Random Thoughts: Lack of Trades, Murky East, Stealth Issues Grow
Another week in the NLL, and another week where things are a little clearer in the West, and nothing is clear in the East. We are now back to an East where everybody has six wins, and every team is within one game of one another. We will likely see a situation where every playoff position is decided in the West before a single one is decided in the East.
The trade deadline passed us Monday afternoon and with very little fanfare. Just the one trade that sent Dan Taylor from the Rush to the Rock in exchange for a conditional 2020 3rd round pick. The condition on the trade is that if the Rock protect Taylor in the Expansion Draft (and I believe the odds of this to be low), the pick upgrades to a 2nd round pick in 2019.
Taylor was a player I rather liked in the Rush line-up, but he was the healthy scratch in all but one game against Vancouver this season. Most of last season he was also a healthy scratch. Taylor was always relying on somebody on the lefty side to get injured just to get into the line-up. It will certainly be in his best interest to play somewhere else where he can better develop his game.
The slightly curious part is that the Rush now have 5 righties and 3 lefties up front on the active roster. It will still leave them with a choice every night as to whether Knight, Dinsdale, or Dawson is the healthy scratch. The way Dinsdale has played the last two games, I would find it hard to sit him. By the same token, could Dawson potentially see himself as a healthy scratch again?
In the game on Friday night, Dinsdale played a lot more minutes than Dawson did. All of this could ultimately depend on whether Knight is fully ready to go, or whether he will remain a healthy scratch for a few more weeks to let him fully heal.
The other curious part to this deal is that the Rush are now left with the untested Johnny Pearson as their only option at lefty forward in the event that one of the other three is injured.
But then again, this situation with the righties might only be temporary. Dawson is a UFA at the end of the year and you don’t know for certain where he is going to land. Knight is a possible expansion draft pick-up. The chances of all five righties being around next season are slim.
What Didn’t Happen
The first rumored move didn’t happen, in that Toronto didn’t pick up Dan Dawson. I was quite doubtful this trade could even take place to begin with. Toronto didn’t have the assets in draft picks the Rush needed to move Dawson again. It would have likely cost Toronto their 2020 1st round pick or their 2nd round picks in 2018 and 2019. If Toronto would have pulled either trade off, they would not have had a pick in that round until 2021. With two more expansion teams likely around the corner, Toronto couldn’t afford to lose more draft picks and expect to fill the holes the Expansion Drafts would create.
The other potential moves that there were rumblings about were with the Stealth, and whether the rebuilding process would start, and in particular, whether Corey Small would be traded. The key to the rumors here was that because Small has announced he is moving back to Ontario this summer, a deal would be worked out to move him out East. The problem with such a move at this time was that there was really only one Eastern team that could use his services, the Rock, and the Rock don’t have draft picks.
Now, before everyone jumps on Doug Locker to say why he didn’t trade anyone, keep in mind that it’s a case of trading someone if the right deal is there, and not necessarily trading someone for the sake of trading someone. If Locker couldn’t get the right value for his players, I have zero issue with him standing pat, as long as once the summer comes along, the moves to rebuild are taken. Potentially the best place that Corey Small can be traded is to Philly, and that’s a trade that can’t be completed just yet. Philly has a need for bodies and a need for big names to draw crowds, and they have extra draft picks to trade away if necessary.
You could also see other teams approaching the Stealth for trades post-Expansion Draft if they all of a sudden have holes to fill.
Rush Get Their Revenge
Back in mid-January, the Rush blew a second half 6 goal lead to the Bandits to get their first loss of the season, and temporarily giving the Bandits some momentum in the following weeks. This time,
Saskatchewan had a seven goal lead going into the 4th quarter, and two early Bandits goals had us thinking for a second if the Rush would blow it again. But this time they would push back with two more of their own and beat the Bandits 16-10 on Friday night. The loss pushed the Bandits back into the pack in the East, and it kept the Rush with a little breathing space on top of the West.
Early on, it was Evan Kirk keeping the Rush in the game. The Bandits seemingly had a man in close open and Kirk made a bunch of huge saves in the opening quarter to keep the Bandits at bay. Once again, the off-season trade paid off in a big way for the Rush. Kirk would go on to stop 42 of 52 for the win.
Back on Wednesday, when I was doing my interview on Global TV in Saskatoon, they asked me who the unsung heroes were on the Rush team and the first name out of my mouth was Marty Dinsdale. For the second game in a row since the Curtis Knight injury, Dinsdale didn’t disappoint with a hat trick on the night.
The NLL doesn’t keep this stat, but it seemed like Dinsdale was getting two minutes of floor time for every one minute Dawson was getting.
The Rush power-play went a dismal (sarcasm) 2 for 3. The Pointstreak indicates 2 for 4, but the Rush only had a power-play three times in the game, so I’m not sure where their 2 for 4 stat comes from. Hopefully this gets corrected, especially when a team is chasing history. If the 2 for 4 holds, the Rush are 74.1% on the power-play this year. If it’s corrected, they’re 75.4%. But most of the night, the Bandits were allowing a far side cutter to be wide open. The Rush were killing the Bandits from inside all night. As much as Alex Buque wasn’t having a good night, the Bandits could ill afford to take him out of the game. They needed Zach Higgins well rested for Sunday’s game in Georgia.
Mark Matthews had a typical Mark Matthews’ game this weekend, with 1 goal and 8 assists to extend his lead in the points race to 82. Only 29% of Matthews’ points are goals (24), but I doubt you’ll hear him, or anyone in Rush Nation complain about it. If he gets that much attention that he’s covered but he’s opening up someone else to get the ball to, all that really matters in the end is that the ball is in the back of the net.
The one oddity of Matthews’ game was making a huge save on a Rush power-play. With Evan Kirk way out of his net to play the ball and not getting to the ball on time, Matthews had to make a huge save. Chalk up a career 1.000 save percentage for him. It’s not too often you see Matthews that far down the defensive end of the floor.
Robert Church had 6 goals and 8 points, putting him tied for second in points on 77 and taking the lead in goals with 34 (although goals per game is led by Kevin Crowley with 30 goals in 11 games, two games fewer). Ben McIntosh is second in league goals with 33.
Jeremy Thompson finally had a good game at the faceoff dot, something he has been struggling with lately, with a 17 for 24 night.
On Buffalo’s side, Shawn Evans had a hat trick, although you can still tell that the faithful in Banditland aren’t sold on him yet. The offense is clearly off as a unit since the trade, as the team is now 0-3 with Evans in the line-up.
Bandits Lose Two
The once red hot Buffalo Bandits have now fallen from first to ties for worst in the East. They lost the second end of the doubleheader weekend with a, 14-10, loss in Georgia on Sunday afternoon. This is a game the Bandits have to blame themselves first as foolish and unnecessary penalties cost them the game.
The once dead cold Swarm power-play woke up in a 4 for 5 night on the man-up. But it was a handful of Buffalo penalties that could be pointed towards that made a major difference in the end.
Early in the second quarter, just after Georgia scored off a Vaughn Harris minor, Mitch De Snoo took exception to a play in the Buffalo end, and tackled Lyle Thompson from behind drawing an obvious penalty. If that wasn’t bad enough, he then continues to tirade the officials and takes a second penalty. Georgia scored on both ends of the double minor, and the Swarm went from being up 3-2 to being up 6-2 right off the hop in the second quarter. Buffalo would play catch-up the rest of the game.
The Call Heard Around the World
Then, with 5 minutes to go in the game, the call that had people talking occurred. Bryan Cole had taken an illegal cross-check penalty, one that he might have been fortunate wasn’t called a major. The television time-out occurs, and when play was ready to resume, Ed Comeau got the attention of referee Ian Garrison, and Garrison calls over Shawn Evans. Everyone is confused as to what is happening, and I’m thinking to myself as to whether Comeau is possibly calling for a stick check.
It was illegal equipment that Comeau was pointing out, but it wasn’t the stick. It was that Evans was wearing white Nike compression shorts, and Nike isn’t an approved equipment supplier for the NLL. Evans quickly went to the bench to get the logo cut off his shorts by the equipment manager… only to find out, he’s headed for the box.
Now as to why the Swarm noticed this. Earlier this year in Calgary, both Tyson Bell and Miles Thompson were penalized for wearing non-approved gear. Thompson Brothers Lacrosse is sponsored by Nike, and Miles was wearing TBL/Nike shoes. After this point, the Swarm would have been very aware that any Nike gear was against the rules.
But did Comeau just happen to notice this at that exact moment in time? I’ll let you figure that part out for yourself. I don’t believe it’s any coincidence that it was pointed out just as the Bandits were going on a late power-play. But that’s gamesmanship as well. Comeau had it pointed out when he needed the penalty called the most.
As for shaping the game, it ended up having a four-fold effect. First, a late Bandits power-play, down 12-9 was nullified and Buffalo’s chance to close the gap disappeared. Secondly, instead of a Bandits possession, it now became a Swarm possession which Lyle Thompson scored on 22 seconds later, and the lead was opened up to four. Also in the dying minutes, Buffalo was without a major offensive weapon. Even when Evans returned, the Bandits were rattled by what had occurred.
Some people commented on how the call was BS or stupid. But the reality is, it has been called before this year, the players are made well aware of what is and isn’t allowable. Also, Comeau is hired to win games, and if he’s not using every weapon available to win that game, he isn’t doing his job. Now, this does make Georgia fair game. If someone sees a Swarm player with a clearly illegal stick and they call for a measurement, that’s just as fair.
For the Swarm, the win was really critical given they were sitting alone in last place and a loss would have certainly put them in a world of hurt. Miles and Lyle seemed to be working together far better again and were playing with that step we were accustomed to seeing them play with last year.
As much as the talk on Sunday was about the illegal equipment call on Evans, one thing that others and I have been discussing on social media for the last several weeks were the white First Nations themed jerseys that Rochester has been wearing the past several weeks.
These jerseys were worn in Rochester several weeks ago against the Rush. It appears that the jerseys were made last year and never worn. Any player that was in the Rochester line-up a year ago has their number and name on the jersey. But, anyone new doesn’t have their name on the jersey, and several players were issued new numbers. For some time, it was quite confusing to follow the team with all of the new numbers.
Here’s the problem: Rule 26.1 of the NLL rulebook requires that players names be on the jerseys. This could have been solved quite simply. For all of the new players, Rochester could have simply sew a name bar on the back of the jersey. But they didn’t. To make matters worse, after beating the Rush, Rochester continued to wear the jerseys. And the problem was never fixed.
The reality is, if the league is going to threaten fines against a team for wearing a patch supporting a fan, or they are going to penalize and possibly fine players for wearing gear from non-sponsoring companies, it must in all fairness, fine a team or ban them from wearing jerseys that don’t conform to league rules. It’s a case of either the rules apply to everyone or apply to no one.
Toronto (Finally) Wins Without Schreiber
Ever since Tom Schreiber went down with a knee injury a month ago, the Rock had yet to win without him in the line-up. The Rock finally managed to get a win without him in a 14-9 win in New England on Friday night. The win catapults the Rock into second place in the East, and it kept New England from getting too far ahead of the pack, although the Black Wolves remain in first.
I didn’t get the chance to watch much of this game as the Rush game was on at the same time. What was crystal clear from the Rock goals I did see was that the shooting errors of the last game, where the Rock were trying to shoot over Bold’s left shoulder, went away and most shots that were beating Bold were going low, and mostly 5-hole.
The game was nothing like the defensive battle we saw a week earlier, with four goals scored in the opening 2:22 of the game. The second half was a game of runs. With Toronto up, 7-6, early in the second half, they would score three straight, only for New England to respond with 3 straight of their own and make it a one goal game again, before the Rock scored the final four goals, including an Adam Jones penalty shot goal.
Jones would have seven points on the night and Rob Hellyer another 8 points, with Kieran McArdle scoring a hat trick. Nick Rose had another sub 10 GA and above 0.800 game in net, allowing 9 goals on 47 shots.
Schreiber is still 2 to 4 weeks away from returning, so it will be interesting to see if Toronto can continue to win without him in the lineup.
Colorado Pushes Vancouver To The Brink of Elimination
The Stealth were all but officially eliminated from the playoffs in a, 13-10, loss to the Mammoth on Saturday night. It was the type of game where you could see the little things that made the Mammoth just a little bit better and the Stealth a little bit worse, that when all added up makes a big difference. Eric Penney had a shaky start and the Mammoth were up, 3-0, early. These slow starts have killed the Stealth all year long.
The Stealth have moments of brilliance and short periods where they go on runs, but surrounded by periods where the communication isn’t there and they’re not focused, and they get burned fast. It was also noticeable that the defense was simply a step or two slower to react.
Lately, the Stealth have been burned on the penalty kill in several of their games, and Saturday night was no different with the Mammoth going 4 for 5, and was a big part of the ultimate difference in the game.
But perhaps most alarming was the disappearance of the crowd at the games, and the fans speaking up with their feet. Later on, I’ll show photos given to me by a fan featuring the crowd at the game, but it was noticeably emptier than normal. The Stealth have three home games remaining, but luckily those games are against Calgary and Saskatchewan. These teams tend to draw larger crowds because of the friends and family of the West Coast players on the visiting teams coming out for the game.
Vancouver is now 1-12. Looking back in the history of the NLL, there’s only one team that didn’t win the entire season, the 1996 Charlotte Cobras who went 0-10. Nine teams have ended the season with just one win, but five of those were back when the season was only eight games long. The more recent examples of teams with one win were the 2000 Syracuse Smash (1-11), the 2001 Ottawa Rebel (1-13), the 2004 Anaheim Storm (1-15), and the 2006 Edmonton Rush (1-15). Nobody has had a one win season in twelve years. In the latest three examples, the one win season came in the first season that team was in the city (although not necessarily an expansion team). The Storm and Rush still hold the record for the most losses in a season, despite the schedule expanding to 18 games. Vancouver stands to set several marks they really don’t want to set unless they start pulling off some wins.
Calgary Almost Clinches
The Roughnecks held on for a, 14-13, win over Rochester on Saturday night at the Saddledome to put themselves close to clinching a playoff berth. A tale of two halves, Calgary stormed out of the blocks in this game to take a, 10-5, lead at the half.
But in the fourth quarter, Rochester slowly crawled back into the game. At 14-9, Calgary with seven minutes remaining, the lead should have been safe. The 13th goal though was of little consequence as it was scored with 0.7 seconds remaining and it was too late. If Rochester had another 60 seconds, the game could have gone to overtime.
The game was one of Christian Del Bianco’s worst performances of the season, but it was enough to get his team the win. While his GAA rose to 10.00 and his save percentage dropped to 0.806, he still leads the league in both categories. Matt Vinc had a night to forget allowing 9 goals on 21 shots in just 26 minutes of action. Angus Goodleaf did quite well in a rare appearance allowing 5 goals on 27 shots in 34 minutes.
Both power-plays were on fire with Rochester going 4 for 5 and Calgary going 5 for 6. Wes Berg was the highlight machine of the night with a sock trick and 8 points.
Math on Calgary
The math on Calgary clinching a playoff berth is a little murky, but here’s the simple form. Calgary is one division win or one Stealth division loss away from clinching. Because Calgary’s game next week is at home against Toronto, a win in that game won’t clinch for the Roughnecks, but a Stealth loss in Denver will clinch for the Roughnecks, regardless of their result against Toronto.
The reasoning for this is that while it’s possible for the Stealth to tie the head-to-head tiebreak, the second tiebreak is division record win percentage. One more Roughneck division win, or one more Stealth division loss, and that tiebreak is impossible for the Stealth to win.
The Stealth’s only way in is by winning every game the rest of the way and Calgary losing every game, or the Stealth win every game and Calgary wins once, but not against Colorado, or the Roughnecks lose every game and the Stealth win their next four games and lose the last game of the year to Georgia. Needless to say, it’s virtually over for the Stealth.
There was a mixed bag of good and bad results this weekend. Calgary had its largest attendance of the year with 15,070 in the building. New England had about as many as their building could fit without selling obstructed view seats with 5,832. Buffalo had an average attendance for them at 12,936 against the Rush, although this is around 4,000 less than they had a year ago when the Rush played in Buffalo.
It shouldn’t be completely unexpected that Vancouver’s attendance was low. Here are some photos supplied to me by fans in the building. Needless to say it wasn’t pretty.
As for Georgia, well, nothing seems to change, even with Buffalo fans organizing a group trip to Atlanta for the game. The photo says a thousand words.
I had a perfect weekend going until the Sunday game threw me off. A 4-1 week for me puts me at 34-22 for the season, a winning percentage of 0.607. Here’s what I have in store this week:
Buffalo over New England – I’m taking the underdog here, and simply going on gut feel. Besides, no team in the East ever seems to expand their lead on the pack.
Georgia over New England – This is simply a case of a New England team on the back end of a double header weekend and with and unfriendly travel schedule, having to get on a bus for over two hours just to get to a hotel near the airport taking them to Atlanta. In what should be a close game, these factors will be the difference in my mind.
Calgary over Toronto – It’s Calgary’s home record that makes the difference for me in this game. I’m also not ready to believe long term that Toronto can continually win without Tom Schreiber. This result won’t get Calgary a playoff spot on its own, but it helps lay the groundwork.
Colorado over Vancouver – Not much explanation needed here. One team fighting for first, one team all but done, and the loss for the Stealth here would seal their fate.
Saskatchewan over Rochester – this isn’t a simple pick by any means. Either team could win this one and for both the game is highly critical. For the Rush it means staying in first place in the West. For Rochester it means staying in the race for a playoff spot in the East. Whichever team can stay out of the box might be the winner here given how good both teams are on the power-play. Once again, the more talented team is the Rush and you don’t pick against them unless there is a clear reason why.
#24 on the 24th
On Saturday, the greatest all around lacrosse player of all time, in my opinion, John Grant Jr., will have his number retired in Colorado. It’s been fun the last few weeks watching daily highlight reels of his top goals.
I’m going to be hopeful that I can get a strong enough phone signal at SaskTel Centre Saturday night to watch the ceremony before the Rush game starts, or dare hope that the ceremony would be played live on the big screen in the arena. Well deserved Junior, and enjoy the night.
Keep in mind lacrosse fans that the Rush will be wearing superhero themed jerseys on Saturday night and the jerseys are up for auction with the proceeds going to the Children’s Hospital Foundation. To bid on the jerseys, visit the Rush’s Facebook page and post your bid in the comments for the photo. Rob Hellyer’s jersey just went for $1,450 in Toronto, so let’s see if we can beat that mark.
Until next time…
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