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.

Advertisements

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!

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Game report: Georgia 12 @ Toronto 7

Well, that game had a different outcome than what I was expecting, in a number of ways. First off, I predicted a Toronto victory though I can’t say I was shocked that Georgia won. Secondly, the last three times these two teams met saw OT so I was expecting a closer game, which it was until Toronto stopped scoring. And third, given the first two minutes of the game, I didn’t expect it to be a defensive battle.

Two minutes into the first quarter, it was 2-1 Rock with the shot count sitting at 2-1 Rock. My dad came with me to this game and we joked that the game might end up 27-26. It settled down after that, and we only saw two more goals the rest of the quarter. A few minutes into the second, Toronto scored a couple more within a minute and while I wouldn’t say the Rock were in control, all facets of the team were doing well. Unfortunately for them, all facets of the Swarm game were also doing well. Then Georgia began to score and Toronto stopped. It would be over 32 minutes before the Rock scored again and by that time, the Swarm had scored six straight. The Rock scored two in the first two minutes, and then five in the next fifty eight.

The three goal deficit was certainly not insurmountable given that there was almost nine minutes left, but Mike Poulin was on his game and there was no way he was going to let the Rock back into it. Poulin was excellent, particularly in the second half, stopping almost everything that got to him. However a lot of shots never got to him, either because they were blocked or because they were never taken in the first place, and that was because of the D in front of him. I don’t know how many times a Rock forward, mostly Adam Jones, reared back to fire a bullet at the net only to pull up at the last second and pass instead because he couldn’t see the net at all.

Mike Poulin (Photo credit: Kyle Hess)

Kudos must go to three parties on the Rock side as well:

  1. Nick Rose
  2. The Rock D
  3. The posts and crossbar

There were one or two goals on Rose that you might have expected him to stop, but for the most part, he was very good. He made a few sliding stops to prevent quickstick goals, something he’s getting very good at, and threw his arms up at least once to prevent a goal from behind the net. Toronto’s defense was very good as well; perhaps less effective than Georgia at actually blocking shots, but there were a lot of ball-dislodging stick checks and quick transition. However, the transition seemed to lead to a lot of ill-advised shots, perhaps from defenders trying to spark the struggling offense. No Rock transition players scored at all so the only effect it had was a lot of five-second possessions.

For the second straight night, I lost count of how many times the Swarm forwards hit posts or the crossbar. If the net was an inch wider or higher, this would have been a much higher scoring game – probably on both sides, since the Rock hit a few as well. What that means of course is that there were a bunch of shots that Nick Rose will get credit for saving even though they actually beat him. But I think the bigger problem for the Swarm is that they were putting those shots in last year and just missing them this year.

The biggest missed opportunity for the Rock was the power play. They had six power plays, scoring on none of them. In the third, they had a 5-on-4 for 45 seconds, then 5-on-3 for a minute and a half, and then 5-4 again for about three and a half minutes. They had a bunch of shots but the Poulin Wall held.

I’m a big fan of Brock Sorensen and I think he’s had a good season but he had a frustrating night. First, he had an early breakaway but while running (lumbering?) up the floor, it really looked like it took every ounce of strength he had just to continue running, and he wasn’t running that fast. It looked like he was in pain but he kept going. Then he took two penalties at the same time early in the fourth – as Pat Gregoire said on the broadcast, the holding one was fine, preventing a scoring chance, but the illegal crosscheck was unnecessary. Once he got into the penalty box, he smacked his stick against the glass in anger, which could have been another penalty (unsportsmanlike conduct – there’s a rule that specifically addresses hitting the glass with your stick in the penalty box) but the ref either didn’t see it or chose to ignore it.

Then right at the end of the fourth, Bryan Cole and Phil Caputo each took roughing penalties and while those were being announced, Ethan O’Connor was heading from the Swarm bench out onto the floor and out of nowhere, Sorensen cross-checked him to the ground. There was no obvious reason for the hit, and O’Connor stayed down on the ground for a while until he ran the ten feet to the bench and heaved his pregame meal over the boards. That’s not a good sign. The game was mostly over by that point so Sorensen’s five minute penalty didn’t matter but I wouldn’t be surprised if the league reviews that one. Sorensen may have to sit another game and think about what he did.

Other game notes:

  • I saw a fan wearing a Bandits jersey – a bit weird at a Rock/Swarm game. But then I saw that it said “Orleman” on the back. Must have been a fan or family member of the Swarm’s backup goalie.
  • Jordan Hall was given a game misconduct for a nasty crosscheck illegal bodycheck to the head of Damon Edwards. If that seemed out of character, it was: it was the first game misconduct in Hall’s career. He hadn’t even had a major penalty since 2012. Update: I watched the replay and I got the penalty wrong – it was an illegal bodycheck, not crosscheck. The word “nasty” is probably not accurate either. Hall led with his shoulder, which is totally legal, but hit Edwards in the face which may be why he got the penalty. I don’t think it was worth a game misconduct though.
  • Did anyone notice that when the ball was lodged in Poulin’s equipment during the fourth quarter, the clock continued to run? A good 30 seconds was lost because of that. I didn’t see it but my friend Steve noticed. Oddly though, I was unable to find it on the replay. Perhaps it was in the third quarter.
  • At one point in the second quarter, Lyle Thompson must have played about five consecutive shifts. Played offense, then got caught on defense, then back to offense, another quick transition meant another defensive shift, then another on offense before he finally made it to the bench. Luckily for the Swarm he’s a very good defensive player, but I’m sure he was gassed after that.

2018 Preview: East division

I’ve left out the summary of offseason roster moves since that’s in my Who’s In, Who’s Out article. Here, we’ll cover where I think they will end up in the standings, who might have a breakout year, and as always, a haiku for each team. We’ll start with the East, then cover the West tomorrow.

BanditsBuffalo Bandits

Look out for

Obviously first-overall draft pick Josh Byrne will get a lot of floor time but if I had to pick someone else, I might go with Alex Buque. There is some debate over whether he’s ready to be an everyday starter but I think so.

Prediction

Their big problem last year was defense. Improving the goaltending is a start but the Bandits didn’t actually improve the defense – in fact it doesn’t look like they even tried. With the losses of Billy Dee Smith, Andrew Watt, David Brock, and Alex Kedoh Hill, who’s going to prevent Buque from seeing 65 shots a game? Priolo and de Snoo are great but they can only do so much.

Fifth in the east.

Haiku

Cosmo has retired
Crawford replaces Benesch
It’s Showtime, baby!


SwarmGeorgia Swarm

Look out for

Johnny Powless. Only 50 points for Powless last season, but he only played in 10 games. That would give him 90 points over 18 games. Lefty Jordan Hall will be replaced by lefty Jesse King but Jerome Thompson will be playing more transition and defense this season, which will probably result in more touches for Powless.

Prediction

The offense is still top notch, but with all the top-name T/D players who are out, their defense could be shaky. They might win a number of 17-16 nailbiters.

Second in the east.

Haiku

Reigning champions
Lots of defenders are out
Jesse King is back


BlackWolvesNew England Black Wolves

Look out for

Reilly O’Connor. Of the lefties on last year’s Black Wolves squad, Culp, Saunders, and Veltman are gone, leaving O’Connor, Kevin Buchanan, and rookie JP Kealey. O’Connor looked strong in the preseason game against the Rock.

Prediction

Those who aren’t fans of Aaron Bold say that the reason for his success in Edmonton / Saskatchewan was the great defense in front of him. Well, now we’ll see if they’re right. That’s not to say that New England’s defense is lousy, but it’s not at the same level as Bold has been used to.

Third in the east.

Haiku

Aaron Bold in net
Evans, Crowley score up front
No Bill O’Brien


KnighthawksRochester Knighthawks

Look out for

It might seem weird but I’m going to say Dan Dawson. Dawson had his worst season in ages in 2017 but looked great at the Heritage Cup. I think he’ll rebound this year. We may not see 100+ points but he’ll look more like the old Dan Dawson than the 2017 model.

Prediction

After one of the lowest-scoring seasons in NLL history (9.72 goals per game, the 11th lowest average ever), the Knighthawks used their second-overall draft pick to grab… a defenseman who specializes in face-offs. I mean no disrespect to Jake Withers but I don’t think that’s what the Knighthawks needed. They did also draft Austin Shanks and Eric Fannell, both forwards, and it’s possible that Cody Jamieson will return sometime this season, but there’s been no word on that.

Fourth in the east.

Haiku

Billy Dee comes in
But he will not help them score
And still no Jammer


RockToronto Rock

Look out for

I’m really tempted to put Rob Hellyer here but that’s too obvious. I’m going to go with Drew Belgrave. I don’t know if he’ll be a Rookie of the Year candidate but I liked how he looked in the pre-season.

Prediction

Hellyer, Hickey, Jones, Schreiber, Leblanc. Out of curiosity, what’s the record for most 100-point players on the same team in one year? I’m glad you asked! It’s the 2005 Toronto Rock, who had three (Doyle, Manning, Sanderson). How coincidental. If this year’s Rock can stay healthy, this could be one of the most potent offenses ever. I’m looking forward to the first Rock/Swarm game, which could end up 38-37 in OT.

First in the east.

Haiku

The front line is strong
Hellyer, Jones will score a bunch
Good team gets better