting game, and there I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
I love doing this every year. There are only a few weeks left in the season, so it’s time to look at the possible-but-unlikely playoff scenarios. In most cases below, I’ve listed a single way that the specified outcome can happen, but there may be more than one.
Just for clarification, “win out” means a team wins all of the rest of their games (also known as “runs the table”), while “lose out” means that a team loses all the rest of their games (also known as “defecating in one’s sleeping apparatus”).
Swarm and Bandits tie for first
Swarm win out, and the Bandits win out except they lose to Toronto. Then Georgia and Buffalo finish tied for first and tied 1-1 in the season series as well. The Swarm would end up with a 10-3 division record while the Bandits would be 9-4, so the Swarm finish first.
Rock win the east
Rock win out. Bandits lose any one game and Georgia loses any two. Then the Rock are 13-5, the Bandits are at best 13-5 (and Toronto owns the tiebreaker), and the Swarm are at best 12-6.
Black Wolves win the east
Black Wolves win out. Bandits lose out, Georgia loses three and Toronto loses one. Then the Bandits and Black Wolves are both 12-6, 1-1 against each other, and 8-5 in their division. The tiebreaker in this case is head-to-head goal differential. The Bandits beat the Black Wolves 15-5 in January, so the only way the Black Wolves win the division is if all those things listed above happen and they beat the Bandits by more than ten goals on April 20.
Four-way tie at 12-6 in the east
New England wins out, Buffalo loses out, Georgia wins one and loses the other two, and Toronto wins out except for a loss to New England. Then those four are all 12-6. Georgia wins the first tiebreaker, New England wins the second, and Toronto wins the third, leaving Buffalo in fourth.
Three-way tie at 8-10 in the east
Toronto loses out, Philly wins out, and New England beats Toronto but loses all the rest of their games. Then those three are tied for third at 8-10 while the Bandits and Swarm finish first and second in some order. New England wins the three-way tiebreaker and finishes third, and Toronto wins the tiebreaker against Philadelphia and takes fourth. The Wings and Knighthawks are out.
Rush finish last in the west
If the Rush lose out (including one to Vancouver) and the Warriors win two of their other three games, the Rush are last. Let me say that again: at the end of March, it’s still possible for the Saskatchewan Rush to finish last in their division. I think the Rush clinched a playoff berth in February last year.
Warriors win the west
OK, this one is complicated. Vancouver wins out. Rush lose to Philly and twice to Colorado but beat San Diego and Calgary. San Diego loses out. Calgary beats San Diego and Philly but loses to Georgia and Saskatchewan. Colorado loses to Vancouver, San Diego, and Rochester but beat Saskatchewan twice. In that case, the Warriors win the west at 9-9, while the other four teams are all 8-10. That completes the proposed scenario but we still need to find out what happens, so we need to break the four-way tie.
The first tiebreaker is each team’s record against the other teams involved in the tiebreaker, but that doesn’t help here. Colorado and Saskatchewan would be 5-4 while San Diego and Calgary would be 4-5. The second tiebreaker is each team’s record within the division, in which case Saskatchewan wins at 9-3. Thus the Rush finish second, and we go to a three-way tiebreaker.
Again, the first is not helpful as each team is 3-3 against the other two. Back to the division record where the Seals are 8-4 and so they come third. The final tiebreaker is won by Colorado with a 2-1 record over the Roughnecks. Colorado finishes fourth and Calgary is out.
Seals finish first in the league
If San Diego wins out, that would put them at 14-4 and give them a win over Buffalo, which means the best Buffalo could do is also 14-4. With that win, San Diego would own the tiebreaker, so all San Diego has to do to finish first overall is to win out. No other conditions need to be met.
Four way tie for first in the west
San Diego loses out except they beat Georgia. The Rush beat Vancouver, San Diego, and Calgary but lose to Colorado twice and Philadelphia. Calgary beats San Diego and Philly and loses to Georgia and Saskatchewan. Colorado beats Saskatchewan twice and San Diego but loses to Rochester. Then all four are 9-9 while the Warriors are at best 7-11. Interestingly, the tiebreaker scenario listed above (under “Warriors win the west”) works out exactly the same way, so we have Rush, Seals, Mammoth, Roughnecks, and Warriors.
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.