The 2019 NLL Schedule: Byes, doubles, and runnin’ back to Saskatoon

The 2019 NLL schedule was released this past week. Once fans see their team’s schedule, the first thing fans say about it is how “difficult” it is. Usually that involves what teams they’re playing but today I’m going to look at it a little differently.

Each team plays 18 games and the season is spread over 21 weeks, so each team has at least three weeks with no games (called a “bye” week). Each bye week you get beyond three means you have to make up that missed game by playing two games in a weekend (which I’m calling a “double”). If you’re lucky, one will be Friday night at home and the other will be Saturday night or Sunday afternoon in a city not far away, giving you lots of time for travel and potential delays – remember the NLL plays during the winter. If you’re not lucky… well, we’ll get to that.

Let’s look at how many bye weeks each team has as well as how many double weekends they have (and where those games are).

San Diego's Kyle BuchananBuffalo: Five bye weeks, but two of them are the last four weeks. They have two double weekends: first Rochester and New England in week 9 and then Philadelphia and Buffalo in week 15. Last year, they also had five byes and two doubles.

Calgary: Four byes, one double weekend: San Diego and Colorado in week 8. Last year the Roughnecks had three byes and no double weekends at all.

Colorado: Four byes but three of them come in the first six weeks including weeks five and six. The Mammoth play twice in week 17, in Vancouver and at home. Last year, they had five byes and two double weekends.

Georgia: Five bye weekends, all spread out. The Swarm have two double weekends: In week 8 they play in Toronto and then New England, then week 9 is a bye, then in week 10 they play at home on Friday and in Rochester on Saturday. Last year the Swarm had six byes and three double weekends. All three of their doubles last year followed a bye.

New England: Four byes and similar to the Mammoth, they have three in the first six weeks. Only one double weekend: Philly and New England in week 12. Last year, the Black Wolves had four byes and one double weekend.

Philadelphia: Five byes including two back-to-back. They play one game in the first four weeks of the season. They have two doubles: Philly and New England in week 12 (coincidentally, the same as the Black Wolves!) and Saskatchewan and Vancouver in week 20.

Rochester: Five byes and similar to the Wings, they play only once in the first four weeks. Also similar to the Wings, they have two double weekends: Philadelphia and Rochester in week 10 and Rochester and Toronto in week 16. Last year was roughly the same: five byes and two doubles.

San Diego: Five byes including one back-to-back – between January 19 and March 2, the Seals only play twice. They have two doubles: San Diego and Vancouver in week 8 and Georgia and New England in week 19.

Saskatchewan: Four byes including weeks 3 and 4. One double weekend but it’s a doozy: San Diego on Friday and back at home in Saskatchewan on Saturday of week 20. After a brief perusal on Expedia, I found that you can get from San Diego to Saskatchewan in about 7½ hours if you really push it (about 45 minute stopover in Minneapolis) or over 14 hours if you don’t mind a 7+ hour stopover. Either way, that’s going to be a brutal travel day for the Seals and Rush. Five byes and two doubles last year for the Rush.

Toronto: Five byes including weeks 3 and 4 as well as the final weekend of the season. The Rock play two doubles late in the season: Georgia and Buffalo in week 17 and Toronto and Rochester in week 19. Last year, the Rock had three byes and no double weekends.

Vancouver: Four byes and one double weekend: Vancouver and Colorado. Last year the Stealth had four byes and one double.


For my money, the most difficult schedule would be one where you have byes near the end of the season. If you are in the playoff hunt (i.e. every team in the East last season), you want to be playing during those last weeks to control your own fate, not watching others play hoping for the right result. In the last five weeks of the season, the Buffalo Bandits play the Rock twice, the Black Wolves once, and have two byes. Playing teams from their own division is helpful for the Bandits if they’re fighting for a playoff spot but two weeks off is not. On the upside, byes can help players recover from injuries without missing games. If Dhane Smith has a sore knee, a week off before a game with playoff implications could be a godsend.

There are a number of teams that have multiple byes near the beginning of the season but only the Bandits have more than one in the last six weeks or so. In terms of the criteria I’m going by here, nobody has a really terrible schedule. The Bandits byes near the end of the season make them a strong candidate but I’m going to say that the San Diego Seals have the most difficult schedule. They have one game in the first three weeks and then a span of five weeks in the middle with only two games. The game before those five weeks, the game after, and one of the two games in the middle are against the same team – Vancouver. However this schedule challenge is offset by the fact that they get to play half their games in southern California.

I’ll let you, the reader, insert your own joke here: Maybe we should say that [insert team name] has the worst schedule because they have to play half of their games in [insert city you don’t like]. Ha ha!

The league lengthened the season last year in order to try and cut down on the double weekends. The teams that used to be hit the most by long travel days were the Black Wolves and Rush. From most major airports in North America, you can fly directly to Denver or Calgary or Toronto but not Saskatoon, so most flights would have included a stopover. Some of those stopovers can be long, but really, who doesn’t love sitting in an airport for five hours? To get to Mohegan Sun, you need to fly to Hartford CT (also requiring stopovers from many airports, particularly in the west) and then take a several hour bus ride.

Update: Taking public transportation from Hartford airport to Mohegan Sun would be several hours. I would assume teams would charter a bus, in which case travel time is not much more than an hour. Thanks to Thomas for the correction.

In 2019, both of these teams only have one double weekend, so mission accomplished, right? For the Black Wolves, they’re coming from Philadelphia on their double, which is probably the closest NLL city. But as I mentioned above, the Rush have to get from San Diego to Saskatoon in a day. Last year, the Rush had two doubles, playing at home on the back half of each. While one was coming from Vancouver, which is likely a direct flight, the other was coming from Colorado which is almost as bad as San Diego. Those Colorado/Saskatoon travel days were part of the reason for the schedule change in the first place, and yet the Rush still have to deal with one.

It’s not like the people who make the NLL schedule haven’t thought about this, and so it’s likely that as crappy as that weekend will be, it was the best option available.

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2018 Expansion Draft results: The expected and the unexpected

The 2018 NLL expansion draft was held on Monday. This was the first expansion draft in ten years so it was kind of new for many fans, but get used to it. This was also the first of at least three over the next few years as the league continues to expand. There were lots of predictions about what would happen in this draft; off the top of my head, I can think of at least three full mock drafts that were done, and there were probably more.

I made my own predictions back in May and got 6 right out of 18 picks, but in my defense I made my choices before the protected lists were announced by the teams. If I’d redone my predictions afterwards, I wouldn’t have predicted Curtis Knight or Eric Fannell to be chosen since they were protected, and I would have predicted Brett Hickey, Josh Currier, and Adrian Sorichetti since they weren’t.

Here’s the list of players chosen (and the team they were chosen from):

Round

Philadelphia

San Diego

1 Brett Hickey – TOR Turner Evans – TOR
2 Kiel Matisz – GEO Brett Mydske – SSK
3 Jordan Hall – GEO Adrian Sorichetti – SSK
4 Josh Currier – ROC Cam Holding – COL
5 Frank Brown – ROC Bryce Sweeting – COL
6 Anthony Joaquim – NE Frank Scigliano – CAL
7 Matt Rambo – NE Garrett MacIntosh – CAL
8 Vaughn Harris – BUF Casey Jackson – VAN
9 Davide DiRuscio – BUF Brendan Ranford – VAN

Immediately following the draft, there were two trades announced, both involving the Bandits:

  • The Seals sent Bryce Sweeting to the Bandits for Ethan Schott and a 2nd round pick in this fall’s entry draft
  • The Bandits sent Zac Reid to the Wings in exchange for the Wings selecting Vaughn Harris

That second one is interesting – I reasoned on Twitter that the Wings wanted Chase Fraser and the Bandits offered them Reid if they didn’t pick Fraser. This was confirmed.

The draft

Before the draft, NLL VP Brian Lemon announced the rules, most of which we already knew. He also said that each team would have two minutes to make their picks, and each could ask for one five-minute extension. But not one of the eighteen picks took as long as it took Lemon to read that rule. The draft was done so quickly that it was very unlikely that it was actually done live. It was probably done earlier in the day and the live stream was just the announcement of who was drafted, and they went back and forth to make it look like a live draft. But when you look at the players that were drafted and where they came from, there’s even more to it than that.

Brett Hickey (Photo: Scott Pierson)

All of the players available from western teams went to San Diego, and all players from eastern teams except Turner Evans went to Philly. Even more telling was the order in which they were announced: Toronto’s two players went first, one to Philly and one to San Diego. Then Philly’s next two picks were from Georgia and San Diego’s were from Saskatchewan. Then Philly took two from Rochester while the Seals took two from Colorado, then New England / Calgary, then Buffalo / Vancouver. Other than Toronto, each team’s two players were chosen in back-to-back picks by the same team, and the players from each division were chosen in the order their teams finished the 2018 regular season.

It seems likely that rather than an actual draft, the two GMs talked and together made up the lists of who gets who. The actual broadcast was them just announcing the results. Maybe they did the draft as intended, earlier in the day, then made some trades among themselves and decided to just skip announcing that part. If that’s the case, I’m OK with it. This is the NLL, so where a player lives very much matters with respect to where he wants to play. Some of the younger guys may not care and are happy to move around the country if they get traded. But there are lots of veteran players who have families and full-time jobs and are far more interested in playing half their games close to home. It makes total sense that the western players were picked by the western team and the eastern players were picked by the eastern team.

That said, if this is indeed how it was done, I’m a little annoyed that they dressed it up like a real draft. If the GMs got together and divided up the available players among them, following the two-players-per-team rule, why not just announce it that way?

The players taken

Given the quality of players available in this draft, it’s no surprise that both teams look pretty good to start with. The Wings have more firepower (Hickey, Matisz, Hall, Harris) while the Seals already have a strong defense (Mydske, Holding, Schott) and transition (MacIntosh, Sorichetti). If I had to pick a winner between the two teams, I’m not sure I could.

Both teams surprisingly picked players with zero NLL experience, Matt Rambo from New England heading to Philly (where he lives) and Brendan Ranford from Vancouver was picked by San Diego. Rambo is a field lacrosse star who was drafted by the Black Wolves last year but didn’t report. I have no idea if he even has any interest in the NLL; maybe he and Paul Rabil watch NLL games online together, saying “I could totally play there if I wanted to.” Ranford is a top prospect from BC but also plays pro hockey, and there was talk that he may play hockey in Europe next season. Perhaps that isn’t the case, or perhaps Patrick Merrill just decided to take a gamble anyway.

Only one UFA was chosen: Brett Mydske from the Rush. Merrill said that Mydske was just too good an option to pass up, and that’s hard to argue. Hopefully (for the Seals), they can sign Mydske to a contract before August 1st, at which time he’s free to sign with whoever he wants. They could also give him the franchise tag, which would prevent him from signing anywhere else but would also guarantee him 10% above the NLL’s maximum salary. Not a bad decision for Mydske to have: play in sunny San Diego and make max bucks, or choose which city you want to play in.

Davide DiRuscio (Photo: Bill Wippert)Philadelphia made a bit of a surprising pick for their goaltender: Davide DiRuscio, who’s been the Bandits backup goalie for a few years though he was injured all of last year. It was widely assumed that the two goalies picked in the draft were likely to be Frank Scigliano and one of Zach Higgins or Alex Buque, but we all picked the wrong Bandits goalie. In previous years DiRuscio has shown signs that he could someday be a starting goalie in the NLL, but has been inconsistent. He’s a big guy and only 26 and while it seems that forwards and defenders tend to peak around 27-28 years old, it can take goalies (those not named Christian, anyway) a couple of extra years to hit their stride. He may not be the next Dallas Eliuk next season but as an expansion team, the Wings are likely to be willing to wait a year or two.

The players lost

Each team lost two players from their roster, but some teams lost fewer than others. As mentioned, two players had never played an NLL game so from that point of view, New England and Vancouver got away a little easier than the other teams. The other guy Vancouver lost, Casey Jackson, has only played four games in the NLL so while he has a big upside for the future, the Vancouver team as it was yesterday is almost unchanged. Buffalo left three goalies unprotected and lost the one that’s recovering from injury. This may or may not be good news for the Bandits, as their goaltender situation was a little dicey last season and that hasn’t changed. They also lost defenders Ethan Schott and Zac Reid but gained another defender Bryce Sweeting. Colorado lost Sweeting and Holding but Holding didn’t play last season anyway, and they’ll be getting Dan Coates back next year, so they’re probably OK.

The teams that lost the most, in my opinion, are the Georgia Swarm and the Rochester Knighthawks. It’s not as though losing Matisz and Hall leaves the Swarm with no strong forwards, but they will be two tough players to replace. Both are versatile and can play forward or transition roles. As I mentioned in my expansion draft predictions article, Hall would be a good candidate for captain of the Wings, but Matisz has been around for a while too and it wouldn’t surprise me to see an A on his chest next season.

The Knighthawks lost Josh Currier, which was a certainty once it was discovered that he was unprotected, and Frank Brown, a defender (though listed as a forward in the Wings draft results article) with a ton of potential. Brown also played half of last year with the Swarm, so he has some familiarity with Matisz and Hall.

Now that the draft is over, I believe the rosters are now “unfrozen”, so teams are free to begin making trades once again. On August 1st, teams will be able to start signing free agents as well, and of course Philadelphia and San Diego will be busy there. They do have players now, but they each have less than half a team. It’s already been one of the most active off-seasons the NLL has seen in years and it ain’t over yet.

The Blazers and the Sting: It’s drafty in here

The mid-to-late 2000’s were a tumultuous time in the NLL. Teams were popping up, moving, and vanishing all over the place. This all reached “peak weird” in about 2007-2008 and if you are new to the NLL, you might not know about all of these strange goings-on. Even if you’ve been following the league since then, some of this is still hard to believe.

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2018 Expansion Draft

I’ve been looking forward to the upcoming Expansion Draft for months. We get to see two teams get created from scratch, which is every armchair GM’s dream. Trades and free agent signings and such are always exciting, so imagine eighteen of them all on the same day! As I’m sure many others have done, I’ve made my list of which players I would protect if I were an NLL GM. Some are obvious, some might be controversial, and there are probably a few “What are you thinking?” picks in there too. Let me know watcha think!

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NLL team names

Recently, a Rush fan named Rob King tweeted an article suggestion:

Challenge accepted. There isn’t much of a story behind a few of them, but others are very interesting. I had a lot of fun researching this one, and I hope you enjoy these stories. I threw in a couple of “Did you knows” as I came across them.

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2018 NLL Awards

It’s that time of year again! When some NLL players gear up for the playoffs while others dust off the golf clubs or join their MLL teams. It’s also time for the annual NLL award voting. I don’t have a vote in the NLL awards but I’ve submitted my picks for the real awards, which are of course those published on IL Indoor. In that series of articles, probably published next week sometime, I will have comments about who I picked to win so I won’t repeat them here. I will also mention my pre-season picks for these awards so we can either stare in amazement at my insight or laugh at my “insight”.

In my season preview articles (West and East), I picked a player for each team who I thought might have a breakout year, so I’ll also go over my “Look out for…” choices. Some panned out, while others were not as prescient as I might have hoped.

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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.