ILIndoor: Kicking off the 2013 NLL season with our annual preseason team rankings

Can anyone knock Cody Jamieson and the Knighthawks from their championship perch? (Photo: Ward Laforme Jr.)
Can anyone knock Cody Jamieson and the Knighthawks from their championship perch? (Photo: Ward Laforme Jr.)

They’re not quite in the starting gate, but the National Lacrosse League horses have been on the paddock for a while now and we like to think we’ve had a pretty good look. And now that we’re just 2 days away from post time, that means it’s time for IL Indoor to offer its preseason rankings for the 9 NLL teams. Everyone’s 0-0 right now but in 4 short months, it won’t be that way and we’ll find out if the thoughts we have now pan out, or completely flop. Neither is out of the question. From our panel of 6, each turned in a list ranking teams from top to bottom with the team we think has the best chance to win it all as No. 1. Where does your team sit today?

The panel of Bob Chavez, Stephen Stamp, Brian Shanahan, Teddy Jenner, Ty Pilson and Casey Vock go out on the proverbial limb for this season. And with 9 teams in the league, teams ranked No. 1 got 9 points, No. 2 got 8 points and so on. And so it is, with no more delay, the rankings.

1. Rochester Knighthawks (49 points, 3 first-place votes)

“With tremendous off-season additions in Dan Dawson and Casey Powell — who will most certainly create matchup nightmares for opposing defenses with Cody Jamieson, Johnny Powless and others on the floors — it’s tough to put any team above this one, though we all know not a lot separates the top from the bottom. This team has a LOT of heart, and I think that’s what helped them pull it off last year.” __ Casey Vock

“Confidence is high after winning last year’s title and I’m of the thought that until someone knocks off the champ, the champ stays put at the top. It’ll be interesting to see how the new talent works together. If the groove is found early, the Knighthawks could be dangerous and entertaining.” __ Bob Chavez

“Add Casey Powell and Dawson boys to last year’s team and they will be tough to beat.” __ Brian Shanahan

“You can’t really drop the defending champs after they added two of the best players ever and still managed to keep their core. Only worry will be too much offence and only one ball.” __ Teddy Jenner

“A deep, solid roster and Mike Hasen continually shows a knack for getting the most out of his players.” __ Stephen Stamp

“They won the title last year by being the best ‘team’ when it counted. On paper they got even better by adding Casey Powell and the Dawson boys. But will it mess that chemistry? Time will tell.” __ Ty Pilson

2. Calgary Roughnecks (46 points, 3)

“Talented, deep, terrific goalie. They’ve won 10 or more games four years in a row but have only one title in that span. They’re a good bet to get another in 2013.” __ Stephen Stamp

“Like Rochester, they didn’t lose much during the off-season and have added some nice youth pieces to the puzzle. This team will go as far as the Poulin-wall will take them but the status of Dane Dobbie is huge.” __ Teddy Jenner

“I’m a big fan of the Calgary style and the Riggers won’t miss a step with new coach Curt Malawsky. They’ve been the best team in the regular season for a few years now but are eager to prove they can translate that to the postseason.” __ Bob Chavez

“Got even younger and faster — and more talented. A new (old) voice in Curt Malawsky as head coach may be the change the club needed. Deepest and most balanced roster in the NLL right now.” __ Ty Pilson

“Other than 1 playoff game they were the best last year. Expectations are high for new head coach Curt Malawsky.” __ Brian Shanahan

“The Roughnecks have some of the best individual talent in the league in Jeff Shattler and Scott Ranger. But with a new coach and coming off of a disappointing end to 2012, I think the Roughnecks have more work in front of them. A lot of that has to do with just how much other West teams added. With more continuity in personnel than some other West teams, maybe that benefits the Riggers and they are a force again. I just think others are going to be right there with them and might have more of an edge.” __ Casey Vock

3. Toronto Rock (37)

“Always among the contenders.” __ Brian Shanahan

“A full year with Nick Rose in the pipes will continue to help this team “rebuild.” Garrett Billings continues to be the heir apparent and with Jamie Dawick doing all the right things to create a positive team culture, happy players can really do wonders come May.” __ Teddy Jenner

“Health is the key for Toronto, which is poised to do some real damage in the postseason.” __ Bob Chavez

“Look for Josh Sanderson and Mike Hobbins to have big bounceback years. Shooter has looked excellent in camp and preseason. If Hobbins is at full strength after shoulder surgery he’ll be a force in the back end.” __ Stephen Stamp

“The Rock have a 50-50 shot of coming on top in the East. It’s a two-horse race between them and Rochester. That said, the Rock need more production out of their transition game this season to be successful.” __ Ty Pilson

“I expect Toronto to be better than it was in 2012, and with a bit more personality, too, thanks to Scott Evans, who for all his baggage was outstanding in the 2012 Mann Cup series. Some of the league’s best minds on the bench and a hunger to bring a trophy back to Toronto will make the Rock one of the best in the league in 2013. For a good part of 2012, I considered the Rock a favorite to win the league title. There’s just something about this team that makes them scary to me.” __ Casey Vock

4T. Colorado Mammoth (32)

“Love the offense like I did last year, but love the defense even more than I did last year. Definitely a contender.” __ Bob Chavez

“Most clubs bulked up in the off-season. The Mammoth didn’t tinker a lot. They had a very lean draft with only one pick in the first four rounds.” __ Ty Pilson

“It feels ridiculous to have them listed this low. I just don’t feel comfortable with their goaltending for a title run.” __ Stephen Stamp

“Their biggest Achilles’ heel will be goaltending. Chris Levis and Matt Roik will need to find some cohesion as a 1-2 combo or one of them will have to really rise to the occasion. John Grant Jr. and the offence can only score so many goals.” __ Teddy Jenner

“There’s no way John Grant Jr. can duplicate last year’s season and the West division will be a lot tougher this year.” __ Brian Shanahan

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team in the Champion’s Cup matchup. Any team with John Grant Jr. on the roster is going to be a tough draw, and after the Mammoth disappointed in the playoffs last season, I could see them coming back with a vengeance. The only problem is that most of the West teams made some big changes. Colorado will have to fight, but watch Junior put the team on his back again. You can see younger and even players in his age range feeding off of him and raising this team’s level of play.” __ Casey Vock

4T. Edmonton Rush (32)

“Can Mark Matthews be the difference in Rush land? Aaron Bold will have to have another amazing season and their offence will finally need to start complementing their defence.” __ Teddy Jenner

Aaron Bold may be the best goalie in the game and their D is phenomenal. The question, again, is if they can score enough to win. Mark Matthews will be an impact player in the offensive zone right away and may make the answer to that question an emphatic yes.” __ Stephen Stamp

“Defense wins championships but you still need some offense. The Rush finally have some and this could be the year they challenge Calgary for the West Division title.” __ Bob Chavez

“Who isn’t excited to see what this team can do in 2013? Feels like this offense could be pretty nasty when guys start to gel with one another, which would be a big boost to a team that struggled to score in the past. While the offense looks terrific with some off-season additions — most notably top draft pick Mark Matthews — you can’t sleep on the Rush defense, which features two of the best young defenders in the game in Rubisch and Corbeil.” __ Casey Vock

“The Rush got hot at the right time of the year last season but came up one game short. Still not sold on them being able to score enough goals. They lost a Williams and added a Matthews. Saw off for now.” __ Ty Pilson

“Will Matthews be enough to ignite the stagnant offence?” __ Brian Shanahan

6. Minnesota Swarm (27)

“I could be underestimating this team.” __ Brian Shanahan

“The Swarm surprised many last year, winning despite having so much youth. The kids are a year older and a year wiser now and added some more tremendous talent through the draft. Someone will have to step in and fill the role of the departed Kevin Ross if that success is to continue.” __ Bob Chavez

“I had the Swarm slotted last for 2012 and was shocked to see how well they played. This year I won’t be surprised if they finish a lot higher than I have them picked.” __ Stephen Stamp

“The youth movement is legit and they seem to continually do the right things. But will their rookie sensations in net be able to continue that pace in 2013? Will other teams be able to keep up?” __ Teddy Jenner

“The Swarm were stacked with young talent and added four more first-round picks. Embarrasment of riches? I’d say so. Adding scoring depth with Kiel Matisz and Shayne Jackson addressed team’s biggest need.” __ Ty Pilson

“The West is going to be EXTREMELY competitive, and a team with balanced talent could go a long way. You have to like the injection of skill here, especially with three young bucks with strong potential in Kiel Matisz, Shayne Jackson and American Matt Gibson. While the team’s defense doesn’t necessarily blow you away (though Alex Crepinsek will be very good), the goaltending, offense and transition play could make this a very tough squad.” __ Casey Vock

7. Washington Stealth (24)

“Injuries killed the Stealth last season. This year they’re healthy — for now — and have added size on the backend. No way they miss the playoffs again.” __ Ty Pilson

“I’m with those who saw the Langley Thunder this past summer and viewed that as highly valuable time spent between Lewis Ratcliff and Athan Ianucci. Once in a while, you get a feeling about a team. That’s how I feel about the Stealth in 2013. I could see them have some struggles to win early on but find themselves and start to click. Though I like what I see on offense more than defense here, I wouldn’t be surprised if this team stole the show in the west.” __ Casey Vock

“I like the defence and I think Tyler Richards will be back on top of his game, which will make a big difference for them. Nooch is primed for a monster year and Lewis Ratcliff always scores a bunch. The one concern is how quickly and completely the group of forwards can mesh.” __ Stephen Stamp

“The rebuild focused more on attitude than personnel, although there have been a few changes here. There’s too much talent to miss the playoffs again, but that talent has to remain healthy if the Stealth are to return to the level of contender.” __ Bob Chavez

“Can’t be as bad as last year.” __ Brian Shanahan

“Many people are picking them to finish last. They’re OK with that but I’m not. This team is too deep not be back to championship-contending form. The most intense training camp since they moved to the PNW will help this team get back the hunger.” __ Teddy Jenner

8. Buffalo Bandits (15)

“Tons of new faces in Buffalo and that can be a good thing. Or a bad thing. The biggest question mark here is how quickly the new sticks gel and it better happen quickly if the Bandits want to contend in the always-tough East Division.” __ Bob Chavez

“This is the thing about the league these days: I really like the Bandits and think they’ll be tough to beat. They could just as easily be near the top of the standings as near the bottom.” __ Stephen Stamp

“Many new faces but Bandits will still be tough.” __ Brian Shanahan

“They’ve added some nice pieces, but still not sure if they are in the upper tier.” __ Teddy Jenner

“Tough to get a feel for this somewhat new-looking Bandits team. It feels to me like the Bandits are in a rebuilding stage. Does Luke Wiles emerge as one of the top scorers in the land? How do the Bandits keep the gritty edge they’ve had for so long? Can JT keep doing it? How will Shawn Williams fit in? A lot of questions here, but Darris Kilgour and his staff are making changes for a reason — to get better. We’ll see if it materializes this season.” __ Casey Vock

“The Bandits overhauled their roster but they still face an uphill battle. They are playing catch-up in a league where most teams have already invested in youth and speed. Don’t think they did enough to be a contender.” __ Ty Pilson

9. Philadelphia Wings (6)

“The best field lacrosse team in the NLL.” __ Brian Shanahan

“I truly hope the Wings can surprise me and others who aren’t wild about the team’s all-American approach to building a roster. Looking at the personnel, sure, it’s a great way for the U.S. Indoor team to get some reps. But who will be the team’s offensive leader in 2013? I think Drew Westervelt has the skill and toughness to improve upon his 36 goals last season, but who is directing things on that end? No Mundorf either. Feels like Kevin Crowley could have his work cut out for him. How Jordan Hall is used will also be interesting. Thankfully, Philly has one of the best leaders around in Brodie Merrill.” __ Casey Vock

“I’d love to think this Project American will start to have the desired effect but I just can’t see it happening. Brandon Miller isn’t getting any younger and if they’re going to rely on Crowley and Hall to be their entire offence, that could be some heavy burdens on the two B.C. natives.” __ Teddy Jenner

“Someone has to finish last. And we have to pick someone to finish last. With all the talent in the league now, it’s a crap shoot whether the two will be the same.” __ Stephen Stamp

“It’ll be an interesting year for the Wings, who started so well last season before stalling. Lots and lots of speed could translate into some victories, but the defense has got to rise and stay there for the Wings to do more than they did last year.” __ Bob Chavez

“Trading the Dawsons made them a worse team on paper. The absence of Dan will put much more heat on Crowley. Think the Wings took a step back — yet again.” __ Ty PIlson

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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