IL Indoor Roundtable: Leading league award contenders at midseason, plus how will things play out in the Colorado crease?
As we head into the second half of the season, much is still to be determined in the National Lacrosse League, of course. But the candidates for the league’s awards for best players are emerging and beginning to stake their claims. This week on the IL Indoor Roundtable, our panel discusses who those candidates are for MVP, Defender of the Year and Transition Player of the Year and suggest a few others who could work their way into the discussion in the final 8 weeks of the 2013 schedule. Ty Pilson, Bob Chavez, Teddy Jenner and Stephen Stamp also discuss the goaltending situation in Colorado. It’s a fun ride, so buckle up, make the jump and see what the gang has to say.
STAMP: Okay, guys, it’s the official midway point of the NLL season; they’ve played 8 of 16 weeks in the schedule. This week I want to talk about mid-season awards candidates. We’ll do a few awards and for each I’d like to hear your winner if it was awarded right now, your other top contenders and your darkhorse candidate who could make a push for the award in the second half.
PILSON: Not to be that guy sitting on the fence, but it’s really tough for me to decide between Shawn Evans and Garrett Billings. They are 1 and 2 in league scoring, but more importantly they are the very definition of MVP to their teams. Both guys have stepped up big time when their team’s offences have struggled at times and been the ones to put the ball in the net when needed. Over the first four games of the season I don’t think there was no argument that Evans was the MVP. However, Billings came on strong to finish out the run to the half pole while Evans cooled a bit and I think based on the Rock’s better record I’ll give the nod to him. As for darkhorse, I’ll say Matt Vinc. He’s had some very good games, but a few bombs, too. He’ll be key to any playoff run for Rochester.
CHAVEZ: I’ll make the decision easy for you Ty: If you had to choose between Evans and Billings for a defensive shift, who would you pick? Yeah, that’s why Shawn Evans is my clear MVP to this point. He’s a more complete lacrosse player, not just a shooter. He’s putting up the offensive numbers while living across the country. He can be a pesty forechecker and if he’s caught on a D shift, he’ll get the job done. He just cleared the 500-point mark for his career and he’s still just 26 years old. Amazing. I like Toronto’s Nick Rose and Billings as contenders with Edmonton’s Kyle Rubisch as a darkhorse. Dude is beast mode in beast mode this season.
JENNER: Beast mode in beast mode?! I like it….Just like it’s pretty hard to pick game winners (OK Stamp doesn’t seem to have much issue with that this year) picking a mid-season MVP will prove just as daunting. However I’d agree that Evy is really making a strong case for himself. Every since he was shipped out of Rochester he’s been playing like a man possessed and it’s great to watch. A fire right-hander that does all the things his coach is asking of him and more. He’s become more disciplined and realizing his value on the floor. I think you have to throw Rhys Duch in the mix too- just look at his 10 point game against the Necks this weekend. With all the other talent around him, Duchee has really stepped up his game to be the leader of that offense. Two Dark-Horses for me will be Mark Matthews and Tyler Richards. Where would the Rush be with out MM? Guys going to run away with the ROTY this year and is on pace to break Duch’s single season rookie point record. Richards is proving his worth and it was no more evident than while he was sitting in the penalty box for 5 minutes Saturday night.
STAMP: Solid picks all around. I’m in the same quandary about the MVP but Bob and Teddy have convinced me that it’s Evans so far. He’s been amazing for that team and does so many things for them that he definitely deserves the award. I’m going to skip over Rookie of the Year unless someone wants to try the argument that it’s anybody but Matthews. What about Defensive Player of the Year? Is the award still Kyle Rubisch’s to lose or has someone else stepped up their game to challenge him for the title?
PILSON: It’s still Rubisch’s to lose. The guy is still the best, pure defender in the league. He is the closest thing to a shutdown D guy this league has (Let’s face it, you don’t shut down the superstar O guys in the NLL, just limit their damage). I think both the Carnegie brothers have played very well in Calgary and don’t get enough ink for their play. But, to me, Rubisch is still in a class of his own.
CHAVEZ: I’m with Ty on this one. It’s Rubisch’s award to lose. He’s in a class of his own when it comes to one-on-defense and beyond that, he’s able to do all of that within a system without compromising it. He’s physical and his timing on stick checks is perfect. He has such great anticipation and is rarely out of position. He’s simply the best.
JENNER: This is very hard category to gauge the top end talent cause A- D guys always get very little fan-fare and B- what do you base it on? Rubisch though was the best defender in the game before he was even in the league. But you have to give some other guys credit. Kyle Sorensen, Chris Corbeil, Scott Campbell, Dan Coates are some other guys who have been fantastic on the back end this year but it would seem that Rubes is just in a class of this own at times. Kids a monster and still so young!
STAMP: We’re a pretty united crowd here. I agree on Rubisch, although I also like some of the other names mentioned as part of the debate–particularly Sorensen, Corbeil and Scott Carnegie. I’ll throw one more in there, and the proliferation of Rush defenders starts to make it obvious why they are one of the best defensive teams in the league. I think Brett Mydske has been outstanding.
So we’ve covered MVP, which is largely about offence, as well as the defensive side. What about the guys who combine the two? Who is the Transition Player of the Year so far?
Pilson: Until last weekend, I would have said Geoff Snider in a slam dunk. However, when he plays like he did in those two games he shows he can be a major detriment to his team, as well. To me, it’s a another toss up: Snider or the recently injured Andrew Suitor. The Swarm captain doesn’t get the respect he deserves. He can do it all, and do it all well. Major loss for Minny. Snider, too, can do it all. Two guys are 1a and 1b to me.
CHAVEZ: I have to disagree with Ty because I think Suits gets a ton of love for what he does. And it’s justified because he’s one of the best in the business, if not the best, at his position. Jordan Hall is quietly having a pretty solid season for his new team in Philadelphia, Joe Walters in Rochester is having one of his best seasons as a pro, Mark Steenhuis continues to be one of the best athletes in the game, and Snider definitely belongs in the conversation. My vote, though, is going to Brodie Merrill in Philadelphia. He’s not only playing his game, but he’s practically a coach on the floor with so many young Americans in the back end. In Rochester, I saw him come off the floor with rookie Michael Manley, who had just been toasted for a goal. Brodie sat next to Manley, put his arm on his shoulder and was pointing to the floor, presumably explaining the situation to the rook and how to make it work the next time. That’s exactly what the Wings need, leadership and production, and Merrill is bringing it.
JENNER: I think we’re starting to see more and more transition guys showing up and making their mark. Brodie, Snider and Suits will always be at the top of everyone’s list. But this year we’ve seen guys like Tyler Haas, Mitch McMichael, Jordan MacIntosh, Brad Self show some amazing play in the two way game. While the big three may get a majority of the votes I’ll go off the board and say Jesse Gamble. He’s not the biggest or meanest but he’s been an amazing surprise coming from the Rock’s back end. He’s gritty, aggressive, quick up the floor and has great touch around the net. Buy more importantly he’s not a liability on either end of the floor.
STAMP: I’d have a hard time not going with Brodie Merrill for top tranny because I think he’s still the state of the art for the position. But I see Brad Self as a real competitor for the title and I love Teddy’s pick. Gamble has been fantastic for the Rock. He may be their best defensive player and he’s also their primary threat to take the ball up the floor and score. Tough to ask for more from a transition guy.
One last thing, with thanks to Teddy for suggesting we include it. With Colorado going with two talented but young and unproven goalies after releasing Chris Levis and now Matt Roik, can the Mammoth compete for a championship? I look at the team sitting out the playoffs right now and, even though they’re obviously just barely behind Minnesota and Rochester, I don’t think they’ve got a huge margin for error at this point. That is a concern with rookie goalies. I think they’ll be good and I think Tye Belanger is going to be a terrific long-term starter for them, but I think this year you can almost guarantee he’ll have at least one game and likely two where he just can’t compete and they’ll lose. That’s just the nature of the beast for young goalies. Even Nick Rose, who may be the best goalie in the league right now, had some games like that among his early NLL starts. It’s a tough spot in which the Mammoth find themselves.
PILSON: When I said Suitor doesn’t get enough credit, Bob, I meant outside of the lax media and hardcore fans. Go ask a random fan in Philly or Everett and see if they name Suitor as a top tranny guy. Doubtful they would. But back to the question at hand. Colorado is in tough to make the playoffs and if they do, don’t see them going far. They have had a tough time between the pipes ever since Gee Nash left. As Bob Hamley pointed out, not for a lack of effort. They got Matt Vinc who didn’t want to play there so they flipped him for Junior. They could have drafted Anthony Cosmo, but he didn’t want to go there. They have two good young goalies now which is the way of the future in the NLL. That said, as was pointed out with Nick Rose, it takes awhile for those guys to ease into the pool. Trial by fire means there will be a few bombs along the ways.
CHAVEZ: We’ll agree to disagree, my friend. Because I think Suitor gets a ton of love and I’d bet a ham sandwich that fans around the league know who he is and even respect his game. As for goalies, there’s been an interesting trend the last few seasons toward younger goalies. There was a time when a GM would tell you that it took a while for goalies to develop their game and a lot of them would hit their stride in their early 30s. Now we’re seing guys like Matt Vinc, Tyler Richards, Nick Rose, Aaron Bold and Mike Poulin rule the roost before they’re even 30 years old. It’s hard to say what Dan Lewis and Belanger will do in Colorado because we haven’t seen much of them. But the Mammoth are either counting on them to save this season, or ride out the storm to be better prepared for 2014.
JENNER: Yes, we are seeing a younger generation of tenders making their mark but with the exception of TRich and Vino, those other three guys had to wait their turn for a shot at a starting role in the NLL. But throwing Tye to the wolves this weekend may not be the best medicine for a kid coming off a serious injury. I was actually surprised they released Roik and kept the two young goalies. They Mammoth haven’t been the same since Nash left and they’ve been struggling to find a suitable replacement. If Belanger is that, then he couldn’t have come at a better time. I just don’t think Lewis and Belanger are the answer right now- there’s a lot or pressure on these two young tenders and I just hope that a few shell-shocking outings don’t shatter their confidence.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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