Rochester’s trade frenzy

Wednesday was a bit of a crazy day in the NLL – more trades happened on that day than the rest of the season combined, and all of them involved the Rochester Knighthawks. According to sources, they’re not even done.

It began with Joe Resetarits being sent to the New England Black Wolves in exchange for a couple of draft picks – a second round pick this year and a first in 2022. Perhaps Joey Res was uninterested in playing for a Halifax-based team. Maybe they were having trouble deciding who they would protect in this summer’s expansion draft and figured they could get a couple of draft picks for him and help make the decision easier. Either way, it’s a great deal for the Knighthawks on the assumption that they are admitting defeat for this season.

The deal makes a ton of sense for the Black Wolves, who will likely be without Callum Crawford for most of the rest of the season. Crawford was on pace for another hundred-point season before his six-game suspension, so bringing in another righty who got 100 last season is logical and makes the Black Wolves that much more dangerous once Crawford returns. If Resetarits can help the Black Wolves even go .500 for the six games Crawford will be out and then they get to have Resetarits and Crawford for the playoffs, that’s easily worth a couple of draft picks.

Joe Resetarits

The next deal announced was defender Paul Dawson being sent to play with his brother Dan in San Diego. The Knighthawks get another two draft picks for Dawson, and the Seals get a big, strong, tough veteran defender to help in their playoff push. Another good deal for both teams, again assuming the Knighthawks are building for next year.

The third one was more surprising. The Knighthawks send Cory Vitarelli to the Mammoth in exchange for Ryan Benesch, one for one. No draft picks going in either direction. Another great deal for the Knighthawks, who get one of the top scorers in league history. However I’m not sure of the incentive for the Mammoth to make this trade. Vitarelli and Benesch are both lefties and they’re about the same age (Vitarelli is five months younger). Vitarelli is a very good player who can score some acrobatic goals, but he’s no Ryan Benesch. Think of it this way: Vitarelli’s best season by average was 2015 when he scored 39 points in 12 games. That’s 3.25 points per game. Benesch has only had one season in his twelve-year career as low as Vitarelli’s best, his lone season with the Edmonton Rush in 2009. His career average (4.95 points per game) is almost double Vitarelli’s (2.68).

Of course, numbers aren’t the only thing to use to compare players. Vitarelli generally serves a different purpose than to be the primary scorer, so you don’t expect 90 points from him. You expect hard picks, digging in corners, making space for the primary scorers, and scoring the occasional jaw-dropping goal, and he excels at those jobs. But they just traded away Stephen Keogh, who also excels at those jobs. It’s puzzling.

Here’s one possibility: Vitarelli is listed as 5’10” but a very solid 220 pounds. That’s an inch taller and forty pounds heavier than Benesch. If you look at the other forwards on the Mammoth, there’s a pattern: McLaughlin and Ruest are 185 pounds, Lee and Wardle are 175, Noble is 170, and Kyle Killen is only 150. Vitarelli is thirty five pounds more than biggest forward the Mammoth have. Perhaps they decided that they really needed some more size up front but if that’s the reason, I still think they overpaid. But when you’re 3-7, maybe you have to overpay.

As for the Knighthawks, was this a fire sale because they’re most likely out of the playoffs, or more of a moving sale because they’re heading to Halifax after the season? Probably a bit of both. My guess is that Matt Vinc didn’t want to move to Halifax or be a fly-in, so he opted to leave Rochester. Maybe Vitarelli and/or Resetarits were in the same boat and Rochester GM Curt Styres decided he could get something for them now rather than have them leave later.

The Knighthawks are 2-8 and the odds of them making the playoffs are not great. Trading players for picks is an odd (and likely ineffective) way to improve your team enough to rebound and make the playoffs, so it’s likely that Styres is indeed building the best team he can for next season in Halifax. If there are more Knighthawks deals coming before Monday’s trade deadline, perhaps those will help to reveal his strategy.

The Stealth and Doug Locker’s luck

If you’re a regular reader of this blog – first of all, thanks! – and secondly, you’ve probably already heard about the NLL changes in Vancouver. The Stealth franchise was sold to the Vancouver Canucks ownership group, who immediately announced that the team would be renamed, rebranded, and moved to the Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver. Just a few days later, they announced that they had hired local boys Dan Richardson and Chris Gill to be the new GM and head coach respectively. I didn’t actually see an announcement that Doug Locker or Jamie Batley had been fired, but I guess we can assume that. With all the changes to the team, it’s almost like we have three expansion teams coming next season, with the minor difference that one of the three already has players.

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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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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.

Various musings lacking statistical correlation

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

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

John Grant retires

John Grant

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

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

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

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

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

Adam Jones comes to the Rock

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

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

San Diego: The new kid in town

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

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

San Diego

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

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

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

Expansion rumours

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

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

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

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

MLL data breach

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

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

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

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

MLL's Chief Security Officer

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

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

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

Blockbuster day in the NLL

The free agency period began with a bang today, as two of the biggest blockbuster trades we’ve seen in years both happened on the same day. In the first one, a couple of former teammates who have each played for a bunch of teams were swapped along with a goalie, and in the other the two main players were both goalies.

Deal the First

Early in the day, Teddy Jenner broke the news on twitter that a big deal was coming, and Tyson Geick confirmed that it would be announced at noon. Promptly at noon, both Jenner and the Buffalo Bandits broke the deal: the Mammoth sent Callum Crawford and Alexis Buque to the Bandits for Ryan Benesch and a conditional third round draft pick. Benesch and Crawford were both scoring stars on the Swarm for four seasons from 2010-2013; Benesch won the scoring title in 2011 with 95 points, and Crawford broke 90 in both 2010 and 2013. As good as those numbers are, both have since taken their games to another level. Each has picked up MVP votes over the past couple of years with similar numbers: Benesch grabbed 113 points with the Bandits in 2015 while Crawford picked up 115 points in his first season with the Mammoth in 2016.

Callum Crawford

Buque has been one of the top backup goalies in the league for a couple of years, and I suspected that he’d be one of the first snatched up by next year’s expansion teams. Sounds like the Bandits had other plans. Benesch and Crawford have been pretty even in the points department over the last number of years, though Crawford picks up more assists. The Bandits also announced today that they’d signed Davide DiRuscio to a contract, which leads me to believe that the Anthony Cosmo retirement announcement is imminent.

On first blush, I have to call the Bandits the winners on this one. If we call Benesch and Crawford a wash, Buque vs. a 3rd round draft pick is a no-brainer. The Bandits needed right-handed scoring and got it, though they weakened their left side to do it. But if Cosmo is indeed retiring, they’ve also shored up their goaltending for years. The Mammoth wanted to replace John Grant on the left side (though he barely played last season) and they’ve certainly done that.

Deal the Second

Aaron BoldA few hours later, Jenner broke another big trade, this one involving the Rush and the Black Wolves, and one that still has me scratching my head. The Rush sent goalie Aaron Bold, defender John Lafontaine, the 8th overall draft pick this year and a second round pick in 2018 to New England for Evan Kirk and… that’s all. Make no mistake, Evan Kirk is an excellent goaltender but this trade seems a bit perplexing. Bold and Kirk are two of the top goalies in the league, but not only would I not put the difference between them big enough to cover Lafontaine and two draft picks, but I’d have put them in the other order – if I was giving up Bold and receiving Kirk, I’d be expecting to receive another player and/or draft picks. Note that Kirk is younger than Bold, but only by two years.

Yes, Kirk won Goaltender of the year in 2016 and Bold has never won it. But Bold was a runner-up in each of the previous two years. And if you care about that sort of thing, Bold has two titles and Kirk none.

If this deal was done by anyone other than Derek Keenan, I’d say he got fleeced. But Derek Keenan doesn’t get fleeced. Usually, Derek Keenan does the fleecing.

I’m guessing there’s more to this deal than meets the eye, or it’s only part of a series of deals, the rest of which will be announced soon. Perhaps Bold requested a trade east and all the eastern GMs knew it, so Keenan had no bargaining power.

I’m not sure what the Rush hoped to accomplish with this deal. They got a little younger, but they were one of the youngest teams in the league anyway and the difference is minimal. And Lafontaine is only 27. They talked about the draft picks they got for Adam Jones being important because of the (likely) upcoming expansion drafts, and then traded two picks away for at best a wash at goaltender and they lost a defenseman too. Apparently there is more to come from the Rush, so perhaps those moves will explain their thought process.

As for the Black Wolves, they got better today and also picked up some draft picks to get better in the future. Not bad.

The saga of Garrett Billings

Garrett Billings and Stephen Leblanc both exploded into the league in 2010. Leblanc beat out Billings for the Rookie of the Year award, and each beat the other by one point over their first two seasons. But in 2012, Billings took a giant leap forward, recording 114 points and leaving Leblanc’s 65 in the dust. He finished second in league scoring in both 2012 and 2013, and third in 2014, and was an also a top MVP candidate in all of those seasons. Near the end of 2014, however, he injured his knee (in a game in Vancouver, ironically enough) and missed the rest of the season and the playoffs. Nobody knew at the time that it was the last game for Billings in a Rock uniform.

This bummed me out, since I’ve been a big Billings fan since 2010. I have a Rock shirt with his name on it, and I even used a picture of him as the icon for this blog on Facebook.

But once he was healthy again, he didn’t return to the Rock lineup. It soon became clear that he and the Rock were involved in contract negotiations that weren’t going well. I won’t go over all the details here, mainly since we don’t know them all, but during the 2015 season Billings was traded to New England for Kevin Crowley (who was later flipped back to New England for Dan Lintner). He picked up 36 points in 8 games for the Black Wolves and was later dealt to the Stealth in what ended up being a three-way deal that sent Tyler Digby to Calgary and Shawn Evans to New England.

As a Langley native, Billings playing for Vancouver sounds like a dream for both him and the team. He played in 11 games with the Stealth in 2016 and picked up 60 points, a pace that would have netted him 98 over 18 games. But something happened between Billings and the Stealth in the offseason or early 2017, and nobody knows what it was, or at least I don’t. Billings started the season on the IR but once healthy, only played in four games. He was a healthy scratch for six games and once he was added to the holdout list at the end of March, the Garrett Billings era in Vancouver came to a premature end.

Garrett Billings

It’s odd that one of the best players in the league from 2010 through 2014 is on the Stealth roster but doesn’t figure in to their plans. It’s unlikely he’ll suit up for the Stealth again and I hope he’s amenable to travelling since home games for him will be somewhere else next year. I’ve read comments that he’s actually Athan Iannucci’d himself right out of the league – clearly nobody was breaking down Doug Locker’s door last season to get him. I hope that’s not true but we’ll see what the post-season brings.

Where to?

Trade speculation is always a crapshoot but just for fun, let’s have a look at where Billings might end up if he’s traded. We’ll just think about two-team trades that only involve Billings, otherwise there are just too many possibilities.

I imagine the bridges have been burned with respect to the Rock, and with Hickey, Schreiber, Lintner, Beirnes, and Hellyer, they’re packed with righties anyway. Could he fit in on the right side with the Bandits? That would allow them to put Mark Steenhuis back on transition, though they’re not hurting in the transition department anyway so that’s not really filling a need. Rochester is a possibility, particularly considering their offensive woes this season. They have three first-round draft picks this fall and still have their first round picks in 2018 and 2019, so that’s a possibility for what heads west. Billings may not be what he once was (though his 2016 numbers indicate that he could be) but assuming he’s not still injured in some way, I think he’s still worth a first-round pick.

Georgia? Their offense is just fine, thanks. The Black Wolves have Evans, Crowley, and Kyle Buchanan on the right side so I’m not sure adding Billings to that list makes sense but replacing one of those guys might. Kevin Crowley is also from BC so that’s a possibility (could we have a second “Billings to New England for Crowley” deal?) but (a) I believe Crowley lives on the east coast now, and (b) the Stealth don’t need Billings on the right side, so they likely don’t need Crowley on the right side either. Call that a probably not.

The Rush and Mammoth are fine on the right side so the only possibility left is Calgary. They only used three righties in 2017: Dickson, Berg, and Digby. The Roughnecks missed the playoffs in 2017; could they use a guy like Billings to shake things up? Sure they could. If the Roughnecks don’t want to give up a player, they have one first round draft pick this year, plus two in each of 2018 and 2019.

There are always factors involved in trades that we don’t know about. But if I had to guess, I’d say the Roughnecks sounds like the most likely target. Interesting that he and Digby, who were once traded for each other, would end up as teammates in that scenario.

It’s unfortunate that things didn’t work out in Vancouver, but I hope Billings returns to the NLL in 2018 as effective as ever. Maybe I’m biased as a Billings fan as well as a Rock fan who watched him make significant contributions over the years, including helping to bring the 2011 Championship to Toronto, but similar to Cody Jamieson, I think the league is better with Garrett Billings in it.