ILIndoor Roundtable: Playoff races, twisting the MVP talk, and who’s had the most impressive single game this season?

Garrett Billings has MVP numbers, but will voters recognize that when it's time to cast ballots? (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
Garrett Billings has MVP numbers, but will voters recognize that when it's time to cast ballots? (Photo: Larry Palumbo)

Hard to believe we’re this close to the end of the 2012 National Lacrosse League season, but here we are. By now, we’ve had our share of great games, stinker games and everything in between, so we’ve got a pretty good gauge as to what’s going on. Except when it comes to actually predicting outcomes. So as this season comes down the stretch, the ILIndoor panel gathered electronically to discuss which team we think will be “that” team, which fella not named Grant or Dawson is MVP, and which player not named Billings has had the most impressive single game. Teddy Jenner, Ty Pilson, Stephen Stamp and Bob Chavez flap their gums, after the jump.

JENNER: Just a couple weeks left in the 2012 regular season and there are two heated playoff races. First overall between Calgary and Colorado, then the battle for last place and missing the playoffs between Edmonton, Washington, Buffalo and Rochester. Marty O’Neill had a fantastic piece breaking down the final few games last week but who’s gonna make it in?

PILSON: Calgary has two games left (Roch and Edm) and Colorado has three (Tor, Edm, Minny). Calgary is up one victory, owns the head-to-head on goal differential and if they beat Edmonton, have better divisional record no matter what Colorado does. So, I think Calgary has best shot of getting first overall. Don’t think Edmonton has much of a shot of getting in given it plays down stretch. After that, it’s anyone guess between those other three. But, to play along, I’ll say Rochester and Washington get in. Washington beats Buffalo in season-ender to punch its ticket.

STAMP: Calgary certainly has the advantage for first since it controls its  own destiny and, save for a second-half stretch against Rochester, it’s  playing consistently well. Buffalo has the best remaining schedule for sure, with games against the three teams with the lowest winning percentages in the league. There would be no excuse if they don’t win at least one of those and earn a playoff berth. I think Edmonton has a chance because it has four games left to get a couple of wins and have shown it can play with anyone. But I’m concerned about its ability to play well offensively and defensively in the same game. It may just cost it a post-season berth.

CHAVEZ: It pains me to say that Edmonton looks like the front-runner to be ‘that’ team. As a fan of the game, I root for the Rush because outside of that 2010 season, that franchise hasn’t met with much success. I see Bruce Urban doing the work he does for the team and the work he does in promoting the game but for some reason, it goes unrewarded. And there really is no question about what he and Derek Keenan have done to make 2012 a winning year, but it just hasn’t translated. There’s still time, of course, and I think the Stealth and Knighthawks have to be very careful down the stretch to avoid infamy. As for the top dog, I don’ t think there’s any question that it’s Calgary. Offense, transition and defense. The Riggers have it all, and they shove it down your throat.

JENNER: One story line that most of us have overlooked, although Stamper mentioned it in his post game report, Dan Dawson has broken the NLL’s single season assist record that he shares with Josh Sanderson. Has he surpassed Shooter as the games premier passer? Having played with him and all of us watching him grow, we know he’s an amazing talent on the floor, but what is his biggest asset to the Wings?

PILSON: Don’t think he’s surpassed Shooter. More 1A and 1B. Those two are on a level apart from the rest of the league when it comes to their feeding ability. Both are simply incredible at being floor generals and finding the open man. That said, Dawson needs to shoot more! He’s more of a threat passing when he’s shooting more often and vice versa. He told me as much when I talked to him this earlier this season. He’s too good shooting from the outside and one-on-one to just pass all day. He’s most dominant — and dangerous — when he’s attacking teams in every offensive facet. The Wings need more goals from him if they want to make it deep in the playoffs.

STAMP: I think at this point they would be very close in their ability but that Dawson is having a bigger impact because of the players he’s with. Shooter hardly needs to calm things down for Doyle, Manning, Carey, Billings, Leblanc and Beirnes. Dawson’s role with a rookie in Crowley and American players who have been working to master the indoor game (Westervelt, Mundorf, Crotty) demands much more of him in terms of leadership and controlling the offense. He’s been brilliant at it. I agree to an extent with Ty. I would like to see Dan going around defenders and driving the net more. He’s almost unstoppable when he picks the right times to do that. But the three times he’s shot in double digits this year, the Wings have lost. I think his distribution makes it super hard for Ds to know what’s going to happen, so I say keep passing but every once in a while take that outside lane and go to the net.

CHAVEZ: Yeah, I agree with Stamper in that it’s 2 different games, as weird as it sounds. In Toronto, Sanderson is just another option. That’s not a slam, but if Shooter’s off his game or out of the lineup, the Rock really aren’t going to miss him all that much because they have so many other options. In Philly, the Wings NEED Dawson doing what he’s doing. Without him, the Wings aren’t close to where they are now. Philly could probably be more if Dawson shot more but considering where they’re coming from the past few seasons and the fact that they’re a playoff team for the first time since 2008, they’ve got to be pleased with the direction.

JENNER: Let’s take the two front runners for MVP (Jr and DDD) out of the equation. With a strong second group of contenders, who would be your pick for MVP?

PILSON: That’s a great question. No wonder you get paid the mediocre bucks! I’d say a good case could be made for Garrett Billings. He’s having his best season as a pro and has been the one constant for the Rock offence as they battled injuries to key forwards and struggled to score at times this season. Toronto now finds itself with a good chance to clinch top spot in the East and a lot of that credit goes to Billings, who helped keep them above water earlier in the season.

STAMP: That is a great question, and this is a case where it pays to go first. Way to go out on a limb, Ty, and take the third-leading scorer! Seriously, though, Billings is an excellent candidate. I also like John Tavares and Kyle Rubisch for how well they’ve played and how important they’ve been to their teams. But I’m gonna go with a guy who joined a team that was already very good and helped make them a nightmare to play against. Shawn Evans is seventh in the league in scoring and leads Calgary in assists, points and penalty minutes while being just three behind Curtis Dickson in goals. He’s also fourth on the team in loose balls and tied for second with a bunch of defenders (and Dickson) in forced turnovers. His game is a mix of skill, passion and determination, with a little dash of powder keg ready to explode anytime to keep things exciting.

CHAVEZ: I agree with Stamper and would throw my vote down for Evans. Billings has been a rock for the Rock, but Evans is doing his work in a new system in a completely different time zone than he’s used to. Of all the trades the Knighthawks have pulled the last couple of seasons, letting this Evans go was the worst of them all because he’s got so much good lacrosse ahead of him and he’s showing that no matter where you put him, he’s one of the game’s best.

JENNER: You guys are on a roll. Let’s keep you thinking on your toes. We’ll take out Garret Billings’ 15 points on 15 goals performance from a few weeks back and ask you: What has been this years best performance by any player in either side of the ball this year?

PILSON: I’m going to go with a performance not many guys in the NLL — if any — could duplicate: Geoff Snider’s last outing in which he hurt his ankle. Snider won 28 of 28 faceoffs, had 28 loose balls, and scored three goals (on only four shots) and added two helpers in a 15-10 Riggers win over Minny. When Snider plays like that, he’s a game changer.

STAMP: I’ll take John Grant Jr.’s performance in Colorado’s first game of the year, a 20-14 win over Minnesota. He had four goals in the game: a pair of rockets from outside, a transition breakaway where he threw a bunch of fakes and a patented Junior no-fake high-to-low. But it was his seven assists that were really brilliant. He set up Adam Jones, Jamie Lincoln and Jordan McBride for each of their first career goals. One was a cross-floor laser, one he tossed with one hand and one went behind his back to the perfect spot at the perfect time. It was a gem from start to finish.

CHAVEZ: I’m definitely going with Pilson and Snider’s game against Minnesota. That was domination at its purest and it’s not like he was facing chumps at the dot in Andrew Suitor and Jordan MacIntosh. Two of his goals were unassisted and the guy who many say takes penalties that hurt his team was whistled for just 1 that night, a delay of game. What an incredible performance.

Chavez is an avid lacrosse player in Rochester and a journalist for the Democrat and Chronicle as well as a longtime Inside Lacrosse contributor. Email him at bob.chavez@nllinsider.com or go to RochesterSports.com.

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