Division final picks

I went 2-2 in last week’s first-round games, just as I did in the first round last year. I continue to get the Stealth completely backwards – they lose when I pick them to win and vicy versy. I knew the Swarm were going to be a tough opponent for the Rock, but not that tough. The predictions only get tougher from here. Hopefully I do better than my Swarm @ Rock finals prediction from 2012.

Regular season record: 33-39 (.458)
Playoff record: 2-2 (.500)

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MIN @ ROC After watching the Swam dismantle the Rock last weekend, it’s hard to bet against them. Knowing that Cody Jamieson will be at best playing hurt (and more likely not playing at all) and they may also be without Cory Vitarelli doesn’t help the Knighthawks’ cause. But I agree with Teddy Jenner: if the Swarm don’t start Tyler Carlson after his recent performances, they’re nuts. Carlson vs. Vinc – this will be a great goalie battle. Swarm
WAS @ CAL Was this one ever tough to call. Both teams have it all. Great goaltending? Check. Lots of firepower up front? Check. Transition? Defense? Great faceoff guy named Snider? Check, check, check. The biggest difference here is coaching. Chris Hall was my second choice for the Les Bartley award and has taken the Stealth to the Championship in 2 of the last 3 years, while Curt Malawsky is a rookie. Gary Gait won the championship as a rookie coach so there’s precedent there, but I still think I’m gonna have to give this one to the Stealth. Stealth
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Division semi-final picks

I went 2-2 in the final week of the season, bringing me to 33-39. Not bad, better than last year, but still not up to the level of my IL Indoor colleagues, all but one of whom finished at or above .500. Only Ty Pilson finished with a losing record, and he was still two games ahead of me. I will need to step up my “make wild guesses” game.

What better way to do that than with four games that could easily go either way? I really should be used to that since that’s been the case in the NLL pretty much all season long.

Regular season record: 33-39 (.458)
Playoff record: 0-0 (.000)

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PHI @ ROC Which Rochester team shows up? The one that scored 20 against Philly and then 15 against Buffalo the next night, or the one that 14 total against Buffalo and Philly over the next two weeks? I’m gonna say neither since I don’t see this being a high-scoring game, but I think Rochester will win it. The Knighthawks offense started to play better once they traded Casey Powell and while both goalies can steal a game, Vinc is my choice for Goaltender of the Year. Knighthawks5_thumb
COL @ CAL Tye Belanger does seem to be the real deal in net, but it’s his first season. I honestly don’t know if “playoff experience” is a real thing that actually affects how you play, but lots of people seem to think so, and Tye doesn’t have any of it. That said, the Roughnecks might be without Dane Dobbie and Scott Ranger. It’s not like there’s nobody else on Calgary that can score, but it puts a lot more pressure on Dickson, Shattler, and Veltman to produce. Roughnecks
EDM @ WAS The Rush have been the most complete team in the second half of this season. They gave up the second fewest goals in the league (fewest on the road), and their scoring is 3rd in the league (2nd on the road). They were 7-1 away from Edmonton this year. They also remember how close they got last year… Rush
MIN @ TOR Of all the teams Toronto could have faced in the first round of the playoffs, Minnesota would have been last on my list of preferences. The two teams played twice this year, each team winning 13-12 at home. Nick Rose better have a good night though, since we’ve seen that the Swarm can have an explosive offense, particularly Callum Crawford. Tyler Carlson is another potential game-stealer. I’m still going with the Rock, but this will be a tough win. Rock

Week 16 picks

In the penultimate week of the regular season, I went 3-2 – extending my .500-or-better streak to 6 weeks. I can’t hit .500 overall this year – 4-for-4 this weekend will put me at 35-37, or .486. On the upside, the worst I can do this year is 31-41 or .431, which is what my prediction record was last year.

People have worried that eight of nine teams making the playoffs means there are fewer “meaningful games”, but nothing could be further from the truth this weekend. All the games have playoff implications for all the teams – even the Rock, who aren’t playing.

Buffalo is fighting for their playoff lives, as are Rochester and Colorado. In fact, Buffalo and Rochester are fighting each other for their playoff lives. If Rochester wins, Buffalo’s out. If Buffalo wins, Rochester’s fate depends on the Mammoth-Swarm game. The Mammoth can clinch with a win, but also if Rochester wins.

The rest of the teams are playing for their playoff seedings – I think the Swarm and Mammoth are the only teams who can’t host a playoff game. I won’t go over all the possibilities in the west since they’re complicated. They’re all listed on nll.com anyway. Suffice it to say that all the remaining games are crucial and nobody’s going to be mailing it in this weekend.

If I get my picks right, we’ll have Colorado crossing over to play the Rock and the Wings playing in Rochester. In the west, Edmonton will host Minnesota (with the Swarm ready for some payback for last year’s embarrassing playoff loss) and Calgary will play in Washington.

Record: 31-37 (.456)

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ROC @ BUF Who shows up this weekend – the Bandits from last week or the Bandits from the previous six? Either way, Matt Vinc is in the running for Goaltender of the Year and as much as I’d hate to see John Tavares finish his career (not that that is a sure thing either) on a losing note, I’m giving this one to the Knighthawks. Knighthawks5
CAL @ EDM The Rush have only won twice at home this year, but Calgary will be without Dane Dobbie. The Rush would love the “first overall” title to go along with their first-ever home playoff game(s). I think Bold returns from an off week to shut down the Roughnecks – at least, as much as they can be shut down. As a Rock fan, I’d love to see the Rush lose this one so the Rock can clinch first overall, but I’m picking Edmonton. Rush4
COL @ MIN The Swarm are averaging over 16 goals in their last six games, and Callum Crawford has been the league’s best player over the last several weeks. The Mammoth have been playing fairly well, beating the Rush and Wings in recent weeks, and they beat the Swarm back in February, but they’re no match for the new and improved Swarm. Swarm
PHI @ WAS I took forever to make this pick and changed my mind a few times. Both teams have strong goaltending but have been inconsistent all season. But the Stealth have a better offense, and if Iannucci returns this weekend, he’ll be itching to show his stuff after being benched for two weeks. I know they’re 4-5 when I pick them and 4-2 when I don’t, but I have to go with the Stealth again. Stealth4

Week 15 picks

3-3 record last week thanks to Tye Belanger keeping the Rush offense to only 7 goals and the Wings remembering how to score goals. The only way I can finish at or above .500 this season is to go 8-1 or 9-0 in the last two weeks, so that is the plan. If it doesn’t happen, it’s not my fault – blame the players for not going along with the plan.

Record: 28-35 (.444)

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ROC @ CAL Rochester will very likely make the playoffs, which wasn’t certain only a few weeks ago. Calgary already has but would like a home playoff game. Both teams have won 3 of their last 5 (for Calgary, it’s actually 3 of their last 4). Matt Vinc hasn’t given up as many as 12 in a game since January 19 and has held the Wings, Rock, Bandits, and Stealth to single-digits since then. Mike Poulin has only kept opponents below 12 four times this season. Knighthawks
MIN @ COL Minnesota seems to have become the team I thought they were going to be at the beginning of the season, though it took them a long time to get there. Callum Crawford is on fire (7+ points in 5 straight games) and Tyler Carlson has a GAA of 6.00 and save % of 88% in his last two starts. Since Minnesota keeps swapping starting goalies and Kirk lost in Philly last week, this is Carlson’s game. Swarm
TOR @ PHI The Rock really want that top seed overall, but the Wings aren’t guaranteed a playoff spot quite yet, and they always seem to give the Rock trouble. When Brandon Miller is “on”, he’s almost untouchable (though you could say that about almost all of the starting goalies in the league), and with Mundorf back from injury, the Wings offense just got stronger. The Rock currently have the best record in the league, so picking them is not a homer pick. I’m sticking to that. Rock
BUF @ WAS The Bandits seem to have lost interest in the 2013 season, while the Stealth still have a chance at a home playoff game. Buffalo is this close to being eliminated from the playoffs, so either they’ll pour on the energy this weekend in an attempt to stay in the race, or they’ll fold, figuring they have no chance. I didn’t see much fight in them last week or the week before, so I don’t expect much this weekend. Stealth
ROC @ EDM The Rush are 1-5 at home and 7-1 on the road, so maybe they’re not playing for home-floor advantage in the playoffs. The Rush looked too good in their games against Buffalo and Toronto the other week to bet against them. Every team had bad games, which is what they had against Colorado last week, but I think they’ll bounce back. Rush

NLL Annual Award short lists and prediction recap

There are still a couple of weeks left in the season, but here are some early player award possibilities as well as a look at my predictions from the beginning of the season. Some of them were pretty close, others… not so much.

The front-runners are the few people, in no particular order, who I think have the best shot of winning the award. For the most part, I haven’t made my actual selections yet, so these are just my short-lists. In most cases, I put a dark horse as well; someone who probably won’t win the award but should be considered.

MVP

Prediction: Dan Dawson, Garrett Billings. Dawson has been good but not outstanding. Billings has been outstanding.

Front-runners: Garrett Billings, Shawn Evans, Mark Matthews

Dark horse: Callum Crawford

Goaltender of the Year

Prediction: Anthony Cosmo, Aaron Bold. Cosmo hasn’t been great, though I wouldn’t blame the Bandits lousy season on him. Bold is 3rd among starters in GAA but 8th in save %. He has been very good, though not as good as last year.

Front-runners: Matt Vinc, Nick Rose, Tyler Richards

Dark horse: Tye Belanger has been excellent though has half the minutes of the other starters (other than the Swarm’s dynamic duo).

Transition Player of the Year

Prediction: Jordan MacIntosh, Paul Rabil. MacIntosh is on my short list. Rabil has been good but not Tranny of the Year good.

Front-runners: Geoff Snider, Jordan MacIntosh, Jesse Gamble, Jeremy Thompson, Jordan Hall

Dark horse: Brad Self

Defensive Player of the Year

I’ll admit it: I suck when it comes to evaluating defensemen. Part of it is because I’m a stats guy, and there are no really useful stats for defenders. But a lot of it is that I have no formal training – I’m self-taught in the art of watching lacrosse. I’m a fan who’s never actually played the game. When I’m watching a game, I’m watching the offensive players and the goalie. I will notice when a defender makes a great play or if a team seems to hear the shot clock buzzer an awful lot (implying a good defensive unit), but I don’t generally notice individual defenders. That said, I have made a point to watch Kyle Rubisch and Chris Corbeil because you hear about them so much, and Sandy Chapman has always been one of my favourite Rock players. I remember watching Paul Dawson shut people down (and occasionally beat the snot out of them) with the Blazers.

It’s weird though – I can look at a list of transition players and have general feelings on how they’ve been playing without looking at the stats. I have no idea how many points Brad Self has, or Jordan Hall, or Jeremy Thompson, but I know they’re having good seasons. I have no such impressions with pure defenders.

Prediction: Kyle Rubisch, Paul Dawson

Front-runners: Kyle Rubisch, Chris Corbeil, Paul Dawson, Scott Self

Dark horse: I got nothing.

Rookie of the Year

Prediction: Mark Matthews, Kiel Matisz. Woo, nailed it on this one. Unlike everyone else who also predicted Matthews as ROY.

Front-runners: Mark Matthews, Kiel Matisz, Tye Belanger, Mitch McMichael, Kyle Belton, Curtis Knight, Dhane Smith

Dark horse: Anyone but Matthews, really.

Update: Can’t believe I forgot Dhane Smith on the original list. Also, apparently Tye Belanger is not considered a rookie.

Les Bartley Award

Prediction: Troy Cordingley, Joe Sullivan. Again, nailed it.

Front-runners: Troy Cordingley, Chris Hall, Joe Sullivan, Derek Keenan

Dark horse: Mike Hasen if the Knighthawks continue playing well in the last two weeks.

GM of the Year

Prediction: Curt Styres, Steve Dietrich. The Knighthawks and Bandits both made significant offseason moves and I thought at least one of them would be successful. The offseason Rochester moves didn’t seem to make the team appreciably better, but the Powell-for-Sullivan, Self, and Purves moves were all good. The Bandits moves made the team worse and other than Dhane Smith, didn’t really set them up for the future either (though the Cosmo trade that lost them next year’s first round pick was Kilgour, not Dietrich).

Front-runners: Derek Keenan, John Arlotta

Dark horse: Johnny Mouradian. Dawson+Dawson for Rabil+Hall isn’t nearly the disaster I thought it might be.

Week 14 picks

Last week I went 3-2, my fourth straight week of .500-or-better predictions. I guess I’m settling down as we get deeper into the season. You know what they say, particularly in the NLL – you don’t want to peak early. Much better to get hot near the end of the season. Right, 2012 Knighthawks?

Record: 25-32 (.439)

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WAS @ CAL Tough one. Washington can clinch a playoff spot by beating the Roughnecks, so they’re hungry. The Roughnecks know they were one T-Rich penalty away from losing to the Stealth last weekend, and they’re playing to clinch a home date. I’ll take Calgary at home, but in a close one. Roughnecks
COL @ EDM How can you bet against the Rush, the way they’ve been playing? Sure they’re 1-4 at home, but haven’t played there in over a month and have since won five straight including beating both the Rock and Roughnecks handily. Rush
BUF @ MIN The Swarm have won their last two by 7 and 9 goals. The Bandits have lost five in a row. The Bandits certainly have the talent to win this game, and you’d think that having their backs to the wall playoff-wise would spur them on to play better. But I didn’t see that last week in Toronto. Coach Darris Kilgour questioned their heart last year, but this year might be worse. Swarm
PHI @ ROC Rochester seems to have found their groove after trading Casey Powell. Not that he was the cause of their problems, but moving him freed up the rest of their offense. That seems to have helped, adding Scott Self made a pretty good defense better, and Matt Vinc has been great all year. If anyone other than the Rush are getting hot at the right time, it might be the Knighthawks. Knighthawks
MIN @ PHI I had little confidence in the Wings before the season began, and there have been times where they’ve surprised me with how well they’ve played. But they’ve also had 20 goals scored against them twice this year and other than their early-season win over the Rock, all of their wins have come against teams below them in the standings. Like I said before, I’m still bullish on the Swarm – and that was before they destroyed the Wings last week. Swarm
ROC @ TOR Rochester played well in their game against the Rock last weekend, and as I said they seem to be getting hot at the right time. But the Rock really wanted to clinch the Eastern division title last weekend and the Knighthawks prevented that. They won’t want to let that happen again, particularly in their own building. Rock

Week 13 picks

Last week was my first above-.500 week since week 6. I was 2-1, missing only Edmonton’s victory over the Rock. Some tough picks this week though they should all be entertaining games. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing the Bandits at the ACC and the Stealth-Roughnecks game as well.

Record: 22-30 (.423)

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PHI @ MIN Philly needs to sweep this weekend to get into the playoffs, but as I said on the Pro Lacrosse Face-off show this week, I don’t see it happening. I’m still bullish on the Swarm, especially given their recent demolition of the Stealth. Swarm
BUF @ TOR I love when the Bandits come to town. The games are always physical, always exciting, always eventful. Of course, the Bandits have a winning record in Toronto, so much of the time the ending of the game isn’t so good for me. But the Rock are in first place and the Bandits have lost four in a row. So obviously the Rock will win. Cause that’s the way the NLL works, right? Rock5
PHI @ COL I originally had the Wings logo here, but I’ve changed my mind. The Wings have five wins but four of them have been against Rochester, Buffalo (2), and Colorado. Toronto (early in the season) is the only team above .500 they’ve beaten – and they’ve since been beaten by the Rock. Colorado had a lead last week and let it slip away but that’s par for the course for the Mammoth – they’re becoming known for taking one quarter off per game and in that one, it was the fourth. If they can put 4 solid quarters together, they can beat the Wings easily but even if they only play 3 I think they can still win. Mammoth
TOR @ ROC Rochester is playing for their playoff lives, so they won’t go quietly. Or will they? They’ve lost five of their past six at home and only hit double digits in the first of those six. They’ve also only played one game since the 2nd of March. Worse home offense in the league (8.3 goals per game at home!) against the third-best defense? I’ll risk looking like a homer and take the Rock. Rock
CAL @ WAS I can’t figure out the Stealth. They win 3 in a row, two of them with 16 goals, and then only score 5 against the Swarm? So which Stealth do we get this weekend? Meanwhile the Roughnecks have allowed 15+ goals in 5 of their last 6 games. The Roughnecks haven’t demonstrated the ability to hold back the top offensive teams, at least not in the second half of this season. I originally had Calgary for this game but I’ve switched this one too. Stealth