The 2019 NLL Schedule: Byes, doubles, and runnin’ back to Saskatoon

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).

San Diego's Kyle BuchananBuffalo: 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.

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2018 Expansion Draft results: The expected and the unexpected

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):

Round

Philadelphia

San Diego

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

That second one is interesting – I reasoned on Twitter that the Wings wanted Chase Fraser and the Bandits offered them Reid if they didn’t pick Fraser. This was confirmed.

The draft

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.

Brett Hickey (Photo: Scott Pierson)

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.

Davide DiRuscio (Photo: Bill Wippert)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.

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: Calgary 16 @ Toronto 8

The NLL is weird. We have a team that’s 4-2, in first place in the East, and has averaged 20+ goals over their last four games, and another team that’s 1-5 and second-last in the league in goals scored. Then the 1-5 team beats the 4-2 team and I’m not that surprised. Make no mistake, I didn’t expect a Calgary win on Saturday; I predicted another Rock victory. But we’ve already had the Bandits losing to the winless Stealth and then beating the undefeated Rush a week later. We’ve seen the powerhouse Rush start like they could go 18-0 and then show very un-Rush-like second-half collapses in consecutive weeks. A 1-5 team beating a 4-2 team just isn’t crazy enough to make the list anymore.

People in the know have been talking about Christian Del Bianco for a couple of years now, about how he’s going to be a star goalie in the NLL someday. In the year-and-a-bit he’s been in the league, we’ve seen flashes here and there of what he could be, but we’ve seen that before from other players. More often, we’ve seen him look more like a goalie that’s been brought up to the NLL level a little too quickly. But last week, he was great in the second half of their game against the Rush (I didn’t see the first half), and I read some comments saying we’re starting to see the same Del Bianco they saw in Junior. I never saw him play in Junior but I imagine that that’s what we saw on Saturday as well. He was simply outstanding all night. He played the angles well, anticipated passes and quicksticks, made all the saves you expected him to make and few you really didn’t. He’s not that big of a guy but he’s quick, athletic, and covers a lot of net.

Christian Del BiancoThat’s not to say the Rock’s lack of success in the offensive zone was all due to Del Bianco. The Roughnecks defense was strong all night as well, preventing the Rock from getting good looks or getting inside. Of course they had the advantage of knowing that their goalie was having a night, and so they could be a little more aggressive. The Roughnecks offense had a pretty decent game until the end of the third, when they suddenly began having a great game. Calgary scored the last nine goals of the game and kept the Rock off the board in the fourth quarter, which is exactly what Toronto did to New England last weekend.

Curtis Dickson scored a few “nobody could have stopped that one” goals and Dane Dobbie scored some beauties from crazy angles, but you kind of expect those. But Riley Loewen scored three and Holden Cattoni had a couple as well, and their transition players picked up a couple of goals and a dozen assists. If you get scoring from all over and are not relying on just one or two guys to do it all, you’re going to have success.

Toronto’s offense, on the other hand, was more flat than we’ve seen recently. The final score could have told you that, but they didn’t seem to have the crisp passing and seemingly magical knowledge of where everyone else was going to be. Again, props to the Roughnecks defense for pressuring the Rock into that situation. Rosey was Rosey for most of the game but his confidence seemed to wane in the fourth when the Roughnecks were scoring seemingly at will. Not all of those fourth quarter goals were his fault (the Rock D was a little more porous than we’ve seen the rest of the year), but not all were unstoppable either. That said, the game was pretty much over by then anyway.

So the Roughnecks got some confidence with their strong play against the Rush last week, and they played like we knew they could. The Rock fell back to Earth but it’s hardly panic time. Once again, parity in the NLL rears its ugly and beautiful head.

Other game notes:

  • Once again, Lintner scratched. Once again, the first four or five Rock players hi-fived the kids on the line and none of the rest did. Props to Brock Sorensen for not simply holding his hand out while running down the line – he made sure to give a fist bump to each and every kid in the line.
  • Second-year player Tyson Bell almost lost it and went after a Rock player but vet (and former Calgary captain) Mike Carnegie was very captain-like, grabbing Bell and calming him down before he took a penalty.
  • Adam Jones took a five minute spearing penalty for basically putting the head of his stick under a Calgary player’s chin and lifting it up. It was after the play and it was a controlled move so the description sounds worse than it really was. It wasn’t nice, but it was hardly intent to injure either and the Roughnecks player may have sold it a little. That said, I was OK with the call. Your stick should never be anywhere near someone else’s throat.
  • Nice crowd of over 10,000. First such crowd of the season.
  • Music: I heard Metallica, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Toto, AC/DC, Queen, and even Rick Derringer. And not dancy remixes of those either. 70’s classic rock FTW! Maybe I am the target demographic.

2018 Preview: West division

Just like yesterday’s East division preview, today we’ll cover the West: where I think they will end up in the standings, who might have a breakout year, and a haiku for each team.

RoughnecksCalgary Roughnecks

Look out for

Holden Cattoni. He didn’t really stand out last season with 26 points in 15 games, but had an excellent summer in the MSL. With Jeff Shattler now in Saskatchewan, Cattoni will likely get more floor time and can use his new-found confidence to help the Roughnecks.

Prediction

Jeff Shattler and Scott Carnegie are gone, Mike Carnegie is injured, Bob Snider is on the practice roster, and Wes Berg has not yet signed a contract. In their place are third-overall draft pick Zach Currier, Vaughan Harris (who had a cup of coffee with the Necks last year), and two more rookies, Anthony Kalinich and Tyler Pace. A good crop of rookies to be sure, but those are some awfully big shoes to fill.

Fourth in the west.

Haiku

Shattler on the Rush
Will be a shock to Necks fans
Will they sign Wes Berg?


MammothColorado Mammoth

Look out for

Jacob Ruest. Ruest scored 18 goals and picked up 18 assists in 18 games last year. With Crawford gone, there will be more space on the Mammoth’s right side so along with Keogh and Noble, Ruest will be getting a lot more floor time.

Prediction

Coates and Holding are gone for the year, Bryce Sweeting is also injured, though I don’t know how long he’s out, and Ilija Gajic was not re-signed. Those are some pretty big holes to fill on defense. But the offense didn’t want the defensive guys to have all the fun. Also missing are Zack Greer and Brent Adams. The addition of Ryan Benesch basically fills the hole left by Callum Crawford, though on the opposite side of the floor. If even half of those missing guys are back by mid-season, the Mammoth could do OK but if they’re all gone long-term, Dan Carey may be a busy guy in the early part of the season. He did sign Scott Carnegie to the Mammoth practice roster, so I’d expect to see him on the active roster before long.

Third in the west

Haiku

Injuries on D
Decimating the Mammoth
But Benny’s in town


RushSaskatchewan Rush

Look out for

Ryan Keenan. Keenan had a pretty good rookie season last year, but wasn’t the impact player many thought he would be; 42 points in 16 games isn’t what one might expect from the first overall draft pick. This is a bit reminiscent of Lyle Thompson the year before, but Thompson’s sophomore season was spectacular. Not saying Keenan will win the MVP or bump Mark Matthews from his top spot on the Rush offense, but seeing Keenan hitting the 70-80 point plateau this year wouldn’t surprise me.

Prediction

Personally, I don’t think Evan Kirk is a huge upgrade over Aaron Bold, other than being younger. I don’t think he’s any worse than Bold, and I don’t think this was a terrible deal for the Rush, just not a significant improvement. But Derek Keenan is a big Kirk fan, and I admit that Keenan is probably a better judge of lacrosse talent than I am. Adam Jones, who never really seemed to fit in as part of the Rush offense, is out and Jeff Shatter is in. I’d say at worst that’s a wash and more likely, that’s a net gain for the Rush. So they probably got better at goaltender and offense, and their defense is still the best in the league despite losing John Lafontaine. The Rush are still the team to beat in the West.

First in the west

Haiku

Boldy out, Kirk in
Good goaltender and offense
Still the best defense


StealthVancouver Stealth

Look out for

Tony Malcom. After 38 points in his rookie year, Malcom was on pace for 62 last year but injuries caused him to miss half the season. The New West kid will now be playing home games at home and assuming he’s back to full health, playing with guys like Small, Duch, and Schuss can’t help but bump both his confidence and his numbers.

Prediction

A fair bit of turnover in Vancouver. They lost Lintz, Hodgson, Harnett, Garrison, Wagner, and Toll on the back end and Conway and Durston up front, and Tyler Richards was released. They did gain Tony (the former Anthony) Malcom, they seem excited about draft pick Ryan Fournier, and then Andrew Suitor just fell into their lap a few days ago. The Stealth made big strides last season, and I can see them capitalizing on that this year.

Second in the west.

Haiku

Hodgy retired
Matt Beers becomes the captain
Suitor joins in too