By Graeme Perrow
Back in January, the writers of The NLL Blog all made predictions on the final standings. (Sorry about the formatting on that posting – long after it was posted, we moved domains and blog hosting companies, and changed the template a couple of times.) Here are the actual final standings:
So here's how each of us did in our predictions:
|Blogger||# Correct||# Off by one||# Way off|
"Way off" is my term for being wrong by 3 or more positions. Looks like Alex is the winner here with 4 correct and no predictions more than two off. Congrats Alex – your prize is that you do not have to lick a lacrosse ball. But props to Avry as well; he was second and the only other person to get more than one correct. Everyone else was pretty much tied for last.
Some picks looked pretty prescient in retrospect – Melissa somehow knew that Boston wouldn't gel as well as many thought they would and correctly picked the Blazers fourth while almost everyone else picked them first or second. Alex picked Calgary to win the west when nobody else had them higher than third. But Melissa also picked Philadelphia third, Colorado first, and Calgary last, and Alex picked Colorado second, when they barely made the playoffs.
Quote: "Can they [Dawson and Powell] both be the guy at the same time?"
Yes, I guess they can, seeing as how they finished #4 and #6 in league scoring. Josh Sanderson, however, didn't have a Josh-like season, finishing way down at 18th with only 63 points, his lowest point total since 2001. Sanderson has led the league in assists several times (including a couple of record-setting totals), but in 2011 he was third on his team despite having Powell and Dawson to pass to. I don't know how that happened. Anthony Cosmo was third in the league in GAA but the Blazers only finished at .500 and were in real danger of not making the playoffs for much of the season.
Buffalo had a solid defense, great goaltending (Watson was a lock for goaltender of the year until about 2/3 of the way through the season but Mike Thompson might have stolen that award with a much stronger finish), and lots of offense. They also played very physical. If any of these facts about Buffalo's season are surprising, you haven't watched much Bandits lacrosse in the past six or seven years. I thought they'd be good, but not number one or two in the league good.
I went way out on a limb and picked Philly to finish last. Nailed it. Iannucci did indeed have a good offensive season – not up to par with 2008, but you can't really expect that. He does seem fully recovered from his knee problems which can only be a good thing for the Wings in the future. Brandon Miller also had an outstanding season, and was the main reason the Wings stayed in it as long as they did.
Quote: "Can the Knighthawks replace the offense of John Grant, Jr.?"
Well, I guess the answer would have to be "yes", since Rochester finished second in the east in goals scored, and would have finished third in the high-scoring west. After an up-and-down season that saw the Knighthawks at .500 four times, but finishing with 6 wins in their last 8 games and ended up in a three-way tie for the best record in the east. Don't know if I'd have noticed this but I saw somewhere the other day (can't find it now) that the Knighthawks went 1-5 against division rivals Toronto and Buffalo and 9-1 against everyone else, which is why they ended up third in the east. The Rochester offense didn't really start to gel until halfway through the season – the Hawks didn't score 13 goals in a game until their ninth game, but then scored 15 or more in three of their last five. Newly acquired goaltender Matt Vinc had a season that was at least as good as (and likely better then) the Knighthawks could have expected from Pat O'Toole. Vinc finished with a GAA under 10 (good for fourth) and the third best save percentage. Both were off a little from last season, but that was an outstanding season while this one was just very good.
Toronto started off strong, lost a tough OT game in Buffalo and a low-scoring affair in Boston, and then won five in a row, looking like the Rock of old. But a three week layoff and a late season slide (Losing to Philadelphia? Giving up 18 to Edmonton? Really?) took the wind out of their sails. Watson was outstanding until that layoff (he allowed 8 or fewer goals in 5 of their first 9 games) but wasn't much better than pretty good since then and wasn't very good at all in the last game. They will have another three weeks between their last game and their division semifinal game against Rochester, so we'll see if Troy Cordingley and the coaching staff can turn the team around before the playoffs. The Rock swept the season series with the Knighthawks this year, but lost 4 of their last 5 while Rochester finished strong so this matchup will be interesting.
Quote: "Snider will pick up every face-off and loose ball available, and then pass to... who?"
Pretty much anyone, turns out. Jeff Shattler and Scott Ranger stepped up their games a couple of notches, Curtis Dickson had a dynamite rookie year, and Mike Poulin took the #1 goalie role and ran with it. The team believed in themselves even though nobody else did (or perhaps because nobody else did) and proved that they were not just Kelusky, Sanderson, and a bunch of decent players. They were Kelusky, Sanderson, and a damn good lacrosse team, and now they're just a damn good lacrosse team. Maybe even better than last year.
Who'd have thought that of the players involved in the huge trade last summer, Mac Allen would have the best season of all of them? He made the All-Star team and became the backbone of a very strong Colorado defense. And I said at the beginning of the season that the Mammoth goaltending would be better than last season despite trading Matt Vinc, since they picked up Matt King from Calgary. And I was right, sort of. The goaltending was better, but King did squat – Chris Levis turned out to be a far better #1 goalie than anyone expected. Colorado's offense was the problem here. Second-last in the league in goals scored. They scored ten goals or less in 11 of 16 games (though three of those were wins). John Grant finished fifth in the league with 83 points, but that's his lowest total in a 16-game season ever. Joel Delgarno was a nice pick-up from Washington where he was not being used, and Dan Carey has to be a lock for comeback of the year.
After being a goal away from the Championship game last year, big things were expected from the Rush this year. One of those big things was not to suck. Unfortunately, it was not to be, though they had their moments of non-suckage. They started 0-5, won back-to-back games over Washington, then lost their next four. A couple more wins brought them within sight of the playoffs, but two critical losses against Colorado (during which the Rush scored a total of twelve goals) gave the Mammoth the final spot. And then, inexplicably, they crushed the Toronto Rock in their season finale, a game that meant nothing to the Rush but cost the Rock top spot in the East. Corey Small was the surprise point leader after Ryan Ward's production dropped off and Gavin Prout was traded, and Scott Evans helped the offense out as well, but the Rush just couldn't get it going for long enough stretches to avoid last place for the fourth time in six seasons.
OK, be honest. Who saw Ryan Benesch leading the league in scoring? Top ten or even top five wouldn't have surprised me at all, but I didn't see him at the top spot, so kudos to Benny. The Swarm won three of their first four games and three of their last four games, but only two of the middle eight. Luckily they came together at the end to end up hosting last year's Champions in the first round. The Swarm didn't make a lot of changes during the off-season, but Mat Giles and rookie Andrew Suitor made big impacts, though the Zack Greer experiment ended with his trade to Edmonton. They also acquired Jamie Shewchuk from Colorado for some extra offense. Yet another pretty-good-but-not-great season from Minnesota.
Last season, Tyler Richards and Matt Roik formed the best goalie tandem the league has seen in years, and Washington won the Champion's Cup. This year, the Stealth decided that Richards was the guy, despite the fact that his 2010 GAA was almost a full point higher than Roik's. That decision didn't work out so well. Richards' GAA was well over 11, good for 9th place among goalies, and Roik's ballooned to over 12. As a result, despite Washington leading the league in team scoring and Lewis Ratcliff and Rhys Duch finishing 2-3 in the league in player scoring, the Stealth were second in the league in goals allowed. They were never more than a game over .500 the entire season and finished third in the west. Losing two in a weekend to the lowly Edmonton Rush didn't help.