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Toronto Rock Colorado Mammoth St. Patrick's Day 2017 NLL Media Poll Photo: Graig Abel

2018 NLL Kick Off – Key Stories

The 2018 NLL season is about to kick off this weekend and we’ve got story lines to watch for what could be the best season of pro lacrosse ever!

The 2018 NLL season is about to kick off this weekend, and while the pro box world has been relatively consumed by the expansion news of the San Diego Seals and the Philadelphia Wings (welcome back!), there is an amazing full season of NLL to be played before we see either of those teams on the floor… so let’s dig in!

As always there are some big stories out there getting a good amount of press, and while some are quite obvious (“can Georgia repeat as champs?”, for example) others are a little more off the beaten path. This isn’t every story line out there, but it’s all stuff I will be keeping an eye on early in the season. Will I be watching? DEFINITELY. You should too.

Back Door Changes – NEBW

I really liked the direction that New England was heading and thought their franchise was starting to settle in terms of roster spots, but I was a bit off, at least about the roster spots. NE may still be heading in the right direction, but they’re doing so with a good amount of change coming to their roster, especially out of the back door.

Aaron Bold is new in net, and while he’s obviously a well proven player, it’s still a notable change. Adam Bomberry, David Brock, John Lafontaine, and Colton Watkinson will all get time defensively and while this is a great group of newcomers, it’s also a big group of newcomers. The NE offense is mostly back, and looks quite potent on paper, but early on I’m curious if the D can gel to win those close games.

As the season progresses, this should be less of an issue, assuming a defense generally improves as any season moves along, but any early losses can always come back to bit a team when vying for a late playoff spot. Even with all this change, I still like New England as a potential contender.

Buffalo Just Needs Chemistry

Looking down Buffalo’s highly changed roster for 2018 and I see a team that could be a strong favorite to win it all, IF this were a returning group which had played well together the year before. But Buffalo is not a team that has that experience together, and that means finding SOME level of chemistry as quickly as possible is really paramount. Drop too many early games due to a lack of chemistry and frustration can quickly build. Win a couple big ones on the back of team play? It can make all the difference in the world moving forward.

I’m very impressed by Buffalo’s moves, now we get to see if it all comes together.

The Rush’s Western Trifecta

Last year, Colorado, Vancouver, and Calgary absolutely battled it out for second behind Saskatchewan, and this year… they’re going to do the exact same thing! Ok, I can not guarantee that will actually happen in any way, shape, or form, but it does seem like a rational and reasonable prediction, and here’s why:

ALL of these teams know each other well. They have for the last couple of years, but it was really evident in 2017. For the most part, games were really tight out West, and players seemed to know each other’s tendencies really well. Maybe it’s just a West Coast thing? Now add in that most of the players on COL, VAN, and CALH are all back on their respective rosters for 2018 and that familiarity simply takes another step up.

Saskatchewan Rush Photo: Calvin So NLL playoff picture
Photo: Calvin So

Saskatchewan is in a similar boat to the other 3, and their eventual emergence as the top dog is far from guaranteed. The Rush do have history and chemistry on their side however, so if anyone wants to knock them off, it will take a true team effort and consistent performances week after week. With Sasky, that’s really what you get – consistency. They have guys who do their jobs extremely well, and focus on team over self. I’m not saying these other teams don’t also possess that (would be a silly claim to make!) I am simply saying that the Rush have shown an extra dose of “team first”, and that is why they have won titles or made the finals so many times recently. Also, talent.

Basically, the West is going to be killer this season. Even if it turns out the way I think it will, every game will matter and nothing will be safe until the end. That’s the way it should be. I can’t wait to take in some of these big Western battles.

Rochester… Scares Me

I’m having a hard time predicting what Rochester will do this year in terms of winning or losing, and I’m beyond curious to see how their offense clicks… but their defense scares me, and I don’t mean that in a “I’m scared FOR them” way. I mean it in a “I’m scared for everyone else” kind of way. Maybe it’s just me, but the collection of defensive monsters on Rochester this year could be an absolute difference maker for this franchise.

Paul Dawson, Scott Campbell, Graeme Hossack, Ian Llord, Luc Magnan, Eric Shewell, Jake Withers, Sid Smith and… Billy Dee Smith. Listen, I love the Rush’s D, and other teams have really good back door groups, but Rochester has a special collection of talent here, and I’m beyond curious to see how it goes!

New England Black Wolves vs Rochester Knighthawks NLL 2017 Photo Jeff Melnik LaxAllStars.com 2018 nll
Photo: Jeff Melnik / LaxAllStars.com

The Swarm Will Be Good Again

Is this really a story line? They won, they have talent, they’ll be good. NEXT!

Injuries, Free Agents, Trades

There are PLENTY of talented guys who are NOT on rosters right now, and with a couple injuries, or other issues, the calls up could happen hot and heavy. In fact, there is so much talent out there, I don’t really think we’ll see a ton of trades this year. Instead, I think franchises will stick with what works, drop guys who don’t perform, and bring in guys who will. It could be a vicious year in terms of keeping a roster spot, especially for bubble players who made the last couple of spot.

Expansion will help with this, but for now teams get to enjoy a “good problem” while some really talented guys watch from home.

Every Game Counts

Last year only Georgia and Saskatchewan posted winning records. That’s right, the next 3 teams went 9-9 and the last four all finished with more losses than wins. I don’t expect that to continue this year, even with all the parity. Each division still has a favorite, but I think this is the year we see real regular season #2 teams emerge again. I expect the the gap between last year’s finalists and everyone else to tighten back up as well.

This should be evident in the first 2-3 weeks, and I believe game scores will be tight in general.

My Darkhorse Champion Pick

Saskatchewan and Georgia are relatively easy picks to win it all, and while they are my still “favorites” I will go out on a limb and predict that the Toronto Rock will win it all this year. The Rock won’t blow you away with their size (they may be the smallest NLL team in terms of average height), and they’re not loaded up with the biggest names out there (I guess) but they sure are a tantalizing bunch! I like Toronto as a group that will just focus on playing the game, and winning together. Successful NLL teams find guys who are great at their roles, and Toronto is loaded with them, has plenty of speed where they need it, and an unselfish offensive group.

Also, they wear blue helmets and no one else does. So there’s that.

NLL Media Poll Toronto Rock vs New England Black Wolves 2017 Photo: Graig Abel
Photo: Graig Abel

New Teams – San Diego and Philly

There will be lots of talk about the new franchises coming into the NLL for 2019, and I’m excited to hear more news as it comes out. The expansion draft, and more eligible players getting a shot will provide a boost for the league immediately, but I’ll be SO curious to see what kind of teams these franchises want to build.

If you could build an NLL team from the ground up, what would YOU do? That’s 10 more posts worth of content, so I’ll cut it here.

The Big 2018 NLL Picture

I am really just looking forward to a full season of amazing, high level pro lacrosse, and with the NLL I know I’m going to get it. Time to tune in, cheer on your favorite team, and watch all of my predictions come true.

2 out of 3 ain’t bad.

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