NLL East 2009 predictions


Lacrosse season is almost upon us! The season starts at the end of December, and the teams are getting their rosters ready now. I don’t think I’ve done this in the past, but here is my mini-analysis of the NLL’s Eastern division as well as some predictions for how the teams finish. The teams below are listed in no particular order; I’ll get to the predictions at the end. I’m a Rock fan so I’ll start with Toronto.

Toronto Rock

It turns out Dan Ladouceur did not retire at the end of last year as previously believed (though I never did see an official statement to that effect), but will play at least one more year. Honestly, I’m not sure how much Laddy can contribute anymore. He used to be a very solid defenseman, but he’s not nearly as effective as he once was — though I do remember saying after one game last year that he played really well. Jim Veltman did retire which is a big loss for the Rock, but he will join the coaching staff and I think he’ll do a good job there. I’m happy with the Rock’s choice of Chris Driscoll as the new captain. He’s a veteran player who’s respected, and is also one of the unsung heroes of the Rock over the last few years. He can score with the best of them but also plays solid defense and is pretty quick on transition as well.

Manning and Ratcliff will lead the offense, and hopefully Ryan Benesch can shake the sophomore jinx that plagued him last year. Aaron Wilson is gone but was replaced by Luke Wiles, and I mentioned before that he looks like a similar player to Wilson anyway, so that’s a wash. If Craig Conn is healthy then he will be a strong addition. Jason Crosbie has scored more than 50 points in four of the past six seasons, so even if the two big “ifs” (Benesch and Conn) don’t produce, the offense is still better.

We lost Veltman but gained Stephen Hoar. Hoar is a good defenseman, but he’s no Jim Veltman. But Veltman was a hundred and eighty years old while Hoar is 26. At best, that’s a wash. There weren’t any other major defensive or transition changes, so call the defense a little worse, but not significantly.

My biggest fear for the Rock is goaltending. Bob Watson is coming off a Goaltender of the Year award, which is pretty impressive for a 7-9 team that didn’t make the playoffs. But he’s also 38, and Mike Poulin, a very capable backup, is gone. Mike Attwood, the new backup (gotta have a goalie named “Mike”, apparently), has played a total of zero minutes in the NLL. If Watson gets injured or just can’t play as well as he used to, the Rock could be in serious goaltending trouble.

Overall the Rock are improved, but it may not be by much. Exactly how much depends on Conn, Benesch, and Watson.

Buffalo Bandits

Not much to say here. They’re the defending champs and have made no major changes in the off-season. Tavares is 40 now but doesn’t seem to be slowing down, and Steenhuis and Powless are only likely to get better.

Rochester Knighthawks

Not many changes for the K-Hawks this year, but they are significant. Out: John Freakin’ Grant, arguably the best player in the game right now, and Stephen Hoar. In: Gary Freakin’ Gait, arguably the best player in the game ever, and Aaron Wilson. Gait is not likely to be what he once was — heck, when he retired in 2005, he wasn’t what he once was. But he’s still Gary Gait, and though he won’t replace Grant, he and Wilson together might, numbers-wise anyway. Last time Grant was injured for a while, Shawn Williams stepped up admirably and became the de facto team leader. Might that still happen with Gait on the team? Sure it could.

But if Wilson+Gait=Grant, then the Knighthawks are a Hoar short of the same team that missed the playoffs last year. From that point of view, it could be argued that they’re not much improved from last year, and I suppose that’s true. But I don’t see the Knighthawks missing the playoffs this year. Why do I think Rochester will improve while I’m not so sure about Toronto? Easy: Rochester underperformed last year, while Toronto didn’t.

Weird: Grant will not play this year, but he will be an assistant coach in Rochester. John Grant the injured player coaching Gary Gait the former NLL Championship-winning coach seems a little weird.

Philadelphia Wings

No major changes in the off-season for the Wings either, though reigning MVP Athan Iannucci got injured in the summer league and there were rumours that would not be 100% this coming season. If that’s true, that’s a big blow to the Wings, but from what I’ve heard recently, those rumours were unfounded and Nooch will be ready to go. Kyle Wailes has been signed and has apparently dealt with his work visa issues, and so he will be able to play this year, so he joins Iannucci, AJ Shannon, and Merrick Thomson on the offense. Geoff Snider broke Jim Veltman’s loose balls record last year, and is an absolute monster on faceoffs. The Wings have Hajek, Jacobs, and Taylor Wray on defense, and they also have Rob Blasdell and Brandon Miller in goal, possibly the best one-two punch in the NLL.

I expect big things from Philly this year

New York Titans

The Titans went to the eastern division final last year, and now have a new coach in Ed Comeau. What else can I say but that they are an all-round solid team? I remember seeing Jarett Park play last year and was impressed, and Jordan Hall was a heckuva player as well. Powell, Boyle, and Maddalena make for a pretty potent offense, and Matt Vinc was an All-Pro last year. Turns out Americans can play box lacrosse after all. Who knew?

Boston Blazers

Meh — they’re an expansion team so they’ll suck, right? Maybe not. The Blazers grabbed Dan Dawson from Arizona in the dispseral draft (or was it from Portland in the expansion draft?), and remember Dawson brought the LumberJax from missing the playoffs to the Championship game the very next season. They also got Jake Bergey from Philly, and a couple of pretty solid goaltenders both named Mike: Miron and the aforementioned Poulin. Will they make the playoffs? I’d say probably not, but this will not be one of your 2-14 expansion teams (à la Edmonton or Ottawa).

Chicago Shamrox

Chicago only made one major move in the offseason, but it was a doozy. The Shamrox acquired Anthony Cosmo, one of the best goaltenders in the league, from San Jose for Matt Roik, a better-than-decent goaltender himself, and a couple of draft picks. This doesn’t immediately turn them into a contender, they’ll need some more offense for that, but they might win a few more 11-9 games rather than losing 17-11.

Summary

The East will be a tight race, as it always is. I think the Bandits and Wings have to be your top two teams. New York proved last year that they can compete with anyone, and I think Rochester will rebound from an off year, so that gives you your top four. This means that Toronto, Chicago, and Boston will not make the playoffs. Man, I hope I’m wrong about Toronto, but I have no idea which of my top four would have to drop out for Toronto to get in. If I had to guess, I’d have to say Rochester.

Prediction:

  1. Philadelphia
  2. Buffalo
  3. New York
  4. Rochester
  5. Toronto
  6. Boston
  7. Chicago

I’ll do the NLL West next.

Update: After Chicago vanished and the rosters were released, I updated my predictions.

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