We’re about halfway through the 2015 season, and many of the unusual things that always happen at the beginning of the season have sorted themselves out. Nobody’s winless. Nobody’s undefeated. Nobody’s on pace for 180 points. But as always, there are a few things left over that have not sorted themselves out. Here are the top 5 surprises at the mid-way point of the 2015 season:
5. John Tavares’s scoring drought
Due to injuries, John Tavares has only played 7 of the Bandits’ 13 games so far this season, but that’s not the surprising part. What’s surprising is that he only has 17 points. Tavares has averaged 5.8 points per game over 23 seasons and is not only less than half that this year, his 2.4 points per game is a drop of 3/4 of a point per game from last year.
4. Johnny Powless’s scoring drought
When Johnny Powless was brought in to Vancouver, they billed him as the Next Big Thing, the offensive superstar-to-be that was going to help them win Championship after Championship. Of course they didn’t explicitly say those things, but the implications were clear. After 10 games, Powless only has 7 goals and has only scored more than one in a game once. Not only is he nowhere near the league leaders in points, but he’s third on the team, tied with Corey Small who’s played three fewer games in a Stealth jersey. He does have 31 assists, good for 2nd on the team and 14th in the league. This is not to say Powless has been a bust in Vancouver, but if you were expecting him to light up the nets and become half of the one-two scoring punch with Rhys Duch, that’s not what’s happened.
3. Toronto not missing Billings or Doyle
Nobody would deny that Garrett Billings was one of the league’s top players over the last few years, or that Colin Doyle has been one of the best ever. So a team with a .500 record who loses those two players and replaces them both with one guy from the Vancouver Stealth scrap heap will suffer, right? Actually, just the opposite.
I’m certainly not arguing that the Toronto Rock is a better team because they are without Billings and Doyle. But it’s safe to say that they’ve dealt with the losses rather well. The emergence of Brett Hickey has been a somewhat unexpected windfall – I say “somewhat” because Hickey has been in the top 10 in WLA scoring for the past two years, and finished 4th in scoring last year. It’s not as if nobody expected him to do well in the NLL, but Hickey’s on pace for 45 goals and 66 points. I’m sure many people are not surprised by those numbers but I was. Pleasantly.
Rob Hellyer had a breakout season in 2014 and hasn’t just continued that strong play, he’s exceeded it. Hellyer is averaging 6.62 points per game, third in the league behind Shawn Evans and Mark Matthews, and a full two points per game higher than last year. Stephen Leblanc and Kasey Beirnes are each averaging a half-point per game higher than last year, Kevin Ross is only 2 points behind Beirnes and has played 13 games compared to last year’s 2, and of course Josh Sanderson is having an outstanding year as well, on pace to be his best since 2010.
Rob Hellyer got injured this past weekend and there’s been no word on his status, but talk immediately started about the possibility of Garrett Billings returning to the team. I also heard a rumour today that Colin Doyle may be back before the year is out. But if none of those things happen and Hellyer is back by next weekend, it seems unthinkable that Billings and Doyle could sit out an entire season and not be missed.
2. Who’s not playing
You could make up a team with all the players not playing in the NLL this year for various reasons and it’d be a damn good one. The aforementioned Billings and Doyle are obviously two of the biggest names, but there are lots of others. We’ll start with Matt Beers, Kyle Sorensen, Tim Henderson, Alex Gajic, and Kyle Belton – and that’s just the Stealth. We also have Mike Grimes, Curtis Knight, Garrett Thul, Jamie Rooney, Scott Jones, Cam Flint, Jimmy Purves, Matt Roik, and half of last year’s Philadelphia Wings.
Lewis Ratcliff retired after 4 games, and Athan Iannucci was released after being benched for a few. Shawn Williams was signed by the Rock and then cut before the season began, but I happen to know that he’s been working out and keeping in shape, hoping for a phone call.
An impressive list. And that’s not even including the big-name players who retired after last year, including Ryan Ward, Tracey Kelusky, and Scott Ranger.
1. Calgary in dead last
I think the most surprising thing about the 2015 season, hands down, is the Calgary Roughnecks. They began the season 0-6 thanks in part to a brutal start by Mike Poulin, who had a GAA over 17 after three games and lost the starting goaltender’s job. It’s not as if the team was completely terrible; they lost two in OT and another by a single goal. All the time, Shawn Evans was at or near the top in scoring but neither Dane Dobbie nor Jeff Shattler exceeded 5 points in a game until their 7th or 8th game.
They seem to have pulled it together since then, having won 3 of their last 5 including a 20-9 blowout of the early-peaking New England Black Wolves. Poulin has pulled his GAA down to 13.75 after a few good starts. But the team is still 3-8 so they’d have to almost run the table just to end up at .500.
No team who’s started the season 0-6 has ever made the playoffs in the NLL. But given the Stealth’s inconsistency so far and the fact that they only have to finish higher than one team in the West, it’s still not out of the question for the Roughnecks.