Could happen… 2017 edition

Round about this time of year, people think they have a decent idea of how the standings will end up, more or less. So far this season, Saskatchewan has clinched a playoff berth, but nobody else has. We think the Rush and Swarm will probably be at the top in their divisions, but it’s not guaranteed. Calgary and Rochester are currently at the bottom but both are only a half game back of the team in front of them. There’s enough time left for some really crazy things to happen, and every year I find it fun to look over the possibilities if the lower-ranked teams start winning and the teams at the top start losing. If everything falls into place, could we have a Calgary-Rochester final? Could the Swarm miss the playoffs? Let’s look at some scenarios that are unlikely but still possible:

Calgary finishes 2nd in the west

Calgary wins out, Saskatchewan loses to Vancouver, New England, and Toronto, and Colorado loses out. Then the Rush win the west at 10-8, Calgary is second at 9-9, and Colorado and Vancouver tie at 8-10. Vancouver would win the tiebreaker in that scenario with a 3-1 record against the Mammoth, so Colorado is out.
Calgary wins out, Vancouver beats Colorado, and Colorado loses one more game. Then the Roughnecks are 9-9 and the Mammoth are at best 9-9, but Calgary holds the tiebreaker.

Vancouver wins the west

Update: Can’t happen anymore.
Vancouver wins out, Saskatchewan loses at least three more, and Colorado loses to Rochester. Then the Stealth are at 10-8, the Rush and Mammoth are at 9-9, and the Roughnecks are at best 8-10.

All five teams in the east finish 9-9

Update: Can’t happen anymore.
New England beats Georgia and Saskatchewan and loses to Vancouver. Buffalo beats Calgary, Toronto, and Georgia twice. Rochester beats Colorado, New England, and Georgia twice. Toronto loses to Saskatchewan and beats Buffalo. Then all the eastern teams are 9-9 and we have the nastiest tie-breaker ever.

Rochester wins the east

Update: Can’t happen anymore.
Rochester wins out. Toronto and Georgia lose out. Buffalo loses to Calgary. New England loses to Saskatchewan and Vancouver. Then Rochester, Georgia, and Buffalo are 9-9 while Toronto and New England are 8-10. Rochester has a 4-2 record against Buffalo and Georgia and wins the east while Buffalo finishes second and Georgia third.

Buffalo wins the east

Update: Can’t happen anymore.
Buffalo wins out. Toronto and Georgia lose out. New England loses to Saskatchewan and Vancouver. Rochester beats New England and loses to Colorado. Then the Bandits are 10-8, Georgia is 9-9, and the rest are tied at 8-10. New England wins the tiebreaker and makes the playoffs.

Georgia misses the playoffs

Update: Georgia has now clinched a playoff spot.
Georgia loses out. Toronto beats Saskatchewan and Buffalo. New England beats Saskatchewan and Rochester. Buffalo beats Calgary and Toronto. Then Toronto and New England have 10 wins while Buffalo and Georgia are both 9-9. Buffalo would win the tie-breaker here and the Swarm are out.

Game report: New England 10 @ Toronto 9 (OT)

Another exciting, down to the wire, overtime game, just like the last home game. But ultimately another loss, just like the last home game.

Awesome

  • Latrell Harris had another strong game. That guy impresses me more and more every game. The PA guy on Friday night called him “Kid Rock 2.0”, which I kind of like. (Kim Squire, who also wore #93, was known as Kid Rock in the early 2000’s).
  • Joel Coyle took two penalties in the first quarter, but stayed in the penalty box a total of 22 seconds because the Rock scored on the PP right away in both cases.
  • After Brett Hickey’s goal to put the Rock ahead early in the fourth, he gave spirited, almost violent, high fives to everyone on his way back to the bench. I love to see that level of intensity. But Hickey’s a strong guy – I’d hate to see some Rock player miss a few weeks because a Brett Hickey goal celebration dislocated his shoulder.
  • New England defense and Evan Kirk. Most Rock possessions lasted either 5 seconds because someone would shoot right away or 29 seconds because they’d shoot just before the shot clock expired. The Black Wolves D just wouldn’t let them get any good looks at the net. And when they did, Kirk was there to stop them.

Jay Thorimbert

Not awesome

  • Nick Rose. He wasn’t terrible – only allowing 10 goals in 60+ minutes ain’t bad – but he didn’t seem to be seeing the ball terribly well. I think two of the first three shots he faced beat him, but one rolled wide by a few inches and he turned around in time to stop the other one. Another time he dropped to his knees thinking the shot was going low but it went high, and luckily hit his shoulder and stayed out. A few other times were similar but he wasn’t so lucky and they went in. Once or twice we saw him sliding to his right when the shot went in to his left. That said, a couple of Kevin Buchanan’s goals were just lasers into a corner, and there’s nothing Rose could do about those.
  • Black Wolves shooters. I can’t count the number of times they shot and missed the net entirely. Sometimes it was because they were stick-checked while shooting, but not always. Sometimes, a lot of times actually, they just missed.
  • Only 8477 at this game. I really hope there are a ton of people at the next home game, where they’ll be raising Colin Doyle’s jersey to the rafters. Doyle deserves that.
  • Speaking of former Rock captains deserving to be honoured, it’s time for Jim Veltman’s #32 to be raised as well. I know Veltman and Jamie Dawick had issues (mainly financial, I believe) after Veltman retired, but that was years ago. Move on and do the right thing.
  • The people behind us who laughed at Brett Bucktooth’s name when it was announced after a penalty. Disrespectful.
  • Speaking of disrespectful, people who boo the refs when they make a correct call if it goes against the Rock. I don’t like it any more than you do, but the Rock goal in OT should not have counted. Disallowing the goal was the right call and the video replay made that clear, so booing the refs makes no sense.

Other game notes

  • My friend Mike pointed out that there were no moving picks called the entire game. But there were a lot of possession changes (on both sides) due to players running through the crease.
  • I wasn’t sure whether this was awesome or not. Phil Caputo and Sheldon Burns had a short but intense fight and immediately were sent to the penalty box. Burns got to his box first and while Caputo was walking by, Burns reached out for a fist bump, which Caputo gave him. I like the fact that lacrosse players will fight each other during the game and then show respect by buying each other a beer at the bar afterwards, but showing that respect ten seconds afterwards? Isn’t that a little too soon? Maybe, maybe not. I think I’m leaning towards awesome.

2017 NLL Predictions

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.

Final Standings

East

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

West

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

Individual Awards

MVP

Winner: Mark Matthews
Short list: Shawn Evans, Dhane Smith
Dark horse:  Adam Jones

Goaltender of the Year

Winner: Aaron Bold
Short list: Dillon Ward, Nick Rose
Dark horse: Frank Scigliano

Robert HopeDefensive Player of the Year

Winner: Robert Hope
Short list: Ryan Dilks, Kyle Rubisch, Graeme Hossack
Dark horse:  Mitch de Snoo

Transition Player of the Year

Winner: Karsen Leung
Short list: Alex Kedoh Hill, Chad Tutton, Chris Corbeil
Dark horse:  Challen Rogers

Rookie of the Year

Winner: Ryan Keenan
Short list: Challen Rogers, Mike Messenger
Dark horse:  Kieran McArdle

Les Bartley Award

Winner: Troy Cordingley
Short list: Derek Keenan (though you could put his name here every year)
Dark horse: Jamie Batley

GM of the Year

Winner: If the Rock are above .500 and make the playoffs, Jamie Dawick. Otherwise, Steve Dietrich
Short list: Derek Keenan (though you could put his name here every year)
Dark horse: Curt Styres or Doug Locker

This was a tough one since the Rock, Knighthawks, Swarm, and Stealth made a lot of moves but I’m not terribly confident in them. Most other teams didn’t make many at all.

2017 NLL: Who’s in, who’s out

Here’s a complete list of all the roster changes for each team.

Note that these are the changes as of the final roster from last season, so a player might be listed as “In” even if he played for that team during 2016.

BanditsBuffalo Bandits

In: Craig Point, Brad Self
Out: Chad Culp, Tyler Ferreira, Jay Thorimbert
IR: Bryce Brochu, Craig England, Adam Will
PUP:
Holdout:
Practice Roster: Tim Edwards, Justin Martin, Kevin Orleman, Blaze Riorden

The Bandits have the fewest changes of any team in the league. They went to the finals last season, so that makes sense. Added to the lineup are veterans Craig Point and Brad Self, while Culp and face-off specialist Thorimbert head to New England and Tyler Ferreira to the rival Knighthawks.


SwarmGeorgia Swarm

In: Liam Byrnes, Bryan Cole, Jordan Hall, Mike Poulin, John Ranagan, Connor Sellars, Leo Stouros, Sean Young
Out: Reid Acton, David Earl, Zack Higgins, Jesse King, Jordan MacIntosh, Drew Petkoff, Johnny Powless, Joel White
IR: Jesse King, Jordan MacIntosh, Johnny Powless
PUP:
Holdout: Laughlin Elder
Practice Roster: Brayden Hill, Warren Hill, Drew Petkoff, Adam Shute

A few big names start the season on the injured list for the Swarm. Newcomer Jordan Hall should help boost the offense and Mike Poulin gives the Swarm a solid #1 goalie, something they haven’t really had since… well, a long time ago in a state far, far away. Defender John Ranagan joins from New England and five rookies also made the team.


BlackWolvesNew England Black Wolves

In: Chad Culp, Doug Jamieson, Seth Oakes, Reilly O’Connor, Scott Self, Matt Spanger, Jay Thorimbert
Out: Dan Ball, Tye Belanger, Phil Caputo, Jordan Hall, Stephen Hoar, Mike McNamara, John Ranagan
IR: Derek Searle
PUP:
Holdout:
Practice Roster: Dan Ball, Connor Brown, Joel Coyle, Mitch McMichael

A couple of fairly significant changes for the Black Wolves. The versatile Jordan Hall is now in Georgia, while Jay Thorimbert and Chad Culp bring their veteran smarts from Buffalo. Reilly O’Connor also arrives from Calgary, and Scott Self helps to shore up an already-strong back end. Hopefully Evan Kirk has another strong year, since backing him up with be rookie Doug Jamieson instead of Tye Belanger. Then again, Evan Kirk’s rookie year was rather impressive so the fact that Jamieson is a rookie may not matter.


KnighthawksRochester Knighthawks

In: Josh Currier, Jarrett Davis, Tyler Ferreira, Kyle Jackson, Luc Magnan, Joel Matthews, Quinn Powless, Wayne Van Every
Out: Adam Bomberry, Cody Jamieson, Mike Kirk, Mike Manley, Craig Point, Derek Searle, Brad Self, Scott Self, John Sullivan, Ty Thompson, Cory Vitarelli, Joe Walters
IR: Andrew Suitor, Cory Vitarelli
PUP: Adam Bomberry, Cody Jamieson
Holdout:
Practice Roster: Luke Laszkiewicz, Dan Lomas, John Rae

Lots of changes for the Knighthawks, some of them temporary. Joe Walters is out for the year after committing to the MLL. Also out is Craig Point, who only played four games last year but amassed 18 points, good for the third highest points-per-game average on the team. Jamieson, Bomberry, and Vitarelli will hopefully be returning to the lineup before long, and the oft-injured Andrew Suitor would be a welcome addition as well but also starts the year on the IR. In the meantime, Jarrett Davis returns from out west and Quinn Powless hopes to play a full season. NLL sophomores Luc Magnan and Tyler Ferreira help to strengthen a defense that is missing both Self brothers, John Sullivan, and the retired Mike Kirk.


RockToronto Rock

In: Connor Buczek, Damon Edwards, Steve Fryer, Latrell Harris, Brett Hickey, Mikey MacDonald, Kieran McArdle, Challen Rogers, Tom Schreiber, Matt Sawyer (head coach)
Out: Kyle Aquin, Jamie Batson, Colin Boucher, Colin Doyle, Rob Hellyer, John Lovell (head coach), Luc Magnan, Rob Marshall, Brandon Miller, Kevin Ross, Josh Sanderson
IR: Rob Marshall, Patrick Merrill, Brandon Miller, Brock Sorensen
PUP: Rob Hellyer
Holdout:
Practice Roster: Jordan Magnusson, Reid Reinholdt, Brodie Tutton
Protected: Paul Rabil

Where to start?

When you lose two of the top four offensive stars of all time in the same off-season, who do you replace them with? How about Americans who have never played a box lacrosse game in their lives? Doesn’t sound like a great plan but having watched Kieran McArdle and Tom Schreiber in the pre-season, it may not be that bad. But losing Doyle and Sanderson isn’t even the biggest loss for the Rock, points-wise. Rob Hellyer scored 27 points more than Doyle and Sanderson combined in 2016, but will miss all of 2017. Brett Hickey returns from an injury that cost him the last six games of 2016, so that will certainly help, and Mikey MacDonald has looked really good in the pre-season as well.

Challen Rogers will join the returning Damon Edwards, Brodie Merrill, and Jesse Gamble to form one of the best transition units in the league. Another question is in net where Steve Fryer, with all of 60 minutes in his NLL career, replaces Brandon Miller who’s recovering from hip surgery.

Oh, and the Rock are the only team to make a coaching change this season. Seems like there isn’t much about the Rock that didn’t change.


RoughnecksCalgary Roughnecks

In: Holden Cattoni, Chad Cummings, Christian Del Bianco, Riley Loewen
Out: Garrett McIntosh, Pete McFetridge, Riley O’Connor, Mike Poulin
IR:
PUP: Vaughn Harris
Holdout:
Practice Roster: Garrett McIntosh, Keegan Rittinger, Bob Snider

Just a couple of changes for the Roughnecks. Riley Loewen joins from the Rush replacing Riley O’Connor, who was traded due to league rules that prohibit two Rileys on the same team. Peter McFetridge is now in Vancouver and veteran goalie Mike Poulin signed with the Swarm. Frank Scigliano and second-year-player-but-still-a-teenager Christian Del Bianco will likely split the goaltending duties.


MammothColorado Mammoth

In: Greg Downing, Zack Greer, Jacob Ruest, Taylor Stuart
Out: Jackson Decker, Adam Jones, Mike Mallory, Mike Woods
IR:
PUP: 
Holdout:
Practice Roster: Brent Adams, Zach Herreweyers, Mike Mallory, Nick Ossello

One big change for the Mammoth: Adam Jones was sent to the Rush for constant scoring threat Zack Greer. Losing Jones hurts but who has Greer score the most points against in his career? The Mammoth. They’ll be glad to have him on their side for a change.


RushSaskatchewan Rush

In: Matthew Dinsdale, Adam Jones, Ryan Keenan, Mike Messenger
Out: Jarett Davis, Zack Greer, John Lintz, Riley Loewen
IR:
PUP: 
Holdout:
Practice Roster: Matt Hossack, Matt MacGrottty

The best get better? Possibly. Adam Jones scored two fewer points than Zack Greer last season, but played two fewer games because of work commitments. Hopefully playing in Canada will eliminate those missed games. Ryan Keenan was the first overall draft pick for a reason, and it sounds like the Rush players are very excited about his presence. Highly-touted rookie Mike Messenger replaces John Lintz in the Rush defense.


StealthVancouver Stealth

In: Keegan Bal, Tye Belanger, Brendan Fowler, John Lintz, Pete McFetridge, Tommy McKee, Ryan Wagner
Out: Garrett Billings, Mitch McMichael, Jeff Moleski, Eric Penney, Cliff Smith, Rory Smith, Jarrett Toll
IR: Garrett Billings, Cory Conway, James Rahe, Jarrett Toll
PUP:
Holdout:
Practice Roster: Brandon Clelland, Justin Goodwin, Evan Messenger, Eric Penney

Having Billings and Conway on the IR to start the year won’t help, but from Teddy Jenner’s interview with Conway a week or two ago, it sounded like his debut in the Stealth lineup wouldn’t be delayed for long. McMichael was traded east, Moleski retired, and Cliff Smith will miss at least part of the season due to work commitments as he attempts to start a career in law enforcement. The revolving door of Stealth goaltenders continues as Tye Belanger gets the nod as Tyler Richards’s backup.

Grabbing a solid veteran defender from a division rival isn’t easy but Doug Locker did it twice this off-season. John Lintz and Pete McFetridge will make a big difference in the Stealth back end.

Could happen…

As I like to do at about this time every year, I’m going to look at the playoff picture and see what the possibilities are. Can a last-place team finish first? Can a first-place team miss the playoffs? Sometimes the possibilities are surprising.

Some options are no longer possibilities. Saskatchewan and Colorado have not only clinched playoff berths, they’ve clinched home playoff games, which means the final playoff spot in the West is between Calgary and Vancouver and neither can finish higher than third, so not much room for surprising finishes there. Neither Georgia nor Toronto can finish first in the East.

Let’s see what could happen. UPDATED after games of April 10.

Georgia finishes second in the East

If Georgia wins out, NE loses out, and Rochester beats Buffalo and Saskatchewan, all three teams are 9-9. The first three-way tiebreaker is the combined record against each other. In this case, Georgia would be 4-3 against NE and Rochester, New England would be 4-4, and Rochester would be 3-4, so Rochester finishes third (of the three, so fourth in the division). Then we drop to the two-team tiebreaker. Georgia and New England would be 2-2 against each other, so we go to Eastern division opponents. Georgia would be 7-5 while New England would be 7-6 so Georgia gets second.

Toronto finishes second in the East

The Bandits will have at most 8 losses, and New England will have at most 9. Toronto already has 10, so they can’t finish better than third.

Buffalo misses the playoffs

Buffalo is in the playoffs

Buffalo can finish with no more than 8 losses. Georgia already has 9 and Toronto has 10 so the Bandits can finish no lower than third.

Rochester misses the playoffs

If Rochester loses three of their four remaining games, Toronto wins their remaining four, and Georgia wins four of their remaining five, Rochester is out.

New England misses the playoffs

 

No announcement has been made by the league or the team that New England has clinched, but I can’t find any scenarios where New England finishes any lower than third. Toronto already has more losses than New England can have, so Toronto will finish lower than the Wolves. There are no ways Georgia can have fewer losses than New England, so either NE is ahead of Georgia and Toronto (so they’re in), or they end up tied with Georgia. But in that case, Rochester is either also tied with them (so they’re out, given the three-way tie-breaker I mentioned above) or has a worse record. In the second case, NE is ahead of both Rochester and Toronto so they’re in.

Unless I’m misunderstanding the three-way tie-breaker, New England has clinched a playoff spot.

Update: Nailed it.

Vancouver finishes third in the West

It’s still possible for Calgary and Vancouver to end up tied at 7-11. The season series would also be tied at 2-2, so then the tiebreaker falls to record against divisional opponents. Vancouver would be 6-5 against western rivals while Calgary would be 3-8 so Vancouver gets in.

2016 Pre-season predictions revisited

We’re just past the mid-season point, so I’m going to look over my pre-season predictions for the standings and major awards and see how things are progressing. I don’t think I got any of my major award picks right (except for a “maybe” in ROY), but a few of my “dark horse” picks were surprisingly accurate.

Standings

In the East I had Rochester, Toronto, Buffalo, Georgia, and New England in that order. Clearly New England is doing better than I thought and Toronto is not, but if you swap them and also swap Rochester and Buffalo, I nailed it.

In the West, I had Saskatchewan, Vancouver, Colorado, and Calgary. Obviously I greatly overestimated Vancouver’s success this season. Move them to the bottom and I’m right again.

MVP

Prediction:  Mark Matthews, who’s always a good choice for this award and is having a good season with 66 points in 11 games. But Dhane Smith is on pace to outscore Matthews by almost fifty points and beat the single-season scoring record by 25. Smith is the clear winner here.

Goaltender of the Year

Prediction: Aaron Bold. Again, always a good choice and is having a good season but right now, I’d have to give this to my dark horse choice, Nick Rose, closely followed by Mike Poulin.

Defensive Player of the Year

Prediction: Sid Smith but I’m going to have to go with Chris Corbeil on this one. I watched the Rush defense against the Rock at the ACC recently and they not only prevented looks and shots very well, but they were also really good at knocking the ball out of a forward’s stick and then scooping up the resulting loosie. I thought Corbeil was particularly good at this. He can also score in transition (6 goals so far) and on one transition chance going the other way in the Rush/Rock game, he caught up to Jesse Gamble, which I didn’t think was even possible.

Kedoh says no!Transition Player of the Year

Prediction: Karsen Leung. Leung’s numbers aren’t where they were last year and he didn’t score until his 8th game, so I’m going to go with another dark horse prediction, Alex Kedoh HIll. Hill has 25 points and 73 LBs and is a major part of the Bandits’ super-fast transition game.

Rookie of the Year

Prediction: Wes Berg. No idea if I got this right or not. In terms of points, Berg, Randy Staats, and Jesse King are all within 3 points of each other. But Swarm transition player Chad Tutton is also having a great rookie season, with an impressive 11 goals and is playing solid defense. Graeme Hossack in Rochester is also playing some great D. This might be a cop-out, but I’m going to say there’s no clear winner at this point so we’ll have to see what the second half of the season holds.

Les Bartley Award

Prediction: Dan Perreault. Um, yeah. Not only is Perreault not the coach of the year, he’s not even employed in the NLL right now. I did have Glenn Clark as my dark horse pick, and the way the Black Wolves are playing, he might be my mid-season choice.

GM of the Year

Prediction: Doug Locker. Um, yeah. I still think Locker did a pretty good job in the off-season, picking up Billings, Moleski, Hawksbee, and Travis Cornwall, and the Schuss-for-Powless deal last year was great for both teams. I don’t think it’s his fault that the team isn’t playing well but that said, I can’t give the GM of the Year award to a guy who created a sub-.500 team. John Arlotta also made some significant changes to the Swarm and in three or four years this might be a really good team but similarly, since they’re currently 4-8, we can’t say that now. Plus we’ve thought “this team could be really good in a couple of years” about the Swarm for ten years now and they just never seem to get there.

I may have to go back to the Black Wolves, as GM Chris Seinko did a great job to trade for Shawn Evans, reacquire Kevin Crowley, and also bring in guys like Dan Ball, Derek Suddons, and Sheldon Burns, all of whom are contributing on this surprising team.

Top 6 surprises of 2016

I did this last year and it was fun, so here’s this year’s version of the top surprises at the season’s midway point. I only did five last year, but I couldn’t narrow down this list any further.

6. Logan Schuss & Johnny Powless

These guys both struggled with their original 2015 teams and were traded for each other in what has turned out to be one of those rare trades where each team thinks they got the better of the deal, and they’re both right. Interestingly, Powless and Schuss had almost identical points/game averages at the time of the trade – Schuss at 3.56, Powless at 3.55. After the trade, Schuss’s numbers jumped 1.3 points to 4.86/gm while Powless’s dropped 1.38 to 2.17/gm.

But this year’s a different story for both of them. Nobody’s really surprised that these guys are having good seasons. But they’re not just having good seasons, they’re having career seasons. Each is leading his team in scoring, and that’s saying something when Schuss is playing with guys like Billings and Duch. Each is averaging 2+ points/game more than last season and also 2+ more than their career average. At this rate, Powless will finish with 93 points, beating his career high by 40, and Schuss will finish with 114, beating his career high by 37.

5. Dhane Smith

Dhane SmithSimilar to Schuss and Powless, nobody’s surprised that the Great Dhane is leading the Bandits in points. Nobody’s particularly surprised that he’s leading the league in points. To be 21 points ahead of second place halfway through the season is surprising, but it gets better.

Last season, Shawn Evans shattered the single-season points record with 130, breaking the previous record by 14. Evans averaged 7.22 points per game, a pace many thought he wouldn’t be able to keep up for the whole season. Some have even asked if anyone would ever be able to match it. But only one year later, Smith is not just on a pace to break that record, he’s way ahead. Smith is averaging 8.44 points per game, a pace that will give him 152 points. In fact, Smith only needs to average 6 points per game over the rest of the season to break Evans’s record so even if he falls off a bit, the record is still quite breakable.

4. Welcome to Saskatchewan

Many people, myself included, criticized Edmonton Rush owner Bruce Urban for leaving Edmonton and taking the team to Saskatchewan last year. While I don’t particularly like the way he did it (announcing the possible move as a threat during the playoffs, criticizing the City of Edmonton during negotiations, etc.) and I still think Edmonton is a legitimate lacrosse market, it looks so far like this was a great move. Saskatoon has welcomed the Rush and the NLL with open arms. The municipal government and local businesses seem to have grabbed hold of the team and the crowds have been great. The Rush are averaging 9765 per game, a number higher than eight of the ten seasons they were in Edmonton.

Now, let’s remember that the Rush averaged over 10,000 per game for their first two seasons, when they were a combined 7-25. So perhaps we should wait until season 3 or 4 in Saskatchewan before deciding whether or not this was a good idea long term. But for now, it’s great to see.

Another big pro of having a team in Saskatchewan: I can now type the word Saskatchewan in less than four minutes.

3. Struggling goaltenders

In 2015, six goaltenders had a GAA under 10. One was Cody Hagedorn who played about 14 minutes, and another was Angus Goodleaf who played 92 minutes. But the rest played at least 250 minutes and two of them (Aaron Bold & Matt Vinc) were everyday starters with over 1000 minutes.

This year, only one goalie has a GAA under 10, Tye Belanger who’s only played 43 minutes. Bold is third at 10.53 and Vinc is eighth at 11.76. Bold’s GAA is over a full goal higher than 2015, and almost two higher than 2014. Vinc’s is two goals higher than both 2015 and 2014. He has only had a GAA that high twice in his career: 2006 when he played 14 minutes with the Stealth, and 2012 when he had a 12.22 GAA but won the Championship with the Knighthawks.

But they’re not the only goalies having tough seasons – Nick Rose, Brandon Miller, Angus Goodleaf, Frankie Scigliano, Anthony Cosmo, Zack Higgins, Davide DiRuscio, and Tyler Carlson all have higher GAAs than last season. On the flipside, Dillon Ward, Evan Kirk, and Mike Poulin are all having strong seasons, and Eric Penney and Tyler Richards also have lower numbers than last season though they’re in a weird situation – their roles are reversed and Richards has only played in a couple of games.

2. The Toronto Rock

0-6 to start the season? Have you ever heard of such a thing? The Rock had never started a season worse than 0-4 in their history, and this is a team that went to the Championship game last season. They averaged 6.25 goals in their first four games, and then gave up 18.5 in the next two. Finally they got the offense and defense both working at the same time and have pulled off two wins in a row.

The only reason that this is not the #1 most surprising thing is that the Roughnecks did exactly the same thing last year, including going to the Championship game the previous year. The only difference is that the Roughnecks had never started a season worse than 0-2. The Roughnecks pulled it together though, and not only made the playoffs but went to the Western division final. The Rock seemed to have pulled themselves together as well, so the fact that Calgary salvaged their season last year gives the Rock some hope.

1. The New England Black Wolves

The Black Wolves started last season with a victory over the Bandits and then a 17-7 blowout of the Knighthawks, and things looked very promising for the relocated Wings. But then they must have realized that they were the relocated Wings. When I think about last year’s Black Wolves, I think of a team that wasn’t very good but looking at the numbers, they were even worse than that. After their 2-0 start they went 2-14. Their 14 losses is the second-worst in league history and their -63 goal differential is the fifth-worst in league history. They gave up 20 goals three times, and lost by eight or more five times. Only two teams have ever given up more goals than the 249 that the Black Wolves gave up in 2015 (though one was the Stealth of 2015).

So a coaching change was not all that surprising, though picking up the reigning league MVP was. But Clark, Veltman, and Evans can’t make that much of a difference, can they? Clearly, they can.

Kevin Crowley

Last year, they only had six players with more than 30 points – and it’s really only five since two of them were Garrett Billings and Kevin Crowley, who were traded for one another. This season, they already have four with 30, and they’ve only played seven games. Pat Saunders led the team with 68 points last season; Saunders, Evans, Kevin Crowley, and Kevin Buchanan are all on pace to beat that this year. In fact, Shawn Evans could have that total by the end of next weekend – after nine games.

They’ve already won more games than last season, and are on pace to score 55 more goals and give up 54 fewer. Shawn Evans is still in the MVP conversation (though that conversation is being dominated by Dhane Smith right now), and they have five players above four points per game, something not even the Mammoth can boast. They are allowing a league-low 10.9 goals per game, the defense has been great, and Evan Kirk is playing his best lacrosse since his debut season with the Swarm in 2012. These guys are for real.