(Editor’s note: This is the final in a 3-part series)
There’s been a lot to digest in considering the new National Lacrosse League playoff format. More games means more fans will be asked to spend more money. And more players will be asked to play more games. But it’s a game we all love and adore, so what’s the problem, right? It depends on who you ask, really. Reaction to the new format from fans and players alike has been mixed, so when it comes time to witness the actual implementation of it all, the NLL will be under a very tight microscope. “I’m not a fan of it, really,” said Buffalo Bandits goalie Kurtis Wagar. “I liked the old way. It reminded me of football … 10 minute game? It just doesn’t seem the proper way and doesn’t seem traditional.”
Wagar is quick to point out he understands the challenges facing the NLL, but he’s struggling to wrap his head around a format that’s so foreign.
“It does grow the game and I understand where management is coming from,” he said. “I still think the old way is better. When it comes down to 10 minutes, that’s the only thing I’m really against.”
“As for the new format, I’m very mixed on the title game idea. If you can’t do a proper 2 out of 3 series, I’m not sure I like the idea of 2 exhausted teams playing an extra 10 minutes. On the other hand, it does prevent a good team from getting bounced on a 1 game fluke in the playoffs.” — Rick716, at ILIndoor forums
Athan Iannucci of the Vancouver Stealth says while he’s not convinced the new format is the best it can be, he understands the effort.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “It’s not ideal, but you think about what happened to us last year against Rochester in the final, we didn’t put forth our best effort. If we had this system, we’d have a chance to redeem ourselves.”
Iannucci says what a lot of Canadians who grew up with lengthy playoff series in their blood say: In a 7-game series, the best team is going to win. There’s no way to get around that. So while the NLL playoff system isn’t quite there yet, who’s to say the 2014 setup can’t be a springboard?
“We’ve been asking for more games,” he says. “It would be nice getting a full third game, and I’m even for playing 2 games in 1 day. But … at least this is something. It’s better than it was before.”
“I don’t love the 2-game finals setup, but hopefully it’s the start of a move to a real 3-game series down the road. Only 6 teams making the playoffs should be an improvement too, need to make the regular season actually mean something.” — Uncle Benny, at ILIndoor forums
Cody Jamieson of the Rochester Knighthawks pretty much sides with Wagar. He’s not a fan of the new setup.
“I’d rather stick with the one and done,” he says. “It works in college basketball and college lacrosse. The 10-minute game doesn’t do a series justice. If we can’t have an even system and can’t have 3 games, let’s stay with 1.”
Jamieson said that he too understands how time constraints and arena challenges handcuff the NLL. But if the NLL is “talking about saving a dollar, then let’s save a dollar and stick with 1 game.”
Wherever you fall with regard to the expanded playoffs, the NLL is hoping the 2014 setup is not final. The league wants more, because it’s been told it should have more and fans and players have told the league they want more. But as commissioner George Daniel said in the league’s conference call announcing the new CBA back in October, “everybody wants a bigger cut of pie but the pie needs to get bigger first.”
And the thing is, early signs are pointing to that pie already getting bigger. In adopting the new CBA, the players and management did more than settle on a working accord. There are intangibles at work already that bode well for future growth and the most valuable example of that right now is trust between the 2 sides.
“If you’re going to have more than one game then do it properly with a best-of-3 series. And do it for the championship too, and start the season in November or October if you have to.” — Jimbo, at ILIndoor forums
Have you noticed a trend in recent player signings since the CBA was approved, a pact that put in place a salary cap of $400,000 per team? Dan Dawson, Craig Point and Sid Smith have signed 7-year contracts with the Knighthawks. Dan Coates and Adam Jones signed for 5 years with the Mammoth, while John Grant Jr. signed for 4 years. Tyler Richards signed for 4 years with the Stealth. Jeff Shattler is signed with Calgary for 3 years.
Lots of long-term deals are being signed, and NLL fans should rejoice in that.
“Teams are more motivated to get a deal to see how it affects the cap,” said Colorado Mammoth general manager Steve Govett. “You can lock guys in and you don’t have to negotiate.”
Long-term contracts tell a player the team believes in him and there is faith in his ability to help the team. That can provide stability in players and teams alike, which in turn tells fans that the team is committed to keeping together its core with the goal of the ultimate for everyone involved: Winning a championship.
And this message of stability doesn’t end there.
“This is what George Daniel has been trying to do since he started as commissioner,” said Govett of the stability factor. “Because it gives us an opportunity to show non-NLL owners that this is a good league. There’s certainty and stability.”
And that, of course, could make investment in a new team an attractive option. And if the league grows, TV becomes more interested. And if TV is interested, more fans could be generated, and … you see where this is going.
There is still much to be worked on with the NLL’s new playoff format. The league is not exactly in its infancy, and many trials and tribulations have shown team and league officials what works, and what doesn’t. But growth in the NLL is not unlike any other entity: If you don’t learn, you don’t grow. The NLL is properly excited about what the new system holds and even better, it’s excited about the prospect that it could lead to bigger and better.
Part 1: NLL’s new playoff format had plenty of hurdles to clear, with plenty more to come
Part 2: National Lacrosse League’s playoff format isn’t ideal, but ‘we’re going to increase the probability that the best teams win’
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