Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Are Toronto's Offensive Struggles To Be Expected?

With a loss to the Georgia Swam and two losses in a home and home with the Rochester Knighthawks last weekend, the Toronto Rock are 0-3 for the first time since 2006. Back then, they started 0-4, and got their first win against the lowly Edmonton Rush, (who are no longer so lowly). The Rock's main problem so far has been a lack of goal scoring, scoring seven goals in two contests, and five in the other. As a team that has been known for its offensive firepower, this is a new problem for them.

The offense has looked like group of guys that have never played with each other before, and instead of sharing the ball and delivering the balanced attack that made them deadly last season, they are working as a group of individuals who are struggling to put the ball in the net by themselves. Some people have come out and said this is a size issue, with most of Toronto's forwards being of the shorter side, but the issue maybe some leaning on players who may not be able to handle the workload consistently. 

Part of the problem is the loss of Josh Sanderson, so is sitting out due to an offseason injury, and may never play another NLL game. Sanderson is one of the best point producers the league has ever seen ranking 7th all-time in goals with 419, and 3rd in all-time assists with 794. Last year for Toronto Sanderson lead the tea with 102 points (19 + 83). There's no doubt his loss is felt by the team, though they won the East Division last year with only one game from Colin Doyle who is ahead on Sanderson in both all-time categories. The Rock have had Doyle for the start of the 2016 season, so one may view it as a swap. 

In the 2015 season in Doyle's absence, no only did the Rock get a amazing season from Josh Sanderson, but also from two breakout stars in Rob Hellyer and Brett Hickey. In 14 games Hellyer scored 31 goals and tallied 59 assists for 90 points, while Hickey was Toronto's first 50 goal scorer, and added 31 assist for 81 points. This works out to 6.43 points a game for Heller, and 4.5 for Hickey. So for this season, Hellyer is down to 4.33 ppg, and Hickey to 2.33. Are the new stars struggling as a player can be expected to do from time to time?  Or was last season a miraculous flash in the pan?

Before becoming a 50-goal scorer, Brett Hickey played just 9 games in the NLL over the previous three seasons, playing zero games in 2013. This makes it hard to evaluate long term are his track record tells two different stories. Did he just need a chance to shine, or was last season a freak accident? Scoring 50 goals doesn't happen by accident, and it's clear that he is very skilled. At the same time, there isn't enough evidence that I would be comfortable saying that he would be able to repeat these results. 30 goals? Absolutely. 50? Maybe not. 

He's on pace for just 42 points this season, less than the amount of goals he scored that year. His shooting percentage at .260 last year, while so far this year he is shooting at just .152. 

As for Hellyer, he at least has one season off success on his resume, putting up 79 points (29 + 50) in 2014.  He's on pace to put up 78 point, and that just may be the range in which he can score long term. No team would complain about that level of production, but it may not be what Toronto is relying on. Hellyer's shooting percentage has almost identical in 2014 and 2015 at .167 and .168 respectively. He currently sits at .149 which may be responsible for 3-5 goals on the season looking at expected shot totals. His numbers seem to be consistent, but expecting more than this may be unrealistic.    

The season is still very young, and it wold not to surprising to anyone if the offense got its groove back very quickly. On the other side, if the scoring woes continue, it will be interesting to see how they adjust. People who say they are too small on offense aren't paying close enough attention.

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