The start of the 2013 National Lacrosse League season is right around the corner. You’ve got questions. We’ve got questions. What we lack are answers and really, that’s pretty much impossible to answer until the season plays itself out. But that won’t keep us from asking. ILIndoor staffers Bob Chavez, Ty Pilson, Teddy Jenner and Stephen Stamp jump in with both feet to discuss some of the bigger questions on our minds. So if you’re inclined, click the “read more” button and you’ll bear witness to the first installment of the ILIndoor Roundtable for the brand new NLL season.
CHAVEZ: I have so many questions and curiosities, I don’t even know where to start other than to say what’s YOUR biggest question mark heading into the season.
PILSON: One of the biggest storylines for me is how will Paul Rabil fare in Philly? Will they use him on offence more like I think they should or keep him straight-up transition? The Wings alienated many of the fans they have left when they dealt the Dawson boys. If Rabil fails to make a big impact and the Wings finish last (which I think they will), it might be the last straw for many of the Philly faithful.
JENNER: I really would like to see this become Rabil’s coming out party. Remember when Casey Powell first came into the NLL and every criticized him and said he wasn’t cut out for the indoor game?! Well, he took some time of from the game then reemerged with a new focus and passion. Next thing we know he’s one of the top players in the game and the first American-born MVP. Can Rabil have that sort of impact?! Well if he doesn’t try to carry the Wings on his back (get it?!!?) and just goes out and plays within his own game I think he can really assert himself. I think the bigger question for fans out West is, can the Stealth return to the powerhouse we say when the first relocated to the PNW?
STAMP: Big question: who will drop the worst pun of the year? Wait, Teddy just locked that up with his Rabil ‘wings on the back’ crack. I lean toward Ty’s view on the Rabil and the Wings question. On the other end of the equation, how will Rochester fare with the champions’ target on their backs and the Dawsons and Casey Powell in the lineup? Look for Cody Jamieson to have a huge year for the Knighthawks. I think he’ll flourish with all that talent around him.
CHAVEZ: I see Rabil’s on a lot of minds and I can’t say I blame you. I’m very curious to see how it shakes down for him and I hope he does well. While it’s great to have Powell back in the NLL, the Americans need a torchbearer for the next generation and Rabil can be that guy. I think the Stealth can return to the top, if they stay healthy. And Rochester should be fine. The Knighthawks had this problem a few years back — lots of sticks but just 1 ball — but the problem there was they had too many shooters. In Dawson and Powell, the Knighthawks have a couple of offensive leaders who realize that distribution can be as valuable as production. Biggest question for me, though, is the Buffalo Bandits. I really want to see how that overhaul is going to work.
PILSON: Steve Dietrich has done a solid job in the off-season but the Bandits are playing catch-up. The rest of the league — especially teams such as Calgary, Rochester, Minnesota and, to a lesser degree, Toronto and Edmonton — have been building through a youth movement for years now. Other teams have really invested in building a solid core of transition players who can score when moving the ball up floor. The Bandits did the opposite — they loaded up on veterans and made bone-headed moves such as trading Jeff Cornwall. It was evident last year that the Bandits approach wasn’t going to fly in the today’s NLL. And, as I said, props to Dietrich for being active so far to fix it. That said, I don’t see the Bandits beating out Rochester or Toronto in the East. They have a big hole to dig out of and it will take time.
JENNER: OK OK OK. Enough with East love fest. There are some interesting stories coming out of Western division this year and it could lead to battle for the post season like we’ve often seen with the Eastern teams. Is Calgary the real deal?! Is Mark Matthews the offensive savior the Rush have been needing since Day 1? Who’s going to earn the starting job in Colorado? Can the Swarm’s youth movement be as successful as it was in 2012? Has the cleaning house in Everett done enough to get them out of the basement?!
STAMP: Whoa, Teddy, it’s like a lightning round. OK, here we go. Yes, Calgary is the real deal. They’re deep and talented and they have great chemistry. Yes, Matthews is the offensive saviour but will it be right away or will he have to get used to playing against men before he’s as effective as they are expecting him to be? I think the ultimate answer in Colorado may be Tye Belanger, but his broken arm has put him behind schedule and makes the whole goaltending question in Colorado continue to be their biggest source of unrest. The Swarm will be very good but that may not let them move any further up the standings. In fact, with it looking like there’ll be five very good teams in the West, it’s not out of the question that they’d have to earn the crossover to the East to reach the playoffs. Yes, it’s that tough a race out West. Finally, I think last year was the anomaly for the Stealth and that they’ll be closer to their back-to-back finals form than the missing-the-playoffs form.
CHAVEZ: The NLL has a West Division? Kidding, of course. And yes, Calgary is for real and everyone knows it; the Riggers just have to prove it in the postseason. I don’t know if Matthews is the savior as much as he is piece of the puzzle. It’s still a team game and he’ll help tremendously because he knows it’s still a team game and he’s not coming in with the mindset of being a savior. He knows he’s just one piece of many and his contributions will help keep a defense honest. In Colorado, you’d have to think it would be Chris Levis with the understanding that the rope is a bit shorter this season because Matt Roik is eager to redeem last season’s start in Toronto. Minnesota’s still got the young talent to succeed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a resourceful coach watched video over the summer and found a way to combat it. And yes, the Stealth will be a contender again. Not so much because of the housecleaning but because of the veterans who went through that debacle and their desire to correct it.
PILSON: Calgary is my top ranked team coming into the season. They got even younger, faster and more talented by loading up in the draft. After some disappointing playoff exits, maybe a change in command under Curt Malawsky will do the trick. I worry about the pressure on Matthews this season. He doesn’t have the strongest supporting cast of forwards in Edmonton and will take a beating from opposing defences. Levis has earned the right to be the starter in Colorado but I agree he will have a shorter rope with Roik there. Goaltending seems to be one area that could be a weak spot for the Mammoth this year. As for Minny, I have them ranked No.-2 heading into the season (Rochester third). They are loaded with talent and will have much better offensive depth this season. As well, their bevy of young stars from last season — including both goalies and Jordan MacIntosh — are one year older, wiser and better. The Stealth will be better if they stay healthy but could end up being the cross-over team from the West. With due respect to them, who do they bump off in the loaded West?
CHAVEZ: So, do you all feel better now that we’ve unloaded? Yeah, me either. Unanswered questions have a way of festering and until they’re answered, we’ll just have to settle for watching NLL games. And come to think of it, that’s a pretty good solution.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 firstname.lastname@example.org or go to RochesterSports.com.
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