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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Do Faceoffs Matter? Part II

This is the second part of a two-part series investigating whether faceoffs help you win in the NLL and if so, how much. In part I, we discovered that faceoffs do matter to some extent, in that teams that win more than half the faceoffs in a game tend to win that game a little more than half the time. Now we’re onto the “how much” question, and here’s where the math gets a little heavier.

To help us with this question I have called on Cooper Perkins, the Seals play-by-play announcer, stats geek, and the creator of LaxMetrics.com. Cooper is great at breaking down stats in ways I wouldn’t have thought of so I was hoping he could add some interesting insight, and he didn’t disappoint. The rest of this article and the data and graphs were all provided by Cooper. Thanks to him for joining me on this faceoff adventure.

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Do Faceoffs Matter? Part I

It’s an age-old question among lacrosse people: do faceoffs matter? Does it make sense to have a dedicated faceoff specialist, or is it sufficient to just find someone who’s pretty good at it? Logically, it makes sense that they do matter. More faceoff wins means more possessions. More possessions should lead to more goals, and more goals leads to more wins. Right? Maybe.

This article is the first of a two-part series in which we attempt to answer that question. I will start off by looking over some faceoff and win-loss numbers to see what insight they can provide. That will be Part I. Part II will be a special “crossover episode” with a special guest author, and will get a little deeper into the numbers. More on that later.

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Laxmetrics.com

I wrote about lacrosse stats for IL Indoor for almost ten years. Now that I’m not doing that anymore, someone creates a web site with a zillion NLL stats. Figures.

laxmetrics.com is a new site created by San Diego PxP guy Cooper Perkins, and it contains an insane amount of data, way more than I have had access to over the last ten years. I’ve generally been dealing with directly-measurable stats (goals, loose balls, penalties, etc.), and then doing math to combine them, aggregate them, average them, and so on. Some of the data available here is the same – taking the data we get from game sheets and such and “manipulating” it to try and get something meaningful. For example, the “plus” stats (goals+, assists+, and so on) basically compare a player’s production against the league average, and gWAR (goalie wins above replacement) uses goals for and against to attempt to “quantify how many wins a goaltender is directly responsible for creating”.

However most of the stats require more work and you just can’t get them from the boxscore. For example, there are several types of assists listed here:

  • “First order assists” are different from regular assists in that the intention of the passer is taken into account. For example, if a transition player casually tosses the ball to a forward before heading off the floor and the forward scores (with no intervening passes), that transition player gets an assist which is arguably not as “deserved” as other assists. First order assists only counts passes that are directly intended to lead to a shot.
  • A “second order assist” is the equivalent of a first order assist but for second assists. Sometimes second assists are meaningful and necessary for the goal, while others are not.
  • An “unrealized assist” is a pass that results in a scoring opportunity but no goal is actually scored. We’ve all seen outstanding passes that result in a shot that misses the net or that the goalie saves, and of course no assist is credited.
  • A “pick assist” occurs when a player without the ball sets a pick or does something else off-ball that directly contributes to a goal. Because the player never touched the ball, he won’t be given an assist.

Of course, teammates and coaches notice these kinds of plays and sometimes broadcasters will mention them as well, but normally they get no other credit. Now they do.

Photo credit: Harry Scull Jr., Buffalo News

Dhane Smith, league leader in Facilitator Score and Weighted Assists

The problem with those sorts of stats is that the league doesn’t keep track of them, so someone (Cooper, presumably) has to sit and watch every second of every game, looking for these things and recording them. He has to hope the feed stays up, the cameraman catches everything, players names or numbers are visible so you can tell who did what, and so on. NLL games are generally around 2h15m long, and there’s probably a lot of going back and forth, watching a single play a dozen times to make sure you got everything. You can skip timeouts and commercials and such, but I imagine it still takes several hours per game to gather all of this information. (Update: I heard Cooper on the Off the Crossebar podcast the other day and he says it takes him about 35-40 minutes per game, so perhaps this isn’t the time commitment I thought it would be but it’s still significant work.)

In addition, most of these stats are very subjective. Was that pass really essential to the goal? There was a great pass followed by a shot from a bad angle that didn’t go in – was that enough of a quality scoring chance to warrant an unrealized assist? But even loose balls and face-off wins can be somewhat subjective, and we rely on someone else to make those decisions, so this is really no different.

Honestly, I don’t love how the data is presented on the site. Most pages look like an Excel spreadsheet embedded in the middle of a blog post. Given that the site is created with WordPress, that’s probably exactly what it is. In some cases, this is just as good as showing an HTML table. But for example, the leaderboard page makes you scroll left-to-right to see the data. Given the amount of unused space on each side of the chart, this is ugly. But who cares, really, it’s the data and the interpretation of the data that really matters. The page has only been up for a week or two so perhaps “make it pretty” is still on the TODO list. I’ve had this blog for ten years and have put pretty close to (read: exactly) zero time into making it pretty, so I really shouldn’t complain.

I appreciate the amount of work all of this is, which is why I don’t do it. But the fact that someone is doing it and publishing the results of the analysis is crazy awesome.

2019-20 NLL Milestones

A number of player and team milestones can be reached this year, including one fairly significant one: Dan Dawson could (fairly easily, by his standards) be the all-time league leader in assists. Here’s a list of the most likely milestones to be hit:

Teams

Wins & losses

Photo credit: Micheline VeluvoluToronto’s sixth win of the season will be the franchise’s 200th. Georgia needs six and the Black Wolves need ten for 50.

Goals

The Georgia Swarm need 40 goals to reach 1000, while the Saskatchewan Rush need 60. The Mammoth need 153 goals to reach 3500 and Calgary needs 201 to reach 4000. With 87 goals, the Bandits will hit 5500, far and away the highest total for any team. The Swarm are 122 goals away from allowing 1000 all-time, and the Rock will hit 4000 goals allowed if they give up 195.

Team Leaders

With 99 points this year (a tall order, but not unimaginable), Eli McLaughlin would tie Adam Jones for 4th on the Mammoth while Jacob Ruest needs 34 to catch Sean Pollock for 11th. A 116-point season from Rob Hellyer would tie him with Stephen Leblanc for 4th on the Toronto Rock list, while 82 for Tom Schreiber ties him with Aaron Wilson for 9th.

I looked over each of the teams to see what their all-time leader board looked like, and as you might expect from a 28-year-old team, the Bandits leaders will not change significantly anytime soon. Dhane Smith is third all-time but needs around 350 points to catch Mark Steenhuis, who is almost 800 behind John Tavares. The only other active Bandit in the top 20 is Steve Priolo, who’s tied with Kevin Dostie for 19th. Priolo could pass Jim Veltman for 18th with 11 points.


Players

Goals

Player… Needs… To reach…
Rhys Duch 3 400
Curtis Dickson 5 400
Callum Crawford 43 400
Kevin Crowley 8 300
Adam Jones 18 300
Mark Matthews 25 300
Corey Small 44 300
Garrett Billings 2 200
Ben McIntosh 8 200
Johnny Powless 8 200
Rob Hellyer 10 200
Logan Schuss 28 200

  

Assists

Player… Needs… To reach…
Dan Dawson 23 900
Shawn Evans 43 800
Ryan Benesch 23 600
Rhys Duch 30 600
Jeff Shattler 8 500
Jordan Hall 23 500
Garrett Billings 32 500
Stephan Leblanc 37 500
Cody Jamieson 51 500
Dane Dobbie 52 500
Dhane Smith 19 400
Adam Jones 6 300
Robert Church 19 300
Logan Schuss 38 300
Kiel Matisz 38 300

Points

Player… Needs… To reach…
Dan Dawson 4 1400
Shawn Evans 13 1200
Ryan Benesch 90 1100
Callum Crawford 37 1000
Rhys Duch 33 1000
Dane Dobbie 34 900
Jeff Shattler 82 900
Stephan Leblanc 36 800
Curtis Dickson 78 800
Jordan Hall 85 800
Mark Matthews 95 800
Cody Jamieson 96 800
Garrett Billings 34 700
Corey Small 65 700
Dhane Smith 65 700
Kevin Crowley 85 700
Adam Jones 24 600
Shayne Jackson 77 600
Rob Hellyer 15 500
Robert Church 19 500
Brodie Merrill 47 500

  

Loose Balls

Player… Needs… To reach…
Brodie Merrill 65 2500
Jay Thorimbert 31 1600
Ian Hawksbee 35 1400
Jordan MacIntosh 6 1300
Shawn Evans 11 1300
Jeremy Thompson 26 1300
Jeff Shattler 29 1300
Jordan Hall 62 1000

  

PIM

Player… Needs… To reach…
Matt Beers 12 500
Brodie Merrill 15 500
Paul Dawson 45 500

  

Games

Player… Needs… To reach…
Dan Dawson 13 300
Paul Dawson 1 200
Ian Hawksbee 4 200
Ian Llord 9 200
Rhys Duch 16 200
Rob Hellyer 1 100
Curtis Knight 1 100
Logan Schuss 2 100
Travis Cornwall 4 100
Riley Loewen 5 100

  

Goalie Minutes

Player… Needs… To reach…
Matt Vinc 4 12000
Evan Kirk 124 6000
Frank Scigliano 297 4000

  

Goals against

Player… Needs… To reach…
Mike Poulin 33 1600
Aaron Bold 54 1500
Nick Rose 8 1200
Evan Kirk 17 1200
Dillon Ward 5 1000
Frank Scigliano 52 800

  

Saves

Player… Needs… To reach…
Matt Vinc 177 8000
Aaron Bold 166 5000
Evan Kirk 115 4000
Dillon Ward 474 4000
Frank Scigliano 507 3000

  

Leaders

This section is for players who are close to passing a retired player on the career list in a particular category.

Player… Needs… To tie… For…
Dan Dawson 18 goals Colin Doyle 4th
Ryan Benesch 7 goals Lewis Ratcliff 9th
11 goals Shawn Williams 8th
16 goals Josh Sanderson 7th
Shawn Evans is 3 behind Benesch
Dane Dobbie is 12 behind Evans
Rhys Duch 2 goals Tom Marechek 14th
13 goals Paul Gait 13th
Curtis Dickson is 2 behind Duch
Dan Dawson 21 assists Josh Sanderson 2nd
47 assists John Tavares 1st
Shawn Evans 21 assists John Grant, Jr. 5th
Callum Crawford 5 assists Gavin Prout 8th
Jeff Shattler 1 assist Jim Veltman 16th
Dan Dawson 50 points John Grant, Jr. 2nd
Ryan Benesch 3 points Mark Steenhuis 9th
Callum Crawford is 37 behind Benesch
Rhys Duch is 6 behind Crawford
Dane Dobbie 56 points Gavin Prout 14th
Mike Poulin 17 goals against Brandon Miller 8th
Mike Poulin 11 wins Anthony Cosmo 4th

Watson vs Eliuk vs Vinc

For many years, the question of “best goaltender in NLL history” has had two answers: Bob “Whipper” Watson and Dallas Eliuk. Some say Dallas, some say Whipper, some can’t decide between the two. It’s rare that you hear someone other than one of those two described as the best ever. But the question of Whipper vs. Dallas as the best ever may soon become outdated. Nothing’s being clarified, however; the waters are getting even muddier.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Matt Vinc has been the best goaltender in the NLL over the past decade. The awards and numbers certainly back that up:

  • Five Goaltender of the Year awards in six years
  • Three Championships plus two other trips to the finals
  • Led the league in GAA in 2013, finished in the top three four other times
  • Holds three of the top ten spots in the “Best GAA in a Season” list (see weird aside below)
  • Has the second-lowest career GAA among starters in NLL history
  • Second in NLL history in career saves; will overtake Anthony Cosmo in game two or three next season (he’s 104 behind)
  • Second in NLL history in career minutes; will overtake Anthony Cosmo in game four or five next season (he’s 221 behind)
  • Third in NLL history in career playoff GAA
  • First in NLL history in career playoff minutes and saves, ahead of second place by over 300 minutes and 170 saves

Weird aside: Here’s an odd one for @NLLFactOfTheDay: A starting goalie has finished a season with a sub-10.00 GAA only 17 times in NLL history. Matt Vinc has done it four times. Nobody else has done it more than twice. Yet Vinc didn’t lead the league in GAA in any of those four seasons. And here’s the craziest part: in 2010, Vinc finished with a GAA of 9.51, the seventh best of all-time, but he finished fourth in GAA that season.

Photo credit: Micheline Velovulo

Vinc has won five Goaltender of the Year awards, while Watson won only two and Eliuk never won any. This is, of course, meaningless since the award didn’t exist before 2001. Eliuk’s career was more than half over by the time the award came into being and from 2002 until the end of his career, his teams were generally pretty lousy. (His 2008 LumberJax made the finals, but Eliuk was the backup goalie by then.) Having said that, Watson won the 2008 Goaltender of the Year award on a sub-.500 team that missed the playoffs.

When comparing players’ careers, I never compare the number of Championships they won. That is entirely a team statistic and has no bearing on whether one individual player was better than another. Brodie Merrill has never won an NLL title but he’s arguably better than an awful lot of players who have. But if you must know, Eliuk won six with the Wings, Watson six with the Rock, and Vinc three with the Knighthawks.

If we’re going to compare these three goalies, shouldn’t we just compare their stats directly? Let’s try. Vinc has a lifetime GAA of 10.88. Watson’s was 11.14, while Eliuk was 12.24. So Vinc’s GAA is 0.26 lower than Watson and 1.36 lower than Eliuk. Pretty clear that he’s the best of the three, right? Actually, no.

During Dallas Eliuk’s career spanning 1992-2008, the average number of goals scored in an NLL game was 25.66. During Bob Watson’s career from 1998-2011, the average dropped to 24.82, and during the Matt Vinc years from 2006-2018, the average was only 23.41. Eliuk had a higher GAA because more goals were scored in general during his career (2.25 more per game) than during Vinc’s. Thus you’d expect Eliuk’s GAA to be higher than Vinc’s. If you assign half the difference in goals scored to each goalie, Eliuk would have a sort of “handicap” of 1.13 over Vinc, so the 1.36 difference in their GAAs is really only about 0.23. Similarly, Watson’s adjusted GAA is actually lower than Vinc’s.

I don’t have numbers for shots faced before 2005, so I can’t compare their career save percentages. But from 2005-2018, Vinc has a save percentage of 78.2%, third behind Steve Dietrich and Ken Montour (and a handful of others with just a couple of games played). Watson is only three players back of Vinc at 77.4% while Eliuk is a fair ways back at 75.9%. Again though, that only covers the last three years of Eliuk’s career, not his prime.

Not that this is news, but there’s no really good way to compare players who played in different eras. Eliuk’s career and Vinc’s only overlapped by three years, but Eliuk was past his prime by then and Vinc wasn’t yet the standout goalie he would become. The game was different enough during the years before and the years after that statistics can’t be directly compared. Watson’s career overlapped both for a longer period of time but there is a twelve-year age difference between Watson and Vinc (and six years between Watson and Eliuk) so comparisons are still difficult.

So which of the three is the best ever? There’s no correct answer – arguments can be made for any of the three. Maybe we have to say Eliuk is the best of the 1990’s, Watson the best of the 2000’s, and Vinc the best of the 2010’s, and leave it at that. The only thing we can definitively say is that this is no longer a two-horse race.

 

This one goes to eleven: why stats are hard

In Evan Schemenauer’s Random Thoughts article from January 8, 2018, he talks about Calgary’s offensive struggles so far this year, and how scoring fewer than ten goals will not win you many games. Then he drops this:

Graeme Perrow can probably tell us the stat, but your odds of winning a game scoring less than 10 goals must be less than 10%.

Challenge accepted.

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2018 NLL Milestones

A number of player and team milestones can be reached this year. Here’s a list of the most likely:

Teams

Wins & losses

Rochester’s first win of the season will be the franchise’s 200th. Calgary needs three for 150.

Buffalo needs three away wins to give them 100 in franchise history.

Toronto’s next win at the ACC will be their 100th home victory.

The Vancouver Stealth will break into double digits in the “away win” category with their first win on the road. That’s right, after four full seasons in Vancouver the Stealth have only won 9 games on the road. Total.

Goals

Buffalo is 63 goals away from becoming the first NLL team to score 5000 goals. They are already 500 goals ahead of anyone else (Wings) and 700 ahead of any active team (Knighthawks). On the other end of the spectrum, Saskatchewan needs 36 goals to reach 500.

Colorado needs 3 at home to hit 1500, and 42 on the road to hit 1500. This also means that they need 45 total to hit 3000. If they give up 103, they’ll hit 3000 goals allowed.

Team Leaders

Dane Dobbie will take over the all-time Roughnecks lead in points from Jeff Shattler with his 18th of the year. Stephan Leblanc could pass Josh Sanderson for 3rd on the Rock’s points list with 77 points. Dhane Smith needs 22 goals to tie Mike Accursi for 3rd all-time in Bandits goals.

Small sidetrack: I’ve talked about John Tavares and his amazing numbers a million times here, and I’m going to do it again. After only five seasons, Dhane Smith is already third on the Bandits points list, but he’s 542 behind the still-active Mark Steenhuis, who’s 779 behind John Tavares. Steenhuis is second in Bandits goals but needs 371 to catch JT. To illustrate just how far behind that is, only 14 players have ever scored more than 371 goals in their career, and Shawn Evans isn’t one of them. In order to break JT’s record, Steenhuis would have to score as many goals as Shawn Evans ever has – starting now – and he’d still be short by 3.

Other combinations of players who don’t add up to Tavares’s goal total: Dan Dawson & Rhys Duch, Josh Sanderson & Ryan Benesch, and Paul Gait & Tom Marechek.

In case there was any doubt before now (and there wasn’t), Tavares’s records will stand for a long time. OK, back to the milestones for 2018.


Players

Goals

Player… Needs… To reach…
Dan Dawson 31 500
Shawn Evans 32 400
Ryan Benesch 38 400
Callum Crawford 24 300
Jeff Shattler 32 300
Cody Jamieson 1 200
Dhane Smith 15 200
Joe Resetarits 3 100
Curtis Knight 6 100
Brad Self 9 100

Assists

Player… Needs… To reach…
Shawn Evans 57 700
Mark Steenhuis 55 600
Rhys Duch 22 500
Ryan Benesch 25 500
Stephan Leblanc 49 400
Brodie Merrill 15 300
Mark Matthews 18 300
Corey Small 18 300
Rob Hellyer 8 200
Zack Greer 21 200
Robert Church 21 200
Logan Schuss 23 200

Shawn Evans

Points

Player… Needs… To reach…
Dan Dawson 39 1300
Shawn Evans 89 1100
Mark Steenhuis 100 1100
Ryan Benesch 63 900
Rhys Duch 31 900
Callum Crawford 11 800
Jeff Shattler 15 700
Dane Dobbie 34 700
Stephan Leblanc 2 600
Curtis Dickson 50 600
Cody Jamieson 72 600
Kevin Crowley 43 500
Adam Jones 69 500
Dhane Smith 72 500

Loose Balls

Player… Needs… To reach…
Brodie Merrill 15 2200
Mark Steenhuis 30 1500
Jay Thorimbert 72 1400
Shawn Evans 69 1200
Jeff Shattler 91 1200
Ian Hawksbee 35 1100
Jordan MacIntosh 40 1100
Sandy Chapman 12 1000

PIM

Player… Needs… To reach…
Billy Dee Smith 76 700
Mark Steenhuis 8 400

Games

Player… Needs… To reach…
Brodie Merrill 3 200
Shawn Evans 5 200
Billy Dee Smith 8 200
Matt Vinc 14 200
John Lafontaine 2 100
Frank Scigliano 2 100
Johnny Powless 5 100
Adam Jones 9 100

Goalie Minutes

Player… Needs… To reach…
Brandon Miller 199 8000
Aaron Bold 403 7000
Mike Poulin 752 7000
Evan Kirk 648 5000
Nick Rose 664 5000

Goals against

Player… Needs… To reach…
Brandon Miller 27 1600
Aaron Bold 70 1200
Evan Kirk 99 1000

Saves

Player… Needs… To reach…
Matt Vinc 533 7000
Mike Poulin 70 4000
Aaron Bold 223 4000
Evan Kirk 68 3000
Nick Rose 196 3000

Leaders

This section is for players who are close to passing a retired player on the career list in a particular category.

Player… Needs… To tie… For…
Shawn Evans 15 goals Kasey Beirnes/Tracey Kelusky 13th
23 goals Mike Accursi 12th
Ryan Benesch 21 goals Kasey Beirnes/Tracey Kelusky 13th
29 goals Mike Accursi 12th
Rhys Duch 32 goals Kasey Beirnes/Tracey Kelusky 13th
40 goals Mike Accursi 12th
Dane Dobbie 3 goals Chris Gill 18th
Curtis Dickson 2 goals Kaleb Toth 23rd
5 goals Pat Maddalena 22nd
Dan Dawson 55 assists Colin Doyle 3rd
Shawn Evans 65 assists Shawn Williams 6th
Callum Crawford 6 assists Lewis Ratcliff 12th
13 assists Blaine Manning 11th
Rhys Duch 15 assists Jim Veltman 14th
Ryan Benesch 18 assists Jim Veltman 14th
Dan Dawson 86 points Josh Sanderson 4th
Ryan Benesch 85 points Gavin Prout 11th
Rhys Duch 4 points Blaine Manning 13th
Callum Crawford 34 points Tracey Kelusky 16th
Jeff Shattler 2 points Kasey Beirnes 21st
Matt Vinc 134 goals against Bob Watson 4th
Matt Vinc 4 saves Bob Watson 2nd
Mike Poulin 45 saves Matt Roik 12th
Brodie Merrill 39 LB Jim Veltman 1st
Mark Steenhuis 46 LB Pat McCready 5th
Shawn Evans 22 LB Phil Sanderson 10th
Jeff Shattler 10 LB John Grant 12th

Brodie Merrill will break Jim Veltman’s career loose ball total of 2417 early in the 2018 season. I predicted this back in 2011, though you’ll notice I assumed Merrill would play in all 16 (not 18) of his team’s games every year, and I did not foresee Geoff Snider’s retirement.

Faceoff dominance revisited

Back in 2013, I wrote an article about faceoff dominance and whether it helps you win games. The conclusion was that it does but only slightly – 56% of teams that won more than half of the faceoffs in a game also won the game. But that article was only using data from the 2012 season so the sample size was small. I now have faceoff data for almost every game from 2010-2017, so let’s revisit this.

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