Wednesday, November 24, 2010

All things being equal

By Graeme Perrow

When fans discuss a league for a period of time, something that inevitably comes up is parity. This seems to be the goal of any league – the idea that all of the teams in the league are similar enough talent-wise that it's highly possible for any team to beat any other team on any given night. This also implies that any team has a reasonable shot at winning a championship. The idea certainly has merit. If you're a fan, you know that the chances of your team winning it all or at least being competitive are pretty good.

But if you listen to Bob McCown, one of Canada's most knowledgeable sports broadcasters (both loved and despised by many), he'll tell you point blank that parity is the worst thing that could possibly happen to a league. When you look back over the history of pro sports in North America, what kinds of team-related things do you remember? The Yankees' dominance in the 50's, the Islanders in the early 80's and the Oilers immediately after that, the Red Wings in the late 90's, and the Rock of the late 90's/early 2000's. Do you look back fondly on the years of parity? Do you even know when they occurred? No, you don't. You remember the dynasties.

With the dynasties come the, well, anti-dynasties, I suppose. We also remember the teams that were really bad for long periods of time – the Senators of the mid-90s, the lowly Nordiques before Eric Lindros turned them into the powerhouse Avalanche, the Maple Leafs for most of the last 40 years, and the Clippers, Pirates, and Cubs seemingly forever. Again, do you remember the years when all the teams were pretty good, but nobody was awesome and nobody was terrible?

So parity isn't so good for the history books, but is it good for the fans? That depends. I've been a Maple Leafs fan all my life, and apart from a few good years in the 80's and a few more in the 90's, they've been mediocre at best for the majority of that time, and downright awful for quite a bit of it. A little parity sounds like a pretty damned good idea there. The Jays were terrible from 1977 until about 1984, then good for the rest of the 80's, awesome in the early 90's, then dropped off and have been no better than pretty good for the last fifteen years. The Raptors were terrible for a while, then pretty good for a few years, and now they're terrible again. The aforementioned Cup-winning Islanders and Oilers are both pretty bad these days. It's a terrible feeling watching your favourite team lose, and know that they're going to have a lousy season and are not likely to improve for at least a couple of years. That feeling is made even worse knowing that some other teams are likely to be awesome for that entire period. I'm sure parity would be welcome to fans of those teams as well.

But I've also lived the other side of the equation, thanks to the NLL. I became a Rock fan in 2001, when they had already won two championships. The total number of home games they lost was in single digits for several years. In their first seven seasons, they won five championships and lost a total of two playoff games. The Wings stole the 2001 championship away (don't get me wrong, they earned that victory), but the Rock stormed back and won the next three of the next four. I can tell you that parity in the NLL was the last thing that Rock fans wanted around 2005.

So for the fans the conclusion is hardly surprising – when your team is winning, parity is something you want to avoid. When your team is losing, parity is something to strive for. How about for the league as a whole?

Obviously most leagues think that parity is ideal. They want fans from all of their teams to continue to pay money to come out to the games as much as possible. This is easier when all the games are meaningful because each team still has a chance to make the playoffs and win it all. This is at least part of the reason we have salary caps and luxury taxes and such, so that some teams can't outspend the rest of the teams by 200% and buy themselves a stacked team. Of course that wouldn't happen in a league without a salary cap, would it? Well, the pre-cap Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers tried it for a number of years, but just ended up with some very expensive losing teams. But this strategy has worked very well for the New York Yankees, and has made the Yankees one of the most hated teams in all of North American sports, outside of New York anyway. It has also turned the Yankees into one of the biggest draws at MLB stadiums all over North America, and has made them one of the most valuable sports franchises in the world. And at the same time, MLB is doing very well financially, thank you very much, with no salary cap. Parity shmarity. How's that salary cap working for your owners, Mr. Bettman?

The NLL east has been pretty even for a couple of years. Only 2 games separated 2nd from 5th last year. In 2009, the top 3 teams had the same record 10-6 record, and in 2008, the top four were 10-6. The west has been kind of weird for a few years. Minnesota's 5-11 regular season record (.313) in 2010 is the second worst ever to make the playoffs in the NLL, and the third worst ever in any sport*. Calgary ran away with the west in 2009, and in 2008 San Jose and Colorado tied for the division lead with records just above .500.

In 2011, you've got a couple of strong teams (Washington and Boston) but nobody that's unbeatable. You've got some weak teams (Philly, Colorado, Minnesota), but nobody who's really terrible. And everybody else could easily find themselves in the playoffs or fighting for a spot. Could Washington repeat? Sure they could. It's way too early to say "dynasty", but they could easily be in the running again this year. But could I predict a Rush championship without looking like an idiot? Sure I could. Or the Blazers. Or the Rock. Or the Bandits. Could the Roughnecks win without Sanderson or Kelusky? Well, the Oilers won without Gretzky, so anything's possible.

* In the 1993 and 1994 NLL (called the MILL at the time) seasons, three different teams made the playoffs with 2-6 (.250) records. In the other major sports, only the 1952-53 Baltimore Bullets of the NBA were worse: 16-54 (.229). No NFL team has ever made the playoffs with a record under .500. In baseball, the 1981 KC Royals made the playoffs at 50-53 (.485), though that was a strike-shortened season. And my beloved Leafs made the playoffs in 1987-88 with a 21-49-10 record, which is .263 in wins (21 wins in 80 games) but ties screw things up. They got 52 out of a maximum of 160 points, which is .325.

Monday, November 22, 2010

NLL Team Doughnuts

By NLL Blog Staff

If each NLL team were represented by a Tim Horton's doughnut, here's what they might be:

Calgary Roughnecks: Management took out the two top ingredients, but still believe it will be as good as ever

Colorado Mammoth: Best selling doughnut for years, but doesn't taste very good. (Compare with Stealth doughnut)

Edmonton Rush: Undercooked and yucky for years, but after adding a new ingredient a year ago, is now quite good 

Minnesota Swarm: Plain glazed. No sprinkles, no creamy filling, nothing fancy, but if there's nothing else available, it'll do.

Washington Stealth: Best tasting doughnut last year, but nobody buys it. (Compare with Mammoth doughnut)

Boston Blazers: A doughnut with Chocolate, Gummy bears, and other things that are great on their own, but don't go well together.

Buffalo Bandits: A big bear claw. Soft creamy fillings are for wimps.

Philadelphia Wings: An old stale cruller. People fondly remember back years ago when it tasted really good.

Rochester Knighthawks: Strange doughnut with some of the best quality ingredients. Sometimes they mix properly and taste great, other times you take a bite and get a mouthful of flour.

Toronto Rock: Was one of the most popular doughnuts for a while, then new management changed the recipe and made it doughy and tasteless. After the former management was brought back, it's getting better.

New York/Orlando Titans: A great Doughnut, but it was only around for a limited amount of time.

(With a nod to Down Goes Brown)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Jersey Shore- Calgary X

By Mike Wilson

From the Roughnecks website:

To celebrate their 10th season the Calgary Roughnecks have designed a new jersey and logo to commemorate their anniversary. The new logo will represent the Roughnecks 10 years in the National Lacrosse League (NLL).


Now first of all, I like the jerseys. It’s simple, stylish and gets its point across. I believe they are a few steps above the jerseys that the Edmonton Rush spit out.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Get Over It

By Graeme Perrow

Your team has just traded for a player who is one of the best players in his sport, and has been for much of the last decade. We're talking about a lacrosse player who has the following credentials:

  • NLL Championship (Rochester Knighthawks)
  • NLL Championship game MVP
  • MLL Offensive Player of the Year
  • World Indoor Lacrosse Championship (Team Canada)
  • Mann Cup (Peterborough Lakers)
  • Mann Cup MVP

That's a pretty impressive list for any career. But consider this: those are John Grant, Jr.'s accomplishments in 2007 alone. Not listed here are his accomplishments in other years: rookie of the year awards (2), other championships (2 MLL, 2 Mann Cup, one World Indoor Lacrosse, one World Outdoor Lacrosse, one Heritage Cup), other MVP awards (2 more), and MLL Offensive Player of the Year awards (2 more). Guy's got more hardware than Home Depot.

So now this guy is on your team, and all you had to give up for him was a guy who has never played for your team in the first place, and you got for free anyway. Great news, right? Why would any fan be upset about acquiring such a player? Well, just ask Colorado fans how they feel about acquiring Grant last week. Not all of them think this was a great idea, in fact some are quite unhappy with the deal. Why? Because they don't think he's that good? Absolutely not. Nobody is arguing Grant's talent. It's because of a split second decision that Grant made back in December of 2006. Grant cross-checked Colorado defender John Gallant in the back of the head, knocking him out and getting himself a one-game suspension. Gallant was likely concussed – he was out six weeks and suffered headaches for a while – but luckily returned to the Mammoth. For Mammoth fans, this brought back a painful memory of the last game of Steve Moore's NHL career, before Todd Bertuzzi ended it.

Was Grant's hit a cheap shot? I personally didn't see it, but I can't imagine how a cross-check to the back of someone's head while they're walking away from you wouldn't be. Is Grant a goon? Not by a long shot, but I can't say he's the most sportsmanlike player I've ever seen either. We all know that lacrosse is an intense game played by passionate people, and passionate people sometimes make errors in judgement in the heat of the moment. John Gallant himself has said that he and Grant are friends and he's very much looking forward to playing together on the Mammoth, so he's forgiven Grant. It's easy to just say "Yo Colorado fans, it's been six years. Gallant only missed a few weeks and he himself is good with it, so just get over it." But that's much easier said than done.

Back in the early-mid 2000's (I can't remember exactly when it happened), the Philadelphia Wings were in Toronto to play the Rock. At some point in the game, the Wings' Dave Stilley and Toronto's Steve Toll started pushing and shoving each other and the gloves dropped. No more than a couple of punches were thrown before Stilley did something I had never seen before on a lacrosse floor and haven't seen since – he head-butted Toll, who instantly dropped to the floor. Stilley was booed relentlessly, and was tossed from the game. I don't remember if there was a suspension involved. Toll was out the rest of that game, but returned for the next game uninjured. To this day, I remember seeing Toll drop like he'd been shot. I remember the jaws of everybody in our row dropping open as we watched Stilley being dragged away. I remember the defiant look on Stilley's face, as if to say "Yeah, I went there, so don't fuck with me!" Ever since that game, the name Dave Stilley has represented to me the worst of violence in pro sports (well, up until Todd Bertuzzi grabbed it and hasn't let go). A couple of years ago I saw a picture of Stilley raising the 2001 Champions Cup in Toronto as a member of the Wings. The fact that you could see me in the background of the picture was pretty cool, but I couldn't stop staring at the C on his chest, stunned that he had at one point been chosen as captain of the Wings. As I read the tweets, blog posts, and message board postings about how ticked off some Mammoth fans were about the Grant trade, I immediately thought "Get over it, Mammoth fans". But then I wondered how I would have felt if the Rock had traded for Dave Stilley.

My first thought was "Well, that was different, because..." but then I couldn't think of how to finish that sentence. Both were cheap shots. Both could have caused devastating injuries or even been career-ending, but they weren't. Both players returned after a relatively short absence, and both continue to play well – interestingly, Toll played with Grant for five years on the Knighthawks and Gallant is now captain of the Mammoth and Grant's teammate. Both offenders were penalized and the incident subsequently considered closed by the league, the teams, and likely the players involved. But not the fans. The only real difference I can think of is that if Stilley were acquired by the Rock, it would have been a fairly minor deal, as Stilley was never a superstar. We could have still followed the Rock but hated Stilley, and it wouldn't have been that big a deal. Nobody would have cancelled their season tickets over it. But Grant is a superstar, and is expected to singlehandedly bring the Mammoth back to glory. If he succeeds and the Mammoth contend this year, it will be very difficult to cheer for a team led by a man you hate. Of course the other option would be to give up your lacrosse tickets. I cannot imagine doing this myself – I wouldn't give up my season tickets even if the Rock traded Colin Doyle for Dave Stilley straight-up. (Excuse me while I go and scrub my brain with steel wool for even thinking such a thing.) The only advice I can give Mammoth fans is to give it time and try to forgive, even if you can't forget.

To Be a Fan, or Not to Be

By: Melissa Dafni

When does a player’s actions outweigh their contributions?

Anymore, it’s not that uncommon to have players do something either on or off the field that makes you question if they should even be playing. But for good or bad, because they have a huge impact on the field everything else has a blind eye turned towards it. Or maybe because they play for your team it’s not considered as bad. At what point does that change for you?

This season I’m forced to reevaluate something I never thought I would have to.

The Colorado Mammoth traded for John Grant Jr. (JGJ) from the Rochester Knighthawks.

This is a very significant trade. Although older, JGJ is still considered to be on one of the best players to have ever played the game. I certainly can’t deny he’s talented, but I hate the fact that he’s going to be in a Mammoth uniform this season.

All because he did something out of anger while playing at the Pepsi Center.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Avry's Sports Show

Avry and Mike talk some lacrosse on Avry's Sports Show! It's at about the half-way point of the show if you don't care about other sports.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Cody Jamieson has big shoes to fill

By Alex Hinkley

It's always tough being the new guy somewhere, especially when people have high expections of you. Being the first overall pick in the 2010 NLL Entry Draft and joining the Rochester Knighthawks is surely both exciting as well as stressful for Cody Jamieson. He will have an especially tough road ahead next season, however, now that John Grant Jr. is out of the picture.

While many hardcore lacrosse fans know who Cody Jamieson is, equally as many probably have no idea. Jamieson first made a name for himself by leading the Six Nation Arrows to four straight championships in the OLA Junior A Lacrosse League. During his first season of college lacrosse at Onondaga Community College, he lead the Lazers to an undefeated championship and finished second in the league in scoring with 57 goals and 121 points. The next year, he lead the league in goals (65), assists (51), and points (116) on the way to a second consecutive undefeated season and national championship. He then transferred to Syracuse University but due to academic reasons was restricted to playing only the final few games of the season. He made his mark in the NCAA Championship game, however, when he scored the game winning goal in overtime to give Syracuse the title. Jamieson also had an incredible season last year with the Six Nation Chiefs of Major Series Lacrosse, netting 48 goals and adding 48 assists for 96 total points in just 17 games. For such a young player, Jamieson has already had a storied career.

When John Grant Jr. was traded recently, some fans were wondering why the Hawks would let their franchise player go. Although adding an elite caliber goaltender like Matt Vinc to the roster was obviously a huge reason for the trade, Jamieson joining the team also most likely played a part. There's only one ball out there and both he and Grant wouldn't have been able to hog it. Now that Grant is gone, it frees up Jamieson for much more floor time each game which allows him to take more shots and (hopefully) score more goals.

Many Knighthawks fans will expect even more out of Jamieson now that he can be seen as replacing John Grant on offense. It would be unrealistic to expect a rookie, even one as talented as Jamieson, to immediately enter the league and dominate on the level that John Grant has for so many years. Even if Jamieson ends up having an amazing season, if he falls short of matching the level of play Grant has given to the Knighthawks, suspicious fans might even start to dislike him. Grant's are definitely big shoes to fill.

It will be interesting to see where Jamieson fits into the offense and how the loss of Grant will affect the Knighthawks' style of play. One thing that is for sure is that he certainly has his work cut out for him.

Friday, November 5, 2010

NLL Scheduling

By Graeme Perrow

Scheduling in pro sports leagues is hard. I cannot imagine the complexity of the software that does scheduling for a league of 30 teams and 82 games (NHL, NBA) or 162 games (MLB). Even 16-game seasons like the NFL or NLL are pretty complex. You have to take into account arena availability (though many NBA, NHL, MLB, or NFL teams have first priority on the arena / stadium), how many games against division / conference opponents should there be, other league-imposed rules like the Maple Leafs must always play at 7pm on Saturday nights, and travel time (you can't have a home game in New York on Saturday and a road game in Vancouver on Sunday). In the NHL, you're talking about 30 teams and 82 games each, or 1230 games. That's gotta be a nightmare to schedule. I'm not sure if scheduling baseball would be easier or harder, since all their games are in groups of 3 or 4. So before I talk about the problems in the NLL scheduling, I want to say that I realize that this is a hard problem.

Having said that, the software that does the scheduling for the NLL has some flaws. Either that, or some of the league-imposed rules are a little silly. In the six seasons from 2005 to 2010 inclusive, here are some things I noticed:

  • Rochester played in Colorado four times but Colorado only played in Rochester once.
  • Colorado has had a weird schedule hosting teams from the East. Rochester has played there four times, Buffalo and Philly two, Toronto zero.
  • Toronto never played in San Jose or Colorado, and the Stealth and Mammoth only played in Toronto once each. (Toronto did play the Washington Stealth once in 2010, but only in the Championship Game.)
  • Buffalo and San Jose each hosted the other only once.
  • San Jose hosted the Rock, the Bandits, and the Knighthawks once each, but Philly three times.
  • Cal-Edm games in Calgary: ten. Cal-Edm games in Edmonton: six.
  • Edm-Col games in Colorado: eight. Edm-Col games in Edmonton: five.
  • Buf-Min games in Buffalo: eight. Buf-Min games in Minnesota: five.
  • Neither Edmonton nor Calgary have ever played in Buffalo or Philadelphia, but they've played in Toronto four and six times respectively. The Bandits have played in Calgary once (plus one Championship game) and Edmonton twice, and Philly has played twice in Calgary and twice in Edmonton. Toronto has played five times in Edmonton and six in Calgary.

I get that the NLL wants teams from the same division to play each other more often, and I have no problem with that. But the Stealth were in San Jose for six seasons, and the only time they played the Rock was the last game of the sixth season in Toronto. In a league with this few teams, does it make sense to have two teams go almost six full seasons without meeting at all? And for the love of Jim Veltman, can we please do away with this supposed Canadian rivalry that doesn't exist? I think Calgary and Edmonton could have a good rivalry with each other because they're so close together (and already have rivalries in the NHL and CFL), but Toronto's main NLL rivals are the Bandits. A rivalry that's forced on the fans doesn't work, and it makes the scheduling problems even worse.

I'd love to see a system that allowed every team to play every other team at least once per season, but I understand that this may cause scheduling difficulties. But every other year should be doable. Now that there's five teams in each division (not that that is likely to last long – article on NLL stability coming soon), the scheduling could go something like:

  • three games against other each team in the same division = twelve games (alternate 2 home + 1 away or 1 home + 2 away from year to year)
  • one game against four of the five teams in the other division. That's four more games, totalling sixteen. The team that gets skipped changes from year to year, so you won't go more than one season without seeing any one team. Alternate home and away as well so you don't have a discrepancy that way.

Maybe this is just too difficult a problem for a simplistic solution like this to work. But the Toronto Rock and the Washington Power / Colorado Mammoth had a pretty good rivalry going back in the day, when they played each other in the semifinals three years in a row (2001 and 2002 as the Power and 2003 as the Mammoth). In the seven seasons since then, the Rock and the Mammoth have only played each other in the regular season once. Obviously, something is wrong with the current scheduling system.