The Blazers and the Sting: It’s drafty in here

The mid-to-late 2000’s were a tumultuous time in the NLL. Teams were popping up, moving, and vanishing all over the place. This all reached “peak weird” in about 2007-2008 and if you are new to the NLL, you might not know about all of these strange goings-on. Even if you’ve been following the league since then, some of this is still hard to believe.

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NLL team names

Recently, a Rush fan named Rob King tweeted an article suggestion:

Challenge accepted. There isn’t much of a story behind a few of them, but others are very interesting. I had a lot of fun researching this one, and I hope you enjoy these stories. I threw in a couple of “Did you knows” as I came across them.

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Deconstructing the 2008 Minnesota Swarm

While searching for facts for @NLLFactOfTheDay, I stumbled upon a couple of crazy games by the Swarm in 2008. That made me look over the 2008 season for the Swarm in a little more detail, and I found some more fun little tidbits. The 2008 season was long enough ago that there are lots of familiar names involved in these games but not always on the teams you might expect. But it was also recent enough that I remember some of these things happening.

So here’s a summary of the 2008 Swarm season. If you like this idea, maybe I’ll deconstruct some other memorable seasons, perhaps the 2007 Knighthawks or 2005 Rock. But like the ’08 Swarm, it doesn’t have to be Championship teams; it might also be fun to look at the 1-15 2006 Rush. Send in your suggestions! But note that I only have detailed information going back to 2005. Before that I can only talk about wins/losses, final scores, attendance, and season scoring stats.

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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.