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TORONTO, ON - MAR 11, 2018: National Lacrosse League game between the Toronto Rock and the New England Blackwolves, (Photo by Ryan McCullough / NLL) Aaron Bold goaltender

Random Thoughts: NLL Week 1 Thoughts, Brodie Merrill Trade Lives On

We have one week in the books in the NLL season, and as much as some things do change, some things never change.

What did change, an enhanced playoff format.  I had read about this in an article from Steve Ewen several weeks ago and when I asked around to get someone to confirm it, nobody could.  But what we did have confirmed this week is that eight teams instead of six will make the playoffs this year. If you’re an expansion team, this has to be good news.  Your odds of making the playoffs just increased significantly. If you’re a team that would likely finish first like the Rush, this could be good or bad news. The bad news, you don’t have a bye week in the opening round to help rest aching bodies when you need it.  The good news, assuming you can get out of the opening round, you just received an extra home playoff game to get some increased revenue.

A year from now when there are 13 teams in the league, I probably wouldn’t have an issue with the increase.  But in this season, with 8 of the 11 teams making the playoffs, the value of the regular season just declined significantly.  A year ago the Rush qualified for the playoffs in February. Its not inconceivable that by early March they could qualify again.  In my opinion, the league should have left the number of teams in the playoffs at six for this season, and made the regular season mean something more.

But on the flip side, the more things stayed the same, the league didn’t make an announcement about this until the season was already underway.  Now the decision was made before the season, but not letting the fans know ahead of time is a sign the league still hasn’t changed.

NLL On B/R Live

Those that follow me on Twitter will have seen my frustration being let out with a Twitter rant this weekend about not being able to properly see games because of problems with B/R Live.

Now to be fair, let’s start with this.  For those that could get B/R Live to work, and once I could get it to work, the quality of the picture was substantially better.  No, even the B/R producers didn’t smash the camera at the far end of the Infinite Energy Arena that allows you to easily tell how many people are really at a Swarm game (hint, it wasn’t 4,900 in the seats).  But there was a clear upgrade in picture clarity… when it worked…

And that was the problem.  For far too many people, B/R Live didn’t work.  It might have been 20% of the viewing audience having problems, but 20% was 19.99% too many.  Most of the complaints came from Canada, but I heard similar issues being had by people in Buffalo.

After two years of Sportsrocket providing the live portion of NLL TV, and having continuous problems, fans wanted something far better, and to be honest, that started with something that was reliable to work, not a high definition picture.   Most people using a laptop didn’t have any success. Some told me that Google Chrome was working as a better browser, but when I tried it, the picture quality dropped, freeze ups still happened, and when the Buffalo-Philly game was tied with 2 minutes left and my B/R freezes, only for the feed to finally be restored with Buffalo celebrating the winning goal, my frustrations hit the roof.

My Samsung Galaxy 8 wasn’t much help at first either.  One issue with B/R on the app there was that you had to fast forward to the end of the feed, as it was taking you to the start of the warmup  when their feed went active.

But my frustrations were enhanced when I was on the chat support with B/R.  They gave me 7 steps to fix the problem, and when none of them worked, the B/R Support staff blamed my internet service provider.  After spending 75 minutes post game with my ISP and tech support, they determined that every other streaming service I use, except B/R, worked just fine.  The issue was clearly B/R.

In the end, there was only one way I managed to get B/R to work, and it was to dig up a five year old Chromecast and then finally my issues disappeared.  People that had success were normally using Chromecast, Roku or Apple TV. Also my partner on Lacrosse Classified, Jake Elliott, says that going to the NLL website and clicking on the score on the main screen will get you a laptop feed that will work.

Now here’s the key.  Someone like myself is going to go to lengths to get a game feed to work because I have to be able to coherently write about what happened in games this week.  But 95% of watchers won’t have that level of patience. Most of them would have shut the signal off when their first method to get access to the feed failed. And to that extent, fans shouldn’t have to worry about telling their stories about how they managed to get the feed to work.  Save that for Canadians trying to get American Netflix. And fans shouldn’t be shelling out extra money for a Roku just to get B/R Live to work. This should be simple and easy.

I hope they manage to get the bugs worked out by this weekend and I would highly advise that another weekend of games be streamed for free so that the multitude of people that couldn’t get the feed to work get the chance to re-evaluate the product.

Buffalo Clips the Wings

Going into this game, I had a bad feeling that this game was going to be lopsided.  After all it was the team I had picked to win the east versus the team I had picked to finish last, and, Philly hadn’t done overly well in either exhibition game.  But give them full credit for giving us one heck of a game in a 17-15 loss that was only decided by a Shawn Evans goal with 1:05 remaining. It’s a loss, but it’s a loss Philly can build off of.  The simple statement from this game, you can’t take a game off against anyone in this league, not even an expansion team.

I was quite surprised that Philly started Doug Buchan.  The more obvious choice would have been Davide DiRuscio, especially when DiRuscio is familiar with the playing styles of several Bandits players.  Buchan struggled, allowing 10 goals on 24 shots, or just a 0.583 save percentage. DiRuscio on the other hand was 25 for 31, or 0.806. I would assume that when the Wings take to the floor next, DiRuscio is the starter.

Another thing that did surprise me was the numbers that Trevor Baptiste put up.  The trend for some time in the NLL has been to get away from an established FOGO in the lineup.  But when Baptiste wins 25 of 35 faceoffs (71.4%), now such a person is a little more justified. The key to Baptiste though was also the same key as to how Philly was able to stay in the game, they didn’t allow Buffalo to go on major runs against them.  Several times, a Baptiste faceoff win resulted in an immediate Philly goal, soon after the Bandits just scored. That is critical.

For the Bandits, scoring 17 in their opener certainly has to feel great, especially when Corey Small put up 5 goals in the opening half.  But there are two major concerns. First off, Dhane Smith being carried off the floor late in the game has to be concerning. Dhane was at Buffalo practice on Tuesday night, but his status for this coming weekend is still unknown.  The Bandits have enough offensive weapons to still be dangerous without Dhane, but, if he’s not there, its still going to leave a dent. But further to the point, if he can play, he is likely not at 100%, and he might not be 100% for an extended period of time.

The bigger concern for the Bandits has to be the defense.  Now I’m going to give them a bit of a pass here. The defensive unit, including goaltender Matt Vinc, are relatively new working with one another.  It will take some time for this unit to gel together. We simply wouldn’t have expected that they would have allowed 15 goals when this was a much improved unit.  To me it’s a wait and see, or monitor to see how this unit manages to work it out.

Game of Runs

In the Swarm’s 16-12 win over New England on Saturday, while it was a back and forth battle, it was back and forth in large blocks.  Only twice in the entire game did a team not score back to back goals. Here’s the full list:

Georgia 2 (2-0), New England 3 (2-3), Georgia 5 (7-3), New England 2 (7-5), Georgia 4 (11-5), New England 4 (11-9), Georgia 1 (12-9), New England 1 (12-10), Georgia 2 (14-10), New England 2 (14-12), Georgia 2 (16-12).

However, throughout the game I didn’t think that Georgia was in any trouble.  New England had focused heavily on Lyle Thompson for most of the game and it resulted in him not scoring in the opening 3.5 quarters, but the rest of the team picked up the slack.  Holden Cattoni had 7 points in his Swarm debut. There were 10 different goal scorers for the Swarm last week. That goes to show, just as we discussed with Lyle Thompson on Lacrosse Classified, that they have such great balance on offense that focusing on shutting down one guy won’t work that often.  Even when New England managed to pull within two goals a few times late in the game, the atmosphere still felt like Georgia was in full control.

I was pleased to see Doug Jamieson get his shot as a starter and I think he should get another.  But it also leads me to question the trade that occurred in the offseason to acquire Alex Buque, where New England gave up a 1st round draft pick, which are a scarce commodity for them at the moment.  Its far too high of a price to pay for someone on the bench. Will this change in the future, we shall see.

One other odd note in this game was the six illegal substitution penalties that were handed out.  This could be one of two things. One is that with a shortened camp, teams simply don’t have their timing down properly just yet on substitutions.  The other possibility is that this is something Brian Lemon has directed the referees to focus on this year, to go along with the off ball slashes and the embellishment calls.

Upset in Cowtown

Readily I admit I didn’t give the Warriors much of a chance of winning against Calgary last Saturday, despite the Roughnecks being without Dickson and Berg.  But where my attitude started to change a little was when the news came out that Jesse King was going to be inactive due to an injury. It was at this point that it clicked into my head as to how deep the Roughnecks were about to have to go into their depth chart for their offense.  Riley Loewen played a lot more minutes than normal, which wasn’t going to be a huge concern for me. But once it was Carter Dickson and Chris Boushy having to play a lot of minutes and Zach Currier taking an occasional shift upfront that the light blub clicked as to how precarious the situation for Calgary was.

Now you do have to give the Warriors credit.  To devalue this win in any way for them would be silly.  When you’re building on a 2-16 team from the year prior, you’re looking for any advantage you can get on game night, and you have to face the team that is put in front of you.  They don’t control what happens with Dickson or Berg. But what they did control was that early in the 4th quarter, they were down 13-8, they could have folded, and instead everyone picked up their game, especially Logan Schuss, and most critically, Vancouver stopped taking penalties.  They took 8 minors in the opening half and Calgary went 4 for 7 on the PP and Dobbie scored one on a penalty shot. When Vancouver stopped taking penalties, the tide turned for them as they didn’t take a single penalty in the 2nd half or overtime.

But by the same token, Calgary was far too conservative in its offense once they were up five early in the 4th quarter.  You stopped seeing guys cut through the middle nearly as often as you did earlier.  They seemed to be far more concerned with not turning the ball over and eating the clock.  But in part, this too helped the Warriors stay out of the box. They weren’t under pressure as much and fewer mistakes were being made.  The simple lesson here, the best way to protect a lead sometimes is to keep scoring.

Now this loss does have to be put on Calgary’s defense and goaltending for allowing the Warriors to get back into the game.  Christian Del Bianco didn’t have a great night, 32 for 46 or just 0.696 save percentage. Am I concerned about him, no. I’ll be concerned if this trend continues for another 2 or 3 games, but for now, I’m not worried.  And when I look back at my season preview, my concerns about Calgary’s defense were justified.

But let’s look back to what could have been.  The reality is, had Dickson and Berg been signed, Calgary doesn’t lose this game.  They would have provided that extra 2 or 3 goals the Roughnecks needed to get over the top.  This comment on Twitter confused some people, so let me explain. I would expect Dickson and Berg combined to have more than 2 or 3 goals.  However, their presence out there would have meant that other players would have had fewer possessions and fewer shots. A perfect example is Dane Dobbie.  He had five goals, but had the take on a larger burden of the offensive responsibilities without his team there. If Dickson and Berg are there, does Dobbie score five times?  Its possible, but far less likely.

Regardless, that extra 2 or 3 goals was the difference between this game being a Calgary win and this game going to overtime.  The loss certainly helps Dickson and Berg’s case for more money. Hopefully it gets resolved soon because the hints that this could be a long term holdout are there based on the interview with IL Indoor earlier this week.

NLL Picks

Almost everyone making picks went 2-1 last weekend, all getting the Warriors wrong.  I won’t get into deep analysis of the picks as my ranking of the teams from a week ago hasn’t changed and I think that Calgary gets it together against the Warriors.  It will be interesting to see if the home jinx the Stealth had at the Langley Events Centre will continue at Rogers Arena. But the picks are simple:

Buffalo over Toronto

Calgary over Vancouver

Colorado over San Diego

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

I wrote about this a few years ago back when I was still on blogspot and its an interesting trade tree from 2011 when the Edmonton Rush sent Brodie Merrill, Mike McLennan, Dean Hill, a 5th round pick in 2012 and a 4th round pick in 2013 to Philadelphia (now New England) for Athan Ianucci, Brodie MacDonald, Alex Turner and Philly’s first round picks in 2012, 2013 and 2014.  Derek Keenan would ultimately trade every piece he received in this trade away.

Ianucci was traded away soon afterwards to Vancouver along with a 2nd round pick in 2012 for Paul Rabil and a 1st round pick in 2012.  Vancouver selected Justin Pychel with their 2nd round pick.  Edmonton would select Mark Matthews with their 1st round pick.  Rabil would ultimately be traded for Jarrett Davis.  So you start to see how one trade facilitated many more trades.

MacDonald is traded away 3 years later to Minnesota along with the 2014 1st rounder acquired from Philly for Tyler Carlson, Minnesota’s 1st round pick in 2014 and their 2nd round pick in 2015.  Minnesota picks up Miles Thompson with their pick.  The Rush draft Ben McIntosh and Dan Taylor with their two picks.  Taylor was recently traded away for a 3rd round pick in 2020.

Turner is ultimately traded away to Minnesota for a 3rd round pick in 2015.  That pick is then traded again to Calgary in exchange for Marty Dinsdale.

The 2012 1st rounder Edomonton received from Philly was traded to Buffalo (who then trades it again to Minnesota who ultimately picks Kiel Matisz) along with a 2nd round pick in 2011 (Jeremy Thompson), in exchange for Chris Corbeil.  A few years later, the Rush trade to get Thompson back and give up Aaron Wilson and a draft pick that becomes Nick Diachenko.

The 2013 pick is much more confusing to follow, and it’s the gift that still keeps on giving to this day.  Edmonton traded their own 2013 1st round pick for Zack Greer, but kept the pick from Philly.  A year later and the pick Minnesota now owns from Edmonton is #5 overall, the pick Edmonton owns from Philly is #4.  Minnesota wants to move up so they trade Nik Bilic to Edmonton to swap picks. Minnesota drafts Cameron Flint, Edmonton drafts Robert Church.  Ouch…

Greer is eventually traded to Colorado along with a 1st round pick that becomes Zach Herreweyers in exchange for Adam Jones and a 2nd round pick in 2017, which the Rush use to pick Nick Finlay.  Jones is then traded away for two 1st round picks to Toronto.  The first of those picks was Connor Robinson.  The 2nd pick is in next year’s draft.

Here’s the current math on the Merrill trade, and its staggering…

The Rush have received Mark Matthews, Ben McIntosh, Robert Church, Chris Corbeil, Jeremy Thompson, Nik Bilic, Marty Dinsdale, Nick Finlay, Connor Robinson, Brodie MacDonald for 3 years, Zack Greer for 5 years, Jarrett Davis for 4 years, Dan Taylor for 3 years, Tyler Carlson for 5 years, Toronto’s 1st round pick in 2019 and their 3rd round pick in 2020.  Basically, the trades that followed the Merrill trade have given the Rush half of their current roster.

The Rush ultimately gave up Brodie Merrill, Miles Thompson, Kiel Matisz, Zach Herreweyers (sort of, Colorado released him, Buffalo picked him up), Zack Greer for 2 years, and a number of players no longer active in the NLL, Mike McLennan, Dean Hill, Matt Gibson, Don Alton, Justin Pychel, Aaron Wilson, Nick Diachenko and Cameron Flint.

Given Keenan’s past and the fact that the Rush do have 3 first round picks this year, the pick that he holds might be traded away for even more future gifts, so the giving could continue.

And as always I have to give a big thanks to the Corporal who keeps track of all of these past trades and draft picks on swarmitup.com.  He’s made my life a lot easier over the years with this invaluable resource.

Until next time…

For all the latest, follow me on Twitter @SchemLax and make sure to catch the Lacrosse Classified podcast every Tuesday @LaxClass

READ MORE: Check out Steve Wizniuk’s NLL Week 1 Winners and Losers on the LaxAllStars site here. Also, check out our new feature Lacrosse GIFs here.

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