2017 NLL awards

I don’t have an official vote for the NLL awards, but I do vote for the IL Indoor staff awards and for Addicted to Lacrosse as well. Here are my top 5 picks (top 3 for the Bartley and GM awards) for each award for 2017. I didn’t give descriptions here for why I chose who I chose but you will see those next week on the IL Indoor article. As always, I also revisited my pre-season predictions to see how I did.

Final standings: In the east I had New England first, followed by Buffalo, Georgia, Toronto, and Rochester. Oh-for-five. In the west, Saskatchewan, then Colorado, Calgary, and Vancouver. I got the Rush right and that’s it.


Original pick: Mark Matthews. Always a good choice, but once again for Matthews, second place.

1. Lyle Thompson
2. Mark Matthews
3. Corey Small
4. Callum Crawford
5. Tye Belanger

Goaltender of the Year

Original pick: Aaron Bold.

1. Dillon Ward
2. Nick Rose
3. Tye Belanger
4. Mike Poulin
5. Aaron Bold

Defensive Player of the Year

Original pick: Robert Hope.

1. Dan Coates
2. Matt Beers
3. Kyle Rubisch
4. Ryan Dilks
5. Steve Priolo

Dan Coates

Transition Player of the Year

Original pick: Karsen Leung. Leung didn’t even play in 2017, so that’d be a no.

1. Justin Salt
2. Joey Cupido
3. Craig England
4. Jordan MacIntosh
5. Jeff Cornwall

Rookie of the Year

Original pick: Ryan Keenan. Not a bad debut season for Keenan but less than what I would have expected from a first-overall pick. Of course, I could have said that about Lyle Thompson last year. Schreiber is a no-brainer but I had a tough time picking the rest of the top 5. The number of strong rookie candidates this year is staggering: Keenan, Kyle Jackson, Latrell Harris, Bryan Cole, Josh Currier, Reid Reinholdt, Chad Cummings, Dan Lomas, Mike Messenger, Jacob Ruest, Kieran McArdle, Challen Rogers, Holden Cattoni, James Rahe, Jordan Magnuson, …

1. Tom Schreiber
2. Kyle Jackson
3. Mike Messenger
4. Jacob Ruest
5. Josh Currier

Les Bartley Award

Original pick: Troy Cordingley.

1. Ed Comeau
2. Jamie Batley
3. Derek Keenan

GM of the Year

Original pick: Jamie Dawick or Steve Dietrich.

1. John Arlotta
2. Jamie Dawick
3. Doug Locker

Thinking inside the box Part II: Exodus

Last week I wrote about a number of significant MLL players who may be playing in the NLL this coming season. This is significant not just because NLL fans who don’t watch the MLL will be introduced to some great lacrosse players, but because this seems to reverse the trend over the last few years. But where did this trend come from, and why is it changing?

Aside: Jake Elliott and Brad Challoner talked about this a bit on the Oct 21 edition of the Stealth Classified radio show / podcast, a show that you really should be listening to if you’re a lacrosse fan – even if you’re not a Stealth fan.

Another aside: The list of MLL players signed this season has grown since that last article: New England signed both Myles Jones and Josh Hawkins to contracts. Again, it doesn’t mean they’re definitely playing but it does mean they’re interested.

The Wings and the Championships

Back in 2013, the Philadelphia Wings had a whole bunch of guys who also played in the MLL: Crowley, Westervelt, Crotty, Rabil, … actually it would be faster to list the guys who didn’t. Of the 27 non-goalies who wore a Wings jersey in a game that season, 18 of them (67%) also played in the MLL that year. In 2014, they had 25 no-goalies but only 13 of them, or 52%, were MLL players. Why the sudden drop?

In the summer of 2014, Colorado hosted the World Lacrosse Championship, the pinnacle of field lacrosse supremacy. The USA had taken home the gold medal at the event in Manchester in 2010. The World Championships hadn’t been held in the US since 1998, and Team USA wanted nothing more than to repeat their gold medal performance in front of their own fans. As a result, a number of players decided to take the winter off from the NLL to prepare for the Worlds. The Wings lost Paul Rabil, Ned Crotty, Kyle Hartzell, Pat Heim, Brendan Mundorf, and Jeff Reynolds – six players totaling 79 games, 86 points, about a third of their transition, and 71% of their face-offs.

I imagine the Wings brass were less than impressed with this exodus. The intentions of the players were honourable, I suppose – they wanted to represent their country to the best of their ability. But it didn’t help the Wings any, and they dropped from 7-9 in 2013 to 6-12. I can’t be sure about this but I remember hearing at the time that the players who left were not welcomed back by the Wings, meaning that they were not invited to camp for the 2015 season – and other than Heim, they were not released either. Right after training camp at the end of 2014, the Wings added Rabil to their protected player list, Mundorf to the PUP list, and buried Hartzell, Crotty, Reynolds, and Max Seibald (who played for them from 2010-12 and also played for Team USA) on the restricted free agent list. As far as I can tell, they’re all still there, and none of them has played in the NLL since (though it’s possible that none of them have been interested in returning). To add insult to injury, Team USA lost the gold medal match to Canada.

Kyle Hartzell with the WingsAlso interesting to note is the fact that both Kevin Buchanan and Garrett Thul found the time to play for both the Wings and Team USA in 2014. I don’t remember hearing of a single player on the Canadian or Iroquois teams who took the season off to prepare.

The number of MLL players in the NLL has continued to drop. In 2015, the Wings became the Black Wolves and only had six players who played in the MLL that same year. In 2016 it was only four. Of course it’s not just the Black Wolves that are involved; there were MLL players who played in the NLL for other teams, guys like Joe Walters and Mark Matthews, but the overlap seemed to keep declining. And overlap is one of the reasons why.

Us and them

As I said before, we know the NLL and MLL seasons overlap and players who want to play in both will miss games in one league or the other. It’s also true that just as the NLL is a “mostly-Canadians” league, the MLL is a “mostly-Americans” league. These guys grew up playing field lacrosse, not box, so the MLL is more important to them. Some of them think of the MLL as the “real” league and the NLL is a fun league to play in during the winter to keep in shape. I assume there are NLL players who think of the MLL the same way.

It’s also been said that some MLL players have publicly expressed interest in playing in the NLL purely as a bargaining strategy with their MLL team, i.e. “I’ll play with them and skip the beginning of the season if you don’t sign me to a long term contract / pay me more / whatever.” The person who stated this said he knows for a fact that this is happening, though he didn’t say who this was referring to nor was there any evidence given, so take that claim with a grain of salt.

NLL teams won’t be happy if players play the whole season and then leave when the playoffs arrive, while MLL teams won’t be happy if players don’t start playing for a month after the season starts. To my knowledge, the former has never happened while the latter definitely has. From that perspective, it certainly seems that the MLL is getting the worse of this situation. But are there MLL players who don’t play in the NLL at all because they don’t want to leave the team when the MLL starts? It’s likely that both leagues are losing out.

So there are a lot of reasons why a whole slew of MLL players suddenly signing with NLL teams is surprising. Maybe these guys want to stir up some controversy to get the leagues to talk and eventually co-operate. Based on the history of these two leagues, I will say with all the sarcasm I can muster: Good luck with that.

Then again, the NLL has a new commissioner who may not care about the history. If it makes sense for the league to have a partnership with the MLL, he may be more willing than previous commissioners to go to them and say “Hey, let’s forget all of that old animosity. If we start over and work together, we both benefit.” If that’s the case, I will say without a trace of sarcasm: Good luck with that.

Field players: Thinking inside the box

The winds of change might be sweeping over the lacrosse scene this winter, affecting not only the NLL but the MLL too. OK, that’s a little melodramatic, but there have been some significant signings over the past month or so. A few NLL teams have signed a number of MLL players to contracts and some of those players seem excited to join the NLL. This is not unprecedented, but it does seem to be reversing a trend.

There have been players who’ve played in both the MLL and NLL for many years. The roster of the inaugural Toronto Nationals back in 2009 looked like an NLL All-Star team. Some guys like Brodie Merrill, John Grant, and Kevin Crowley have played in both leagues every year, while others like Jesse Gamble, Kiel Matisz, and Chad Tutton were listed on MLL rosters this past year but did not play. There have also been players who were primarily MLL guys but played in the NLL too, guys like Paul Rabil, Ned Crotty, Max Seibald, Brendan Mundorf, and Connor Martin. Some were successful indoors, others weren’t. Rabil scored 161 points in 68 games over 5 seasons and won a Championship with the Stealth, while Connor Martin’s NLL career consisted of 6 games with the Mammoth, picking up 2 goals and no assists – though his backflip off the boards after his first was memorable. None of these guys has played in the NLL since 2013.

Paul Rabil with the Stealth

But the NLL and MLL seasons overlap, and to make matters worse for players who want to play in both leagues, the NLL season has become longer over the past few years. First they expanded the regular season from 16 to 18 games and then they also extended the playoffs. As a result, NLL players end up missing the beginning of the MLL season. In 2011, Kevin Crowley went to the NLL finals with the Toronto Rock and missed at least a month of MLL games.

So when it was announced in July that the Toronto Rock had traded a draft pick to the Black Wolves for the rights to Paul Rabil, it seemed like a weird move. Why bother trading for someone who’s already been in the league and has seemingly given up on it? But when Rabil acknowledged the trade and didn’t immediately say “yeah, not gonna happen”, a few eyebrows were raised. Could he actually report to camp and suit up for the Rock? Rabil is obviously a very skilled player but I don’t think that was even the main reason the Rock went after him. He’s probably the most famous lacrosse player in North America so what he brings to the team in attention off the floor may be worth just as much as what he brings on the floor.

Almost three months later, the New England Black Wolves drafted Myles Jones in the fourth round. Jones went first overall in the MLL draft earlier this year and is regarded as the steal of the (NLL) draft – if he plays. It sounds like this is unlikely (or he would have gone earlier) but it got people talking about MLL players in the NLL again.

Tom SchreiberBut then the bigger news came down early in October. The Rock signed MLL stars Tom Schreiber and Kieran McArdle to one-year contracts and both have gone on the record as “looking forward to the challenge“. And these aren’t just MLL guys. These are really good MLL guys. McArdle was Rookie of the Year in 2014 and led the Florida Launch in scoring in 2016, finishing 6th in the league. Schreiber led the Ohio Machine in scoring, finished 3rd in the league, and was named league MVP. For comparison’s sake, Callum Crawford was 3rd in league scoring last year with 115 points and Mark Matthews was 6th with 109. This is not exactly the same since Schreiber and McArdle have no box experience but if you’re that good at field lacrosse, you’re unlikely to suck at box.

The same day, the Buffalo Bandits announced that they had signed Blaze Riorden, another MLL player. This one’s a little weird in that Riorden is a field goalie but was signed by the Bandits as a forward. Both Matt Vinc and Anthony Cosmo are goalies in box but not field, so there’s no reason Riorden couldn’t do things the other way around. And he’s familiar with the other end of the floor field too; here’s some (dizzying) video of Riorden the goalie scoring a goal.

Ten days after signing Schreiber and McArdle, the Rock signed McArdle’s Florida Launch teammate Connor Buczek. Buczek finished second in scoring on the Launch this past year and just like Schreiber and McArdle, he’s said that he’s looking forward to playing in the NLL.

For me, the big deal here isn’t that NLL teams are signing MLL stars. That’s happened before. But after the last three years where many MLL players have shied away from the NLL, the big deal is that now they’re not. Rabil hasn’t said whether or not he’ll report but hasn’t ruled out the possibility, at least not publicly. I haven’t heard anything from Riorden but the others have said that they are looking forward to it.

I have to think that if more MLL players are interested in playing in the NLL, this is good for both leagues. More players will start asking the two leagues to work together to make it easier, and eventually the leagues will have no choice but to work something out. But that possibility is a whole other kettle of fish – or can of worms. I’ll discuss that in a future article.

The NLL Draft is not about building for the future. It’s all about now.

While I was growing up as a hockey and baseball fan, drafts never interested me. I knew they happened but they were never televised and barely covered in the media at all, and there just wasn’t the hype about these young players that we have now. We all knew the names Sidney Crosby and John Tavares and Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews for months, sometimes years before they ever played an NHL game but a few decades ago, that’s not how it worked. I’d read about the draft results in the newspaper but it never meant anything to me because I don’t follow minor league baseball or hockey, so I’d never heard of any of the drafted players.

Most of the time, it didn’t really matter much anyway. Other than the very top draft picks, most players would sit in the farm system for a year or two (or five in baseball) before making the big club. If you remembered any names from the draft after the first round, you might never hear them again, or at least not for a long while.

Connor Brown, Stealth drafteeFor the players and teams, it’s more of a big deal. Being drafted by a team means they thought highly enough of you that they want you in their system. And even if you can’t contribute right away, they’re willing to wait. It’s somewhat of a commitment. Sure, you can be cut at any time but a team has the option of playing you in the minor leagues for a year or two and see how you adjust to their playing system, get along with teammates and coaches, all that sort of thing. The draft is used to build the team for the future, not just next year.

The NLL is different

For most fans, the NLL draft is much the same – if you don’t follow the Canadian summer leagues or NCAA, you may not have heard of the players either. I was there last week and I certainly hadn’t heard of most of them. And there will be some whose name you never hear again after the draft.

But for the players and teams, it’s different from other sports. Teams aren’t drafting for the future, they’re drafting for now. And players aren’t hoping to get drafted and play for the big club sometime in the future, they’re hoping to play now. The reason for this is simple: there is no farm system. There are no minor leagues. Teams can’t draft a player and send him to the minors for a year or two before he’s ready. If you get drafted, there are three options:

  1. you make the roster for the upcoming season, or
  2. you make the practice roster for the upcoming season, or
  3. you are released.

That’s it. Players in the NLL aren’t drafted as much on their long-term potential, it’s all about next year. And this affects who gets drafted, by what team, and when.

Take the Toronto Rock for example: they have an older goalie in Brandon Miller and a younger one in Nick Rose. If they have a farm system, they might have drafted a young goalie like Doug Jamieson or Warren Hill and put him in the minors for a year or two for seasoning until Miller retires. Then they have Rose in his prime and a 22-year-old to back him up and everyone’s happy. Or if Miller plays well for a few more years and doesn’t retire, they have either Rose or a 22-year-old goalie as trade bait which nets them Curtis Dickson or Randy Staats or someone like that and still everyone’s happy. But there are no minors to put Jamieson or Hill in. They can’t pick them for the future. If there’s nowhere on the roster for one of them next season, they draft somebody else.

This is why the Rock’s choice of 18-year-old Latrell Harris at #12 is a little puzzling. I don’t know anything about the kid, but he’s only 18. Maybe he’ll be 19 when the season starts, and others like Shawn Evans and Rob Hellyer have excelled in the NLL at that age. And it’s certainly possible I’m underestimating how great a player he is; as I said, I know nothing about him. But if they decide during training camp that he’s too young or too raw, they either have to cut him or leave him out there, and trying to recover from a season where you missed the playoffs is not the best time to be using a roster spot on someone who’s not ready.

I only went to one or two CLax games in the few years it was around, and I feel kind of guilty about that now since it’s gone. But if they had partnered with the NLL, I think it could have been great. Imagine NLL teams drafting young players and sending them to CLax, or bringing up players when an injury hits, or using CLax for conditioning players returning from injury. There would have to be a western division of CLax, probably in Vancouver, and perhaps there are other factors that I don’t know about that would have made this impossible. But it seems like it would have been a good idea.


There is one exception to what I’ve said above. It is possible to draft someone and hold onto him for the future: a team can put a player on the holdout list. As long as he’s got a contract and doesn’t qualify as a free agent, he can stay there indefinitely. Teams don’t even have to pay players on that list. But the list is limited so you can’t just throw all of your draft picks that didn’t make the roster on the holdout list and keep them as long as you want. A team might use that strategy for one special player, as the Stealth have done with their 2015 draft pick Connor Brown (not the Toronto Maple Leaf). As long as he continues his hockey career, he’ll be unavailable to them but if he ever decides to play in the NLL, the Stealth will own his rights, even if that doesn’t happen for another few years.


Thanks a bunch to Teddy Jenner for consultation on the draft and holdout list rules.

The home floor advantage

We all know that teams have an advantage when they play in their home arena. The fans are on your side, the home players don’t have to travel while the opposing players do, and the PA guys get excited about your goals and their penalties but not the other way around. The numbers back this up – in the 30-year history of the NLL (in all its forms), the home team is 973-796 (.550) in the regular season and 92-58 (.613) in the playoffs. Over 1769 games, the home team has won almost exactly 10% (actually 10.006%) more games than they’ve lost. The difference isn’t huge but it’s there, and it’s even more pronounced in the playoffs.

But there’s one home floor advantage that is, in my opinion, too much of an advantage and should be removed. But I’ll get to that.

Much of the advantage is the fans. I’ve heard a number of players say that they tune out the crowd while playing but if the fans are really loud, they do get heard. Having the fans on your side gives you a little mental boost, while having loud fans cheering against you can be deflating. Conversely, we’ve all heard visiting teams try to grab a lead early to “take the fans out of it” since playing in your home arena to silent fans is pretty deflating too.

Buffalo fans cheering Kedoh Hill

The travel thing I mentioned is not really an advantage in the NLL. The majority of NLL players come from either southern Ontario or southern BC so for most teams, playing in Toronto or Vancouver means the least amount of travel regardless of where the team is based. When Georgia visits Colorado, most of both teams have to travel but when they play in Toronto, it’s almost a home game for both.

But as I said above, there’s one difference that’s too much. It sometimes gets overlooked as an advantage but can really have a huge impact. When the visiting team scores a goal, the video replay guy shows the replay of the goal on the video screen as soon as he can, so that the home team’s coaching staff can watch for crease violations and such and know whether to throw the challenge flag. This also happens when the home team scores a goal that is waved off by the refs because of such violations. Depending on the arena’s camera placement and video system, you may get multiple angles and slow motion to make it easier for the coaches.

But the visiting team doesn’t get that courtesy. When their goals are waved off or the home team scores a goal that’s even remotely close to being questionable, you will not see a replay, or at least not until the time window for issuing a challenge has elapsed. The visiting coaches have to decide whether to throw the challenge flag from what they saw in real time, and this is much more difficult.

And it’s wrong.

The intention of the coach’s challenge is to make sure that the refs get the calls right. Clearly we want as many calls to be correct as possible, so that a team that legally scores ten goals is credited with scoring ten goals, not nine or eleven. But to get that right as often as possible means either the refs replay every single goal, or the coaches have as many challenges as they want. Coaches challenges can take a fair bit of time which disrupts any flow the game has and kills any momentum for either team. It’s also boring for fans, particularly those on TV who might leave to watch something else. We have to balance “getting all the calls right” with “don’t disrupt the flow of the game”, and so we limit the number of challenges.

Refs are human and so they’re going to make mistakes from time to time and we accept that. That’s why the challenges exist. But for a team to be able to handcuff the opposing coach and not their own is too much of an advantage, in my opinion. Suppose we said that the home team should get four challenges and the visiting team only two. Or that the visiting team is allowed one fewer coach on the bench. Nobody would accept those changes. But somehow it’s OK if the home team gets better insight through technology as to when to use their challenges?

The home team already gets a number of advantages, as I listed above, though most are “intangible”. But this one is not and in my opinion gives the home team too much of an advantage. The goal should be to get calls correct, as many as possible, so that the players decide the outcome, not honest mistakes made by the referees (who also have to make goal/no-goal calls in real time). To make this process more fair, replays for all goals should be put up on the video screen as soon as possible, and we should tweak the rules for challenges so that all coaches have a chance to see the replay before deciding whether or not to challenge.

Memories of Josh (Part II)

Yesterday I shared some of my memories of Josh Sanderson, but I had more to say so I broke it into two articles.

Sanderson was given the nickname “Shooter” and as has been noted many times, it’s a little misleading. Make no mistake, Josh can score with the best of them – only five players have scored more NLL goals. But he’s more associated with assists than goals. He’s set the record for assists in a season several times. Only John Tavares has more in his career, and only Garrett Billings has a higher assists/game average than Sanderson.

Josh SandersonSanderson was best known as a “playmaker”, the quarterback of the offense. He’d watch the floor and see where the defense was setting up, who was covering who, where the goalie and defenders (and his own teammates) were weak or strong, and come up with a game plan on how to score, adjusting the plan in real time as things developed. Sometimes he’d score himself, but even more often he’d pass to someone else who’d score. Sometimes he wouldn’t end up with credit on the goal at all but was nonetheless instrumental in making it happen. He wasn’t the biggest or the fastest guy on the floor – in fact at 5’7″, he was one of the smallest. But none of that mattered, because he might have been the smartest.

Josh had played for his father Terry in Albany, Calgary, and twice in Toronto but nobody accused Terry of nepotism for acquiring him. Josh was one of the best offensive players in the game his entire career, so any GM who traded for him was getting a great player, son or not.

Congratulations to Josh Sanderson on an outstanding playing career. He was a goal-scorer, an assist master, an expert playmaker, a captain and alternate captain, a two-time NLL champ, and a Championship game MVP. He’s also a no-doubt future Hall of Famer. In various seasons he led the Rock, Roughnecks, Attack, and Stealth in scoring, and had the best Movember moustache this side of Andrew McBride.

And given that he’s the GM of the MSL’s Oakville Rock, it may not be a big stretch to say we might see Josh Sanderson back in the NLL in a different capacity before too long.

Memories of Josh (Part I)

My first real memory of Josh Sanderson was the 2002 Championship game. It was my second season watching the Toronto Rock, and the Rock went to the Championship game for the fourth straight year. The Rock finished the season 11-5 but were playing the 14-2 Albany Attack. The game was in Albany but was on TV so I met all my lacrosse buds at my friend Steve’s house to watch the game there. The Rock won the game 13-12 thanks to a few goals from some unlikely sources: defensive guys like Dan Ladouceur, Drew Candy, and Ian Rubel.

Sanderson & John Gallant

Aside: That Rock team also featured five current NLL head or assistant coaches in Dan Stroup, Pat Coyle, Glenn Clark, Blaine Manning, and Jim Veltman, and one former coach in Dan Ladouceur. Other coaches Chris Gill and Kaleb Toth were on the team the previous year. Colin Doyle, Anthony Cosmo, and Sandy Chapman are the only remaining active players from that team.

But back to the 2002 Championship. Another thing I remember was the play of Albany’s Josh Sanderson. I knew who he was, since he was one of the league’s leading scorers. He had picked up 103 points during the regular season, finishing fourth in scoring. But in the Championship game, he picked up 10 points and was the clear offensive leader of the team. At the time I even thought he should have been named game MVP, despite being on the losing team. I also remember an interview he gave after that game, in which he criticized the people of Albany for not coming out to support the team.

After another season in Albany, the Attack began their migrant ways (as ill-timed as Josh’s comments were, they were correct) and moved to San Jose but in the summer of 2004, Sanderson was traded to Toronto in a deal that came to be known to Rock fans (for a while anyway) simply as The Trade.  Adding Sanderson to Colin Doyle and Blaine Manning was (not unexpectedly) genius and the Rock, with one of the strongest offensive teams in NLL history, won the Championship in 2005. Sanderson, Doyle, and Manning became the first trio of teammates to eclipse 100 points in a season, a feat that has still not been repeated.

If there was one thing he was occasionally criticized for (sometimes by me), it was taking his time getting back to the bench on the O-to-D transition. Instead of running (or sprinting a la Sandy Chapman) to the bench to let the D get out there, Josh would casually saunter back. He also wasn’t the greatest defender in the game – I remember seeing him get caught on the floor and have to play some D and wishing the other Sanderson (Phil) was out there instead of Josh. But even that got better over the years. By the end of his career, I still wouldn’t have called him a great defender but he could certainly hold his own at the other end of the floor – though perhaps less so against the 6’5″+ Crowleys and Dawsons and Matthewses of the league.

I have more to say about Mr. Sanderson, but I’ll leave the rest until tomorrow. Until then, enjoy this overtime goal from 2015.