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Monday, January 4, 2010

2010 NLL Preview - East Division

Thanks for your patience! Here is part two of my National Lacrosse League 2010 season preview. Since the first game of the season features two teams from this division, logic would dictate that I should have done this first. However, I started with the West for two reasons:

  1. I am more familiar with those teams.

  2. I am confident that a team from the West will win the league (specifically Washington).

Without further ado, here are my predictions...

-East Division-

1. Rochester Knighthawks
The Knighthawks will be the best team in the East for three reasons - two of those reasons are named Gait. Coach Paul Gait returns to the bench after sneaking into the playoffs last season. Aiding him will be the only player that is considered to be his better on the field, the legendary Gary Gait.

GG may not be able to do the acrobatic moves of his younger days, but he is still a force to be reckoned with. His presence alone sparks intimidation in the hearts of younger players that grew up watching him. A professional in the NLL since 1991 (technically Major Indoor Lacrosse League at that time), GG has won numerous championships and awards including a league championship, MVP, and Rookie of the Year during his first season. Before that he was a major standout at Syracuse; his famous number 22 jersey would later be worn by the Powell brothers. Last season, GG had 37 points in 11 games proving that even after a four year absence he is still capable of changing the course of a game.

Bringing even more oomph to the offense is John Grant Jr. JGJ is the son of legendary Philadelphia Wings star (and current Rochester Assistant Coach) John Grant Sr. Featuring for the Canadian National team, JGJ is the marquee player for Adidas Lacrosse. His signature line is a major improvement over the company's first attempts and is being released this season. As Reebok (official supplier of the NLL) is owned by Adidas, it is possible that we may see the new line on the turf this season. JGJ was out last season due to emergency knee surgery. He did return to action this summer with the Toronto Nationals where he netted five goals in his lone game. Just as impressive - and more relevant to the upcoming NLL season - JGJ had five goals and five assists in just three games with the Peterborough Lakers of Major Series Lacrosse.
2. Orlando Titans
After winning the East and playing the league championship game last season, the Titans left the biggest market in the country (perhaps the world) for sunny Orlando, FL. Along for the ride were stars Casey Powell, Ryan Boyle, and Stephen Peyser. The league's lone Australian, Brendan Mundorf, is also sticking with the team that drafted him in the first round in 2007. The star power alone makes the Titans early favorites.

In 13 games last season, Powell scored 40 goals and grabbed 45 assists. Boyle had 54 points in 16 games. Mundorf had 28 goals and 31 assists in 16 games. Peyser's numbers were not that great (17 points in 15 games), but he acted more of a defenseman than a true transition player. Rounding out the roster are an impressive number of above average professionals, may of which are the brothers of superstars.

Despite their strong bench, Orlando will fall short of the winning the division. Rochester's experience and leadership will negatively impact the Titans. Even more important, the distance between Orlando and the league's other cities will create major problems during away games - even within their own division. At the same time, the travel issue could give the Titans an impressive home field advantage. Time will tell...

At any rate, seeing professional lacrosse in the state of Florida is a great thing. Given its status as a fringe sport, moving to untapped markets like Orlando is a smart move for the league and the game itself. Hopefully the team draws well and similar franchise locations will arise within the next few years.
3. Toronto Rock
After only finishing ahead of the abysmal Edmonton Rush last season, expect Toronto to spring back in a big way. Riding the way of lax popularity in Canada's largest city, the Rock will look to emulate their Major League Lacrosse counterparts, the Nationals. After the field team won the MLL championship this summer big things are expected from the indoor team.

With an entirely Canadian roster, national pride is at stake for the Rock. Unfortunately they boast no real superstars, but the bench is chock full of extensive box experience. This should make the Rock serious contenders for the middle of the table in the East. They will be nothing spectacular but they will get the job done.
4. Boston Blazers
After an amazing inaugural year, expect the Blazers to return to the playoffs. Last season, the Blazers finished third in the East but matched the overall records of #1 New York and #2 Buffalo. Strong scoring from their many role players was the key to the Blazers' early success.

With no real stars to speak of, the Blazers learned how to work as a team. Their strong ethic and the rabid support of Beantown will keep the Blazers in contention again this year. Expect nothing spectacular from this middle of the road team though.
5. Philadelphia Wings
The Wings bring a talented coach in the form of Dave Huntley. Huntley guided the relocated Toronto Nationals to the MLL championship in their first year this summer. However, he failed to get the Wings to the NLL playoffs last season. Granted the race for the final East playoff spot was tight last year. Still, Huntley has not shown that the Wings have what it takes to do better in 2010 than 2009.

Philly has a fairly short bench with few stars. Geoff Snider and Merrick Thomson are the team's only active stars. While both Canadians are excellent in their own right, neither has the pizazz to inspire the Wings to greatness. Such a spark could come from Johnny Christmas, who is currently listed as "restricted" but not active with the team. A regular role for Christmas could signify major changes in the City of Brotherly Love.
6. Buffalo Bandits
I expect nobody to fall as far as the Bandits this season. After finishing second in 2009, Buffalo will tumble to last in the East. Although the retirement of Rich Kilgour should have minimal impact on the Bandits, it is their overall lack of roster activity that makes me believe they will do very little this year.

Buffalo lost Pat McCready and Phil Sanderson to Toronto this season. McCready's contribution to the offense will be sorely missed and Sanderson's absence leaves a bit of a hole on defense. A weak entry draft sows little promise for the Bandits. Perhaps after this major nose dive, the front office will make better roster moves in the off season and rebuild this franchise. As the second oldest team in the league (1992; Philadelphia started in 1987), the Bandits need to be a strong franchise.


Remember, the 2010 season kicks off on January 8 when the Philadelphia Wings visit the Orlando Titans.

Tribe 7