2017 NLL Predictions

Here are my predictions for the final regular season standings as well as the major annual awards. The “Dark Horse” predictions are my “not as likely but could happen” picks.

Final Standings

East

  1. New England
  2. Buffalo
  3. Georgia
  4. Toronto
  5. Rochester

West

  1. Saskatchewan
  2. Colorado
  3. Calgary
  4. Vancouver

Individual Awards

MVP

Winner: Mark Matthews
Short list: Shawn Evans, Dhane Smith
Dark horse:  Adam Jones

Goaltender of the Year

Winner: Aaron Bold
Short list: Dillon Ward, Nick Rose
Dark horse: Frank Scigliano

Robert HopeDefensive Player of the Year

Winner: Robert Hope
Short list: Ryan Dilks, Kyle Rubisch, Graeme Hossack
Dark horse:  Mitch de Snoo

Transition Player of the Year

Winner: Karsen Leung
Short list: Alex Kedoh Hill, Chad Tutton, Chris Corbeil
Dark horse:  Challen Rogers

Rookie of the Year

Winner: Ryan Keenan
Short list: Challen Rogers, Mike Messenger
Dark horse:  Kieran McArdle

Les Bartley Award

Winner: Troy Cordingley
Short list: Derek Keenan (though you could put his name here every year)
Dark horse: Jamie Batley

GM of the Year

Winner: If the Rock are above .500 and make the playoffs, Jamie Dawick. Otherwise, Steve Dietrich
Short list: Derek Keenan (though you could put his name here every year)
Dark horse: Curt Styres or Doug Locker

This was a tough one since the Rock, Knighthawks, Swarm, and Stealth made a lot of moves but I’m not terribly confident in them. Most other teams didn’t make many at all.

2017 NLL: Who’s in, who’s out

Here’s a complete list of all the roster changes for each team.

Note that these are the changes as of the final roster from last season, so a player might be listed as “In” even if he played for that team during 2016.

BanditsBuffalo Bandits

In: Craig Point, Brad Self
Out: Chad Culp, Tyler Ferreira, Jay Thorimbert
IR: Bryce Brochu, Craig England, Adam Will
PUP:
Holdout:
Practice Roster: Tim Edwards, Justin Martin, Kevin Orleman, Blaze Riorden

The Bandits have the fewest changes of any team in the league. They went to the finals last season, so that makes sense. Added to the lineup are veterans Craig Point and Brad Self, while Culp and face-off specialist Thorimbert head to New England and Tyler Ferreira to the rival Knighthawks.


SwarmGeorgia Swarm

In: Liam Byrnes, Bryan Cole, Jordan Hall, Mike Poulin, John Ranagan, Connor Sellars, Leo Stouros, Sean Young
Out: Reid Acton, David Earl, Zack Higgins, Jesse King, Jordan MacIntosh, Drew Petkoff, Johnny Powless, Joel White
IR: Jesse King, Jordan MacIntosh, Johnny Powless
PUP:
Holdout: Laughlin Elder
Practice Roster: Brayden Hill, Warren Hill, Drew Petkoff, Adam Shute

A few big names start the season on the injured list for the Swarm. Newcomer Jordan Hall should help boost the offense and Mike Poulin gives the Swarm a solid #1 goalie, something they haven’t really had since… well, a long time ago in a state far, far away. Defender John Ranagan joins from New England and five rookies also made the team.


BlackWolvesNew England Black Wolves

In: Chad Culp, Doug Jamieson, Seth Oakes, Reilly O’Connor, Scott Self, Matt Spanger, Jay Thorimbert
Out: Dan Ball, Tye Belanger, Phil Caputo, Jordan Hall, Stephen Hoar, Mike McNamara, John Ranagan
IR: Derek Searle
PUP:
Holdout:
Practice Roster: Dan Ball, Connor Brown, Joel Coyle, Mitch McMichael

A couple of fairly significant changes for the Black Wolves. The versatile Jordan Hall is now in Georgia, while Jay Thorimbert and Chad Culp bring their veteran smarts from Buffalo. Reilly O’Connor also arrives from Calgary, and Scott Self helps to shore up an already-strong back end. Hopefully Evan Kirk has another strong year, since backing him up with be rookie Doug Jamieson instead of Tye Belanger. Then again, Evan Kirk’s rookie year was rather impressive so the fact that Jamieson is a rookie may not matter.


KnighthawksRochester Knighthawks

In: Josh Currier, Jarrett Davis, Tyler Ferreira, Kyle Jackson, Luc Magnan, Joel Matthews, Quinn Powless, Wayne Van Every
Out: Adam Bomberry, Cody Jamieson, Mike Kirk, Mike Manley, Craig Point, Derek Searle, Brad Self, Scott Self, John Sullivan, Ty Thompson, Cory Vitarelli, Joe Walters
IR: Andrew Suitor, Cory Vitarelli
PUP: Adam Bomberry, Cody Jamieson
Holdout:
Practice Roster: Luke Laszkiewicz, Dan Lomas, John Rae

Lots of changes for the Knighthawks, some of them temporary. Joe Walters is out for the year after committing to the MLL. Also out is Craig Point, who only played four games last year but amassed 18 points, good for the third highest points-per-game average on the team. Jamieson, Bomberry, and Vitarelli will hopefully be returning to the lineup before long, and the oft-injured Andrew Suitor would be a welcome addition as well but also starts the year on the IR. In the meantime, Jarrett Davis returns from out west and Quinn Powless hopes to play a full season. NLL sophomores Luc Magnan and Tyler Ferreira help to strengthen a defense that is missing both Self brothers, John Sullivan, and the retired Mike Kirk.


RockToronto Rock

In: Connor Buczek, Damon Edwards, Steve Fryer, Latrell Harris, Brett Hickey, Mikey MacDonald, Kieran McArdle, Challen Rogers, Tom Schreiber, Matt Sawyer (head coach)
Out: Kyle Aquin, Jamie Batson, Colin Boucher, Colin Doyle, Rob Hellyer, John Lovell (head coach), Luc Magnan, Rob Marshall, Brandon Miller, Kevin Ross, Josh Sanderson
IR: Rob Marshall, Patrick Merrill, Brandon Miller, Brock Sorensen
PUP: Rob Hellyer
Holdout:
Practice Roster: Jordan Magnusson, Reid Reinholdt, Brodie Tutton
Protected: Paul Rabil

Where to start?

When you lose two of the top four offensive stars of all time in the same off-season, who do you replace them with? How about Americans who have never played a box lacrosse game in their lives? Doesn’t sound like a great plan but having watched Kieran McArdle and Tom Schreiber in the pre-season, it may not be that bad. But losing Doyle and Sanderson isn’t even the biggest loss for the Rock, points-wise. Rob Hellyer scored 27 points more than Doyle and Sanderson combined in 2016, but will miss all of 2017. Brett Hickey returns from an injury that cost him the last six games of 2016, so that will certainly help, and Mikey MacDonald has looked really good in the pre-season as well.

Challen Rogers will join the returning Damon Edwards, Brodie Merrill, and Jesse Gamble to form one of the best transition units in the league. Another question is in net where Steve Fryer, with all of 60 minutes in his NLL career, replaces Brandon Miller who’s recovering from hip surgery.

Oh, and the Rock are the only team to make a coaching change this season. Seems like there isn’t much about the Rock that didn’t change.


RoughnecksCalgary Roughnecks

In: Holden Cattoni, Chad Cummings, Christian Del Bianco, Riley Loewen
Out: Garrett McIntosh, Pete McFetridge, Riley O’Connor, Mike Poulin
IR:
PUP: Vaughn Harris
Holdout:
Practice Roster: Garrett McIntosh, Keegan Rittinger, Bob Snider

Just a couple of changes for the Roughnecks. Riley Loewen joins from the Rush replacing Riley O’Connor, who was traded due to league rules that prohibit two Rileys on the same team. Peter McFetridge is now in Vancouver and veteran goalie Mike Poulin signed with the Swarm. Frank Scigliano and second-year-player-but-still-a-teenager Christian Del Bianco will likely split the goaltending duties.


MammothColorado Mammoth

In: Greg Downing, Zack Greer, Jacob Ruest, Taylor Stuart
Out: Jackson Decker, Adam Jones, Mike Mallory, Mike Woods
IR:
PUP: 
Holdout:
Practice Roster: Brent Adams, Zach Herreweyers, Mike Mallory, Nick Ossello

One big change for the Mammoth: Adam Jones was sent to the Rush for constant scoring threat Zack Greer. Losing Jones hurts but who has Greer score the most points against in his career? The Mammoth. They’ll be glad to have him on their side for a change.


RushSaskatchewan Rush

In: Matthew Dinsdale, Adam Jones, Ryan Keenan, Mike Messenger
Out: Jarett Davis, Zack Greer, John Lintz, Riley Loewen
IR:
PUP: 
Holdout:
Practice Roster: Matt Hossack, Matt MacGrottty

The best get better? Possibly. Adam Jones scored two fewer points than Zack Greer last season, but played two fewer games because of work commitments. Hopefully playing in Canada will eliminate those missed games. Ryan Keenan was the first overall draft pick for a reason, and it sounds like the Rush players are very excited about his presence. Highly-touted rookie Mike Messenger replaces John Lintz in the Rush defense.


StealthVancouver Stealth

In: Keegan Bal, Tye Belanger, Brendan Fowler, John Lintz, Pete McFetridge, Tommy McKee, Ryan Wagner
Out: Garrett Billings, Mitch McMichael, Jeff Moleski, Eric Penney, Cliff Smith, Rory Smith, Jarrett Toll
IR: Garrett Billings, Cory Conway, James Rahe, Jarrett Toll
PUP:
Holdout:
Practice Roster: Brandon Clelland, Justin Goodwin, Evan Messenger, Eric Penney

Having Billings and Conway on the IR to start the year won’t help, but from Teddy Jenner’s interview with Conway a week or two ago, it sounded like his debut in the Stealth lineup wouldn’t be delayed for long. McMichael was traded east, Moleski retired, and Cliff Smith will miss at least part of the season due to work commitments as he attempts to start a career in law enforcement. The revolving door of Stealth goaltenders continues as Tye Belanger gets the nod as Tyler Richards’s backup.

Grabbing a solid veteran defender from a division rival isn’t easy but Doug Locker did it twice this off-season. John Lintz and Pete McFetridge will make a big difference in the Stealth back end.

Liveblog: Vancouver @ Colorado

I was out at my kids’ soccer games (my older son’s team won the consolation final while my younger son’s team won the Championship, though on penalty kicks. A sucky way to decide a championship in any sport) so I couldn’t watch the Vancouver @ Colorado game live. I did set the DVR to record it, so I started the game once I got home. I like to watch the game while chatting about it with other fans on Twitter, but that obviously wasn’t an option in this case, so I decided to do a “liveblog” just for fun.

First quarter

  • No Adam Jones for the Mammoth
  • Only a minute in and the Mammoth have already had a 30 second possession with no shots. Solid Stealth D
  • 10:55 – Ward has been solid so far, making a few saves. Richards hasn’t really had to make any yet
  • 8:36 – How many times have the Mammoth missed the net or missed passes so far? Looks like the first game of the season
  • 7:28 – Goal by Duch. Very nice pick by Billings to clear the lane. 1-0 Stealth
  • 6:30 – Beautiful goal by Mallory, top corner. Tied 1-1
  • There are taller players out there, but Callum Crawford just looks huge, like he’s towering over everyone
  • Duch had a wide-open lane but opted to pass, and almost threw it away. Ended up getting a shot off but nice save by Ward
  • Goal by Schuss, another laser into the top corner. 2-1 Stealth
  • 1:03 – Grant with a behind the back pass that was picked off by a Stealth defender. Grant loves him some behind the back action, doesn’t he? When it works (which, I admit, is most of the time) it’s a smart play but when it doesn’t, it looks showboaty.
  • Mammoth got away with it and regained possession
  • When under a minute is left, the game clock on the broadcast has “.0” at the end of it but never shows tenths of seconds. So why have the “.0”?
  • Noble scores to tie it up with a second left. Once again, top corner.
  • Wow, I’m bigger than Jeremy Noble. He’s 5’9″ 170 pounds, I’m 5’10” 180 pounds. Of course his 170 is very likely distributed a little differently than my 180…

Game is tied 2-2 after one quarter. This is a must-win game for the Stealth but they are not looking panicked at all. They seem confident and are playing with purpose. The Mammoth haven’t looked bad either but a little more sloppy than the Stealth. One wonders if the Mammoth didn’t think “Ah, it’s just the Stealth” coming into this one.

Second quarter

  • Nasty goal by Duch. Off the boards, hit Ward’s leg and deflected into the net. Just like in practice. 3-2 Stealth
  • 13:21 – Delay of game penalty against McCready. Don’t agree with that one. If a change of possession is signaled by the ref, you can’t drop the ball and then check the guy who picks it up, but that’s not what happened here. The change of possession was because of a shot on net and rebound, so the check should be totally legal IMHO.
  • Nice defense by the Stealth on the PK, keeping the Mammoth from getting any decent shots off
  • Man, these All Star RV bigfoot commercials are terrible.
  • Goal by Small. Standing on the doorstep and picked up a lucky bounce. 4-2 Stealth
  • Beautiful passing play resulting in a goal by Grant. Honestly, the passing was nicer than the goal itself but congrats to Grant for becoming the all-time Mammoth goal-scoring leader
  • Duch scores again – hit Dillon Ward who saved most of it but it still trickled across the line. 5-3 Stealth
  • Tyler Richards makes a dumb play, coming out of his crease and Dan Coates capitalizes. Not sure it should count because it looked like he batted it in rather than shooting it. I may be misremembering the rule though – I know you can’t reach into the crease and “poke” the ball into the net, but perhaps it’s OK out of the crease. 5-4 Stealth
  • Nobody mentioning this rule and no challenge flag, so I must have gotten the rule wrong.
  • Another behind the back pass, this time by Billings, that backfires.
  • Goal… or not. The shot clock expired before the ball went in. Surprisingly, no challenge
  • Loving the analysis from Shewchuk and Gallant. Obviously these guys know the game very well, and lots of other announcers do too, but hearing these guys discuss the pros and cons of the diamond vs. box defense on the PK was great.
  • Grant tries another behind the back pass and this time drops it
  • Rory Smith’s stick has a very cool black shaft.
  • 1:57 – Noble ties it up with – guess what? – a top corner shot. Tied at 5
  • Beautiful pass from Crawford who looked like he was going to shoot. Instead he passed it over to McLaughlin who had an open cage. That’s why Crawford is leading the league in assists. 6-5 Mammoth
  • Shewchuk nailed it – in a do-or-die game, you can’t be taking too many men or unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
  • Is there a harder-working offensive guy than Joel McCready? Well, Shawn Evans is up there in that category too.

I’d be surprised if any thoughts of underestimating the Stealth remain on the Mammoth bench. The Mammoth have a 6-5 lead but this is anybody’s game.

Third quarter

  • Remember when Tyler Richards announced his return to the NLL and the Stealth said that Eric Penney was still their number one goalie? I wonder if anyone believed them
  • Stealth with a sloppy play giving the Mammoth the ball again, and they almost drop it themselves
  • Some more sloppy defense by Vancouver, giving Colorado a one-on-one chance. Richards bailed them out
  • Corey Small with a goal that, amazingly, did not go top shelf. Tied at 6. MOAR MONEY BALLER GOALS PLZ
  • Nice transition play by Ilija Gajic. That was at least the third pass interception by the Mammoth tonight and Gajic took off down the floor. Didn’t even have to run all that fast. 7-6 Mammoth
  • A couple of names I haven’t heard much in this game: Cupido & Billings
  • Of course, just after I typed that, Billings took a shot at one end and then Cupido took one at the other end
  • Excellent save by Dillon Ward with McCready right on the edge of the crease
  • Rhys Duch takes a huge hit, which knocks him to the floor but he keeps the ball, gets up, and puts the ball in the net though he went through the crease. Great play
  • Challenge flag is out. Looked to me like Duch stepped on the line before shooting. I’m not even sure that the ball went in the net at all
  • OK, the ball did go in but he stepped on the line. Here’s the call – no goal
  • Beers gets hurt, rolls around on the floor in pain for a while. Trainer tries to help him off, looks like Beers tries to wave him off then realizes his knee/ankle/something hurts more than he thought
  • News flash: Rhys Duch is a good player. Sweet goal to tie it up again
  • That was weird – Small picked up a rebound and all the Mammoth defenders seem to run away. Luckily for them he didn’t score but he was given a great opportunity
  • Nice spin-o-rama by Cupido, but great save by Richards
  • Corey Small with another one on a great pass by Billings. GB looked like he was going to fire it at the net but passed instead
  • Vancouver has 8 goals, Duch has 8 points (4+4)

Vancouver leads 8-7 but I’ll fearlessly predict this game will be tied at least once more.

Fourth quarter

  • Duch with another pretty one to give the Stealth a two-goal lead
  • Grant tries the Dane Dobbie style goal, coming off the bench straight to the net, doesn’t work
  • That one worked. Nice bounce shot from Grant through a defender gets by Richards. 9-8 Stealth
  • Now a pass interception for the Stealth. Doesn’t lead to a transition chance but they get a possession. No shots though
  • Almost the same shot again, Grant ties it up at 9. My fearless prediction came true.
  • What an effort from Callum Crawford. Fights off a bunch of Stealth defenders, picks up the ball, shovels it back to Gilles who’s wide open. Mammoth have the lead again, 10-9
  • McLaughlin scores, Crawford ties the single-season assist record. Mammoth lead 11-9
  • Hopefully the Stealth can kill this penalty off soon and then they might be able to get possession again. Oh wait, they’re not on the PK.
  • I’ve talked in the past (both on this blog and on the Addicted to Lacrosse show) about some dumb trades the Swarm franchise has made over the years. I think letting Crawford walk as a free agent tops them all.
  • Ward has been great in this game. Richards has been pretty good too, though with one or two shots that snuck by him.
  • It ain’t over yet… Corey Small gets the Stealth back to within one with 90 seconds left
  • Ward makes a save, then gets in the way of a Stealth player and gets knocked over… while standing in his crease. No call. Dangerous play by the Stealth given that there’s less than 30 seconds left in their playoff hopes but they got away with it

And that will do it. The Mammoth regular season is over and the Stealth are out of the playoffs. After winning twice in the past two weeks when they really needed to, they just couldn’t get it done tonight. A few defensive breakdowns here and there but I thought they put forth a solid effort. Rhys Duch came to play, and picked up 9 points in an outstanding game.

The Stealth have had a pretty lousy season but the last few games should give them hope for next year. Once they can get all the pieces together and stay healthy, they could do some damage.

Could happen…

As I like to do at about this time every year, I’m going to look at the playoff picture and see what the possibilities are. Can a last-place team finish first? Can a first-place team miss the playoffs? Sometimes the possibilities are surprising.

Some options are no longer possibilities. Saskatchewan and Colorado have not only clinched playoff berths, they’ve clinched home playoff games, which means the final playoff spot in the West is between Calgary and Vancouver and neither can finish higher than third, so not much room for surprising finishes there. Neither Georgia nor Toronto can finish first in the East.

Let’s see what could happen. UPDATED after games of April 10.

Georgia finishes second in the East

If Georgia wins out, NE loses out, and Rochester beats Buffalo and Saskatchewan, all three teams are 9-9. The first three-way tiebreaker is the combined record against each other. In this case, Georgia would be 4-3 against NE and Rochester, New England would be 4-4, and Rochester would be 3-4, so Rochester finishes third (of the three, so fourth in the division). Then we drop to the two-team tiebreaker. Georgia and New England would be 2-2 against each other, so we go to Eastern division opponents. Georgia would be 7-5 while New England would be 7-6 so Georgia gets second.

Toronto finishes second in the East

The Bandits will have at most 8 losses, and New England will have at most 9. Toronto already has 10, so they can’t finish better than third.

Buffalo misses the playoffs

Buffalo is in the playoffs

Buffalo can finish with no more than 8 losses. Georgia already has 9 and Toronto has 10 so the Bandits can finish no lower than third.

Rochester misses the playoffs

If Rochester loses three of their four remaining games, Toronto wins their remaining four, and Georgia wins four of their remaining five, Rochester is out.

New England misses the playoffs

 

No announcement has been made by the league or the team that New England has clinched, but I can’t find any scenarios where New England finishes any lower than third. Toronto already has more losses than New England can have, so Toronto will finish lower than the Wolves. There are no ways Georgia can have fewer losses than New England, so either NE is ahead of Georgia and Toronto (so they’re in), or they end up tied with Georgia. But in that case, Rochester is either also tied with them (so they’re out, given the three-way tie-breaker I mentioned above) or has a worse record. In the second case, NE is ahead of both Rochester and Toronto so they’re in.

Unless I’m misunderstanding the three-way tie-breaker, New England has clinched a playoff spot.

Update: Nailed it.

Vancouver finishes third in the West

It’s still possible for Calgary and Vancouver to end up tied at 7-11. The season series would also be tied at 2-2, so then the tiebreaker falls to record against divisional opponents. Vancouver would be 6-5 against western rivals while Calgary would be 3-8 so Vancouver gets in.

2016 Pre-season predictions revisited

We’re just past the mid-season point, so I’m going to look over my pre-season predictions for the standings and major awards and see how things are progressing. I don’t think I got any of my major award picks right (except for a “maybe” in ROY), but a few of my “dark horse” picks were surprisingly accurate.

Standings

In the East I had Rochester, Toronto, Buffalo, Georgia, and New England in that order. Clearly New England is doing better than I thought and Toronto is not, but if you swap them and also swap Rochester and Buffalo, I nailed it.

In the West, I had Saskatchewan, Vancouver, Colorado, and Calgary. Obviously I greatly overestimated Vancouver’s success this season. Move them to the bottom and I’m right again.

MVP

Prediction:  Mark Matthews, who’s always a good choice for this award and is having a good season with 66 points in 11 games. But Dhane Smith is on pace to outscore Matthews by almost fifty points and beat the single-season scoring record by 25. Smith is the clear winner here.

Goaltender of the Year

Prediction: Aaron Bold. Again, always a good choice and is having a good season but right now, I’d have to give this to my dark horse choice, Nick Rose, closely followed by Mike Poulin.

Defensive Player of the Year

Prediction: Sid Smith but I’m going to have to go with Chris Corbeil on this one. I watched the Rush defense against the Rock at the ACC recently and they not only prevented looks and shots very well, but they were also really good at knocking the ball out of a forward’s stick and then scooping up the resulting loosie. I thought Corbeil was particularly good at this. He can also score in transition (6 goals so far) and on one transition chance going the other way in the Rush/Rock game, he caught up to Jesse Gamble, which I didn’t think was even possible.

Kedoh says no!Transition Player of the Year

Prediction: Karsen Leung. Leung’s numbers aren’t where they were last year and he didn’t score until his 8th game, so I’m going to go with another dark horse prediction, Alex Kedoh HIll. Hill has 25 points and 73 LBs and is a major part of the Bandits’ super-fast transition game.

Rookie of the Year

Prediction: Wes Berg. No idea if I got this right or not. In terms of points, Berg, Randy Staats, and Jesse King are all within 3 points of each other. But Swarm transition player Chad Tutton is also having a great rookie season, with an impressive 11 goals and is playing solid defense. Graeme Hossack in Rochester is also playing some great D. This might be a cop-out, but I’m going to say there’s no clear winner at this point so we’ll have to see what the second half of the season holds.

Les Bartley Award

Prediction: Dan Perreault. Um, yeah. Not only is Perreault not the coach of the year, he’s not even employed in the NLL right now. I did have Glenn Clark as my dark horse pick, and the way the Black Wolves are playing, he might be my mid-season choice.

GM of the Year

Prediction: Doug Locker. Um, yeah. I still think Locker did a pretty good job in the off-season, picking up Billings, Moleski, Hawksbee, and Travis Cornwall, and the Schuss-for-Powless deal last year was great for both teams. I don’t think it’s his fault that the team isn’t playing well but that said, I can’t give the GM of the Year award to a guy who created a sub-.500 team. John Arlotta also made some significant changes to the Swarm and in three or four years this might be a really good team but similarly, since they’re currently 4-8, we can’t say that now. Plus we’ve thought “this team could be really good in a couple of years” about the Swarm for ten years now and they just never seem to get there.

I may have to go back to the Black Wolves, as GM Chris Seinko did a great job to trade for Shawn Evans, reacquire Kevin Crowley, and also bring in guys like Dan Ball, Derek Suddons, and Sheldon Burns, all of whom are contributing on this surprising team.

Top 6 surprises of 2016

I did this last year and it was fun, so here’s this year’s version of the top surprises at the season’s midway point. I only did five last year, but I couldn’t narrow down this list any further.

6. Logan Schuss & Johnny Powless

These guys both struggled with their original 2015 teams and were traded for each other in what has turned out to be one of those rare trades where each team thinks they got the better of the deal, and they’re both right. Interestingly, Powless and Schuss had almost identical points/game averages at the time of the trade – Schuss at 3.56, Powless at 3.55. After the trade, Schuss’s numbers jumped 1.3 points to 4.86/gm while Powless’s dropped 1.38 to 2.17/gm.

But this year’s a different story for both of them. Nobody’s really surprised that these guys are having good seasons. But they’re not just having good seasons, they’re having career seasons. Each is leading his team in scoring, and that’s saying something when Schuss is playing with guys like Billings and Duch. Each is averaging 2+ points/game more than last season and also 2+ more than their career average. At this rate, Powless will finish with 93 points, beating his career high by 40, and Schuss will finish with 114, beating his career high by 37.

5. Dhane Smith

Dhane SmithSimilar to Schuss and Powless, nobody’s surprised that the Great Dhane is leading the Bandits in points. Nobody’s particularly surprised that he’s leading the league in points. To be 21 points ahead of second place halfway through the season is surprising, but it gets better.

Last season, Shawn Evans shattered the single-season points record with 130, breaking the previous record by 14. Evans averaged 7.22 points per game, a pace many thought he wouldn’t be able to keep up for the whole season. Some have even asked if anyone would ever be able to match it. But only one year later, Smith is not just on a pace to break that record, he’s way ahead. Smith is averaging 8.44 points per game, a pace that will give him 152 points. In fact, Smith only needs to average 6 points per game over the rest of the season to break Evans’s record so even if he falls off a bit, the record is still quite breakable.

4. Welcome to Saskatchewan

Many people, myself included, criticized Edmonton Rush owner Bruce Urban for leaving Edmonton and taking the team to Saskatchewan last year. While I don’t particularly like the way he did it (announcing the possible move as a threat during the playoffs, criticizing the City of Edmonton during negotiations, etc.) and I still think Edmonton is a legitimate lacrosse market, it looks so far like this was a great move. Saskatoon has welcomed the Rush and the NLL with open arms. The municipal government and local businesses seem to have grabbed hold of the team and the crowds have been great. The Rush are averaging 9765 per game, a number higher than eight of the ten seasons they were in Edmonton.

Now, let’s remember that the Rush averaged over 10,000 per game for their first two seasons, when they were a combined 7-25. So perhaps we should wait until season 3 or 4 in Saskatchewan before deciding whether or not this was a good idea long term. But for now, it’s great to see.

Another big pro of having a team in Saskatchewan: I can now type the word Saskatchewan in less than four minutes.

3. Struggling goaltenders

In 2015, six goaltenders had a GAA under 10. One was Cody Hagedorn who played about 14 minutes, and another was Angus Goodleaf who played 92 minutes. But the rest played at least 250 minutes and two of them (Aaron Bold & Matt Vinc) were everyday starters with over 1000 minutes.

This year, only one goalie has a GAA under 10, Tye Belanger who’s only played 43 minutes. Bold is third at 10.53 and Vinc is eighth at 11.76. Bold’s GAA is over a full goal higher than 2015, and almost two higher than 2014. Vinc’s is two goals higher than both 2015 and 2014. He has only had a GAA that high twice in his career: 2006 when he played 14 minutes with the Stealth, and 2012 when he had a 12.22 GAA but won the Championship with the Knighthawks.

But they’re not the only goalies having tough seasons – Nick Rose, Brandon Miller, Angus Goodleaf, Frankie Scigliano, Anthony Cosmo, Zack Higgins, Davide DiRuscio, and Tyler Carlson all have higher GAAs than last season. On the flipside, Dillon Ward, Evan Kirk, and Mike Poulin are all having strong seasons, and Eric Penney and Tyler Richards also have lower numbers than last season though they’re in a weird situation – their roles are reversed and Richards has only played in a couple of games.

2. The Toronto Rock

0-6 to start the season? Have you ever heard of such a thing? The Rock had never started a season worse than 0-4 in their history, and this is a team that went to the Championship game last season. They averaged 6.25 goals in their first four games, and then gave up 18.5 in the next two. Finally they got the offense and defense both working at the same time and have pulled off two wins in a row.

The only reason that this is not the #1 most surprising thing is that the Roughnecks did exactly the same thing last year, including going to the Championship game the previous year. The only difference is that the Roughnecks had never started a season worse than 0-2. The Roughnecks pulled it together though, and not only made the playoffs but went to the Western division final. The Rock seemed to have pulled themselves together as well, so the fact that Calgary salvaged their season last year gives the Rock some hope.

1. The New England Black Wolves

The Black Wolves started last season with a victory over the Bandits and then a 17-7 blowout of the Knighthawks, and things looked very promising for the relocated Wings. But then they must have realized that they were the relocated Wings. When I think about last year’s Black Wolves, I think of a team that wasn’t very good but looking at the numbers, they were even worse than that. After their 2-0 start they went 2-14. Their 14 losses is the second-worst in league history and their -63 goal differential is the fifth-worst in league history. They gave up 20 goals three times, and lost by eight or more five times. Only two teams have ever given up more goals than the 249 that the Black Wolves gave up in 2015 (though one was the Stealth of 2015).

So a coaching change was not all that surprising, though picking up the reigning league MVP was. But Clark, Veltman, and Evans can’t make that much of a difference, can they? Clearly, they can.

Kevin Crowley

Last year, they only had six players with more than 30 points – and it’s really only five since two of them were Garrett Billings and Kevin Crowley, who were traded for one another. This season, they already have four with 30, and they’ve only played seven games. Pat Saunders led the team with 68 points last season; Saunders, Evans, Kevin Crowley, and Kevin Buchanan are all on pace to beat that this year. In fact, Shawn Evans could have that total by the end of next weekend – after nine games.

They’ve already won more games than last season, and are on pace to score 55 more goals and give up 54 fewer. Shawn Evans is still in the MVP conversation (though that conversation is being dominated by Dhane Smith right now), and they have five players above four points per game, something not even the Mammoth can boast. They are allowing a league-low 10.9 goals per game, the defense has been great, and Evan Kirk is playing his best lacrosse since his debut season with the Swarm in 2012. These guys are for real.

Tyler Richards returns: I have a bad feeling about this

The news came out a couple of weeks ago and caught the NLL world by surprise – Tyler Richards had been moved by the Stealth from the retired list to the “active roster evalutation list”. As revealed on Teddy Jenner’s Off the Crossebar podcast, Richards simply missed the game too much and wanted to return.

Normally this would be fine. Lots of people have retired and then un-retired, most notably Gary and Paul Gait in the NLL, Michael Jordan in the NBA, and Mario Lemieux in the NHL. But this one makes me nervous because of the reason Tyler Richards retired: multiple concussions.

A number of years ago, Stephen Stamp wrote a must-read article for IL Indoor about concussions and their effect (note that the formatting of the article was messed up in the IL Indoor website redesign from a year or two ago). He talked to Tracey Kelusky, who lost playing time due to concussions, and Merrick Thomson, who had to retire after only two seasons in the NLL. But the most frightening part of the article was his conversation with former Bandit goalie Ken Montour, who was hit in the head (with a player’s knee) during a game and never played lacrosse again. At the time of the article he hadn’t been able to work (as a teacher) in a year and a half either.

Tyler RichardsIn some cases someone who is concussed feels weird for a couple of days and then they’re fine. They just “got their bell rung”. But I work with a woman who smacked her head on her kitchen cabinet and was off work for at least 8 months because of concussion symptoms. Kelusky, Dan Carey, and many others have missed significant playing time, while concussions ended the careers of Thomson and Montour and in Montour’s case at least, affected his off-floor career as well.

While concussions are still not entirely understood, it’s fairly well documented that people who get them are more likely to get them again. So this is not like a knee or ankle or shoulder injury where with the right medical care and enough rehab, you could be back to your pre-injury level and you are at no increased risk of re-injuring yourself. Richards cannot simply say “I was hurt before but I’m better now.” The more concussions you get, the more you’re likely to get, and the worse they’re likely to be. It’s true that one bad hit could take anyone out of the game for good, but in Richards’ case it’s more likely than others, and the hit doesn’t have to be as hard to cause damage.

So Richards is more likely to suffer a concussion than other players, but perhaps he feels the risk is worth it. Remember, he was never told by doctors that he should retire. But he also needs to consider his quality of life if he suffers more concussions. What if another shot to the head ends your lacrosse career and your off-floor career? I imagine that living with chronic knee or shoulder pain due to sports injuries is no fun at all, but having to live with headaches, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating for the rest of your life would be much worse.

I’m sure Richards knows all of the risks. I’m sure he’s talked to doctors and his family and the Stealth people and they’ve all come to the conclusion that this is a good idea. Who am I to tell him he’s wrong? That said, I can’t help but feeling a little uncomfortable with it. Remember, he’s a goaltender so it’s not as if he’ll be fine as long as nobody cross-checks him in the head. People are shooting a rock-hard rubber ball at him as hard as they can. Taking shots off the head is an absolutely unavoidable part of his job.

I wonder how many players who we enjoy watching today could have had their careers cut short if the NLL hadn’t made a point of cracking down on head shots in recent years. Would we have missed watching Shawn Evans for the the last few amazing years? Or Cody Jamieson? What if Brett Hickey had been concussed by a hit to the head in his final game with the Stealth? We might have been deprived of his remarkable 2015 season and a remarkable young athlete, and he would have been deprived of a lot more.

An interesting question is how will this affect opposing shooters? If you’re Kevin Buchanan and can shoot 100 mph and you’re facing TRich, do you dial it back a notch hoping not to be the one to end his career? Do you shoot low even if you see a high opening? Do you try a cross-crease dive if there’s even a chance you run into him? I can’t imagine that none of the opposing players have thought about this. This isn’t just changing your behaviour because different goalies have different strengths and weaknesses, this could be taking it easy on him so as not to injure him. The cynic in me can’t help but wonder if this gives the Stealth a tiny little advantage. I totally understand that a team wants to take every advantage it can get, but I’ll be honest, using something like this to your advantage seems a little scummy.

This should go without saying but I wish Richards nothing but the best in his return. I hope this is all for naught and he never suffers another concussion. He’s not even 30 so he could have another decade of lacrosse in front of him. However I know that whenever I see him between the pipes and someone is rearing back to fire a laser at him, I’ll be hoping for a goal so that the ball misses his head.