I imagine the last few weeks have been a nightmare for NLL GMs, and the next couple won’t be much better. The second expansion draft in two years is coming up in a couple of weeks so each GM had to go through their roster and choose eleven players to protect, knowing they could lose anyone not on that list. Then you need to call more than half of your players and tell them they’re not protected. Then you will lose two of them and need to adjust your team afterwards. Luckily they have five months or so before the season starts to do that. Just like last year’s draft, some GMs will have some big holes to fill after the draft, others might barely notice the difference.
This is the time when we look back over the season and pick the players who were the best of 2019. It’s also fun to see how close my
random guesses predictions from the beginning of the season were. Every year, I pick a player for each team who I think will have an exceptional year, so let’s take a look at my “Look out for…” picks from the East and West previews as well.
- Dane Dobbie
- Matt Vinc
- Callum Crawford
- Mark Matthews
- Dan Dawson
I don’t always like picking the guy with the highest point total as the MVP. It seems too easy and since I’m known to be a stats guy, it looks like I just went with the big numbers and ignored everything else. But this year, Dane Dobbie epitomized “most valuable” in every way. Not only did he lead the league in points (and finished second in goals, assists, and power-play goals), but he blew away his previous career high by 25 points. Most importantly, he carried the Roughnecks at the beginning of the season when Curtis Dickson, Wes Berg, and Jesse King were all out.
Goaltender of the Year
Original pick: Dillon Ward
- Matt Vinc
- Mike Poulin
- Frank Scigliano
- Christian Del Bianco
- Dillon Ward
Vinc led the league in GAA and save percentage among starters. He kept his opponents to single-digits seven times – and three of those were five or fewer. But most importantly he turned the Bandits struggling defense from last year into the stingiest in the league. Of course, he didn’t do it by himself but his play and the confidence he inspires in the rest of the defenders was obviously a huge part of that transformation.
Transition Player of the Year
Original pick: Challen Rogers
- Challen Rogers
- Steve Priolo
- Kiel Matisz
- Zach Currier
- Tyler Pace
Rogers plays excellent defense, is almost always the first guy up the floor in transition, and took many shifts on offense. He played on the man-up and man-down, and when watching the Rock play, it seems that he’s just always on the floor. He does it all, does it all well, and always looks like he’s having fun while doing it.
Defensive Player of the Year
Original pick: Graeme Hossack
- Graeme Hossack
- Kyle Rubisch
- Brad Kri
- David Brock
- Mike Messenger
Hossack and Rubisch are both masters of the stick check. They don’t just make it difficult for offensive players to get to or even see the net, leaving them with a bad shot or no shot at all, though they’re great at that too. These guys prefer to simply strip them of the ball and toss it to one of their teammates in transition. It’s clean, it’s quick, it gives your team a chance to score, and if you watch these guys do it, you might think it’s easy. It’s not.
Rookie of the Year
- Austin Staats
- Steph Charbonneau
- Kyle Killen
- Trevor Baptiste
- Ian MacKay
Before he got injured, Staats was on pace for 78 points which was 17 short of the rookie record (held by his big brother). Other rookies have scored more goals and picked up more loosies, but few have had the overall impact that Austin Staats had this season. His goal-scoring, energy, and obvious love for the game was the talk of the league all season. In a non-traditional lacrosse market, having a young, exciting, dynamic player like Staats had to be a huge help in trying to build their brand and fanbase. Hopefully he is fully recovered from his ACL surgery by next season because his career will be an amazing one to watch.
- Casey Jackson
- Matt Hossack
- Bryan Cole
- Greg Downing
- Keegan Bal
When you think of the Seals offense, you think Staats, Dawson, Billings, Buchanan, but Casey Jackson doesn’t jump to mind. But Jackson led the Seals in goals and after playing all of four games in his career before this season, fit in very nicely among the rookie phenom and veteran scorers.
Comeback Player of the Year
- Garrett Billings
- Jordan McBride
- Tyler Digby
- Dan Coates
- Cam Holding
Billings missed all of 2018 and only played four games in 2017. Between work commitments and injuries, it seemed that his NLL career might be over. But Billings matched the points total from his 2010 rookie season and looked a lot like the old Billings, which was likely a little scary for Seals opponents. He certainly scored some beautiful goals but as we’ve come to expect, in every game he played he had more assists than goals, sometimes many more.
Les Bartley Award
Original pick: Pat Coyle
- Patrick Merrill
- Matt Sawyer
- John Tavares/Rich Kilgour
As a GM, Merrill put together a great bunch of players. As a coach, he turned them into a great team. Of course having vets like Dawson, Billings, and Buchanan on his team really helped too, but clearly the Seals players bought (and dove) in early in the season and that teamwork was obvious all year.
GM of the Year
Original pick: Steve Dietrich
- Patrick Merrill
- Steve Dietrich
- John Arlotta
When you look at an expansion team’s roster, you usually hope that the team might be pretty good in a couple of years. The Seals looked very good from the beginning and didn’t disappoint. Even after the season started, Merrill wasn’t done. He brought in Paul Dawson to give the defense even more toughness and leadership. He took chances on Garrett Billings and Kyle Hartzell and they paid off. When he lost Austin Staats, he brought in Joe Walters. He put together a great mix of leaders who could still produce on the floor and a solid young group that can be the core of this team for years.
East: My picks were Buffalo, Georgia, Toronto, New England, Rochester, Philadelphia. In that order. Nailed it.
West: My picks were Saskatchewan, Calgary, Colorado, San Diego, Vancouver. Move San Diego to second and I nailed the west too, but I really only got two right: first and last.
Look out for…
I got some of the above picks right, and missed on others. But of the eleven below, I’d say I nailed five (Duch, Buchanan, Staats, Digby, Lintner) and got four more pretty close. Only two were really wrong.
Calgary: Rhys Duch. Calling that a win. He didn’t get back into the 90’s in points, but then he wasn’t expected to be the guy on the Roughnecks like he was on the Stealth. He helped set up the guy (Dobbie) and the other guy (Dickson) and had a great year.
Colorado: Tim Edwards. 53.5% at the dot this year, fourth among face-off guys. Not a bad season at all.
San Diego: Kyle Buchanan. 67 points, 28 goals, a veteran presence and lots of hustle – exactly as expected from Buchanan.
Saskatchewan: Travis Cornwall. We all thought he was brought in to basically replace his brother Jeff on the transition but he played more of a defensive role for the Rush. As such, the numbers don’t tell us much but the fact that Cornwall played all 18 games for the first time in his career tells you what the Rush coaching staff thought of his play.
Vancouver: Colton and Zack Porter. More defenders so the numbers don’t tell you much but these guys were tough on opposing forwards. Not big guys (each is 5’8″) but tenacious. The Warriors players voted Zack as their rookie of the year.
Buffalo: Shawn Evans. 94 points, which is excellent for most but only very good for Evans. Like Duch, he had to get used to not being the guy on the Bandits offense but his presence helped make them one of the strongest in the league.
Georgia: Randy Staats. 96 points makes this the best year of his career, narrowly eclipsing his 95 in his rookie year.
New England: Tyler Digby. 72 points in 17 games, almost back to his 74 in 18 back in 2015. In fact, he had a higher points-per-game average so I’d call that a career year.
Philadelphia: Brett Hickey. Would have been a career year for Hickey, I’m sure, if he didn’t get injured after only three games.
Rochester: Pat Saunders. Only played four games.
Toronto: Dan Lintner. Played in all eighteen games and set career highs in goals, assists, points, loose balls, and CTOs.
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.
I made my first-ever trip to Scotiabank Arena on Friday night, a building I’ve been to many times. I was hoping to see the Rock buck the trend and beat the Georgia Swarm, something they’ve only done once in nine (now ten) meetings – and never in Toronto. It almost happened, but at the last minute (literally, there was less than a minute left on the clock), Lyle Thompson decided to continue his amazing night by scoring one more. The Swarm hung on for the one-goal win in a close and entertaining game.
Thompson was unbelievable all night. He scored four beautiful goals, though his second goal was particularly impressive, a sort of jumping reverse twister sort of thing that displayed not only his incredible skill but creativity as well. He actually did better when being defended: with defenders all around him, he found ways to get open and shoot but he was stopped on a penalty shot (though I wasn’t sure whether he was stopped by Nick Rose or by the post). Holden Cattoni had a good game for the Swarm as well, but Shayne Jackson and Miles Thompson were both held off the scoreboard almost entirely, with a single assist each. Rookie defenseman Adam Wiedemann was named third star of the game, picking up his first career goal (and three assists) in his second NLL game, and making an entire section stand and cheer (see the notes section below).
On the Rock side, Rob Hellyer was outstanding, finishing with five goals and five assists. On this night, there were two Captains America, as Tom Schreiber (the usual holder of that title) scored two and added three assists, but fellow New Yorker Kieran McArdle scored two and had four assists. Schreiber continued to impress, not only in the offensive zone but he ran back on at least one Georgia transition chance and made a great defensive play to prevent a shot on an almost-breakaway. Hellyer tried to do the same when he got caught on defense but wasn’t able to stop Jordan MacIntosh on a transition chance. Don’t worry Rob, lots of players can’t stop Jordan MacIntosh on a transition chance. Within three minutes of that goal, Hellyer had scored two more and assisted on another so we’ll call it more than even.
Brad Kri had another great game on defense and is becoming, in my mind, one of the top defenders in the league. Both goalies had their moments but I was a little concerned about Nick Rose. A number of times he’d make a save, the ball would drop down in front of him, and he’d wait a full second or two before making a move to pick it up, almost as if he didn’t see it. Once or twice I can understand but this was several times, and he was lucky that no Swarm player managed to pick it up before he did.
The game was close throughout – the Swarm had a three-goal lead for about 30 seconds in the second quarter, but no other lead was more than two. The game was tied at 2, 5, 7, 8, 10, and 11. The Swarm held a two-goal lead at the half but then both defenses really cracked down. Four minutes into the third quarter, the Rock scored their first goal in almost thirteen minutes, then another seven minutes later, and then the Swarm scored their first in over fifteen minutes. In the fourth, the Rock scored three straight to take the lead with five minutes left (their first lead since halfway through the first quarter) but Lyle Thompson tied it up two minutes later, and then put the nail in the coffin with 24 seconds to go.
Other game notes:
- In case you missed the joke in the first sentence of this article, the building formerly known as Air Canada Centre was renamed this past summer to Scotiabank Arena. I tweeted something about that name during the game and had to look at the scoreboard twice to make sure I got it right – is it Scotiabank Centre? Arena? Place? We’ll likely continue calling it the ACC for a number of years. I know people who still talk about SkyDome, which was renamed as Rogers Centre thirteen years ago.
- Former Rock captain alerts: We spotted Jim Veltman in the crowd, and Colin Doyle was there as well. Josh Sanderson and Brodie Merrill were both in Calgary with the Seals (Josh is an assistant coach and Brodie is now the Seals captain) and I have no idea about Chris Driscoll.
- There was a very large group of Georgia Swarm fans in attendance, many of whom seemed to be friends and family of Adam Wiedemann. His first-quarter goal brought the entire section to their feet, and I heard loud cheers for each of his assists as well. That group went nuts for Lyle Thompson’s game-winner as well, and I joked that there were more Swarm fans at the game in Toronto than at most games in Georgia. I was only mostly kidding.
- John Ranagan was given a five minute elbowing penalty. On the replay, it looked like a solid but legal hit, and then he brought his elbow up after the hit. Of course as Evan Schemenauer pointed out, the refs have to make the call in real time and don’t get the benefit of watching the play in slow motion. I can understand why it looked like an elbow to the head, which would have deserved five. Bummer for Ranagan but hey, the refs are only human. That’s sports.
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