How you judge the Philadelphia Wings 2012 season is largely dependent on perspective. After adding Dan Dawson, Brodie Merrill and Kevin Crowley to the roster through dispersal draft, trade and entry draft, respectively, expectations for the Wings were sky high. If you thought they were immediately going to be a dominant team that rolled to a Champions Cup, their 7-9 record could be viewed as a disappointment. But if you keep in mind that the franchise has had exactly two winning seasons this century, it looks more like a good start on the road back to respectability. The big three were productive. Dawson and Merrill in particular provided great on-floor maturity and leadership. The reasons for excitement in Philly extend beyond that trio, though. Steve Holmes had a breakout year and Jeff Reynolds established himself as a top faceoff man and emerging defender. For more of what went right and wrong in the City of Brotherly Love last year, make the jump.
Wings management probably could have though of plenty of scenarios of how the first game of the Dawson-Merrill-Crowley era in Philadelphia might play out. It’s unlikely that falling behind 6-1 to Rochester on the way to a 22-12 loss featuring a pair of massive brawls in the last 26 seconds, a backup goalie fight and 234 minutes in penalties was among them. As the season played out there were highs: a three game winning streak that came within a minute of being four straight; a dominating win over the Rock in Toronto. And there were lows: getting crushed 15-6 by the Rock in Philly; a fourth-quarter collapse against Minnesota; being swept in the season series against Rochester.
The glass-half-full approach says going 4-1 in one-goal games means the Wings know how to win the close ones and they’ll be a more competitive team in 2013. The glass-half-empty crowd can say one-goal games tend to balance out and a reversal of fortunes in tight ones could leave Philly looking up at the rest of the East Division, where they’ve spent most of the past decade. Certainly makes for another interesting off-season of speculation for the Wings’ faithful.
They scored 198 goals, tied for first in the East and middle of the pack overall. Dawson broke the single-season record for assists (although Garrett Billings broke it by more) and cracked the 100-point mark. Crowley was brilliant early and finished with 71 points. Drew Westervelt is a remarkably consistent goal-scorer (34, 32, 27 and 36 goals in his four full seasons). Brendan Mundorf tied a career high with 28 goals and set a new mark for points with 68. After those four things get kind of thin. Mike Hominuk scored 50 points including 14 goals but wasn’t enough of a threat to draw pressure away from the righties (Dawson/Crowley/Westervelt).
Merrill produced 32 points (17 goals) from the back end, but other than that there wasn’t a whole lot of danger of their transition players actually contributing to the scoring. Ned Crotty just isn’t an NLL-calibre indoor player yet. While it’s tough to shut down their top four guys, the lack of depth rendered them rather feast-or-famine offensively: four games of 14 or more goals and three with either 6 or 7 goals.
Defence and Goaltending
There were plenty of times when the Wings D looked promising last year. They had stretches where they were tough to play against. But the numbers don’t lie: Philadelphia gave up 204 goals, tied for worst in the league. They hadn’t allowed that many since 2008, when they led the league with 220 goals against (but also topped the NLL with 225 goals for and finished 10-6). Even more damning: they surrendered 15 or more goals six times. Let’s not sugarcoat it: that’s awful.
At its best, the Wings D looks like a bunch of big, athletic guys who play tenacious man-to-man defence and force opponents to pay a heavy toll to get inside. At its worst? A bunch of big guys who aren’t clear on where they should be or whether they should be leaving their checks to help teammates who are getting beaten for open looks in close. No surprise, then, that goalie Brandon Miller tends to have rather up and down numbers, as well. He’s developed a pattern in recent years of starting well but struggling in the latter half of seasons. Overall, Miller’s .742 save percentage was ninth among starting goalies, eleventh if you include both of the keepers that played significant minutes for Minnesota and Buffalo. That’s not good in a nine-team league.
One problem is, there’s really nobody behind him in whom the team has shown confidence. Neither Kurtis Wagar (since gone to Buffalo) nor Steve Fryer played a full game. Of course, neither of them stopped more than a third of the shots they faced when they did step in. Finding a reliable backup who could spell Miller on occasion could go a long way to helping him out as he moves into the twilight of his career.
This is kind of a weird coincidence: as mentioned earlier, the Wings tied the Rock for most goals in the East and fourth-most overall; they also both scored on exactly 50% of their power plays, tied for fourth in the league. The man-advantage scoring was pretty evenly distributed. Westervelt and Mundorf each scored 10 power play goals; Dawson, Crowley and Hominuk each scored five; and Merrill notched three. Philly didn’t fare as well on the PK, finishing last in the league with a 45.5% success rate. That’s a problem given that they were one of only three teams to face more than 100 opponents’ power plays.
It’s interesting, in fact, that five of the NLL’s nine teams received more power plays than they faced and Rochester gave up only two more than they got. That means Calgary, Buffalo and Philadelphia—the three that took more penalties than they drew—were short-handed a lot more than they had the man advantage. In Philly’s case it was 19 times more. That makes their weak penalty kill even more of an issue and something they need to get addressed for 2013.
The Wings did all the reshaping of their roster over the off-season, leaving only minor tinkering to be done during the schedule. Their moves were generally signing and releasing depth defenders; Taylor Wray, for example, was on and off the roster several times based on when he was unavailable because of work commitments. They’ve taken action again in the off-season and this time it looks like they may have significantly bolstered the left side of the O. Getting Kevin Ross from Minnesota gives them a big-bodied scorer who can draw open some space for the righties. Kevin Buchanan is a two-time 20-goal scorer with a wicked outside shot. If he can rebound from an off year in Buffalo, he could add further depth and balance to the offence.Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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