Illegal equipment: Do the crime, do the time

It’s not unusual for a player to be given a penalty that fans of his team disagree with. In fact, it’s unusual if they don’t. But this past weekend, Shawn Evans was given a penalty that a lot of people disagreed with, and not just Bandits fans. That’s because it had nothing to do with anything that happened on the floor.

Evans is one of the growing number of pasty-legged NLL players who have taken a liking to wearing leggings during games. In the fourth quarter of Sunday’s Swarm/Bandits game in Buffalo, Evans was given an “Illegal Equipment” penalty for wearing leggings with the Nike swoosh on them. The NLL is sponsored by New Balance, and there is a rule in the rule book that specifically talks about using clothing and equipment from someone other than the league sponsor:

26.3 SPONSORSHIP EQUIPMENT REQUIREMENTS – Only
NLL sponsored equipment shall be worn unless prior
approval by the League and only authorized Official NLL
Suppliers’ logos/marks must be displayed on the
player’s uniform and/or equipment, which also includes
the shaft and head of the stick.

Any player or goalie in violation with this rule shall be
assessed a delay of game penalty immediately. Should
the player or goalie be unable to comply immediately
after the signal of the penalty, the in-home shall serve
the penalty. The player who was assessed the penalty
shall not be permitted on the floor until the penalty
expires.

Any player who has been found to have marked up,
blocked, or misrepresented any logos or marks shall be
reported to the League office and is subject to a fine.

It’s a little weird that he was given an “Illegal Equipment” penalty rather than the “delay of game” penalty stipulated in the rule, but whatever.

There was a lot of talk on twitter about this being a “bush league” move. There were two main problems that people had with this:

  1. Nothing that happened on the floor was affected so Evans didn’t deserve a penalty at all, and
  2. Such a violation shouldn’t result in a penalty anyway, i.e. something that affects game play – a fine would be more appropriate.

I also saw people using the hashtag “#GrowTheGame”, though I’m not sure why.

#1 is nonsensical. The coach swearing at the ref doesn’t affect the play on the floor either, but it’s a penalty nonetheless. Same with a player given a penalty who slams the door of the penalty box or bangs his stick against the glass in anger – both will get you an additional two minutes for Unsportsmanlike Conduct.

The remainder of this article covers #2. In my opinion, the penalty was deserved and entirely appropriate.

Do the crime, do the time

The penalty was deserved for two reasons. The first is simple: Evans broke the rule so he deserves the penalty. Every player in the league knows about this rule (and if they don’t, well that’s too damn bad because it’s in the rule book). Evans knew full well what he was doing. He’s probably gotten away with it in previous games, so he gambled that he’d get away with it again, and this time he lost. That’s not a negative judgement of Evans; all players do that all the time. A large percentage of the penalties called are for things that other players have done in the same game and gotten away with.

Shawn Evans (Photo: James P. McCoy, Buffalo News)

This is not some obscure rule that nobody remembers; others have been given this penalty in the past. You may remember Colin Doyle wearing Nike shoes during a game a couple of years ago. The opposing coach pointed this out to the ref late in the fourth quarter (I’m sure the timing was deliberate – even if he knew about it the entire game, what coach wouldn’t wait until then?) and after his penalty, Doyle had to go back to the locker room and borrow someone else’s shoes (which were a couple of sizes too small). He assisted on the winning OT goal so it worked out for Doyle, even if he had sore feet.

Follow the money

Secondly, it makes sense that the league wants to prevent players from wearing non-sponsored equipment. Full disclosure: I know nothing of the deal between New Balance and the NLL so this paragraph is all speculation but it’s logical. New Balance is providing all 180+ NLL players with equipment and clothing, and there may be money provided to the league as well. Even the hosts of NLL ReLax have worn New Balance hoodies during the show, and I doubt that’s coincidence. In exchange, the deal likely states that the league will air their ads during games, mention their sponsorship here and there, and make sure that players don’t wear clothing or use equipment featuring logos of New Balance competitors. (Again, I don’t know the details of the deal but if New Balance doesn’t have that kind of clause included, they’re nuts.) The rule does say that league approval for exceptions is possible, likely for those players who have personal endorsement contracts with other companies.

The last thing the league wants is for New Balance to say “players are wearing stuff with Nike or Under Armour logos and you’re not doing anything about it, so we’re out” and pull their sponsorship. If you’re worried about growing the game, that’s exactly what the league is doing by making sure their sponsors are happy.

Update: Under Armour is also a sponsor of the NLL.

Make it count

Should a violation of this rule affect the games themselves, or should the league simply fine players who wear the wrong company’s equipment? Let’s say they decide that directly affecting the outcomes of games is not appropriate, so no penalties or suspensions or anything like that will occur. Players will be fined for violations of the rule, and maybe fines will increase for multiple violations.

In that case, what’s to stop Nike from contacting Shawn Evans and saying “wear our stuff, and we’ll pay whatever fines you get”? Evans can wear what he wants to wear, so he’s happy. Nike gets publicity and their logo is visible on one of the league’s best players, and it probably costs them less than sponsoring the entire league (and it kind of looks bad for New Balance), so they’re happy. The NLL fines Evans over and over and the fines get paid, but guess who’s not happy? New Balance is not happy. Again, the league is not preventing Evans from wearing their competitor’s clothing. But if he knows he won’t get a penalty or a suspension, what incentive does Evans have to comply with the rule? And what if a dozen or more players make the same deal with Nike?

Perhaps the league could increase the fines until the other companies would refuse to pay them. I saw a tweet suggesting fining players $10,000. I guess if a rookie player making $8,000 a year could get fined $10,000 for wearing the wrong equipment, he’s going to make damn sure he doesn’t. But if he makes a mistake, he’s not going to just say “Oops, my bad”, pay a fine of more than a year’s salary, and move on. He’ll retire to avoid the fine and we’ll never see him again. Should this kind of mistake cost a lacrosse player his career? That amount seems unreasonable considering what the players make. Still, a huge company like Nike might look at that as a drop in the bucket anyway.

Even if Nike doesn’t want to pay the fines, some of the owners might. If Cody Jamieson wants to wear Nike and he gets fined, Curt Styres may decide that keeping Cody happy is worth a few bucks – it’s the cost of doing business. (Shawn Evans is a bad example here because the Pegula family haven’t shown nearly the interest in the Bandits as other NLL owners do in their teams.)

It’s in the NLL’s best interest to make sure the players abide by this rule. To do that, they have to make a point of enforcing it and they have to make the punishment matter to the players. Affecting the actual game itself is the best way to do that. A player may be willing to pay the fines himself, but he’s less likely to be willing to negatively affect his team.

By enforcing this rule and making it count, the NLL is making sure their players honour the contract they have with their sponsors. That way the sponsor wants to stay with them, and future sponsors will also know that the league doesn’t take this lightly.

If a company is willing to give your league money, pissing them off is not the way to grow the game.

Advertisements

Various musings lacking statistical correlation: Week 14

Once again, it’s time for an article with a few random thoughts short things I wanted to talk about but haven’t had the chance. For various reasons, I haven’t blogged much recently and our most recent episode of Addicted to Lacrosse was cancelled due to a couple of schedule conflicts, so I’ve got a mini-backlog of stuff. I’ll make ’em quick.

Deep

We did talk about Steve Fryer’s excellent game on the last A2L but I wanted to get back to this because I think his play will have a huge impact on the Mammoth. There’s more here than just “our backup goalie played a great game, good on ya Steve”. I think confidence is a huge factor in sports. Obviously hard work and talent are critical but having confidence in yourself and in your teammates is just as important. I’ve said this before on the show, but if you see a player who’s playing with confidence, he may be a little more aggressive and take a few more risks because he knows that if they don’t work out, he and his teammates can recover. A player without confidence is just the opposite: more likely to play it safe. Sometimes you’ll see a top scorer who’s having a rough game – sometimes they can play through it but other times they have lost confidence and appear “snakebitten”. At that point, they’re more likely to pass to a teammate even if they have a clear shot. If I’m a coach (or a fan!) and it’s near the end of a close game, I want my best players out there saying “Give me the ball”, not “Yeah, you should probably give someone else the ball cause I’m having an off night”.

Steve Fryer (left)

Playing in front of Dillon Ward, arguably the best goaltender in the league, will give anyone confidence. I’m sure the team all had some confidence that Fryer could get it done if called upon. But now they know that Fryer can get it done because they’ve seen it happen, and that cannot be overstated in my opinion. Now the Mammoth hit the floor thinking “To beat us, you guys have to get by one of the best defenses in the league, then face Dillon Ward and if he’s having an off-night, you have to face Steve Fryer. Regardless of who’s back there, we got this.” That makes the Mammoth dangerous.

That said, Tyler Carlson did the same thing for the Rush back in February so unfortunately for Colorado, the Rush are equally dangerous. Speaking of dangerous…

Dangerous

A few weeks ago, I tweeted about how weird it was that Dan Dawson was a healthy scratch for the second straight week. Then he got traded because they weren’t going to play him. Who would ever have predicted that Dan Freaking Dawson would ever get traded because he was riding the pine? Even more weird is that the Knighthawks got better after the trade. Is this a case of addition by subtraction? In my opinion, yes.

That’s not to say that Dawson couldn’t get it done on the floor. He may not be what he once was, but even if he’s 3/4 of what he once was, 75% of former Dan Dawson is still damn good. And it’s not to say that he isn’t a good locker room guy, in fact I’ve never heard anything but the exact opposite about Dawson. By all accounts, he’s a great leader, a great locker room guy, a great teammate, and a pretty decent lacrosse player as well. But his style of play wasn’t fitting with the new-look Knighthawks and they decided not to adapt their style to fit Dawson in. Cody Jamieson is looking like the old Cody Jamieson again and Cory Vitarelli is Cory Vitarelli, but everything else is different. Joe Resetarits is having an outstanding season, and 24-year-old players Jackson, Shanks, Currier, Fannell, and Withers are all having great seasons as well. With that many young players playing this well (and Jamieson’s only 30 and Resetarits 28), there was no real need for Dawson so why not get a couple of draft picks for him?

But once again, it’s a confidence thing. If you’re a 24-year-old lacrosse player from Ontario, you grew up watching Dan Dawson in the NLL (and likely in the summer as well), so playing with him on the Knighthawks is an honour and a privilege. But when your coach tells you “you guys are good enough that we don’t need Dan Dawson“, imagine what that does to your confidence.

The East is so tight that it’s hard to predict, but even if the Knighthawks don’t progress far into the playoffs this season, their offense is young and talented enough that they are set for a few years to come.

Definition

OK, I said I’d be quick and thus far I haven’t been. Here’s a quick one.

I’ve talked many times in the past about the bad video quality coming out of Rochester. Well, I am happy to give credit where it’s due. The Twitter game of the week from Rochester this past weekend was beautiful. The video was high definition and not jaggy (yes, that is a real computer graphics term) at all, you could read the names on the jerseys, and the ball didn’t look like a big white square being thrown around. The video quality was better than that coming from Colorado the same night, and Colorado is generally pretty good. I don’t know if that’s a permanent upgrade to the arena’s hardware or a temporary thing just for the Twitter game, but I really hope it’s the former. It would be nice to be able to add Rochester to the list of NLL arenas with great video quality.

Devastating

Maybe “devastating” is too strong a word to describe the impact of Tom Schreiber’s injury on the Rock offense, but not by much. Plus I needed a d-word for the heading.

As others have pointed out, the Rock averaged 15 goals per game with Schreiber this season while without him, they’re averaging just nine. He may or may not be returning soon but with the trade deadline looming next week, Jamie Dawick may decide to play it safe and make a move. One of the most popular rumours seems to be bringing Dan Dawson in from Saskatchewan, which makes some sense since Dawson is an Ontario boy – in fact he’s from Oakville, where the Rock train. (Note that he’s from Oakville. I don’t know where he currently lives.) This could be good for the Rock, in that they’d get a solid righty forward to take Schreiber’s place while he’s out. It does make the Rock a little right-heavy when Schreiber returns, but Dawson is also good enough and versatile enough that they could change his role a little. It probably means that Phil Caputo would return to defense and Dan Lintner, already a healthy scratch for half the Rock’s games so far, would never be seen in a Rock uniform again. It could also be good for Saskatchewan, in that the Rock are kind of desperate so Dawson may fetch a higher price than the two draft picks they gave up for him just two weeks ago. Maybe they’d receive Dan Lintner as well which would probably be good for Lintner’s career since he might actually see the floor.

Also potentially in play is another Ontario boy, Corey Small. The Stealth forward has already announced that he’ll be returning to Ontario to play in the MSL this coming summer, after several years with the Victoria Shamrocks of the WLA. Even if Small hasn’t requested a trade from the Stealth, he probably wouldn’t say no to one given his family situation. He’s a lefty so replacing Schreiber with Small would require a few more changes to the system, but I’m sure the Rock coaching staff would welcome that extra work.

The question is what goes back the other way in either of these cases? The Rush don’t need anything, and they already own Toronto’s first round pick this year and next in the Adam Jones deal. The Rock do have a second and fourth in this year’s draft, which is what Dawson was worth two weeks ago.

Small was worth two first round picks when he arrived in Vancouver three years ago, but would he still fetch that much? After an MVP-candidate season last year, quite possibly. But the Rock have to hope not unless the Stealth are happy with 2020 and 2021 first round picks. Those won’t help the Stealth if they’re trying to rebuild now. The Stealth might be interested in young BC boys like Challen Rogers or Reid Reinholdt. Is Small worth Reinholdt plus a second round pick? As a Rock fan, I’d be OK with that but what do I know? I’m no GM. Doug Locker might be thinking Rogers and Reinholdt for Small. Personally, I think giving up Rogers would be too much, but does Dawick need offense enough to overpay?

Dammit Graeme, shut up

So much for making ’em quick. That might be my longest article of the season.

Open letter to NLL broadcasters: get it right

This article isn’t the 2018 version of the NLL Pronunciation Guide, though that’s coming soon. This article is my rant on why my Pronunciation Guide is necessary. The long and the short of it is: it is absolutely necessary, but at the same time, it shouldn’t be.

When you are an announcer for a sports team, you are to some extent the public face of that organization. We as fans don’t often hear the Kroenkes or Dan Carey or Pat Coyle speak, but if you watch Mammoth games on NLLTV, you’re going to hear Teddy Jenner and Jamie Shewchuk. They represent the Mammoth and also the league. The league and each organization owes it to the fans to make sure the information it’s giving through the broadcasts is as accurate as possible, and they owe it to their players to show them the respect they deserve. Pronouncing someone’s name incorrectly in this kind of case is not only disrespectful but it’s unprofessional: it shows that you didn’t make the effort in advance to make sure you got it right, and what kind of league has announcers who don’t know who the players are?

There are lots of people with unusual or uncommon names – uncommon in North America, anyway. I’m one of them. For someone not of the same descent, pronunciation of names like Nik Bilic or Riley Loewen is not obvious. We can’t assume that all announcers will just know how to pronounce them but that’s no excuse. It’s part of their job. If you’re an announcer and it’s not part of your preparation, it damn well should be.

In Saskatchewan last Friday, the announcers messed up names all night. Note that this was more than just a case of pronouncing names incorrectly. Yes, they pronounced Brownell badly all night but we also heard about Dhane Schmidt and Dhane Jones. Jordan Dunston. Bandits goaltender Zach Harris. Pat Sanders. At one point, Teddy Jenner tweeted that they referred to the Bandits as the Stallions. There is a Bantam AA hockey team called the Saskatoon Stallions*, perhaps that’s where the confusion began.

"Go on, say BILL-ick one more time" (NLL photo)

The odd error like that we can forgive. Hell, seasoned lacrosse people still occasionally slip and talk about going to Edmonton to take on the Rush. Many people, myself included, said “Black Hawks” instead of “Black Wolves” many times the first season they existed. It happens. But when the errors are constant or you’re getting that many names wrong in a single game, it’s obvious that you didn’t prepare. That is unacceptable. People frequently use the term “bush league” to describe the NLL, and this doesn’t help.

In Buffalo, play-by-play man John Gurtler is known for getting names wrong as well (including Bandits players). On a recent broadcast, he even said himself that he regularly “butchers” (his word) names. So this is a problem you know about and yet it still happens? Sorry, but “yeah, I get names wrong a lot” is not a defense, it’s simply a statement of the problem. It’s great that you’ve recognized that there is a problem, now go and fix it. Study the names and make the effort to get them right.

If I had a nickel for every time I’d heard Chris Driscoll say Logan SHUSH, I could afford to fly Logan out to Rochester for a chat with him.

Not all NLL announcers have this problem. Guys like Stephen Stamp, the Calgary duo of Farhall and Ballantine, the Vancouver duo of Elliott and Challoner, and the aforementioned Jenner don’t need the guide because they either know the players already (Stamper regularly helps me update the guide if I get things wrong) or because they do the work to make sure they get it right. Former Rush announcers John Fraser and Casey Guerin explicitly thanked me for creating the guide and used it regularly. The new Rush guys haven’t mentioned it.


The league itself does have a pronunciation guide. I have a copy of the 2013 one; here are a few of the entries:

  • Dan MacRae MICK-ray
  • Peter McFetridge MICK-fet-ridge
  • Joe Resetarits Res-UH-tare-its
  • Brodie MacDonald BRO-dee MICK-donald
  • Mitch Belisle BUH-lie-uhl
  • Nik Bilic BILL-ick
  • Kiel Matisz KYLE MA-tease

These are all wrong. Most of these are close but have the emphasis incorrect, but “BILL-ick” is just wrong. Most of the entries in the guide are correct, so the announcers who get those ones wrong are at fault. But It’s also hard to fault them for all the mistakes when the league has provided them faulty information. This was five years ago so maybe they’ve cleaned it up and the 2018 guide is bang-on. I don’t know.

In the end, people have weird names, and so the league needs to have a complete and accurate guide on how to pronounce them. Every season, someone from the league needs to talk to each new player and make sure they get the correct pronunciation of their name. Every broadcaster in the league MUST have a copy of this guide, updated as new players come in, and they MUST learn it. If they don’t, there MUST be consequences; the league needs to take this seriously. The individual broadcasters are to blame for their own mistakes but in the end it’s a league problem, and the league must solve it rather than leaving it up to me.

* – As an interesting side note, the Stallions currently have players with such prominent lacrosse names as Toth, Berg, Sorensen, and Hodgson.

NLL expansion and talent

With all the talk about NLL expansion over the last month or two, the same question has come up a number of times: Is there enough of a player talent pool to support the 16, 18, or even 30 teams that Commissioner Sakiewicz has talked about recently? The simple answer is no.

There are undoubtedly NLL-level lacrosse players out there who are not playing in the NLL. But if we double the size of the league, there simply aren’t enough of them to keep the overall skill level where it is now. Adding that many new players will clearly water down the talent level of the league.

But that’s OK. In my opinion, that’s the price we pay for expansion and growth of the league.

Continue reading

Various musings lacking statistical correlation

Today I’m going to take a page from Evan Schemenauer’s book blog. There are a number of issues relating to the NLL that I have yet to write about, so rather than post an article with a single focus, I’ll combine them all in a “random thoughts” article the way Evan does. Incidentally, if you aren’t reading Evan’s blog regularly, you really should. Now only does he have some great insights into the game itself but he frequently discusses the business aspect of the league as well. In addition to the NLL, he follows and writes about MLL, WLA, MSL, and junior lacrosse as well, which I generally don’t. And check out his story about when he helped create a lacrosse tournament in Bermuda – it’s quite long but really interesting. If you only read one lacrosse blog, read this one. But if you read two lacrosse blogs, the other one should be Evan’s.

I’m covering a number of stories here, some new and some not so new, so I’ll go in chronological order, oldest first.

John Grant retires

John Grant

Not exactly a shocker. In fact, the only way this story could really have been surprising is if it didn’t happen. The writing has been on the wall most of the season, since Grant only played in the Mammoth’s first two games, and there were very few injury updates throughout the season. I heard an interview with Steve Govett this past season where he was listing all the players he had on IR and when they might be back. He didn’t even mention Grant until the very end, almost as an afterthought. Grant announced his retirement from MSL almost a year ago and from the MLL back in April, and in both cases his reasons were that his body just couldn’t do it anymore. Given that, it was pretty much impossible that he’d return for another season in the NLL.

I can’t say I was ever a real fan of Junior’s. He’s unquestionably one of the most skilled lacrosse players in history, and I saw many games where it seemed that he could just score at will – no goalie could stop him when he was really on his game. But earlier in his career, it was sometimes possible to force him off of his game. Basically, if you pissed him off early and often enough, he’d retaliate or get flustered and that was it for him. Try that with John Tavares and he’d just score on you as revenge but Grant would take the odd dumb penalty or just lose his scoring ability to some extent. This happened less often as he matured. But Grant was either too arrogant or too aloof (or both) for my liking. While I acknowledged his skill, I didn’t really like him.

Once he got to Colorado, he started doing promotional videos for the Mammoth, and my tune changed a little. He had a bunch where he was shooting on a lacrosse net from crazy distances – the top level of the Pepsi Center, a cool rock formation in Colorado, and others; they brought to mind the “nothin’ but net” commercial with Michael Jordan and Larry Bird from back in the 90’s if you’re old enough to remember that. Another was one (couldn’t find it online) where he gave a tour of his apartment in Denver, complete with his lacrosse gear out on the balcony and his kitchen cupboard full of Kraft peanut butter “imported from Canada”. I have to say he seemed pretty likeable in those spots.

Then my opinion completely changed when I heard an interview he did with Teddy Jenner right after his retirement. He basically said that his whole life, he just wanted to play lacrosse and wasn’t interested in the spotlight at all. But he realized that given his talent, the spotlight was inevitable so he made the best of it. He came across in the interview as a down-to-earth guy, nor arrogant in the slightest, who just loves lacrosse. He also said that one of the advantages of retiring is that he can spend more time coaching kids, and how can you not like that? That interview made me want to apologize to him for not liking him in the past.

Even if you don’t like him for whatever reason, you cannot deny the skill. Like I said above, when he was on his game, nobody could dominate a game like Junior, and his behind the back (or one-hand behind-the-back underhand) shots are legendary. Mr. Grant, it was an honour to be able to watch you over the past seventeen years and I wish you all the best in your coaching career, be it with your high school team, the MLL, or possibly in the future, the NLL.

Adam Jones comes to the Rock

I honestly didn’t see this one coming though in retrospect, I should have. Jones is a teacher in Owen Sound, Ontario, a 2½ hour drive from Toronto (in good traffic/weather). Jones missed a number of Friday night games with the Mammoth and Rush because the travel was just too difficult. In the four years since the league went to 18-game seasons, Jones has yet to play in all 18 games. Playing half of his games in Toronto (and a bunch more in Buffalo and Rochester) means fewer travel hassles so fewer missed games and less stress on days where he does travel.

I wonder if some Rock fans might have bristled at the thought of giving up two first round picks for Jones, considering he’s only eclipsed 76 points once in his career. But for Jones, it’s not how many points, it’s when. Since 2014, only four players (Dickson, Dhane Smith, Shawn Evans, Dobbie) have more hat-tricks than Jones, and only Dickson has more four-goal or five-goal games. He’s tied with Dickson for the most six-goal games. Jones will have some 1-goal 2-assist nights but the first time the Rock win because he scored six goals in the third quarter, two first round picks may not seem quite as high a price.

San Diego: The new kid in town

The worst-kept secret in the NLL is finally confirmed: a multi-gazillionaire named Joseph Tsai has purchased an NLL expansion franchise that will play in San Diego beginning in the 2018-2019 season. This story was first broken back in July by Marisa Ingemi (my former “boss” at In Lacrosse We Trust – I wrote there for a couple of months in 2011). Tsai has hired former Mammoth president and GM Steve Govett to be the President (and GM?) of the new team. This is the biggest news to hit the NLL since… well, in a long time, and this is the first expansion team in the NLL since the Boston Blazers in 2009.

NLL fans have talked many times in the past about trying to get high-profile billionaires like Mark Cuban or Paul Allen to buy into the league, instantly raising its profile and, quite honestly, its legitimacy. As far as I know Mr. Tsai’s name never came up in those conversations but it could have – Tsai (who has Canadian citizenship, according to Wikipedia) played collegiate lacrosse at Yale, and is apparently quite a big lacrosse fan.

San Diego

This is huge news. Yes, the NLL has played in SoCal before, with the Anaheim Storm in 2004-2005. But their team was terrible, finishing a combined 6-26 over those two seasons. That certainly didn’t help the attendance, which hovered around 4500 per game. I know zilch about the ownership group of the Storm but suffice it to say that losing money hand over fist was likely a problem for them. The fact that Tsai is a billionaire doesn’t mean he’ll be happy to lose money forever, but it does mean that it won’t be a problem if the team doesn’t make a profit right away.

Tsai is the co-founder and executive vice chairman of the Alibaba Group, a huge Chinese company that runs various online stores and is one of the most profitable companies in the world. According to WIkipedia, Alibaba’s sales in 2016 added up to almost half a trillion US dollars, more than all online sales from all US companies combined. I think we’re safe in assuming that Mr. Tsai knows a thing or two about prudent investments and how to run a successful company. A proven businessman like Tsai investing in the NLL should give other potential investors some serious confidence in the stability and profitability of the league. It’s unlikely that he’s just pulled $5 million out of his couch cushions on a whim; he’s done research on the league and made the decision to invest in it.

Steve Govett had been with the Colorado Mammoth since they were the Washington Power. No fly-by-night “let’s throw $5 million at this thing and see what happens” kind of owner would likely be able to pull him away from there. I don’t imagine Govett would leave the Mammoth for anything less than an absolutely committed owner. The team doesn’t have a name or logo yet and the total number of employees is probably still in single digits, but Tsai already has a right-hand man who knows the league, the game, and the players as well as anyone. Assuming Govett will also be acting as GM, the San Diego Whatevers may not have the less-than-auspicious start that the Storm had. They could be a pretty good team within a couple of years.

Expansion rumours

The rumours started months ago when a Philadelphia reporter named John Barchard tweeted some NLL expansion plans that he credited to “Sources”. He talked about Baltimore, Long Island, and Montreal for 2018, then Philly, DC, Edmonton, and Miami for 2019, and San Francisco for 2020. There were eight other cities with “mild interest”, but San Diego was not among them. It turned out this was mostly his or someone else’s speculation, not actual plans.

The rumours I’ve heard more recently (yesterday) included teams in Philly, Halifax, Miami, and Edmonton. While both Philadelphia and Edmonton have failed in the NLL in the past, I think they could be successful with the right ownership. Both teams had success on the floor and at the gate, though in the case of Edmonton they mostly didn’t happen at the same time.

I’m not sold on Halifax. Sure, there are no other major pro sports teams within several hundred kilometers so they may be starving for pro sports out on the east coast, so that might be good for community support and thus attendance. However it means at least a two hour flight from pretty much anywhere NLL players live (and 5½ from Vancouver, and 8½ from San Diego via Toronto) for all players on both teams, unless the team convinces some players to move there. The arena in Halifax holds 10,000 so they better be filling it every night to pay for the extra travel costs.

I don’t know much about Miami but I know that both the Panthers (NHL) and Marlins (MLB) have struggled with attendance. The Florida Launch are based in Boca Raton, just north of Miami, so in a parallel universe where the NLL and MLL work together for mutual benefit, that may be a good place to start in terms of advertising and building up a fan base. In this universe, however, I’m not sure it will matter.

MLL data breach

This only tangentially affects the NLL itself but does affect a bunch of NLL players. The MLL announced that there was a data breach last week, where information on (I believe) every current and former MLL player, as well as others who registered in the player pool even if they never played, was accidentally made available on the internet. The information included innocuous things like height, weight, occupation, and date of birth, but also included Social Security numbers which, when combined with some of the innocuous stuff, could easily be used for identity theft. The players are livid and rightly so. There have been no confirmed reports of identity theft as of now, but that’s hardly the point.

The big question that many people are asking is “how could this happen?” But I’d like the details – logistically, how did this happen? The players are asking why the file was not encrypted or password-protected, which is an excellent question. But my question is why was it there at all?

The fact that the Excel spreadsheet containing the personal data was available on the internet means that it must have been copied to the machine running the league’s web site, whether that’s their own machine or one run by a hosting company (like GoDaddy, for example). Why would anyone copy the file there? You don’t copy a data file to a web server unless you want to serve it to the web.

I don’t know what happened, but here’s a likely scenario. I imagine that like many companies, the MLL has internal web sites (an “intranet”) as well as the public site. The internal ones are used by MLL employees and are only available from within the MLL corporate network. It’s possible (though not likely) that both sites are run from the same machine, in which case a badly written web page or email could easily link to the wrong file, or the file could accidentally be copied into the wrong directory. What’s more likely is that someone wanted to make the file available on the intranet (not the internet) but copied the file to the wrong server.

MLL's Chief Security Officer

But as someone who has worked for a database software company for twenty years (my job title even includes “security expert” though that’s kind of a stretch), I can tell you that any database or file that includes personal information (especially Social Security numbers) really should be encrypted and protected. If I’m an MLL employee and I don’t absolutely need to have the SSNs, there should be no way for me to get them. The people who do need to have that information must be trained on proper handling of sensitive information. If you must copy the file somewhere, you make damn sure that you’re copying it to the right place and that it’s removed from that place once it’s no longer needed.

With this breach, the league has opened themselves up to lawsuits from anyone whose data was leaked. Since that’s all of their players, this could be very bad. In the worst case, the lawsuits bankrupt the league and it folds entirely. That’s probably unlikely but even if the league does survive, it will take a very long time to regain any measure of trust from the players. It may also have long-term ramifications in the form of players who decide not to join the MLL because of this incident. The league may have lost out on a future Tom Schreiber because he’s worried about the security of his personal information.

It’s also possible that players may decide to divorce themselves from the MLL entirely, which could be good news for the NLL. Could we see the return of former NLL players like Joe Walters and Paul Rabil if they are unhappy with the MLL?

Renaming the NLL Awards

Hot on the heels of my article last week about the Les Bartley award, a discussion opened up on twitter regarding renaming all of the NLL awards after some of the greats of the game. A bunch of names were tossed around, and the topic was mentioned on both Stealth Classified and Off the Crossebar, two of the top three lacrosse podcasts out there. Since I’m kind of the one who started it all (well, Jake Elliott actually did but it was in response to my article, so it was really me all along), I thought I’d throw out my picks.

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned: there are only so many awards and there are a lot of great players that have come and gone in the NLL. So if you think Joe Laxalot was one of the best players but he’s not listed here, well, not every great player gets an award.

Annual awards

MVP: This one is easy, in my opinion. Gary Gait won the MVP award six times, far more than anyone else,so nobody deserves to have the MVP award named after him more than Gait. Did you know: only four players have won the MVP award more than once: Gait (6), John Tavares (3), John Grant (2), and Shawn Evans (2). (Spoiler: That’ll be an @NLLFactOfTheDay in 2018)

Goaltender of the Year: Just about everyone will agree that this one comes down to two legendary goalies: Bob Watson and Dallas Eliuk. But which one? Going purely by the numbers, I’d have to give it to Watson. Eliuk had a higher career GAA (12.24 to Watson’s 11.14), higher post-season GAA (11.73 to Watson’s 10.16) and only won five Championships while Whipper won six (though that’s really a team accomplishment). Whipper also won Goaltender of the Year twice while Eliuk never did, though that’s hardly fair since Eliuk played ten seasons before the award even existed. But Eliuk played in a different era and had four titles before Whipper ever played a game, so perhaps the stats can’t be compared directly. The one and only time they met in a Championship game was 2001, and Eliuk not only beat Watson, but was named Championship game MVP.

I’m going to let my Rock bias loose here and go with Bob Watson but it could go either way.

Bob Watson

Transition Player of the Year: It comes down to two players for this one in my opinion, Jim Veltman and Steve Toll. Both were quintessential transition players, with great defensive and offensive abilities. Toll had more blazing speed than Veltman so his abilities were a little flashier but Scoop was such a smart player. He had that Brodie Merrill-like ability to make his teammates better and allow them to excel (or more accurately, Merrill has that Veltman-like ability). Veltman is the only transition player in the NLL Hall of Fame and was the first non-offensive player (since joined by Steve Dietrich) to win the MVP award. Gotta go with Jim Veltman.

Defensive Player of the Year: There are only two defensive players in the Hall of Fame: Pat Coyle and Rich Kilgour. I’m not a great judge of defensive ability – especially from memory, since neither of these guys have played in almost ten years – so I will defer to Messrs. Jenner, Elliott, and Challoner, all of whom picked Pat Coyle.

GM of the Year: He only won the award once, in 2015 after his Toronto Rock finished 14-4 and made the finals a year after a 9-9 season, but Terry Sanderson also built the 2011 and 2005 Champion Rock. Maybe it’s my Rock bias coming through again but he’s my pick. However, Johnny Mouradian built the 1999-2003 Rock, who won four titles in five years, so he’s also worthy. The Philadelphia Wings went to nine Championship games in 13 years from 1989-2001, winning five of them. I have no idea if they had a single GM over that span or five of them, but if all that was the work of one guy, that guy deserves credit. I feel bad for whoever ran the team during that time since he clearly deserves recognition for doing an amazing job but I don’t even know who it is.

Executive of the Year: Tough one. I don’t think there’s been one single executive that’s stood out as head and shoulders above the rest. I thought George Daniel did a good job of stabilizing the league over his tenure as commissioner, but was it worthy of renaming this award? Prior to the MILL morphing into the NLL in 1998, all of the teams were owned and run by the league, so there were far fewer executives to choose from. Nobody has won the Executive of the Year award more than once. Maybe we don’t rename this one at all.

Teammate of the Year: You’d have to ask the players about this one; without spending time in the dressing rooms and travelling with the teams, there’s no way to have any significant insight on this. I think Teddy Jenner suggested Casey Powell but maybe this one remains unnamed as well.

Shawn WilliamsSportsmanship Award: Only two players have won the Sportsmanship award more than once – Garrett Billings, who’s still active, and Gary Gait, who has the MVP award. My vote goes to Shawn Williams. In seventeen seasons, he only had five where he hit double digits in penalty minutes, and in 24 playoff games he totalled only 10. He was captain of the Knighthawks for several years, and an alternate captain in both Buffalo and Edmonton. It’s only fitting that the Sportsmanship Award be named for one of the most well-respected players in league history.

Rookie of the Year: Another tough one since by definition, you can’t be good at being a rookie more than once. During the conversation on twitter, my Addicted to Lacrosse co-host Tyler suggested picking someone who won the award and then went on to have an outstanding career. While there are a number of RoY winners who qualify under that criterion (including names like Duch, Kelusky, Manning, Marechek, Merrill, and Benesch) (oh, and Gary Gait again), two of those not still active stand out: Colin Doyle and John Grant. Both have been very active in coaching kids as well, so naming a rookie award after them seems to make sense. I’ll get back to Doyle later, so my vote for this one goes to John Grant.

Other awards

Scoring leader: There is currently no award for this accomplishment, but when there’s such an obvious candidate, we need to create one. Gary Gait and John Tavares each led the league in scoring seven times (though they tied each other in both 2000 and 2004), and nobody else ever did it more than twice. Gait, again, has the MVP award but no listing of legendary NLL players would be complete without John Tavares. He really must appear in this list somewhere and I see no better place than here.

Championship Game MVP: Colin Doyle is the only player to have been named Championship game MVP three times, and similar to Grant and Tavares, I can’t imagine a list such as this without Doyle’s name on it. Doyle was known as a clutch player his entire career, so the Colin Doyle award being given to the Championship Game (or Series now) MVP makes total sense.

Champion’s Cup: IMHO, the ultimate trophy in the National Lacrosse League has a boring name. It’s boring because the Stanley Cup, the Mann Cup, and the Steinfeld Cup are all “Champion’s Cups” in that they are awarded to the Champions of their respective leagues. My first thought was to rename it after the founder of the league but in the NLL’s case, there are two. I can’t say I’m thrilled with “the Cline-Fritz Cup”, and “the Fritz-Cline Cup” will have people in thirty years asking who Fritz Cline was. The CLax trophy was called the Creator’s Cup which was a great name, but I don’t think the NLL should use it even though that league no longer exists.

Another option is to name it after the late Jim Jennings, who was commissioner of the league for nine years (2000-2009). Though Jennings ran the league for a long time, many people have problems with how he ran it – a whole lotta cities had NLL teams fail on his watch. Still, “the Jim Jennings Trophy” has a nice ring to it. If I had to pick a name right now, that’s probably what I’d go with but I’m not stuck on it, so I’d probably elect to leave it for now as well. You really don’t want to get this one wrong.


Having come up with my nominees for the renaming of these awards, it’s important to realize that once they’re named, that’s it. You can’t just go renaming these awards every ten years. Are the names we picked really worthy of that kind of immortality? Terry Sanderson was a great GM, but will we wonder in thirty years why Derek Keenan didn’t get that honour instead? Perhaps we rename MVP, goalie, transition, and defense and leave the rest for now. We can revisit in five years and see if we want to rename some more.

The Les Bartley Award

In 2004, the NLL renamed its Head Coach of the Year Award to The Les Bartley Award. It’s still called that, but the name isn’t really used all that often.  Case in point: the video produced by the NLL announcing this year’s award nominees and winner didn’t include the words “Les Bartley” at all, nor does the page on NLL.com that includes the video.

Continue reading