2011 NLL Overview and Predictions


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NLL East

Boston Blazers

In: David Brock, Kevin Buchanan, Scott Campbell, Geoff McNulty, John Orsen, Casey Powell, Matt Quinton, Kyle Rubisch, Josh Sanderson

Out: Gary Bining, Paul Dawson, Mat Giles, Jon Harnett, Matt Lyons, Sean Morris, Kyle Ross, Matt Smalley, Brendon Thenhaus, Daryl Veltman, Head Coach Tom Ryan

Comments: There’s only one ball. Sanderson can score, to be sure, but he loves to pass. But both Dawson and Powell are used to being the guy. Can they both be the guy at the same time? Head coach Tom Ryan was fired during training camp, which tells me that he was not fired because they bowed out in the first round of the playoffs in each of the last two years, or because ownership felt that they underachieved with an 8-8 record last year. In either of those cases, he would have been fired long before now. No, that tells me that either Sanderson or Powell (or both) didn’t like Ryan or something about his coaching style, and they demanded that he be fired. This does not scream “cohesive unit” to me and makes me wonder if this will be like Canada’s 2002 Heritage Cup team – a group of superstars that could not play as a team.

Prediction: Second

 

Buffalo Bandits

In: Chad Culp, Clay Hill, Travis Irving, Tracy Kelusky, Scott Self, Brendon Thenhaus, Jay Thorimbert

Out: Mike Accursi, Kevin Dostie, Sean Greenhalgh, Ken Montour, Kyle Schmelzle, Billy Dee Smith, Brandon Swamp

Comments: No major changes for the Bandits; the biggest would be losing Accursi and picking up Kelusky. Both are veterans with leadership ability, but Kelusky scored 20 more points last year in 2 less games. Greenhalgh and Smith (at least) are injured to start the season, but may return. Adding Culp and Thenhaus will help the offense, and Self is a solid defender.

Prediction: Third

 

Philadelphia Wings

In: Matt Alrich, Ryan Boyle, Paul Dawson, Ray Hodgkinson, Steve Holmes, Athan Iannucci, Bodie MacDonald, Brett Manney, Ryan McClelland, Ryan McFadyen, David Mitchell, Brendan Mundorf, Shawn Nadelen, Joe Smith, Alex Turner

Out: Rob Blasdell, Jason Crosbie, Dave Cutten, Tom Hajek, Kevin Huntley, Jordan Levine, Brett Moyer, Steve Panarelli, Jeff Reynolds, Josh Sims, Bob Snider, Geoff Snider, Dan Teat, Kyle Wailes, Mike Ward

Comments: Wow, is there anyone on the team from last year? Six of their top ten scorers last year (Wailes, Snider, Teat, Giles, Huntley, Crosbie) are gone, and their backup goalies are both rookies. On the upside, Athan Iannucci is returning, and if he’s anywhere close to as dominant as he was in 2008, he’ll be a serious offensive force to be reckoned with. Then again, that was three years ago.

Prediction: Fifth

 

Rochester Knighthawks

In: Mike Accursi, Troy Bonterre, Tyler Burton, Jarrett David, Colin Hall, Cody Jamieson, Pat McCready, Ian Rubel, Josh Ruys, Matt Vinc, Chase Williams, Matt Zash

Out: Marshall Abrams, Mac Allen, Cory Bomberry, Matt Danowski, Shawn Evans, Kevin Fines, John Grant Jr., Jordan Hall, Peter Jacobs, Cody Johnson, Bobby McBride, Pat O’Toole, Andrew Potter, Regy Thorpe, Steve Toll, Shawn Williams

Comments: Abrams, Shawn Evans, Hall, and Shawn Williams are all starting the season on the injured list, with no announcements on how long they might be out. I know that Williams broke his arm during an MSL game during the summer, but was supposed to be healed and ready for training camp, so hopefully Knighthawks fans won’t have to wait long for his return. Mike Accursi adds some offensive punch, and Cody Jamieson is heavily hyped. Rochester must believe wholeheartedly that he will be the real deal, since they signed him to an unprecedented 10-year deal in mid-December. With all due respect to Pat O’Toole, who did a better-than-admirable job in net last year, their goaltending has improved with the trade for Matt Vinc, but the big question is: can the Knighthawks replace the offense of John Grant, Jr.?

Update: The Shawns, Williams and Evans, have both been activated from the injured list, and Chase Williams and Colin Hall have been released.

Prediction: Fourth

 

Toronto Rock

In: Pat Campbell, Mike MacLeod, Pat Maddalena, Patrick Merrill, Gee Nash, Tim O’Brien, Aaron Pascas, Kyle Ross

Out: Scott Campbell, Steve Dietrich, Brendan Doran, Mike Hominuck, Anthony Lackey, Pat McCready, Geoff McNulty, Kim Squire, Josh Wasson

Comments: No huge losses for the Rock, but they’ve added Pat Maddalena for some more offense, and upgraded their goaltending by replacing the now-retired Steve Dietrich with Paddy Campbell and Gee Nash. I don’t know about other Rock fans, but I will sleep a little easier knowing who’s backing up the Whipper. I also applaud the signing of Tim O’Brien. I’m not a big fan of fighting in lacrosse, but I recognize that it’s sometimes necessary and if someone has to spend five minutes in the box, I’d rather it be O’Brien than Doyle, Billings, or LeBlanc. Also with O’Brien’s reputation as a fierce fighter, people just might take a few less liberties with the big scorers, so even if he doesn’t actually do anything, his mere presence may help. Toronto made it to the finals last year, and I’m trying not to be a homer about my prediction here, but I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t get back there again.

Prediction: First

 

NLL West

Calgary Roughnecks

In: Cory Conway, Curtis Dickson, Jon Harnett, Derek Hopcroft, Brandon Ivey, Dan MacRae, Dayne Michaud, Curtis Palidwor, Geoff Snider, Daryl Veltman, Kurtis Wagar

Out: Craig Conn, Craig Gelsvik, Tracey Kelusky, Matt King, Rob Kirkby, John Lintz, Cutris Manning, Jeff Moleski, Josh Sanderson, Carlton Schuss, Rob Van Beek, Devan Wray

Comments: Snider will pick up every face-off and loose ball available, and then pass to… who? The Roughnecks have lost two of their most potent scoring threats in Sanderson and Kelusky. They still have Dane Dobbie and it’s not like they got nothing in return – Daryl Veltman picked up 65 points for the Blazers last year. A healthy Kaleb Toth will also help, but it’s not just about numbers. Replacing Sanderson’s vision on the floor will be difficult. The Roughnecks also replaced their starting goalie with former backup Mike Poulin and also signed Curtis Palidwor, who announced his retirement a week before the rosters were announced.

Prediction: Fourth

 

Colorado Mammoth

In: Mac Allen, Shayne Bennett, Rob Blasdell, Ned Crotty, Ben Davies, John Grant Jr., Matt King, Matt Leveque, Mike Mclellan, Jarrett Park, Steve Toll, Josh Wasson

Out: Rich Catton, Cory Conway, Chad Culp, Shawn Dhaliwal, Chris Gill, Chris Levis, Andrew Leyshon, Derek Malawsky, Ryan McFadyen, David Morgan, Bruce Murray, Curtis Palidwor, Jed Prossner, Brad Richardson, Bryan Safarik, Neil Tyacke, Matt Wilson

Comments: Out goes a superstar goalie, and in comes one of the most prolific scorers in league history. Grant isn’t well liked in Denver after delivering a punishing hit to John Gallant about five years ago. Some call him the “Todd Bertuzzi of lacrosse”, though Bertuzzi was never one of the best players in the league, as Grant has arguably been for most of his career, nor was Grant’s hit nearly as brutal as Bertuzzi’s. Hell, Gallant himself has forgiven Grant, so surely the Mammoth fans can as well. And if he plays at the same level as he has in Rochester for a decade, I think they will. And considering Matt Vinc never played a game in a Mammoth uniform anyway, they pretty much got Grant for free.

The Mammoth also released Andrew Leyshon and Curtis Palidwor and picked up Matt King from Calgary so although their goaltending isn’t as good as it would have been with Vinc, it’s still better than last season. They’ve also re-signed all of the Gajic brothers (I think they have twelve of them now), so I predict pretty good things for the Mammoth this year.

Update: Chris Levis is on the roster, and will be the backup goalie along with Blazer. The Mammoth also signed transition specialist speedin’ Stevie Toll after Rochester released him. I would have been happy to take Toll back on the Rock at any point in the last few years, but if Rochester released him, perhaps he’s lost a step or two. But even if he’s not as fast as he once was, he’s still a better-than-average defender.

Prediction: Second

 

Edmonton Rush

In: Bill Greer, Kedoh Hill, John Lafontaine, Bruce Murray, Devan Wray, Bobby McBride

Out: Bruce Alexander, Chris McElroy, Ryan McNish, Justin Norbraten, Ryan Powell

Comments: For five years, the Rush were the L.A. Clippers or Toronto Maple Leafs of the NLL. No matter how bad your team was, you could always count on the Rush to be worse. But sometimes being last has its privileges – in 2010, the Rush selected first in the Portland dispersal draft and picked up Brodie Merrill, who they hoped had the power to turn the team around. They also changed coaches and picked up Matt Disher, Ryan Ward, and Derek Malawsky. Merrill lived up to his billing as a franchise player, and the Rush not only made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, they finished tied for second in the west and were one overtime goal away from the Championship game. The Rush haven’t made many changes to their lineup for 2011. Former Roughneck Devan Wray comes home to Edmonton as a faceoff specialist, and former captain Chris McElroy has moved on to Washington.

Update: Devan Wray is actually on the practice roster.

Prediction: Third

 

Minnesota Swarm

In: Mat Giles, Tyler Hass, Travis Hill, Matt Kelly, Ryan Sharp, Rory Smith, Andrew Suitor

Out: Colin Achenbach, Kevin Buchanan, Ryan Cousins, Josh Funk, Scott Self, Sean Thomson, Jay Thonimbert

Comments: The Swarm made the playoffs despite a 5-11 (.313) record, which is the second worst ever in the NLL (three teams made the playoffs in 1993 and 1994 with 2-6 (.250) records) and third worst ever in any sport (the 1952-53 Baltimore Bullets of the NBA made the playoffs with a 16-54 (.229) record). They were beaten by the eventual champion Stealth, but I’m curious about the lack of significant changes in their lineup during the off-season. A 5-11 record, playoffs or not, should be an indication that major changes are needed, but they haven’t really made any. Perhaps they have followed the Toronto Maple Leafs modus operandi and decided that as long as they made the playoffs, the season can be considered a success. God help them if they head down that path.

Prediction: Fifth

 

Washington Stealth

In: Chet Koneczny, Chris McElroy, Jeff Moleski

Out: Joel Dalgarno, Wade DeWolff, Travis Gillespie, Ben Hunt, Brett Manney, Kyle Sorensen

Comments: They won the Championship last year, and have made minimal changes to their roster this year. The only significant changes are the additions of Moleski and McElroy, who will bolster an already better-than-average defense. Their offense was pretty damned impressive already, and in the list of best one-two goalie tandems in the league, Richards and Roik are right up there. Not much to say here – no reason to believe they won’t kick serious ass again this year.

Prediction: First

 

Overall Standings

East

  1. Toronto
  2. Boston
  3. Buffalo
  4. Rochester
  5. Philadelphia

West

  1. Washington
  2. Colorado
  3. Edmonton
  4. Calgary
  5. Minnesota
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