Garrett Billings led Toronto in goals last year. Quick: who was second on the team? The names that jump to mind are probably the likes of Colin Doyle, Josh Sanderson and Stephan Leblanc. Well, the latter did tie for runner up in goals for the Rock last year…with Kasey Beirnes. There’s no shame if Beirnes didn’t occur to you. He’s not flashy and he doesn’t draw a ton of ink. He just plays his role and makes his contribution to the team’s success. That’s pretty much the recipe for success the Rock follow year after year under coaches Troy Cordingley, Terry Sanderson, Matt Sawyer and John Lovell (and now freshly minted goalie coach Pat Campbell). Once again in 2013, the Rock look to have a solid lineup that should compete for an East Division title and another Champions Cup crown.
2012: 9-7, Lost East Final
Top 3 returning scorers: Garrett Billings (32-82-114), Stephan Leblanc (28-37-65), Josh Sanderson (22-42-64)
League leaders: Billings, assists (82)
Key Additions: D Chris White (free agent), F Scott Evans (free agent), F Brandon Ivey (free agent), F Kyle Belton (draft pick)
Key Departures: F Dan Carey (retired), F Jamie Rooney (trade), D Bruce Codd (retired), D Glen Bryan (trade), G Pat Campbell (retired), T Ryan Sharp (likely career-ending knee injury)
Outlook: The big question going into 2012 for Toronto was did they have the goaltending to contend following the retirement of Bob Watson. After a decent start to the Matt Roik era began to go downhill, the team decided the answer was no, at least not until they gave Nick Rose a try. The youngster went 5-1 in his first test as a regular starter and is firmly entrenched as the main man to start this season.
Keep in mind, as the regular season gets set to kick off, that Rose has played a grand total of about seven and a half games in the NLL. And that his .739 save percentage last year was the worst among goalies who played regularly. Rose is a good young netminder, but he is far from having established himself as a consistent performer in a starting role.
That means that goaltending is again the biggest unknown for a team that won the division last year but scored only two more goals than it allowed (198-196). Keeping captain Doyle healthy for the full year would certainly help on the goals for side, especially since it’s unreasonable to expect Billings to repeat the season he had last year. He’s capable of doing it again, but those kind of years don’t just happen over and over.
If you’re looking for someone to have a big season on offence for the Rock, try turning back the calendar a few years for an idea. Sanderson has looked very good in the preseason for Toronto and is a good candidate to put up some serious points. Also, Scott Evans has something to prove after being released by Edmonton. Love him or hate him (and there are plenty of folks in both camps), he’s a talented finisher and a passionate player who is driven to win.
On the back end, Toronto has its core of old reliables back. Sandy Chapman, Patrick Merrill and Rob Marshall are steady presences for the Rock and provide continuity. Getting a healthy Mike Hobbins back after off-season shoulder surgery should provide a boost of athleticism and transition.
The big addition, though, come with a healthy dose of snarl in the form of veteran Chris White, the former Buffalo captain who came over as a free agent. White didn’t have his best year with the Bandits last season (then again, who on the club did?). He was excellent all summer for the Peterborough Lakers, assuaging concerns that he had lost half a step. It may take him while to adjust to playing with a different crew, but fans in Toronto will love the intelligence and physicality he brings to his new team’s back end.
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