Trade deadline 2015

Now that is what a trade deadline is all about.

Wow, that was fun. Every team in the league made a trade on Tuesday, some bigger than others. But you could argue that the trades made on deadline day included the best player on three different teams, as well as two captains. Below is a summary of the deals we saw on Monday and Tuesday:

Andrew Suitor for Joel White

To Minnesota: Joel White and a second round pick in 2016
To New England: Andrew Suitor

It’s rare for the current captain of a team to be traded. It’s even more rare for captains of two teams to be swapped. This trade confused a lot of people considering how important Suitor was to the Swarm. He was their captain, their leader in every way but scoring, the “heart and soul” of the team, and the phrase “fan favourite” doesn’t begin to cover it. But they traded him anyway which pissed off a lot of Swarm fans, judging by the comments on their Facebook post announcing the trade. In return they get another solid transition guy in Joel White, who has similar scoring numbers to Suitor but far fewer penalty minutes (Suitor has 20, White has just 2) and a lot more loose balls (117 to Suitor’s 60). Suitor is just over two months older than White so age wasn’t a concern for the Swarm, but I imagine White has a smaller salary than Suitor, which is.

Considering how much anger and questioning of the sanity of the Arlottas we’ve seen regarding this trade, you’d think that they got nothing back. Joel White is kind of on the losing end here. The Swarm are getting more loose balls and less time in the box, and though White is perhaps less of a vocal leader than Suitor, he’s still has leadership skills or the Black Wolves wouldn’t have made him the captain. Meanwhile the Wolves get a passionate guy who’ll run through walls for his teammates and is willing to fight if necessary, just in case Bill O’Brien doesn’t feel like it.

Honestly, I’m not sure of the overall advantage of this trade for the Swarm. White might put up slightly better numbers, but if you’re going to anger most of your fan base and lose season ticket holders, is it worth it?

 

Logan SchussLogan Schuss for Johnny Powless

To Vancouver: Logan Schuss
To Minnesota: Johnny Powless

While the Suitor deal raised a few eyebrows, the Swarm’s other major deal works out very well for them. Schuss had job commitments in BC that kept him out of a couple of games (though fewer than he originally expected), so this way he’s much more likely to be able to play. Both Schuss and Powless are young lefties (Schuss is 24, Powless 22). Powless just wasn’t fitting into the Stealth offense, as shown by his 7 goals in 11 games. As said in an article in the Vancouver Province, Powless had as many 0-goal games in his 11 with the Stealth (7) as he did in three full seasons with the Knighthawks. Powless wanted out of Rochester because he didn’t want to be playing behind Cody Jamieson and Dan Dawson all the time, only to be playing behind Rhys Duch, Tyler Digby, and Corey Small in Vancouver. In Minnesota, I think he’ll be alongside Callum Crawford, Miles Thompson, and Shayne Jackson rather than behind them, so this could work out very well for them.

 

Cam Flint

To Colorado: Cam Flint
To Minnesota: Second and third round picks in 2016

Not much to say about this one – Flint had 2 points in 11 games with the Swarm last season but has yet to play this year. Two draft picks for a player with that little NLL experience tells you how highly the Mammoth thinks of Flint, who went to the University of Denver.

 

Matthew Dinsdale

To Edmonton: Matthew Dinsdale
To Calgary: Third round pick, 2016

After Scott Ranger retired in the off-season, I remember some talk that Dinsdale was likely going to get Ranger’s spot and thus lots more playing time. I honestly don’t know if the playing time increased, but while Calgary scored 38 goals in their first three games, Dinsdale was held pointless in all three. After that, his playing time dropped and by the time this trade happened, he’d only played in 6 games and only pulled in 6 points. This is consistent with his numbers over the previous two years (24 points in 27 games). With the addition of Sean Pollock onto the Roughnecks roster, Dinsdale’s playing time wasn’t likely to increase. Maybe a change of scenery (onto a team much more likely to make the playoffs) will do him good.

 

Joe Resetarits for Jamie Batson

To Rochester: Joe Resetarits and a third round pick in 2016
To Buffalo: Jamie Batson, second round pick in 2016, and second round pick in 2017

Resetarits had a pretty good year in 2014, with 42 points in 17 games, but his production has dropped a little this year. His 21 points in 10 games is 6th on the Bandits but would be 7th on the Knighthawks. But playing behind Jammer, Dawson, Point, Walters, Hall, Vitarelli, and Keogh, it’s not clear how much playing time will be left for Resetarits. Batson is a defender with 0 career points in 8 games, but has only played in 2 games this year.

 

Garrett Billings for Kevin Crowley

To New England: Garrett Billings
To Toronto: Kevin Crowley

This was the biggest deal of the day and as a Rock fan, I have to admit I was a little underwhelmed at first. Billings was the MVP runner-up in each of the last 3 seasons and the only player in NLL history to score 100+ points three years in a row. Crowley has been good, sometimes great, for Philly and New England, but he’s averaged around 75% of what Billings has done. I’d say Crowley’s a great player but not an elite one like Billings, so a one-for-one trade doesn’t seem to make sense. But first, we knew that Billings was going to be traded, and likely not for what he was worth. And second, Billings is coming off of knee surgery, and may or may not still be the elite player he was. If he is, then yes, New England wins this one. Going strictly by numbers, even if Billings is only 80% of what he was, New England still wins.

Crowley the GiantBut I wonder if Crowley being the #1 pick overall caused some people (myself included) to expect too much of him. He was expected to be the guy both in Philadelphia and in New England. To his credit, he’s been the top or second scorer on his team every year of his career, but hasn’t been the 90-100 point guy that I kind of expected. But in Toronto, he doesn’t need to be the guy. He can just be one of the guys. And since the guys include Hellyer, Hickey, Sanderson, and Leblanc (and hopefully Doyle next year), that’s not bad company to be around. While I’m sure he learned a lot from veteran Dan Dawson in their one year together in Philly, now he has the opportunity to learn from Sanderson and Doyle and who knows – maybe in a couple of years, he will be the guy on the Rock, but if Hellyer and Hickey keep playing the way they have been, he may not need to be.

Assuming he’s not hobbled by the surgery, Billings is an exciting player to watch and I envy the New England fans who are able to see him at every home game now. He’s known for his playmaking ability and passing (he has twice as many career assists as goals), but he can score with the best of them including lasers from way out, cross-crease dives, and behind-the-back John Grant-style beauties.

Would I prefer to have Billings back on the Rock? Yes, I have to admit that I would. But I’ve known for weeks that that would be unlikely, so I prepared myself for the likelihood that he’d be gone. Given the alternatives (the Rock lose him for nothing or scratch him for the rest of the season), I originally thought that adding Crowley would be better than nothing, but not much more than that. But I’ve warmed to the idea and similar to the Schuss-Powless deal, I think this could be good for both teams as well.

Gavin Prout – the Knighthawk?

Gavin Prout spent two seasons in New York and then six in Colorado, the last five as captain of the Mammoth, averaging 84 points per season. So it was a bit of a shock in Colorado, and throughout the NLL world, when he was traded in 2009 to the Edmonton Rush. He played with the Rush for the 2010 season and about half of 2011 before being traded back to the Mammoth. But something that many people, myself included until recently, don’t remember about Prout being traded from the Mammoth to the Rush was that it never happened.

What could have beenProut, along with Andrew Potter, was traded from the Mammoth to the Rochester Knighthawks in 2009 for Ilija Gajic (some draft picks were involved as well). Potter had been sent to the Mammoth from the Knighthawks the previous year in the deal that brought Gary Gait out of retirement. Interesting that a guy that played all of five games in his NLL career was involved in two such significant trades. Anyway, two weeks later, the Knighthawks sent Prout and Dean Hill to the Rush for a first round draft pick. But the fact that Prout was a Knighthawk for a couple of off-season weeks is usually forgotten.

A number of other players also spend time on teams for which they never played. Here are just a few:

After the Boston Blazers folded, Anthony Cosmo and Josh Sanderson were both selected in the dispersal draft by the Minnesota Swarm. Before the first round of the draft had even ended, Sanderson had been traded to the Rock, while Cosmo sat out half of the next season before being traded to the Bandits.

Shawn Williams is another player who, like Sanderson, can measure the amount of time he spent on the Minnesota roster with a stopwatch. In July 2012, Williams was traded from the Rush to the Swarm for two second-round draft picks. The same day, he was sent off with Brendan Doran as well as the #5 overall pick in the 2012 draft and two other 2012 draft picks to Buffalo for the #3 overall pick. That seems to me like an expensive way to move up two positions – and in fact, it really only moved the Swarm up one position since they went from having picks #2, 4, and 5 to having picks #2, 3, and 4.

Paul Rabil might be the only player to have joined two separate organizations consecutively and never play for either of them. But this story begins six months before Rabil got involved. In the summer of 2011, the Wings traded Athan Iannucci, Alex Turner, Brodie MacDonald, and three first round draft picks to the Rush for Brodie Merrill, Dean Hill, Mike McLellan, and a couple of later draft picks. Nooch never signed with the Rush, and a month into the 2012 season, he was traded to the Stealth for Paul Rabil. Rabil also refused to sign with the Rush and sat out the rest of the 2012 season.

Almost a year after the original Iannucci trade, the Rush sent Rabil to the Knighthawks for Jarrett Davis, but Rabil never reported to Rochester either. Only a couple of weeks before the 2013 season began, he was sent to Philadelphia along with Jordan Hall, Joel White, and Robbie Campbell in exchange for Dan Dawson, Paul Dawson, and a first round draft pick. Rabil is now happy in Philadelphia, and I’m pretty sure the Knighthawks were OK with what they got out of the deal.

But not every player was traded to a team they never played for. Here are some players who were drafted by teams they never played for:

  • Ilija Gajic, Rochester, 2009
  • Joel Dalgarno, Toronto, 2009
  • Craig Point, Boston, 2007
  • Ryan Benesch, San Jose, 2006
  • Blaine Manning, Calgary, 2001
  • Geoff Snider, Vancouver, 2001 (he opted to return to university and was drafted again by the Wings in 2006)
  • Tom Marechek, Buffalo, 1992
  • John Tavares, Detroit, 1991 (and not until the third round!)

I’m sure there are plenty of others. Leave a comment if I missed any!

The Benesch trade: could both teams lose?

As you’ve heard by now, the Buffalo Bandits have acquired sniper Ryan Benesch and transition man Andrew Watt from the Swarm for two first round draft picks (2015, 2016) and a third round pick in 2017. This looks to be a great deal for the Bandits, who lose nobody from their roster while picking up two solid players including Benesch, a former rookie of the year and league scoring leader. It could also be great for the Swarm, who just love their first round draft picks. But it could also be a disaster for both.

The Swarm had four first round draft picks in 2012, and they have four more in 2013, including one of Buffalo’s (from the Cosmo deal). Now they have Buffalo’s first round picks for 2014 (Cosmo again), 2015, and 2016 as well as their own. This, plus Philadelphia’s 2015 pick from the Kevin Ross trade, gives them at least eleven first round picks over the next four drafts.

This is a bit of a strange deal for the Swarm, on the assumption that Benesch didn’t ask for a trade. As I said, they certainly love acquiring first round picks, but I’m not sure it makes sense to give up someone who’s a star now for draft picks. I get that first round picks are important and can change a franchise entirely (right Edmonton Rush and Pittsburgh Penguins? Or the 2013 Swarm for that matter), but the best-case scenario for the Swarm is that they are able to draft someone as good as Benesch. If Benny was 34 and one of those “still pretty good but on the downside of his career” players, it might make sense, but he’s only 28 and could easily be at or near the top of the league in scoring for the next five years or more. Even if the first of the draft picks they got results in the next Mark Matthews, they still have 2 full seasons of no Benesch and no Watt before then.

Ryan BeneschThey do have four first-round picks this year, and if they want to get them all on the roster, then four players from last year have to go. They’ll likely want Andrew Suitor back in the lineup, so that’s one more. But I don’t think Benesch and Watt were at the top of John Arlotta’s “list of players who can be dumped in favour of rookies”. In addition, this trade has made the Bandits better, so it’s unlikely that the Bandits’ first round picks will be all that high anyway.

Meanwhile the Bandits have no first round picks for the next four years. It’s now safe to say that the Cosmo deal was a bust, in that Cosmo has only shown glimpses of the former Goaltender of the Year the Bandits hoped they were getting. Indeed, 2012 and 2013 were the worst seasons of Cosmo’s career in terms of both GAA and save percentage. The Bandits have not yet given up anything for Cosmo – this year’s draft will be the first of the two first-round picks they gave up. But unless Cosmo recovers in a big way next season, the next two drafts might be tough to swallow for Bandits fans.

If the Benesch deal doesn’t work out for whatever reason, the two drafts after those might be just as tough. There would be nothing worse for Bandits fans to head into a draft knowing you have no first round pick this year or next because of a trade for a player that hasn’t played for you for two years, but if Benesch is traded again, that could be the case. But Steve Dietrich knows this. With this trade, the Bandits are going all in with Benesch as their offensive leader for the next half-decade. Obviously losing John Tavares will hurt, whether he retires now or after another season, but with Benesch as the new offensive go-to guy, the Bandits can handle it. That’s something they’ve never really been able to say before. Not saying Benesch is on a par with Tavares, arguably the best NLL player ever, but if you’re looking to replace a strong lefty scoring threat, you could do far worse.

I have no reason to believe that Benesch won’t be successful in Buffalo. If he does take over John Tavares’ spot as the offensive leader of the team, the trade may work out very well for the Bandits. And if the Swarm’s 2013 draft picks work out as well as their 2012 ones did (Matisz, Jackson, Sorensen, Crepinsek), they may be able to survive the loss of Benesch and Watt pretty well.

All trades take time to determine who the real winners were, in some cases a few years. If it takes that long to decide the winner of this deal, it’s likely the Bandits came out on top. But if Dietrich’s bet on Benesch doesn’t work out, things could be pretty bleak in Buffalo for a long time.

The Casey Powell trade: Good or bad for the Mammoth?

Considering I’ve only known about the Casey Powell trade for about twelve hours, I’ve changed my mind about it a surprising number of times. First it was great because it shakes up both offenses. Then it was dumb because Casey Powell is old. Then it was smart because he’s not that old. Then it was dumb because even if he’s not that old, he’s unlikely to play for long, making this a rental move. Now I’m back to good.

The offense for both teams did need a shake-up, and this deal will certainly provide that. Casey Powell wasn’t having an outstanding season – 22 points in 7 games, which would be a 50 point season over 16 games. This is far from terrible, but it would be his lowest point total since 2000. The Knighthawks offense was getting a little crowded, with Powell, Dan Dawson, Cody Jamieson, Mike Accursi, Johnny Powless, Cory Vitarelli, Stephen Keogh, and Craig Point. This move takes Powell out of the mix, giving the rest of them a little more floor time, which if nothing else changes the dynamic. It might allow the Knighthawks to see a little more of the 8-10 point Dan Dawson and less of the 2-3 point Dan Dawson. If the Knighthawks offensive problems were a case of too many cooks, this may help the broth turn out a little better. Hopefully better than that metaphor just did.

Casey Powell

In the case of the Mammoth, John Grant is having a very good season, a little down from last year’s outstanding season, but that’s to be expected. Unfortunately, pretty much everyone else in the offense is down from last year as well. Adding Casey Powell to that mix will have the opposite effect than in Rochester. Rather than having too many people to pass to, the Mammoth only had one, and I’ve heard a lot of Mammoth fans talk about how all their offense flows through Grant. I’ve even heard suggestions that maybe sitting Grant for a game might be a good idea, just to let the offense know that it’s possible to take a shot yourself, even if Grant is on the floor. Adding Powell will change their dynamic as well, allowing them to not put Grant out there on every shift if they don’t want to. This also reduces the possibility of Grant being what we in the computer industry call a “single point of failure” – if Grant gets injured, the Mammoth offense might have fallen apart. With Powell in the lineup, they should be able to adapt a little easier. In fact, there is talk that Gavin Prout is injured and may miss the remainder of the season, in which case Powell simply replaces Prout.

There’s also the mentoring aspect – if you’re a young offensive player, particularly an American, it’s hard to imagine not being excited to have arguably the greatest American lacrosse player in history playing beside you.

The reason I thought this was a bad idea for a little while was based on an assumption that I do not know to be true – the assumption that Casey Powell will retire at the end of this season, or maybe next season at the latest. He just turned 37 and missed all of last season due to injury, so it stands to reason that he may not play much longer. If that’s true, then the Mammoth have given up Jon Sullivan (from a defense that could really use him) and a pick for at most a season and a half of Powell. Is he enough to turn the team around and make them contenders? If not, the deal makes no sense. They didn’t get Powell so they could be contenders for the next five years, this is a move for right now, and the Mammoth are in last place so there may not even be a “right now”.

But there are two reasons I changed my mind on this. First, 37 isn’t that old (right, John Tavares?). In fact, Powell is a year and four months younger than John Grant. Powell has retired from the MLL but he could play another few years if he can stay healthy. It’s a bit of a risk to assume that though.

The other reason is that in the current NLL, as long as you don’t finish dead last, you’re in the playoffs. And as Edmonton showed us last year (and several years ago in the NHL as well, now that I think about it), once you’re in the playoffs anything can happen. If Grant and Powell have a couple of very good games, Lewis and Belanger don’t have to be outstanding. If they’re just “good enough”, we could be talking about the 2013 Champion Colorado Mammoth. Weirder things have happened though admittedly, not many.

It’s likely that Powell is a rental player and will retire after this season. If the Mammoth get a Championship out of it, obviously it’s a good deal for them. Even if they just make the playoffs, you could argue it’s a good deal considering that they’re the team on the outside looking in at this point. If the Mammoth get a second season out of Powell, so much the better for them. It’s really only if he doesn’t play (or tanks) and they miss the playoffs that this doesn’t work out as as even a small win for the Mammoth.

As for the Knighthawks, the offense gets better through addition by subtraction, and they pick up a good experienced defender and a draft pick, so it’s a win for them as well.

Offseason Report #3: Trade frenzy

Just nine days after the NLL and the NLLPA agreed to a deal that will allow the 2013 season to go forward with the same CBA as 2012, there have been all kinds of moves involving every team in the league. The Bandits named Steve Dietrich their new GM, the Stealth re-signed head coach Chris Hall and signed a five-year lease with Comcast Arena, the Roughnecks and Mammoth announced a pre-season game in Langley BC,  the Rush re-signed GM and coach Derek Keenan, and there were no less than five trades involving seven teams in only two days.

The first trade was the Rock sending holdout Aaron Pascas to the Roughnecks for a third round draft pick. This is one of those deals that looks worse than it is – in an ideal world, Pascas is worth more than a 3rd round pick. But he’s a BC boy who has already missed an entire season due to work commitments, and so perhaps the Rock decided that getting a pick was better than the nothing they may get if he can’t play in 2013 either. The Roughnecks get a scorer for the left side who is young and yet has won a Championship. If Pascas has scheduling issues with his job as a firefighter, it’s more likely that he’ll be able to make games in Calgary than in Toronto, so it’s a good deal for him as well.

Jarrett DavisA few hours after the Pascas deal, the Swarm sent forward Kevin Ross to Philadelphia for a first round pick way off in 2015. Swarm owner John Arlotta said that Ross will “get the chance to play closer to home”. Home for Ross is London Ontario, which is nine hours from Philadelphia and fourteen from St. Paul. (Note that I am Canadian, and in Canada we measure distances not in miles or kilometres, but in driving time.) Cutting down your commute from 14 hours to 9 is not much of an advantage, really. Perhaps the flights from southern Ontario to Philly are shorter than to Minnesota, though I can’t imagine it’s much of a difference there either. Anyway, Philly is pretty happy with the trade, especially when you consider that Ross scored 9 points against them in one game and 5 in another last season. Swarm fans were less thrilled since they lose Ross’s 59 points and get nothing in return for over three years.

A day later, three trades rocked the NLL, as the Edmonton Rush finally made the trade that everyone has been waiting for since February, sending Paul Rabil to Rochester for Jarrett Davis. The Rush finally have something to show for Brodie Merrill – but the whole Merrill / Iannucci / Rabil drama has been done to death so I won’t give all the details again. Davis is a very good player even if he’s no Merrill or Rabil, so at first blush it would seem that the Knighthawks clearly win this trade. Adding someone of Rabil’s calibre makes the reigning Champions a far better team, and that’s not something that Rock, Bandits, or Wings fans want to hear. But then again, Davis may actually put on a Rush uniform at some point, which is more than Rabil ever did, so the Rush are up one transition player and down nothing. This is a pretty good deal for both teams.

Well, in that trade they’re down nothing. Associate captain Shawn Williams will not be returning to the Rush, so they are down a scorer as well. The Rush traded Williams, who was a few days away from becoming an unrestricted free agent, to the Minnesota Swarm for draft picks. But Williams’s career as a member of the Swarm was just as long in terms of games played as that of Anthony Cosmo or Josh Sanderson, as he was immediately shuffled off to Buffalo along with Brendan Doran and more draft picks for Buffalo’s first round pick this year. The Swarm now have the #2, #3, and #4 picks in this year’s entry draft. The Bandits pick up Doran, a “young gritty defenseman” says Steve Dietrich, as well as the veteran Williams. Willy is fresh off a season in which he reached the finals, scored his 1,000th NLL point, and set an NLL record for most consecutive games played (190+ and counting). The move reunites the 38-year-old Williams with 43-year-old John Tavares, who played together in Buffalo in 2000 and 2001, and gives the Bandits another legitimate scoring threat. I wouldn’t say the move immediately propels the Bandits into first place in my 2013 NLL East division rankings, but it certainly raises some eyebrows for anyone looking at how the Bandits might recover from the 2012 season, which was terrible disastrous horrific less successful than they might have liked.

So all of those trades happened in just two days. The 2013 NLL season doesn’t start for over five months. It could be a busy summer.

Top 10 surprises from the 2012 NLL season so far (pt. 2)

In part 1, we covered Steve Toll, Athan Iannucci, Paul Rabil, Tyler Carlson, Evan Kirk, Matt Roik, and Nick Rose, as well as some rule changes. In this article, we’ll cover the top 5 surprises in 2012.

5. John Grant

John Grant being an impact player should not surprise anyone. He’s been an impact player his entire career in the NLL, MLL, MSL, or any other L he’s played in. But I don’t think anyone expected him to be as dominant as he has been this season. Not only is he 37, but he’s only three years removed from missing an entire season because of a serious injury that became life-threatening. He recovered well enough to go out and score 83 points in his last year in Rochester and another 83 in his first year in Colorado. Fine numbers, to be sure, but not Grant-like. In fact, 83 points was Grant’s lowest total (playing a full season) since his rookie year in 2000.

John Grant

Grant is a fierce competitor, so it is no surprise that he’d want to get back to his previous numbers – not because the personal stats are important to him, but because he wants to lead his team to as many wins as possible, and his contribution to that objective is putting up tons of points. Starting the season with 11 points was nice, but following it up with 9 and 10 points was amazing. Nobody thought he could keep up a 10-points-per-game pace, and he hasn’t. But he’s still averaging 8.3 points per game. He has yet to pick up less than 3 goals or 3 assists in a game and his season low for a single game is 7 points. He missed two games with an upper body injury, and then returned with another 7 point performance. Before the injury, he was on pace for 136 points in a season, blowing the old single-season record away by 21 points. In fact, even after missing two games (1/8 of the season), he is still on pace to break the record. Unbelievable.

4. Buffalo’s 6 game losing streak

The Bandits are mostly the same team as last year. They traded Chris Corbeil but got Billy Dee Smith back from injury, and also gained Luke Wiles and Mat Giles. They went 10-6 last year and given the team changes, you wouldn’t expect a huge drop-off this season. Sure enough, they started the season 2-0 with wins against the Rock at home and the Knighthawks on the road. And then it all fell apart. The Bandits lost their next six in a row, something they have never done before in a single season. (They did finish the 1999 season with five losses and missed the playoffs, then started 2000 off with a loss. Similarly, they finished 2009 with two losses and started 2010 with four, but there was a playoff win and loss in between.)

Some of the games were ugly. They managed to shut out Philadelphia for half the second quarter and all of the third, and still lost the game. They lost 19-11 to the Swarm in a game that included a 7-0 third quarter. They lost to the Knighthawks in a game that included a 7-0 second quarter. But there were two one-goal losses in there as well, including an overtime game against the Stealth. Of course, the Stealth were 0-3 at the time and then lost their next three.

Bandits coach and GM Darris Kilgour has a reputation for being fiery and passionate, and I’m sure that during this streak more than a few f-bombs were dropped. But after losing six in a row, the Bandits started their next game against the Rock down 5-1 and losing 11-8 at the half. Did Darris lose his mind and scream and yell like a stereotypical drill sergeant? Not at all. In his IL Indoor interview with Tracey Kelusky, Ty Pilson used the unlikely word “gentle” to describe Kilgour’s reaction. Kelusky said “he just said you guys are sticking with it, you guys aren’t panicking, and that’s something we were doing during that six-game skid… He said we’re playing confident, keep doing that and we’ll have success.” How did that go over with the Bandits? They outscored the Rock 13-3 in the second half and won 21-14. That is solid coaching.

3. This year’s crop of rookies

Every year, one rookie is singled out and given the NLL Rookie of the Year award. And every year, there are arguments that someone else deserved it as well. Last year, Curtis Dickson won it over Cody Jamieson, and in 2010, Stephan Leblanc beat out teammate Garrett Billings. This year, the number of deserving rookies who will not win ROY is crazy. It seems that every team has a rookie who’s having an outstanding season, and some have more than one. In the case of the Minnesota Swarm, you could almost nominate half the team.

There are high-scoring forwards like Crowley, Powless, Jones, Lincoln, and Keogh. There are defenders and transition guys like Gamble, Thompson, MacIntosh, and Cornwall. And there are goaltenders like Kirk, Carlson, and Scigliano. At this point in the season, the race is likely between Crowley and Jones, but all of these guys have played well so far and with a few strong games to finish the season, any one of them could find themselves in the ROY race. I don’t remember another season with such a strong group of rookies – not just in terms of how good they are, but in terms of how many good ones there are.

2. Colorado starting 6-0 and 8-1

Maybe others saw this coming, but I certainly didn’t. This is related to #5 above, the amazing play of John Grant, but even if you thought he’d have a good season, did you foresee Adam Jones being so good? And the defense playing well even without Mac Allen? And Gavin Prout playing so well? And Chris Levis? And Sean Pollock and Jamie Lincoln and Jordan McBride and Derek Hopcroft and Ian Hawksbee and Rory Smith and Creighton Reid and Ilija Gajic and…? Honestly, none of those things individually is an absolute shock but the fact that they all happened at the same time has resulted in the Mammoth being the best team in the league, which is a distinction they haven’t been anywhere near for years. The Mammoth only won 5 games in 2011, and managed to match that total in 2012 after… 5 games. They have a very good chance of doubling their win total from last year.

The team is quite different from last year – Mac Allen is out with an injury, Steve Toll retired (temporarily – see #10 on this list) as did Brian Langtry, Joel Dalgarno is out for the year because of work commitments, Ned Crotty and Dan Carey were traded, and Connor Martin was released. Instead, we have Adam Jones, Jordan McBride, Jamie Lincoln, Jon Sullivan, Rory Smith, Sean Pollock, Mat MacLeod, Creighton Reid, and Derek Hopcroft. Is the fact that a team with this many changes has gelled as well as they have a testament to good coaching by Bob Hamley, or Gavin Prout becoming captain, or some combination of both? I’m sure Mammoth fans don’t care, but they’re certainly enjoying the ride.

1. Washington starting 1-6

It was surprising that a bad team would retool and instantly become a great team, but it’s even more surprising that a great team would make very few changes over the off-season and become a lousy team. And that’s what the Stealth looked like for the first seven games of the 2012 season. They won an overtime squeaker against the also-struggling Buffalo Bandits, but lost to the Roughnecks twice, the Wings, the Knighthawks, and the Swarm, and they got smoked by the Edmonton Rush 16-5 in their own arena.

Rhys Duch

Sure, they lost Jeff Zywicki to injury early in the year, but he only played three games last year anyway. They traded Matt Roik but Tyler Richards played more than twice as many minutes as Roik did in 2011. Richards and Rhys Duch got injured as well, but not until the Stealth were 1-5. They did lose Luke Wiles, who’s tearing up the turf in Buffalo, and didn’t really replace him, so that’s something. But Duch and Ratcliff couldn’t find the back of the net, and Richards had a worse GAA than every starting goalie in the league and several backups.

The Stealth have been struggling with low attendance despite two consecutive Champion’s Cup appearances; the highest Washington crowd this year, 4687, is 600 less than the lowest crowd anywhere else (5267 in Rochester). Maybe you could use that fact to argue that winning and losing has no bearing on attendance in Washington so it doesn’t matter if they win or lose. But I doubt it. And I doubt the players are OK with losing if it doesn’t affect the crowds.

Part, maybe even most, of the problem was the absence of head coach Chris Hall. CH was the heart and soul of the Stealth, but our old nemesis cancer raised its ugly head once again, this time in the form of throat cancer, and Hall had to stay away from the arena to concentrate on his treatment and recovery. Thankfully, it seems that Hall has won this battle, and after missing the first six games of the season he returned cancer-free to the bench. The Stealth lost their first game after his return, but have won two of three since then.

Top 10 surprises from the 2012 NLL season so far (pt. 1)

2012 has been a season full of surprises in the NLL, and it’s only half over. In true “top ten list” fashion, we’ll start at #10 and move up towards #1.

 

10. Steve Toll’s return

Steve TollHe hasn’t played yet, but Rush GM Derek Keenan has already announced his signing. I guess Toll’s retirement was never official, so he’s just a free agent. What I don’t know is whether his “iron man” streak will continue. He played all 16 games with the Mammoth last year, and wasn’t on a roster for the first part of this season, so does that count as breaking the streak? If not, he’ll only be one game behind the new leader Shawn Williams. Williams and Toll are good friends off the floor, so it stands to reason that Willy was involved in this transaction somehow, but I don’t know whether he convinced Steve to come back, or Steve asked him to put in a good word with the boss.

In case you are wondering, the other Toll on the Rush, Jarrett, is not related to Steve. At least he doesn’t think so.

9. Iannucci and Rabil

The biggest trade of last summer was unquestionably Brodie Merrill for Athan Iannucci. At the time, I thought Philly got robbed blind – not because Iannucci is so much better than Merrill, but because they gave the Rush three first round draft picks among everything else. Well, someone got robbed blind, but it wasn’t Philadelphia. Merrill is playing very well for the Wings, but Iannucci never reported to the Rush. Apparently he didn’t have problems with the team or the city, but the contract negotiations got heated and apparently things started to get personal, and Iannucci refused to play. Five games into the season, Nooch was finally traded to the Stealth, where he’s been OK, though nowhere near his level of play back in 2008. In return, the Rush got transition star Paul Rabil – who then refused to report to the Rush, and the whole thing started over again. This time it wasn’t about money; Rabil had been trying to get traded back east for years, but Washington couldn’t do it. I guess travelling to Edmonton would have been worse than to Washington since there are likely no direct flights from the Baltimore area (where Rabil lives) to Edmonton, so he’d likely end up having to fly to Seattle anyway and then to Edmonton so his travel schedule just got way worse. I guess you can’t blame him for that, but when you hear that someone like John Grant can up and move his entire family, including a young child, to Denver, you feel less sympathy for Rabil.

My impression of Rabil has always been that the MLL and field lacrosse in general is his thing, and the NLL is an interesting pastime and way to make a few bucks and keep up his skills during the winter. That’s not to say he doesn’t try hard; I’m sure he gives 110% when he’s on the floor, but if he had to give up the NLL or the MLL, the NLL would lose in a heartbeat. This is not a judgement or criticism of him, he just likes field lacrosse better. He’s happy to play in the NLL, but if it means lots of travel and major inconvenience, then he’s fine giving it up.

The trading deadline has just passed and Rabil was not dealt, so the deal now looks like Merrill, Mike McLellan, Dean Hill, a 5th round pick in 2011, and a 4th round pick in 2013 to the Wings for Alex Turner, Brodie McDonald, and first round picks in 2012, 2013, and 2014. Given the first rounders, it’s still not that terrible a deal for the Rush long term, but certainly isn’t helping them this year.

There are rumours that Derek Keenan will ask Rabil to report for the rest of the year, but that seems unlikely. I can’t imagine the reception he’d get from the Edmonton fans when his name was announced.

8. The rule change making the most difference

A number of rule changes were announced for 2012. A lot of people, myself included, thought the change from ten seconds to eight would be the most significant, or possibly the “two feet in the box” substitution rule. But when I’m watching the game, the two that make the most difference for me (and I’m putting them together because they’re related) are the delay of game on possession change, and the fast start rule. When the ref blows the whistle to signal a possession change (eg. a moving pick) or the shot clock expires, the attacking player must immediately put the ball down on the floor and give the other team some room. None of this rolling it away from the other team or running around for an extra second or two to give your team a chance to change. It’s been pushed to the limit a few times, where a player will put it down but not completely stop it, and it rolls a couple of feet and the player is given a penalty. That seems excessive, but assuming those kinds of calls disappear as the refs and players get more used to the rule, it really keeps the game moving.

The other one is related – say a player on team A shoots at the net and misses, and then the shot clock expires. If the ball bounces off the boards and all the way out to centre and a team B player picks it up there, the ref blows the whistle and play just continues. In previous years, play would be stopped, the ball would be brought back to the goal area, and team B would start again. Again, the new rule keeps the game going. It makes transition plays more likely and forces teams to either change faster (but the “two feet in the box” rule makes sure that they’re not too fast) or have the O guys play more D, which we’re seeing a lot this year.

7. The goalie situation in Minnesota

At the beginning of the season, it looked like Minnesota’s goalies might be Nick Patterson and Anthony Cosmo, which should have been an excellent tandem. In reality, Cosmo was unlikely to play, as he told the Swarm before they picked him in the Boston dispersal draft. So the Swarm decided to go with rookies Tyler Carlson and Evan Kirk backing up Patterson. After Patterson let in 20 goals in the Swarm’s first game, they gave Carlson a try. Carlson went 2-2 with a GAA around 11 in his first four games, and Evan Kirk and went 2-0 and an amazing 6.50 GAA in his first two games. Patterson was released, Cosmo was finally traded, and Minnesota has just as great a goalie tandem as expected, but not with the players that we expected. After ten games, the Swarm are 5-4 and third in the west, Carlson is 3-2 with a GAA of 11.14, and Kirk is 2-1 with a league-leading GAA of 8.33 and by far the best save percentage with 83.2%. Only one other goalie is over 80%, and that’s Calgary’s Frankie Scigliano (another rookie), who’s only played 51 minutes.

6. The goalie situation in Toronto

Bob Watson decided to retire following the 2010 season but after the Rock lost the Championship Game, owner Jamie Dawick (among others) managed to convince him to come back for one more year. It ended up as a storybook ending that couldn’t have been scripted any better, with a Championship for the Rock and well-earned Championship Game MVP honours for Watson. But as happy as Rock management and fans were with 2011, the question loomed: how do you replace Bob Watson?

Matt RoikThey answered that question in July, when they traded Kyle Ross to Washington for Matt Roik. Over and over, Rock management sung his praises. When Boston announced in September that they would “temporarily suspend operations” (NLL-speak for “vanish forever”), the rumours of Anthony Cosmo’s return to Toronto started almost immediately. The Minnesota Swarm traded three players to the Mammoth to get their first round pick, and they chose Cosmo. When I heard that Toronto and Minnesota had made a trade during the dispersal draft, I assumed it would be for Cosmo. Instead, it was Josh Sanderson coming to the Rock, and once again the Rock said that Matt Roik was their man and that they had no interest in Cosmo.

Five games into the season, it certainly looked like they’d made the right choice. The Rock were 3-2, and Roik had been solid in the two losses and great in the three wins. He was even named Defensive Player of the Week for week 5. Smooth sailing, right? Wrong. Four games later, the Rock are 4-5 and last in the East. So do they stick with the guy they’ve been talking about as “their man” since July? Nope. They release him outright and trade for Calgary backup Nick Rose. Then they talk about how it wasn’t Roik’s fault that they’ve played badly in the last few games, but Roik paid the price anyway with his job, possibly his season, and maybe even his career.

This whole situation is eerily similar to the 2004 Rock season. Legendary coach and GM Les Bartley had announced over the off-season that he was fighting cancer and would not be able to be behind the bench during the 2004 season. The Rock named Derek Keenan and Ed Comeau the interim GM and coach respectively in Les’ absence. But after only 6 games, both were fired and the Rock hired Terry Sanderson (who was an assistant coach with the Bandits at the time – the Rock would give up a draft pick the next year as punishment for “tampering”) as the new GM and coach. Considering that both Keenan and Comeau have gone on to great success in the NLL, both winning the GM and Coach of the Year awards, I have to wonder what might have been if they had been given a little more leeway and time. But Rock fans certainly can’t complain about how things worked out, considering the team went 8-2 over the rest of that season and then won the Championship the next year. (Les Bartley would lose his battle with cancer at the tragically young age of 51 the day after that 2005 Championship game.)

Rock fans may always wonder what might have been had Roik been given more time. But if Rose works out in Toronto as well as Sanderson did, the question may just never come up.

 

Coming soon: the top 5.

Roik out, Rose in

In an attempt to right their listing ship, the Rock replaced the anchor on Monday. Matt Roik was supposed to be the goalie of the future for the Rock but his tenure lasted just over half a season, as the Rock traded for Calgary backup Nick Rose on Monday, releasing Roik outright. Calgary gets Toronto’s first round draft pick in 2014, and if Toronto doesn’t make it to the Championship game this year, they also get a second round pick from Calgary in 2014. Is this the solution? Obviously we won’t know that until a few games have been played, but in order for Rose to be the solution, Roik would have to have been the problem. Was he?

In 10 games, Roik was 4-4. Among regular starters (i.e. 300+ minutes), he ranks ninth in both GAA (12.52) and save percentage (.725). In a nine team league, ranking ninth is not good. The Rock are also tied for last in goals against with 129. From these numbers, it certainly sounds like goaltending is a big problem. But (feel free to gasp out loud here as a stats guy says this) the numbers don’t always tell you everything.

Quite simply, Roik was not the reason for the Rock’s less-than-stellar season thus far. He had his tough games, and in a couple he wasn’t sharp at all. But in those ten games, he’s really only had two or maybe three bad outings, and only one real stinker. Interesting that the Rock decided that this was too much for Roik, when Stephen Leblanc has had more than three lousy outings this year, but he’s not going anywhere (and I’m not suggesting that he should be).

The real problem is that there isn’t a single problem. There were games where the goaltending wasn’t great (pretty much the last three), but there were also games where the defense in front of him gave up too many chances, and other games where the defense was fine but nobody wanted to score. The Rock have scored 13 or more goals in five games, so they can score. They held the Wings to only 6 goals so they can play defense, though that was the only game this year where they’ve held the opposition to less than 11. In the first seven games, the Rock were 4-3, but in the three losses, Roik wasn’t the problem. In the 14-8 loss to Philly, I said in my game report: “I certainly wouldn’t pin the loss squarely on him [Roik]”. Even Terry Sanderson said in the press release “In this case, I don’t feel our guys were playing well enough in front of Matt”. That sounds to me like they are acknowledging the fact that it was a team thing, not just Roik.

None of what I’ve said would be news to Sanderson, Troy Cordingley, Jamie Dawick, or anyone else in the Rock organization, were they to grace my humble lacrosse blog with their presence. So if Roik wasn’t the problem, why did the Rock make this move? I have to think it’s the same reason you sometimes pull the goaltender during a game – just to shake up the team. Mike Thompson had some ugly games for the Bandits, but their 6-game losing streak wasn’t entirely his fault. That didn’t stop Darris Kilgour from picking up Anthony Cosmo, and who’s been the better goalie since then? Thompson.

Rose hails from the lacrosse hotbed of Orangeville, Ontario, and a number of Rock players – Edwards, Gamble, Bryan, Rooney, and Josh Sanderson, according to Eh Game – have played with Rose before, either on the Boston Blazers or the Orangeville Northmen. It’s not like Roik was a complete unknown, but we all know that Terry Sanderson, also an Orangeville guy, would much prefer having players on his team that he’s familiar with.

Are the Rock a better team with Rose? This year, it obviously remains to be seen. Going forward, the answer is likely yes. Rose is eight years younger than Roik, and had a lot of success in junior lacrosse, winning a couple of Minto Cups and being named IL Indoor’s Junior Goaltender of the Year in consecutive years. He hasn’t seen an awful lot of playing time in the NLL, but has been a backup to two of the best in Cosmo and Poulin. Oddly, Poulin was also a backup to Cosmo, and both Poulin and Cosmo were at one time backups to Bob Watson in Toronto. And Cosmo was once traded for Matt Roik. The cycle of goalies is complete.

So what happens to Roik now? Maybe he and Nick Patterson will hang together and watch NLL games online for the rest of the year. It’s certainly possible that he’ll catch on with another team, likely in a backup role unless there’s an injury. Or maybe he’ll get a starting job somewhere if a team starts to falter, even if it’s not their goalie’s fault.

Iannucci for Rabil: Who won the trade

The Athan Iannucci era ended in Edmonton the other day. The stats: zeroes across the board. But the Washington Stealth don’t care about that, they’re just concerned with the more important number associated with Iannucci: 71, the record-setting number of goals he scored in 2008 when he was league MVP. This number was so intriguing to the Stealth that they were willing to give up a player who has been called “the best lacrosse player in the world”, Paul Rabil. That quote was referring to field lacrosse, not box, but Rabil is no slouch in the indoor game either. But who really wins this trade?

After being sent to Edmonton in the biggest trade of the last off-season, Athan Iannucci never reported to the Rush because he never signed a contract. The details of the negotiations were never released, but there were rumours that Nooch was asking for top dollar on a multi-year contract. Iannucci himself said that this wasn’t the case and that there would be players in the league making double what he was asking for. Rush owner Bruce Urban said that what Iannucci was asking for, specifically in the second year, was not allowed by the CBA. Regardless, the Rush started the season without Nooch and it quickly became clear that he was unlikely to suit up for them.

I remember watching Iannucci in a playoff game in Buffalo during his 2008 MVP season. He just had a presence when he was on the floor. You knew that every defender was watching him and yet it seemed that he could score at will anyway. The only other player I’ve seen with that level of dominance is John Grant. But Grant has kept up that dominance for a decade, and this season it seems stronger than ever. Iannucci, on the other hand, had injury problems and only played 10 games in the 2009 season and missed 2010 entirely. He returned last year, apparently back to full health, but wasn’t nearly as dominant, only racking up 29 goals and 61 points in 13 games. Neil Stevens from Lacrosse Magazine points out that he only played in one playoff game, a loss, in his “five years with Philadelphia” (which was really four because of the year he didn’t play) but that’s hardly Iannucci’s fault – the Wings had sucked for years before Nooch got there, and he did score four goals in that one playoff game.

Dominance aside, Iannucci’s numbers make him look like the prototypical “ball hog” during his MVP season – he only had 29 assists to go with his 71 goals. John Grant, on the other hand, has had more assists than goals in 9 of his 11 NLL seasons. Now Iannucci didn’t have Shawn Williams, Scott and Shawn Evans, Cory Bomberry, and Craig Point to pass to in Philadelphia, so perhaps that’s an unfair comparison. But Bob Chavez at IL Indoor recently ranked Iannucci as the 16th best player in the league saying that, in short, he’s back. In 15 playoff games with the Langley Thunder this past summer, Nooch picked up 45 points, helping the Thunder to their first Mann Cup appearance. It would not surprise me if Stealth GM Doug Locker was at one or more of those games, and liked what he saw.

Paul Rabil has been one of the best transition players in the NLL for three years. He is, as I said, widely known as one of the best field lacrosse players in the world – he’s been named MLL MVP twice, MLL Offensive Player of the Year twice, and MVP of the World Lacrosse Championship in 2010. His shot has been clocked at a blistering 111 mph. He was a big part of Washington’s 2010 and 2011 NLL Championship appearances, and seemed to be one of the faces of the Stealth franchise along with Rhys Duch and Lewis Ratcliff. Given his offensive success in the MLL, he can obviously be a scoring threat, but he’s listed as a transition player and that’s how he’s primarily been used.

But Washington’s problem this year is not transition, it’s offense. Even including Rabil, they have three players with more than 10 points after five games – and one of those three only has 11. Tyler Richards, the starting goalie, is tied for 7th on the team in points. Unless they convert Rabil to be a full-time forward, he can only have so much of an impact. Iannucci, on the other hand, is pure offense. I honestly don’t know how good of a defensive player he is, and with the new rules promoting transition, it’s more likely than in previous years that he’ll be caught on the floor and have to play some defense – this is true for all offensive players, not just Nooch.

On the assumption that Iannucci is average defensively (i.e. not a superstar but not a pylon either), it would seem that the Stealth are willing to give up some transition and defense for a ton of offense, which is what they need. The Rush gain a great transition player while giving up nobody from their starting roster. There are still rumours that Rabil is not finished being moved, and that he may come even further east, in which case he’s trade bait, and the Rush will still get something significant for him. It’s hard to say that they got Rabil for free though, even if Iannucci never played for them, considering they did give up Brodie Merrill to get Iannucci. The Rush also receive a first-round draft pick for next year from the Stealth, while Washington gets the Rush’s second round pick. Note that this brings the total count of first round draft picks Edmonton has received for Brodie up to four (over the next three years).

I think the Stealth did improve in an area that they absolutely had to improve in, and so this was a pretty good move for them. I’d have to call Edmonton the winner though, considering they got one of the most exciting and dynamic players in the game, gave up nothing from the roster that played their first four games, and upgraded a second round pick to a first. As with all trades though, we’ll have to revisit this after the season ends, or even a year or two down the road, and see how it really played out.