2023 NLL East preview

Division predictions: where I think each team will end up in the standings and who might have a breakout year.

FireWolvesAlbany Firewolves

It’s hard to get really fired up about a team that lost all of their TOP FIVE scorers from last season and didn’t replace them with even one star player. Those top five scored a total of 330 points last season, which is 70% of the team’s total. Kieran McArdle, Connor Kelly, and Haina Thompson will certainly help, but none of the rest of the new additions has more than about 10 NLL games to their name. That’s not to say they’re going to be terrible – only two teams gave up fewer goals than the Firewolves last year, and they still have a solid defensive core, a top-flight goaltender in Doug Jamieson, and Charlie Kitchen will see lots more playing time and could make some big strides. But somebody’s gotta score goals and without a monster year from somebody or an above-average year for several, it could be the dreaded “rebuilding year” for Albany.

Look out for

Connor Kelly hasn’t played an NLL game in almost three years (March 2020 with the Riptide) but if he can shake off the rust quickly, he could have a very good year.

Prediction

Eighth in the east.


BanditsBuffalo Bandits

The Bandits have been to two of the past three Championships but are still hungry for their first Championship since 2008. They lost Connor Fields and Chase Fraser is out to start the year, but much of the powerhouse Buffalo offense is returning. I said above that only two teams allowed fewer goals than Albany; well, Buffalo was one of them. With that defense (minus veteran Kevin Brownell) in front of reigning/perpetual Goalie of the Year Matt Vinc, and the aforementioned offense, there’s no reason to believe the Bandits can’t contend again this year. The question will be whether they will be good enough to hold off the surging Rock in the East.

Look out for

Tehoka Nanticoke had a very good rookie season, with flashes of “oh my goodness” here and there. With that year of experience, I think Nanticoke takes his game to the next level in 2023. Maybe not a hundred-point type level, but I can see a 20-30 point jump.

Prediction

Second in the east.


SwarmGeorgia Swarm

The Swarm have lost Stephan Leblanc, Joel White, Jordan Hall, and Mike Poulin to retirement, Miles Thompson to injury, and Chad Tutton to free agency. That’s a lot of big names on offense, transition, defence, and of course their starting goaltender. Jeremy Thompson will help out the D and transition, and also gives the Swarm a pretty solid faceoff tandem along with Jordan MacIntosh. On offense, they brought in Andrew Kew from Albany and 2021 second-overall draft pick Ryan Lanchbury will make his NLL debut this year. If those two can gel with former MVPs Lyle Thompson and Shayne Jackson, the Swarm offense could be very good – maybe not Bandits or Seals good, but certainly sufficient to give the team a chance in any game. The biggest question is goaltending – Craig Wende is 31 but has only played 391 minutes in his entire NLL career. Is he up to the challenge of being a full-time starter and playing 800+ minutes in one season? If not, the Swarm better hope that last year’s trend of excellent rookie goaltenders continues since Brett Dobson has played zero minutes in his NLL career.

Look out for

Bryan Cole used to be one of those guys whose name you didn’t hear much. But you started hearing it more often last season as people realized what he does for the Swarm, which is just about everything. You might start hearing that name a lot more often this season.

Prediction

Sixth in the east.


ThunderbirdsHalifax Thunderbirds

How does a team lose Shawn Evans, Stephen Keogh, and Rhys Duch in one offseason and still end up better? Well, that’s a bit misleading since they only had Duch for a game and a half and Evans for six games (and was a healthy scratch in a few more). Still, their offense now consists of Ryan Benesch, Cody Jamieson, Randy Staats, Clarke Petterson, Chris Boushy, Eric Fannell, and Austin Shanks. Not too shabby. Ryan Terefenko was an All-Star in the PLL last summer, and along with Tyson Bell gives the Thunderbirds a guys like Jake Withers and Graeme Hossack are among the best defenders in the league. Aaron Bold is not returning to the Thunderbirds so the net is Warren Hill’s once again. Hill has been streaky over his career – he’s had periods of looking unstoppable (eg. most of 2020) but other periods of looking pretty ordinary, so Halifax’s success depends on which Hill they see more of.

Look out for

Terefenko played very well in the PLL and there’s no reason to believe he won’t bring that success to the indoor game as well.

Prediction

Third in the east.


Riptide-smallNew York Riptide

A lot of people are talking about the Riptide making a big splash this year, and I see no reason to disagree. They haven’t made a ton of changes, really, adding Reilly O’Connor up front and Kevin Brownell and Jordi Jones-Smith on the D while losing Kieran McArdle. New York’s offense was lights out last year, scoring more goals than anyone but the Bandits. Callum Crawford is 38 and so he may have lost half a step from previous seasons, but half a step down from Crawford’s previous seasons is still better than most. I think it’s safe to say that Jeff Teat’s career has not peaked and after watching him play last year, the thought of him getting better is exciting. Connor Kearnan, Jake Fox, and Larson Sundown are all returning, and Tyler Digby is on the holdout list but assuming he returns, the Riptide offense is just as potent as last year. On the back end, Brent Noseworthy and Dan MacRae start the year on the IR but New York has a strong-looking defense even without those two, especially with the addition of Brownell and Jones-Smith. Steven Orleman didn’t have a great start to his debut season as a starter, only winning one of his first seven decisions. But he went 4-4 over his last eight and lowered his GAA from 13.14 over his first nine games to 11.20 over his last nine.

Look out for

I really enjoyed watching Larson Sundown last season. I don’t know if he’ll put up 80 points or anything, but we’ll hear his name a few more times in 2023.

Prediction

Fourth in the east.


WingsPhiladelphia Wings

They lost Kevin Crowley, Corey Small, and Brett Hickey (and Kyle Jackson, though he’s on the “protected” list, whatever that means), but picked up Joe Resetarits. That’s still a net negative from last season, and even with Crowley, Small, Hickey, and Jackson along with Matt Rambo, Ben McIntosh, and Blaze Riorden on the offense, the Wings were second last in the league in scoring last year. A bit of an offensive shakeup might have been needed here. The addition of veteran defender Chad Tutton is one of the more understated free agent signings of the off-season.

Look out for

I think Ben McIntosh will take more of a leadership role on the Wings offense. He won’t outscore Resetarits, but he’ll jump back up to the 70-80 point range where he was in Saskatchewan.

Prediction

Fifth in the east.


KnighthawksRochester Knighthawks

The Knighthawks finished last or near the bottom of the league last year in most categories, so it stands to reason that they’ve made a lot of changes. Connor Fields and Austin Hasen join the offense; Fields got some time during a couple of seasons in San Diego and then had a breakout season in Buffalo last year. Hasen is a rookie but won the Mann Cup with the Lakers over the summer, and looked quite comfortable playing with a pile of NLL stars so expect him to fit right in. Riley Hutchcraft will fight Rylan Hartley for the starting goalie spot (and we know Hartley can fight). One concern with the Knighthawks is the number of injuries: Cory Highfield, Ryland Rees, Jeff Wittig, Tyler Biles, and Thomas Whitty all played significant time with Rochester last year but begin the year on the IR or PUP.

Look out for

Austin Hasen will mesh well with fellow Lakers Holden Cattoni, Thomas Hoggarth, and Turner Evans (not to mention Paul Dawson, Jordan Stouros, Thomas Whitty, Mitch Ogilvie, Matt Gilray, and coach and Austin’s dad Mike Hasen).

Prediction

Seventh in the east.


RockToronto Rock

The Rock know that they were maybe half a second away from sending their last game of 2022 to overtime, and potentially going to the Championship game. They are in win-now mode and had to get better during the off-season, which is exactly what they did. Their off-season haul is one of the best of any team. Corey Small may not return to the 111 points he had in 2017 but 30 goals and 70 points is not unlikely. Stephen Keogh will fill a Kasey Beirnes type of role but with more grit – he does the “dirty work”, sets hard picks, and generally gets crushed inside so his teammates on the outside get better looks. And like Beirnes, he won’t put up the big numbers that others might but he’ll be instrumental to the Rock offense. And it’s not like he doesn’t score at all – he scores some pretty beautiful goals.

On the back-end, the Rock allowed by far the fewest goals of any team last year – only two teams were within twenty of the Rock’s total. In fact, since the league moved to an 18-game season in 2014, only one team (the 2014 Edmonton Rush) has allowed fewer than the Rock’s 166 last year. They had Defender of the Year Mitch de Snoo, Brad Kri, and Latrell Harris, all three of which showed up in the top 10 of IL Indoor’s list of the league’s best defenders. Now you add Chris Corbeil (also in the top ten) to that incredible defense? I imagine Nick Rose cannot wait to get this season started to be able to watch those guys in front of him. Unfortunately, Corbeil was injured during the off season and had shoulder surgery in October so he won’t be ready to start the season.

Look out for

Challen Rogers will be playing on the offense this season, so watch for his scoring numbers to skyrocket. But I’m going to say Zach Manns has a breakout year, taking over many of the touches that Reid Reinholdt had last year.

Prediction

First in the east.

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2023: Who’s in, who’s out

Here it is: a complete summary of all the roster changes for each team, all in one place.

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 2022. And a player who’s injured but still part of that team will be listed as “out”. Not all teams have announced who’s on their IR, PUP, or holdout lists so take “None” with a grain of salt. Also most teams don’t have (or didn’t announce) a “Protected” list, but a few did.

And since a number of you have asked, no I don’t know exactly what the different lists mean or the criteria to be on one. I think the PUP list means you got injured playing lacrosse while the IR list means you got injured doing something else. Or possibly it’s the other way around. I’m not sure why it would matter how someone got injured (Anthony Cosmo once made one of these lists because he injured himself shovelling snow), it really only matters that they can’t play. Continue reading

NLL Schedule 2023

The 2023 NLL schedule has been announced. I’m sure there are fans of every team screaming about how unfair it is to their team in particular, because there always are. But honestly, it’s really pretty good for most teams. Only one team plays back-to-back games twice, and one of those is a weekend with two home games. Going for weeks without playing is always a problem but it’s fairly even – ten of the fifteen teams go at least 21 days without a game, but nobody goes more than 22 days.

There is one part of the schedule I’m not crazy about, so we’ll lead with that.

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2022 Off-season summary, Part II

A few days ago, I posted my summary of the off-season moves, beginning with the new commissioner and CBA, last year’s award winners, and the new Las Vegas team finally beginning to fill out their roster. Today we’re going to get into the player changes we’ll see on the floor this winter. Rather than evaluate each transaction separately, let’s look at each team and what changes they’ve made so far. This will be similar to the “Who’s in, who’s out” article I do every year summarizing each team’s roster changes, but is obviously incomplete and subject to change. Continue reading

The Best of 2022

A number of player single-season records were broken this season, and a few players and teams came close. Here is a list of the new player records (in bold), and teams and players that are now in the top ten in some category. Categories I looked at were:

  • For non-goalies, goals, assists, points, loose balls, face-offs (wins, attempts, percentage), CTOs, goals/game, assists/game, and points/game.
  • For goalies, GAA, saves, minutes, wins, and save %. Yes, someone entered the top 10 in losses in a season but let’s focus on the positive.
  • Teams: wins, total goals, goals allowed, and goal differential.

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NLL Week 21

The playoff picture becomes a little clearer each week, but we’re not done yet. Halifax clinched their spot and Saskatchewan, Panther City, and New York were eliminated, so we now have the strange situation of Georgia, Philadelphia, and Albany fighting for the last spot in both the East and West divisions. We have Georgia and Philly playing each other next weekend while New York plays Albany. Here are the possibilities:

  1. Albany loses, Georgia wins: Georgia is 10-8 and takes the east spot, Albany and Philly are both 8-10 so Albany takes the west spot because they are 2-0 against the Wings.
  2. Albany loses, Philly wins: Philly and Georgia are both 9-9, Philly takes the east spot because they’re 3-0 against Georgia, Georgia takes the west spot. Albany is 8-10.
  3. Albany wins, Georgia wins: Georgia is 10-8 and takes the east spot, Albany is 9-9 and takes the west. Philly is 8-10.
  4. Albany wins, Philly wins: All three are 9-9. The first tiebreaker is their head-to-head winning percentage, but I’m not sure that helps. Albany is 3-2 against the other two, Georgia is 2-4, and Philly is also 3-2. Does that mean Albany and Philly make it through to the next tiebreaker and Georgia is out? Or does it mean we don’t consider this tiebreaker because it didn’t provide a clear winner? I honestly don’t know. The next tiebreaker is their division standings. In this scenario, Georgia would be 8-8 within their division, Philly 7-9 and Albany 6-9.
    1. If Georgia is eliminated because of the first tiebreaker, Philly takes the East, Albany takes the west, and Georgia is out.
    2. If the first tiebreaker gets thrown out, Georgia takes the East spot, Philly takes the west, and Albany is out.

However, if case 4b applies, then Georgia has already clinched a playoff spot since they make the playoffs in every case here. Neither the league nor the Swarm have announced that, so case 4a is likely the real one.

Confusion

So for each team, the outcomes are:

  • Georgia: Win and you’re in. Lose and you’re in if Albany loses.
  • Philly: Win and you’re in. Lose and you’re out.
  • Albany: Win and you’re in. Lose and you’re in if Georgia wins.

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NLL Week 20

The playoff picture in the West is almost complete, as Calgary has clinched their spot while Vancouver is out. Only one spot remains in the West, but the battle in the East will take that down to the wire. Right now, the Thunderbirds and Swarm would join the Bandits and Rock in the playoffs, and the FireWolves would take the fourth spot in the West. But Halifax, Georgia, Albany, and Philly are still close enough that any of them may or may not make it, and if Panther City wins their last two games, they could take that fourth position in the West as well.

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Could happen…

Every year around this time, I put together a list of the most unlikely final standings possibilities that could still happen.

This year, the eight spots in the playoffs will be made up of

  • The top four teams in the East
  • The top three teams in the West
  • Either the 5th place East team or the 4th place West team, whichever has the better record

If teams are tied, the the first tiebreaker is their head-to-head record, then their division record, then record against common opponents. Multi-way tiebreakers are similar but more complicated.

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NLL Week 17

There were a bunch of great games this past weekend. The Bandits solidified their stranglehold on first place in the East and the middle of the pack in both divisions got even more muddy. The Bandits may have clinched their playoff spot, but the rest of the spots are still up for grabs.

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NLL Week 16

Can you believe we’re done week 16? And as great as this season has been so far, it only gets better. Obviously the playoffs are approaching, but next week features some epic matchups. Halifax plays Buffalo twice. Georgia, who are on a 3-game winning streak, are in Toronto, Colorado is in Panther City, Albany visits New York, and Philly is in Rochester. Calgary vs. Saskatchewan is always a great matchup regardless of either team’s record. If you look solely at the records, San Diego in Vancouver might be the easiest of the bunch to predict but would anybody be surprised if Vancouver pulled off an upset win at home?

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