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.

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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!

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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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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.

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Game report: New England 9 @ Toronto 21

The Rock just keep rolling. I really tried not to use that old cliché but it’s just so appropriate right now. The team had averaged more than 20 goals per game over their last three and still managed to increase that average. Meanwhile the defense managed to prevent Shawn Evans from scoring and kept their opponents to under 10 goals for the third straight game.

The Rock offense took a while to get going. After Rob Hellyer’s goal 36 seconds in, it was almost nine minutes before their next goal, and then another 5½ before their third. I guess that’s their 2018 season in a nutshell: took a while to get the offense going but once they did… look out. Adam Jones continues to look much more like the Colorado Adam Jones than the Saskatchewan one; he, Hellyer, and Tom Schreiber seem to really love playing together. Craig, McArdle, and Reinholdt continue to produce as one of the better secondary scoring teams around. On the other hand, Brett Hickey only had one goal and that was in garbage time. He has less than half the points of Hellyer, Schreiber, and Jones, so I’m not sure what’s going on with him. Maybe he’s struggling with the new system, or perhaps he’s playing the Kasey Beirnes role – more of a grinder, allowing the other guys to get open rather than scoring the goals himself. But his ten shots on goal tell a different story. I’ll have to pay some more attention to him and see.

Tom Schreiber continues to work his butt off on every shift. It’s not just his goals which range from long-distance bullets to acrobatic crease dives, but he sets hard picks, digs in corners, holds onto the ball despite being double-teamed, and makes pinpoint passes through traffic when a teammate is open. He is quickly becoming my early pick for MVP. We’re only a third of the way through the season so obviously a lot can change but the man does everything, and does it very well.

Brad Kri (photo credit: Graig Abel)The Rock as a whole were battling hard all night. Everyone was working for loose balls and intercepting passes (that happened a lot on both sides, actually). Even once they were up by seven or eight, they kept working hard – until they stopped. I’ll get to that in a bit.

Offense tends to get the glory, but Toronto’s defense had another strong game as well. In particular, I thought Brad Kri had an excellent game. Shawn Evans was frustrated all night that he couldn’t get clean shots and when he did all he could see was Rosey. He ended up with no goals, which is rare for Evans. The two Kevins, Buchanan and Crowley, managed to get open once or twice each and shot lasers past Rose, and former Rock forward Stephan Leblanc scored a couple as well.

Rose was strong most of the night, making a couple of highlight reel saves, though a couple of the goals he did allow were kind of soft and he probably wants them b… I mean they’re shots he probably should have stopped.

Aaron Bold didn’t have a great game at all, which should be obvious given the score. Glenn Clark left him in for quite a while – it was into the fourth quarter before Bold got the hook, and he’d already given up 16 goals. Doug Jamieson gave up five in 14 minutes so both goaltenders ended up with almost identical GAAs: 20.98 for Bold and 21.05 for Jamieson. Some of the goals weren’t the fault of the goaltenders though. When Adam Jones has the ball alone on the edge of the crease and has a couple of seconds to decide where to put it, that’s a defensive breakdown, not a failing of the goaltender. If you’re a baseball fan, that’s the “unearned run” of lacrosse.

One interesting thing I noticed about Bold: immediately after he allows a goal, sometimes before the ball is even retrieved from the net, he gets himself set up again and practices the moves that would have stopped that shot, like “here’s what I should have done”. He does that once or twice, then gets on with the game. Matt Vinc does this as well. Maybe that’s their way of not allowing a goal to get to them and affect their confidence – this is the mistake I made, here’s how I’ll stop it the next time, now we can move on. Nick Rose doesn’t do the “practice” thing but he’s also really good at not letting goals rattle him.

The game was quite entertaining for the most part, but it seemed that “garbage time” lasted quite a while. The Rock kept pushing the ball and playing hard until they got to 20 goals, and then they flipped the switch to keep-away mode. The Rock scored six goals in about four minutes at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and then only one more over the next 10+ minutes. As soon as they hit 20, each Rock possession took 29 seconds and they passed up a few obvious scoring opportunities in order to kill clock.  I certainly don’t blame them for this, running up the score any further was unnecessary, I just thought it was interesting how different the game looked the second they they hit the 20-goal plateau.

Other game notes:

  • Dan Lintner was scratched again. He played in the two Rock losses and watched all four wins. That’s gotta suck when you’re 25 and not injured. Seriously, I like his game and what he brings to the floor but if someone will give you a second-round pick for him, send him. Keeping him on the bench is unfair to him.
  • The announcer tried a couple of new things: when Rob Hellyer scored, he says “Robbie who?” and we’re all supposed to yell either “Hell yeah!” or “Hellyer”, it wasn’t entirely clear which. But “Johnny who?” “TAVARES!” was a call in Buffalo for many many years, and for anyone who’s seen a game in Banditland, this was a little familiar. Too soon, man.
  • The other thing the announcer did was after some goals he said something to the effect of “Rock fans: holler if you hear me!” which I didn’t understand. Perhaps he was just testing the microphone (“Is this thing on? Holler if you hear me”), or maybe it’s a reference to a song or movie or something that I’m too old to get.
  • Props to DJ Sweet Lou for playing The Tea Party and Metallica among the electronic dancy stuff. I’m not a big fan of the dancy stuff, though as I’ve said before, I’m not the target demographic either. But the world needs more Tea Party. Even better: add in a little Muse and Porcupine Tree.
  • Very clean game, which is unusual for a blowout like this. Only two penalties in the entire game, one to each team.
  • Dear Rock players: when there’s a group of kids standing on the restraining line as you are introduced, you need to give them a glove tap before you acknowledge your teammates. The first four or five players do this, and then the rest of the team doesn’t. It’s kind of sad to see these kids standing out there watching the Rock players run past them as if they weren’t there.
  • The Rock had the “Rock cheerleader alumni” perform at halftime. Some of those dancers were part of the Rock cheerleading squad 20 years ago – which means they’re in their 40’s now – and they did a great job.
  • Classy move by the Rock to acknowledge the contributions of Stephen Leblanc during the game. I saw a few Black Wolves players banging their sticks on the boards as well and one or two gave Leblanc a literal pat on the back.

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