ILIndoor Roundtable: On tap for discourse is title contenders, who is Coach of the Year, and is NLL playoff format working?
Here we go, it’s playoff time in the National Lacrosse League. This is why the game is played and while it’ll be great to see the postseason kick off officially on Saturday, the reality is that the playoffs started a few weeks ago for most teams. The jockeying for position and even qualification came down to the final weekend, so staffers Bob Chavez, Ty Pilson and Stephen Stamp have a few things to look at in this week’s installment of the ILIndoor Roundtable. Which team has emerged as the favorite? Who gets Coach of the Year and is the current NLL playoff format — with 8 of 9 teams qualifying — working? Check it out and see what’s on our minds.
CHAVEZ: It’s time to handicap the playoff field. Let’s challenge ourselves and name two teams: The team you think will win it all, and the one team you think is darkhorse. I’m going to put Toronto at the top of my list. I think the Rock are solid in every facet, even though we have seen them stumble from time to time. Then again, which NLL team hasn’t this season? My darkhorse is a tough call between Rochester and Minnesota, but I’m going to give the Swarm the nod here. When that team is on, it is ON and nearly unstoppable. It took a while to put all the pieces together, but I think the Swarm can get it done. Rochester has a championship defense, but I think the offense has been too inconsistent.
PILSON: I’ll stick with my picks I made last week on Stamper’s Boxla Beat show. Edmonton is still my favourite. They have all the pieces and were one OT goal away from finishing first in the West. My darkhorse — the Stealth — seems like kind of an odd pick in that they finished ahead of Edmonton. But despite finishing second in the West, the Stealth were certainly a Jekyll-and-Hyde type team during the regular season. Athan Iannucci was even made a healthy scratch as coach Chris Hall tried to shake things up on his sputtering club. When they are on and all facets of their team are clicking, the Stealth are as good as any team in the league. Tyler Richards can absolutely steal a game, too. Both Edmonton and Washington meet in the first round of the playoffs in what should be an incredible game.
STAMP: I’m going to stick with my picks from Boxla Beat as well (on which you can hear me talk with Ty and with Brodie Merrill — it’s very interesting). I think the Rush is a very complete team and they’ll benefit from the experience of going to the final last year to be more prepared this time around. For a dark horse, I’ll take Minnesota. The Swarm are a tough opponent to face in a one-and-done format. They’re 4-2 in their last six games and they’re getting scoring from all over the lineup. Callum Crawford is the hottest player in the league with at least 8 points in six straight games and Jordan MacIntosh is playing amazing lacrosse. I doubt that Toronto was very happy to see things work out that the Swarm will be crossing over and coming to the ACC this Sunday.
CHAVEZ: Agreed, Stamper. The Rock will have had 2 weeks off and that can help with preparations, but I’m guessing they’d have much rather been playing to keep loose as they get ready for this active Swarm team. I think that’ll be the most interesting playoff game of the weekend. Moving on, let’s look at one of the yearly awards categories, one that I think will be the toughest to decide: Coach of the Year. Who gets your nod? A few of the player awards are pretty much a done deal with obvious choices. But I think every coach has really been tested by the parity this season and has had to coach like never before. Who has done the best job for his team in such a competitive environment?
PILSON: I’ll go with Derek Keenan. He totally overhauled his offence in the off-season which was no small task. After their late-season run in 2012, a lot was expected of the Rush and they stumbled out of the gate going 1-4. Keenan kept the ship afloat and they went 8-3 down the stretch and were within one OT goal of winning the West.
STAMP: Hard to argue with Keenan. He’s done a terrific job with that team and I think has them ready for a championship run. I’m going to put in a word for Troy Cordingley, though. Coaches for teams that are expected to be successful sometimes get overlooked. Cordingley has done an excellent job, though, of seamlessly integrating some new players into the mix without the Rock skipping a beat. He added Scott Evans and Roger Vyse to the offence to help it keep ticking along. He made Kyle Belton a defensive player and that has worked out very well for them as Belton just keeps getting better and playing a bigger role. I’ve also got to add that Joe Sullivan deserves some mad props for turning the Swarm’s season around with Andrew Suitor out and the team sitting at 3-7. They’re looking very impressive since then and I don’t think the Rock will have an easy time with them in the first round of the playoffs.
CHAVEZ: I think Sullivan’s name belongs in the mix for the reasons Stamper mentions. That’s no easy task what he did, especially losing a guy like Suitor who is more than just a captain. He’s a captain’s captain with the heart and soul he brings to the game. Ultimately, I think it’ll go to Troy in Toronto. I don’t think we can call the Rock a dominant team because I don’t think there were any in the NLL this season. But getting 10 wins in a league that’s so well-balanced is no small feat. Final topic? The playoff system. We’re in the second year of the current format and when it was first announced last year, there were a lot of complaints on the message board. People said it cheapened the regular season. I know Ty touched on this in his column yesterday, but let’s get some thoughts on the playoff format. Yay or nay?
PILSON: until the league adds more teams, this format makes the most sense to me. The NLL has a short season already and eliminating more teams from the playoffs eliminates more fans from staying involved. I’d love to see a best-of-three final series, though, and I think that coud be doable.
STAMP: One reason to keep it the way it is concerns the team that wins each division. That should confer an advantage, but too often having a bye week between regular season playoffs appears to be more of a hindrance than a help. The way it is now, Toronto and Calgary get to keep playing and stay sharp. Of course, if they lose this weekend they may wish they’d had the bye, but I think just about everybody would rather keep playing. Also, with only nine teams, I think the quality of the players and teams is so high that I’m fine with all but one team making the playoffs. A best-of-three final might be nice, although the more I think about it the more I think it’s good to be consistent and stick with the one-game approach. I love the Canadian playoffs and Mann Cup because of the best-of-seven format, but I think the one-and-done is exciting in its own way and suits the NLL with its current structure.
CHAVEZ: I would love to see a 3-game series for the final. I think that’s a better indicator of which is the better team, but scheduling and financial considerations play into this, so we take what we can get. Having 8 of the 9 teams qualify for the playoffs has worked wonderfully for the league in the 2 seasons the format’s been in place. Last year, 14 of the 16 weekends had meaning and this year, all 16 weekends had playoff implications. No one’s rolling over and that’s all we can ask for as fans, that every game mean something. The NLL really hit a home run with this format and it’s giving us some excellent, competitive and intense lacrosse from start to finish. Bravo.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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