We’re just 2 days from the start of the National Lacrosse League season as the defending champion Rochester Knighthawks — with new forwards in Casey Powell and Dan Dawson — take on a revamped Washington Stealth, in Washington, on Saturday night. Before we get going, thought, let’s take a closer look at some of the pros and cons for each of the NLL teams heading into the 2013 schedule. Today we look at the East Division teams and tomorrow, we’ll be back with a closer look at the West Division teams.
If anyone were more surprised that Toronto shorted out in the eastern final last April than me I’d like to meet him. The Rock controlled Rochester in all 3 contests during 2012 regular season and have mastered of the K-Hawks at the ACC over the years.
What transpired has to have Rock brass a little cautious entering this new year. Toronto didn’t win a single quarter of that playoff contest suggesting the young legs of Rochester were able to find another gear. Those thoughts linger on into this season, the Rock are aging. Another question mark that surfaced in the Eastern Final was goaltending. Seventeen goals against and a .575 save percentage doesn’t say much for playoff defense or the goalie so the Rock will need to be healthy to keep their defensive system in sync. Also missing during the 2012 playoffs was any sign of offense from the tranny guys or “D” guys, unacceptable in this era of lacrosse. There may be lots of pressure on the offense to carry this team in 2013.
My synopsis going forward is the Rock are a team built for the playoffs. While 9-7 is no great shakes it will get this group within striking distance where it should be most dangerous. Last year it was even good enough to win the division.
The production from the offense was a huge positive especially without Blaine Manning. Garrett Billings certainly benefited from extra touches on the right side and Kasey Beirnes silently fills the net year after year. Colin Doyle and Josh Sanderson both missed a few games but this is expected and best for a deep playoff run if these guys are 100% in April. With Stephan Leblanc and Brendan Thenhaus this offense is highly skilled and dangerous at all times. The only question is, can they stay healthy? Scott Evans adds insurance.
On defense the Rock are above average as a group playing a system. A couple of injuries would cause regular season problems and I don’t love the depth here. I do like Nick Rose more than that one poor playoff game. His fantastic summer was just that, fantastic summer ball. The huge “plus” is the confidence and leadership Rose acquired from carrying the Adanacs deep into the WLA playoffs. Starting the season in Toronto will also add to Rose’s security and development so he should be fine. An injury wouldn’t be; the depth is not good in goal.
This team has a bright head coach who works hard to get the best out of his people and an owner that helps that process along. Whatever Toronto’s record is come late April, I would not want to play them in the first round if it is healthy.
The season of 2012 in Philadelphia was actually two seasons. The Wings sat at 7-4 and looked to be laughing all the way to the bank in late March. Then the explainable happened, the team lost its next six games in a row and actually failed to compete in 2 or 3 of those games; a complete breakdown. It goes without saying that this team needed a shakeup.
While Dan Dawson was heralded as the savior, he also stopped the Wings from playing more of a transitional game that would have worked better with the staff they employed. Philadelphia seemed happy to play lazy half court lacrosse with an offense that was missing set up guys for the big names. The left side production was dismal and in games I watched, inside penetration was non-existent. Good news, underrated Kevin Ross has arrived in the prime of his career and Jordan Hall and a healthy Brendan Mundorf (hopeful to return in March) will look superb working with this guy. More good news is the offense is balanced now with Drew Westervelt and Kevin Crowley capable to shoulder their load on the right side. I think this offense is in good shape and very athletic coming off the bench to finish transition which will work to their strengths.
The defense is where the Wings will make or break this season. Philly did get goals out of its back end last year but Johnny Mouradian has turned over at least 12 players from last year by my count and most come off that defensive end. There have been some decent additions too with Joel White, Paul Rabil and Kyle Hartzell plus I’m a big Brett Manney fan. The rest of the crew are either rookies or unknowns that are working with minimal indoor experience. That could get them into penalty trouble while the troops learn on the job. It should be interesting especially if Brodie Merrill has to fill in up front for the injured Mundorf and Hall. Getting Robbie Campbell on board is a must.
I like the Wings’ goalie situation. Brandon Miller has been inconsistent in his Wings stint the last two years but the amount of high percentage rubber this guy sees has to be factored in. If he falters, Kevin Croswell is the best #2 guy in the division. The Wings need to come up with a defensive game plan and they need to score in transition often or it will be a long first half of the schedule. Max Seibald has been a huge disappointment but I really wonder why? He has all the skills but makes poor decisions in transition and defensively. He needs better coaching, and so does Paul Rabil. If this fresh group gets good direction this year, its transition with Merrill could be substantial.
Look for the Wings to be strong later in the year with all the meat on defense and athleticism up front. The health of Hall and Mundorf is a major factor though.
If you break down the team stats of Rochester’s’ 2012 regular season it doesn’t translate to championship team. In goal they struggled parts of the season and the numbers for most of their special teams were the worst in the East division. They stumbled into the playoffs going 2-4 in their last six games which were filled with goals-against and a couple of anemic offensive outputs. So what happened?
For starters, Joe Walters turned into the team’s good luck charm with a personal 7-2 record when in the lineup. Walters also developed some chemistry with rookie Johnny Powless and Cory Vitarelli and made the Knighthawks’ offense balanced just in time for the playoffs. Indeed, this offense got contributions from everyone down the stretch sharing the ball and unlocking the key to their success. Credit head coach Mike Hasen for getting this buy in after a tough loss in Calgary on March 31st. It was obvious from the press following this game that Hasen clamped down on his offense for poor management of offensive possessions. The rest is history.
The Dan Dawson era is here. The team only lost non-dressers Joel White and Jarrett Davis from its championship lineup while adding to their offensive abilities and depth. The big question is who goes? The right side has already added Casey Powell. That means one of Craig Point, Mike Accursi or Steven Keough has to sit games or learn defense. Summer stars Kedoh Hill and Joel McCready will already be doing that.
The up side is how many teams would love to have these types of problems! This team has unbelievable depth, some new swagger and a nice mix of young and old. 2013 looks bright.
Matt Vinc picked the championship game to have his best performance of the season and get the playoff monkey off his back. I expect 2013 to be his best year yet. If he ever gets hurt the Knighthawks have a boatload of guys to trade.
The defense is going to be the wildcard for this team. It’s a solid core but now missing its leader in retired Pat McCready. Like John Tavares, this guy never lost his step and always found ways to contribute and lead. Sid Smith is taking the torch from McCready and has some big shoes to fill. Rory Glaves, Scott Campbell, Tyler Burton, Mike Kirk, Ryan Cousins and Paul Dawson should anchor the Hawks “D.” The rest of the guys will be able to transition all night long but keeping the ball out of the net is still job one so it may take a few games to find their groove.
All in all, this is your defending championship team that is much surer of itself looking forward. Rochester should win the Eastern Division.
Turnover is the theme in Buffalo for 2013. At least 11 players that finished the 2012 NLL schedule with Buffalo are either elsewhere or retired and a few more are on IR.
New GM Steve Dietrich has cut away from Darris Kilgour’s rough and tumble model and handed his head coach a bundle of new back end guys to whip into shape. The team is much more athletic but experience is lacking in the back end and Kilgour’s system isn’t something you can learn in one training camp. The man down remains intact less Chris White and Tom Montour but help in the form of Derek Suddons and David Brock should hold the fort while Mark Steenhuis keeps everyone on their toes.
Buffalo had an exceptional draft, picking up a bunch of youngsters and a couple of NLL game-ready players in Carter Bender and Dhane Smith, but both will need to shore up their defense to stay in the lineup. Mike McNamara and Jimmy Purves established themselves in 2012 and should be big name players in the years to come.
Offensively, the team has made some major improvements to the left side. Kevin Buchanan had a rough year fitting in to the Bandits’ offensive structure and shot 135 times for 10 goals. I’ll bet my life Shawn Williams will be a whole lot better in 2013. Roger Vyse was replaced with Nick Cotter, who I really like in this offense. Cotter gets back some grit that was lost and is a great option late in the shot clock with his ability to baseline crash.
Chad Culp has been quietly consistent for two years and his game complements the greatness of John Tavares. What else can you say about a guy that scores 41 goals on 149 shots? Tavares could probably contribute on the Bandits’ top-notch powerplay until he is 50 years old. If the Bandits season had been more successful in 2012, Tavares would have been considered for league MVP strongly.
The questions that will be answered soon enough revolve around the right-handed players Dietrich has assembled. Luke Wiles rose to prominence in 2012 and is now the centerpiece of the Bandits right side. Add in newly acquired Aaron Wilson, Jamie Rooney and Derek Hopcroft with Tracey Kelusky and Matt Giles, and the playing time is gonna be scarce for someone. Dhane Smith is an offensive player and if the defense experiment doesn’t work out he will be bumped to the front door. Trade rumors around Kelusky never materialized and somewhere here the Bandits will be forced to cut their losses.
In goal, the team is strong with Anthony Cosmo finally settling in late season. Cosmo took some time to get comfortable in Buffalo but that is behind them now. It’s a new team and he is one of their leaders that will be counted on to be the difference in the close games. The backup position is suspect.
Overall Buffalo has improved its talent level and athleticism, and is in decent shape. Kilgour’s 2012 problems with consistency will revisit this year for at least the first half of the season for much more acceptable reasons.O'Neill is a three-time Mann Cup winner and former general manager of the Philadelphia Wings (2001-2004) and Minnesota Swarm (2004-2010), where he was twice named NLL GM of the Year (2007, 2008).
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