The NLL’s most successful franchise

It’s a cycle that almost every pro sports team goes through. If you look back over the history of most teams that have been around for a while, they’ve had periods where they’re really good, at or near the top of the league, and then other periods where they’re terrible. Think of any team that’s been successful over the last year or two: the Royals in baseball, the Clippers in basketball, the Islanders in hockey. It wasn’t that long ago that all three of those teams were terrible, near the bottom of their respective leagues.

Alternatively, think of any team that’s been terrible over the last few years: the Knicks, the Oilers, the Phillies. I can certainly remember times when those teams were at the top of their leagues.  Every team has times where they’re really great and times where they’re really bad. Even the Cubs won the NL Central three times from 2003-2008.

This has certainly happened in the NLL as well. The Edmonton Rush were arguably the best team of each of the last two years but were terrible for a decade before that. The Washington Stealth went to the Championship in three out of their four seasons, but were 4-12 and dead last in the fourth. The Wings won 6 Championships in their first 15 years, then only made the playoffs 3 times in their last 12. The Rock, Bandits, and Mammoth have each won championships and also sat near the bottom of the league during the last 10 years. The Minnesota Swarm may be a bit of an outlier here; they were never a really great team and never reached the finals, but they were a very good team for a few years, getting to the division finals twice. On the flipside, their last couple of years in Minnesota were pretty bad.

(Aside: The NLL is a little different because of the team turnover. I’m only looking at teams that have been around for ten years or more. There are a lot of teams who didn’t have a long enough existence to consider. The New Jersey / Anaheim Storm, Ottawa Rebel, and Montreal Express never stuck around long enough to get good. The Arizona Sting went to 2 Championships in 4 years but never finished above 9-7 or below 7-9.)

Knighthawks

But in the NLL, there are two oddball teams that have mostly defied the longevity rule.

The Calgary Roughnecks were terrible in their first season, when they finished 4-12. But in the 13 seasons since then, they  have only finished below .500 twice, have never missed the playoffs, and have finished with 10+ wins 7 times. Even last year when they started 0-6 and finished 7-11, they managed to get to the Western finals. Other than their debut season (when you kind of expect a team to suck) and for part of 2015, the Roughnecks have never really been terrible.

But take a look at the Rochester Knighthawks. In their twenty-one seasons, they have only finished below .500 three times, and all three times they were just below .500 at 7-9. What’s more: they won the Championship in one of those 7-9 seasons. Let me say that another way: they won the Championship in 2012 after finishing the regular season tied for the worst record in franchise history. They have only missed the playoffs twice in 21 years and as we all remember, are the only team ever to win three straight Championships. In their debut season, they went to the Championship (and lost it in OT).

If you had to pick the most successful NLL franchise during its existence, you could argue the Rock might be the best choice given the number of Championships in that time. But they had a four year stretch where they were 10 games under .500 and missed the playoffs twice. The Wings were one of the best choices for the first half of their lifetime, and one of the worst choices for the second half. The Roughnecks would also have been a very good option, but they’ve had strong regular season numbers and not so much in the playoffs.

For my money, the Rochester Knighthawks win the prize. They have never had a single terrible season, but have had some outstanding ones. I know it’s no 22 in a row, Bandits fans, but they won 16 straight games from 2007-2008. They have never finished last in their division. They have won five Championships and appeared in four more, and have seen some of the best players in the game on their benches including the Gaits, John Grant, Shawn Williams, Shawn Evans, Dan Dawson, Cody Jamieson, and Matt Vinc.

They say any NLL team can beat any other on any given night. This is mostly true for the non-Charlottes and non-Anaheims of the league. But let’s face it, there were years that this was not true for the Rock, Bandits, Mammoth, or Roughnecks. But there has never been a time when playing the Knighthawks that they didn’t have a good chance of beating you.

NLL musical selections

Many teams play music in the dressing room to get ready for games, and I imagine every team makes different choices.

Here are the favourite musical selections for each NLL team in 2015.

Buffalo Bandits

Tavares

 

Calgary Roughnecks

Superman

 

Colorado Mammoth

Mr. Jones

 

Edmonton Rush

We Are The Champions

 

Minnesota Swarm

Georgia On My Mind

 

New England Black Wolves

Casino

 

Rochester Knighthawks

Jammer

 

Toronto Rock

Mr. Crowley

 

Vancouver Stealth

Pass The Dutchie

2015 Predictions revisited

As many sports bloggers do, I made predictions at the beginning of the season. But as many sports bloggers don’t do, I’m going to go back and see what they were and how I did. I covered some of these on last week’s Addicted to Lacrosse show. I recently had to submit my votes for the IL Indoor annual awards, so for each of the awards below, I’ve listed my pre-season prediction as well as my post-season votes.

Standings:

East

  1. Rochester
  2. Buffalo
  3. Toronto
  4. Minnesota
  5. New England

West

  1. Calgary
  2. Edmonton
  3. Colorado
  4. Vancouver

Three correct out of nine. I wasn’t nearly as optimistic with the Rock as I should have been. I was also far too optimistic with the Roughnecks, but so was everybody else.

Annual Awards

MVP

Prediction: Dan Dawson, Cody Jamieson, Ryan Benesch
Vote: Shawn Evans, Mark Matthews, Ryan Benesch

Jamieson and Dawson had very good years, but not MVP-worthy. Benesch was great, especially down the stretch. But Evans was outstanding.

Goaltender of the Year

Prediction: Aaron Bold, Matt Vinc, Mike Poulin
Vote: Matt Vinc, Aaron Bold, Frankie Scigliano

No surprises from the first two, and I really struggled to decide who got the top vote. And I got the wrong Calgary goalie.

Defensive Player of the Year

Prediction: Kyle Rubisch, Chris Corbeil, Brock Sorensen
Vote: Kyle Rubisch, Chris Corbeil, Sid Smith

I did vote Sorensen fourth.

Transition Player of the Year

Prediction: Jeremy Thompson, Geoff Snider, Karsen Leung, Jordan Hall
Vote: Joey Cupido, Karsen Leung, Jay Thorimbert

Hall didn’t play transition this year, and Thompson had another very good season but Cupido stole the show.

Ben McIntoshRookie of the Year

Prediction: Miles Thompson, Ben McIntosh, Chris Attwood
Vote: Ben McIntosh, Jeremy Noble, Miles Thompson

Attwood didn’t even make the Knighthawks, so that was totally wrong. Miles Thompson had a good rookie season but McIntosh was better. Didn’t have Noble on the list at the beginning since it seemed unlikely he’d play at all.

Les Bartley Award

Prediction: Curt Malawsky, Mike Hasen, Troy Cordingley, John Lovell
Vote: Derek Keenan, Mike Hasen, Curt Malawsky, John Lovell, Troy Cordingley

No idea how I missed Keenan at the beginning of the year.

GM of the Year

Prediction: Terry Sanderson, Curt Styres, Steve Govett, Chris Seinko
Vote: Terry Sanderson, Curt Styres, Steve Govett, Derek Keenan.

Nailed the top three on this one. I even voted Seinko fifth since I thought he did pretty well at the trade deadline. Getting Billings, one of the top two players in the league over the last few seasons, for Crowley was a good deal and grabbing Suitor from the Swarm was good too. It was just too late in the season to turn things around, and the fact that Suitor got hurt again didn’t help.

Team predictions – East

For each team, I made a “Look out for” prediction – a player who I thought would have a great season. Some of them I nailed, others I didn’t quite get right, and in one case, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Dhane Smith (Photo: Larry Palumbo)Buffalo: Dhane Smith. Nailed this one. Smith went from 59 points in 18 games last year to 107 this year.

Minnesota: Miles Thompson. Not a bad choice, though Shayne Jackson might have been a better one.

New England: Kevin Buchanan. Again, not a bad season. Pat Saunders would have been the breakout player for the Black Wolves.

Rochester: Chris Attwood. Didn’t even make the team. We’ll call that a “miss”. I don’t know who I’d pick from the Knighthawks as having had a breakout season since everyone on the team played at or near what I expected. Maybe Craig Point, since he hadn’t played 15 games in a season since 2011.

Toronto: Brock Sorensen. I thought Sorensen had a very solid year with the Rock and even put him on my list for Defender of the Year. But you might be able to make an argument for Brett Hickey here.

Team predictions – West

Calgary: Karsen Leung. I thought Leung had another solid season and I voted for him as Transition player of the year. But for a breakout season, I’d have to go with Frankie Scigliano, who grabbed the starting goalie job from the struggling Mike Poulin a few weeks into the season and never gave it back.

Colorado: Dillon Ward. Ward didn’t have a great season, but good enough to grab second in the west. Breakout player on the Mammoth would be Jeremy Noble, Eli McLaughlin, or Alex Buque.

Edmonton: Corey Small. Mostly right, except for the team. Small only lasted 2 games with the Rush before being traded to the Stealth, where he had his best season ever. For the Rush, a better choice would have been Zack Greer, who beat his career best points/game average by almost a full point.

Vancouver: Joel McCready. Nailed it. I even said the Powless experiment wouldn’t be the huge success the Stealth were hoping for. We’ll call that a 2-for-1, which offsets the Rochester failure.

Could happen…

With four and a half weeks left in the 2015 season, the playoff scenarios are just starting to be decided. We know Toronto and Colorado are in. We know a couple of other teams (Edmonton, Rochester) are on the cusp and can clinch a playoff spot with a single win. We know that Toronto can finish no worse than third because they can’t have more than 7 losses and New England and Minnesota already have 8.

Here are a few playoff scenarios that are still technically possible, though the odds of some are exceedingly remote. I will update this posting after tonight’s games as things change.

Update: I’ve updated these scenarios in red after the games of April 4.

Edmonton misses playoffs

Edmonton loses the rest of their games, Calgary wins all of theirs, and Vancouver wins all of theirs except the one against the Roughnecks. Then the west would be:

Colorado 10-8
Vancouver 9-9
Calgary 8-10
Edmonton 8-10

Edmonton is 1-1 against Calgary and in this scenario, they will lose two more. Calgary ends up third and in the playoffs and Edmonton is out.

With their win against Vancouver, Edmonton can finish with no more than 9 losses. Vancouver has 9 losses now but Edmonton holds the tie-breaker, and Calgary already has 10.

New England finishes second in the east

New England wins out, Rochester loses out, and Minnesota loses one other game (against Buffalo, Calgary, or Edmonton). Then NE ends up at 10-8, Rochester is 8-10, and Minnesota and Buffalo are no better than 9-9.

Minnesota finishes second in the east

Minnesota wins out, New England loses to Toronto, Buffalo loses one to Minnesota and one other, Rochester loses two to Minnesota and two others. Then Minnesota is 10-8, Rochester is no better than 10-8 but loses the tie-breaker, and Buffalo and New England have 9 losses.

Minnesota wins out, Rochester loses out, Buffalo loses one to Minnesota and two others, and New England loses twice. Then Minnesota is 9-9 and tied with Rochester, but they own the tie-breaker. Buffalo and NE have 10 losses.

Toronto finishes third in the east

Toronto loses out, Buffalo wins out, and Rochester wins any 3 games. Toronto ends up at 11-7, Rochester is at least 11-7 and owns the tie-breaker, and the Bandits are 12-6.

The worst Toronto can finish is 11-7 while the best Buffalo can finish is 11-7. Toronto owns the tie-breaker, so Toronto can’t finish lower than second.

Rochester misses the playoffs

Rochester loses out. New England wins one against Rochester and four others. Minnesota wins two against Rochester and one other. Buffalo wins two against anyone. Then Rochester is 8-10, Buffalo is at worst 9-9, and Minnesota and New England are also at worst 8-10. In this scenario, New England and Minnesota will have the tie-breaker against Rochester so they’re out.

Not sure about this one. If Rochester loses out, New England loses to Buffalo but wins the rest of their games, Minnesota beats Buffalo, Edmonton, and Calgary, and Buffalo beats New England and Vancouver, we’ll have a 4-way tie for second with everyone but Toronto at 9-9. I have no idea how that tie-breaker would be solved.

Calgary finishes second in the west

Calgary wins out. Edmonton loses out. Vancouver loses to Calgary and twice to Eastern opponents. Calgary and Edmonton will both be 8-10 but Calgary has the tie-breaker. Vancouver has 11 losses and Colorado wins the west with Calgary in second.

Calgary can finish no better than 8-10, Edmonton no worse than 9-9. In that scenario, Colorado has at least 10 wins so both Colorado and Edmonton are ahead of Calgary.

Trade deadline 2015

Now that is what a trade deadline is all about.

Wow, that was fun. Every team in the league made a trade on Tuesday, some bigger than others. But you could argue that the trades made on deadline day included the best player on three different teams, as well as two captains. Below is a summary of the deals we saw on Monday and Tuesday:

Andrew Suitor for Joel White

To Minnesota: Joel White and a second round pick in 2016
To New England: Andrew Suitor

It’s rare for the current captain of a team to be traded. It’s even more rare for captains of two teams to be swapped. This trade confused a lot of people considering how important Suitor was to the Swarm. He was their captain, their leader in every way but scoring, the “heart and soul” of the team, and the phrase “fan favourite” doesn’t begin to cover it. But they traded him anyway which pissed off a lot of Swarm fans, judging by the comments on their Facebook post announcing the trade. In return they get another solid transition guy in Joel White, who has similar scoring numbers to Suitor but far fewer penalty minutes (Suitor has 20, White has just 2) and a lot more loose balls (117 to Suitor’s 60). Suitor is just over two months older than White so age wasn’t a concern for the Swarm, but I imagine White has a smaller salary than Suitor, which is.

Considering how much anger and questioning of the sanity of the Arlottas we’ve seen regarding this trade, you’d think that they got nothing back. Joel White is kind of on the losing end here. The Swarm are getting more loose balls and less time in the box, and though White is perhaps less of a vocal leader than Suitor, he’s still has leadership skills or the Black Wolves wouldn’t have made him the captain. Meanwhile the Wolves get a passionate guy who’ll run through walls for his teammates and is willing to fight if necessary, just in case Bill O’Brien doesn’t feel like it.

Honestly, I’m not sure of the overall advantage of this trade for the Swarm. White might put up slightly better numbers, but if you’re going to anger most of your fan base and lose season ticket holders, is it worth it?

 

Logan SchussLogan Schuss for Johnny Powless

To Vancouver: Logan Schuss
To Minnesota: Johnny Powless

While the Suitor deal raised a few eyebrows, the Swarm’s other major deal works out very well for them. Schuss had job commitments in BC that kept him out of a couple of games (though fewer than he originally expected), so this way he’s much more likely to be able to play. Both Schuss and Powless are young lefties (Schuss is 24, Powless 22). Powless just wasn’t fitting into the Stealth offense, as shown by his 7 goals in 11 games. As said in an article in the Vancouver Province, Powless had as many 0-goal games in his 11 with the Stealth (7) as he did in three full seasons with the Knighthawks. Powless wanted out of Rochester because he didn’t want to be playing behind Cody Jamieson and Dan Dawson all the time, only to be playing behind Rhys Duch, Tyler Digby, and Corey Small in Vancouver. In Minnesota, I think he’ll be alongside Callum Crawford, Miles Thompson, and Shayne Jackson rather than behind them, so this could work out very well for them.

 

Cam Flint

To Colorado: Cam Flint
To Minnesota: Second and third round picks in 2016

Not much to say about this one – Flint had 2 points in 11 games with the Swarm last season but has yet to play this year. Two draft picks for a player with that little NLL experience tells you how highly the Mammoth thinks of Flint, who went to the University of Denver.

 

Matthew Dinsdale

To Edmonton: Matthew Dinsdale
To Calgary: Third round pick, 2016

After Scott Ranger retired in the off-season, I remember some talk that Dinsdale was likely going to get Ranger’s spot and thus lots more playing time. I honestly don’t know if the playing time increased, but while Calgary scored 38 goals in their first three games, Dinsdale was held pointless in all three. After that, his playing time dropped and by the time this trade happened, he’d only played in 6 games and only pulled in 6 points. This is consistent with his numbers over the previous two years (24 points in 27 games). With the addition of Sean Pollock onto the Roughnecks roster, Dinsdale’s playing time wasn’t likely to increase. Maybe a change of scenery (onto a team much more likely to make the playoffs) will do him good.

 

Joe Resetarits for Jamie Batson

To Rochester: Joe Resetarits and a third round pick in 2016
To Buffalo: Jamie Batson, second round pick in 2016, and second round pick in 2017

Resetarits had a pretty good year in 2014, with 42 points in 17 games, but his production has dropped a little this year. His 21 points in 10 games is 6th on the Bandits but would be 7th on the Knighthawks. But playing behind Jammer, Dawson, Point, Walters, Hall, Vitarelli, and Keogh, it’s not clear how much playing time will be left for Resetarits. Batson is a defender with 0 career points in 8 games, but has only played in 2 games this year.

 

Garrett Billings for Kevin Crowley

To New England: Garrett Billings
To Toronto: Kevin Crowley

This was the biggest deal of the day and as a Rock fan, I have to admit I was a little underwhelmed at first. Billings was the MVP runner-up in each of the last 3 seasons and the only player in NLL history to score 100+ points three years in a row. Crowley has been good, sometimes great, for Philly and New England, but he’s averaged around 75% of what Billings has done. I’d say Crowley’s a great player but not an elite one like Billings, so a one-for-one trade doesn’t seem to make sense. But first, we knew that Billings was going to be traded, and likely not for what he was worth. And second, Billings is coming off of knee surgery, and may or may not still be the elite player he was. If he is, then yes, New England wins this one. Going strictly by numbers, even if Billings is only 80% of what he was, New England still wins.

Crowley the GiantBut I wonder if Crowley being the #1 pick overall caused some people (myself included) to expect too much of him. He was expected to be the guy both in Philadelphia and in New England. To his credit, he’s been the top or second scorer on his team every year of his career, but hasn’t been the 90-100 point guy that I kind of expected. But in Toronto, he doesn’t need to be the guy. He can just be one of the guys. And since the guys include Hellyer, Hickey, Sanderson, and Leblanc (and hopefully Doyle next year), that’s not bad company to be around. While I’m sure he learned a lot from veteran Dan Dawson in their one year together in Philly, now he has the opportunity to learn from Sanderson and Doyle and who knows – maybe in a couple of years, he will be the guy on the Rock, but if Hellyer and Hickey keep playing the way they have been, he may not need to be.

Assuming he’s not hobbled by the surgery, Billings is an exciting player to watch and I envy the New England fans who are able to see him at every home game now. He’s known for his playmaking ability and passing (he has twice as many career assists as goals), but he can score with the best of them including lasers from way out, cross-crease dives, and behind-the-back John Grant-style beauties.

Would I prefer to have Billings back on the Rock? Yes, I have to admit that I would. But I’ve known for weeks that that would be unlikely, so I prepared myself for the likelihood that he’d be gone. Given the alternatives (the Rock lose him for nothing or scratch him for the rest of the season), I originally thought that adding Crowley would be better than nothing, but not much more than that. But I’ve warmed to the idea and similar to the Schuss-Powless deal, I think this could be good for both teams as well.

Top 5 non-surprises of 2015

Earlier this week, I listed the top 5 surprises of this season, so now it’s time for the top 5 non-surprises. Here are things that happened that we probably could have foreseen.

 

5. Ben McIntosh and Miles Thompson having strong rookie years

The #1 and #2 picks in last year’s draft, big things were expected from McIntosh and Thompson and they have not disappointed. Coincidentally, both are sitting at 43 points right now (McIntosh has one more goal and one fewer assist) though Thompson has played one more game than McIntosh. In fact, they only differ by 2 in power play goals, by 11 in shots, by 4 in loose balls, and by 1 in penalty minutes. They’re having the same season. Big question I can’t answer yet: how on earth do we pick between them for Rookie of the Year?

4. Edmonton playing strong defensively

The Rush are giving up an average of just under 10 goals per game, ½ a goal better than anyone else (and 5½ better than the Stealth). Aaron Bold’s GAA of 9.36 is the lowest of anyone who’s played more than 19 minutes (hi Angus Goodleaf!) and he’s 5th in save %. Still, even with these outstanding numbers, Bold’s GAA is half a point higher than last year and the team is allowing 1.2 more goals per game than last year, which just tells you how amazing the 2014 Rush were.

3. Brett Hickey scoring a bunch

Brett HickeyBrett Hickey’s career stats before the 2015 season: 5 goals, 5 assists, 9 games, 2 Stealths (Washington in 2012 and Vancouver in 2014). So far this season: 33 goals, 15 assists, 13 games. But as I said in the Top 5 Surprises article, Hickey has been lighting up the WLA for two years, finishing in the top 10 in scoring twice. I certainly thought he’d improve on his 1.11 points per game pace, and I read a number of tweets and blog articles before the season talking about how Hickey was going to light up the NLL as well. I have to admit that I didn’t expect these kind of numbers, but the fact that he’s doing well is not a big surprise.

2. Jeremy Noble traded to Colorado

We knew that Noble wasn’t going to play for the Knighthawks. We knew that he lives in Denver and plays for the Outlaws in the MLL. And we knew that the Mammoth had an interest (and who wouldn’t?). So it was almost just a matter of time before this deal got made, and as I said on Addicted to Lacrosse a couple of weeks ago, it looks like a good deal for both teams. Another big question I can’t answer yet: could Noble be the Rookie of the Year after playing at most 9 games?

1. Dhane Smith emerges as an offensive star

Over his two NLL seasons, Smith has shown himself to be a great offensive player, but the Bandits decided to use him on defense and transition a lot. This was not a terrible decision; he’s very good in that role as well. (And it’s not the first time the Bandits have done this – they made Mark Steenhuis a transition player after a 50-goal 101-point season followed by a 90-point season.) But when they chose to have Smith play a primarily offensive role this season, we all knew the effect he’d have and the numbers he’d put up. And Smith has delivered. After two seasons averaging a little over 3 points per game, he is currently averaging 5.38 points per game and is tied with Ryan Benesch for both the team lead and 4th on the overall scoring list. This surprises me not at all.

Top 5 surprises of 2015

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.

Doyle & BillingsI’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.

RoughnecksThey 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.