Don’t panic, but we’re already one-third of the way through the 2022-2023 NLL season! Some teams have performed as expected, while other teams have far exceeded expectations. However, I’m taking a look at the six teams currently sporting sub-.500 records.
Which of these teams should be hitting the panic button right now? Is there any rhyme or reason to why they are not faring better this year? Can their situation realistically improve over the middle third of the season? Ultimately, these teams have to start trending in the right direction over their next 5 to 6 games. Otherwise, they can bid farewell to their 2023 postseason dreams.
Philadelphia Wings: 2-3 (Home 0-2; Away 2-1)
Next 5 games: Buffalo, Albany, at Buffalo, New York, Toronto
Panic Button: YES
Let’s face it: the Wings looked absolutely dreadful last week against Toronto. After getting on the board first, they allowed the Rock to score 13 unanswered goals between the end of the first quarter and the start of the fourth quarter. Zach Higgins looked nothing like last season’s form. Additionally, the Wings offense was settling for outside shots, making Rock goalie Nick Rose’s job easy. Trevor Baptiste is also winning faceoffs this season at a lower rate than we are used to seeing. So I’m hitting the panic button here.
Simply put, the level of play at present is nowhere near that of a playoff-caliber team. Even more frustrating is that they have the easiest strength of schedule of any NLL team. I can forgive their performance in the season opener in Halifax, but the offense needs to start gelling right now. That includes creating more inside scoring opportunities, especially against the caliber of teams coming over the next month.
Georgia Swarm: 0-4 (Home 0-3; Away 0-1)
Next 6 games: at Colorado, Toronto, at Toronto, Albany, at Albany, Rochester
Panic Button: NO
Yes, they are the only remaining winless team. But unlike Philadelphia, Georgia has the most difficult schedule of any team this season. They do not play Las Vegas, Vancouver, or Panther City this year. They could very well be 0-10 (and 0-6 at home) after the above stretch of games listed. But here’s why I’m not hitting the panic button on the Swarm:
They had almost as much turnover as Albany during the offseason. However, most of the departing players retired, and nearly everyone who was traded is either currently injured or on a Hold Out List. The injury and hold out situations likely would not be any different had those players remained on the team. Keep in mind this team has not one, but TWO former MVPs on its offense (Lyle Thompson, Shayne Jackson). Plus, they could very well have a future third MVP in Andrew Kew. None of these players are going anywhere anytime soon.
Between the unexpectedly high level of rebuild and the strength of schedule, Georgia gets a pass this year. Further validating my view is a fanbase who does not appear to be actively calling for the firing of head coach Ed Comeau, or demanding that owners John and Andy Arlotta sell the team. In fact, attendance is increasing significantly in the market this year. In spite of being forced to make some of the changes they’ve made, Georgia has the necessary pieces that could see them steamrolling the league again in the next year or two.
Albany FireWolves: 2-3 (Home 0-3; Away 2-0)
Next 5 games: at Philadelphia, at New York, Las Vegas, at Georgia, Georgia
Panic Button: WAIT
I’m aware they have the fourth-toughest schedule and have lost their faceoff specialist to injury until next year. Yet I’m waiting a bit longer to see what happens before hitting the panic button. The main reason is because this Albany team is still finding ways to stay competitive. The lack of success at home is concerning, but respect must be given to their away game results, beating Buffalo and Halifax.
Three of their next five games are on the road, with New York the most difficult game of the three. Add to that a pair of home matchups against expansion team Las Vegas, and a Georgia team that may already be looking to next year. It’s not far-fetched to predict they could go 4-1 or even 5-0 in those games. Should they accomplish the feat, it would put them back in the thick of the East Division playoff race.
Las Vegas Desert Dogs: 1-4 (Home 1-2; Away 0-2)
Next 5 games: at Saskatchewan, Colorado, at Albany, Calgary, at San Diego
Panic Button: NO
It would be easy to say that fans in Las Vegas are just happy to have a new team to cheer on, and move on from there. It would also be easy to say the answer above should instead be YES, based on expectations created when the NHL’s Golden Knights nearly won the Stanley Cup in their first year of existence. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, and keeps the panic button locked for the time being.
Head Coach Shawn Williams was able to pick up some great players via the Expansion Draft and some shrewd trades. However, the NLL player pool isn’t quite as extensive as the NHL player pool was for the Golden Knights. Several players on offense are field players who are entering the league with limited box experience, learning on the fly. There are also unknowns on defense, and unproven talents in net possibly being thrust into duty before being truly ready. It’s possible the Golden Knights’ lack of success in the seasons following their Stanley Cup run have tempered fans’ expectations. This can only help the Desert Dogs as they start to build a winning culture and tradition in the coming years.
Vancouver Warriors: 1-5 (Home 1-1; Away 0-4)
Next 5 games: Panther City, Saskatchewan, at Panther City, Calgary, at Saskatchewan
Panic Button: YES
After a dismal 0-4 start, Vancouver’s GM and Assistant GM stepped down. Head Coach Troy Cordingley took over GM duties on an interim basis. An energetic win followed, albeit against a last-place expansion team in Las Vegas, but things were looking up. Then, a collapse of epic proportions against the same Vegas team the following week. It’s completely inexcusable, and the fanbase in Vancouver has every right to be livid. In fact, I wouldn’t blame any of them for pushing me down to hit the panic button themselves.
The next five games feature division rivals the Warriors are looking to leapfrog in order to secure a playoff spot. They have to win at least four of these games. If not, expect a number of veterans to be shopped around at the trade deadline in exchange for younger talent and/or draft picks. The Warriors will be in full rebuild mode yet again. But they will also finally be out of the shadow of the many mistakes made in the decade that followed their 2010-2012 run of Finals appearances.
New York Riptide: 1-4 (Home 0-4; Away 1-0)
Next 5 games: Buffalo, at Toronto, Albany, at Halifax, at Rochester
Panic Button: WAIT
New York made changes in the front office as well, following an 0-4 start similar to Vancouver. The difference here is that new General Manager Rich Lisk immediately got to work making trades to try to improve the team. As most folks know, you generally have to give something good to get something good in an NLL trade. The acquisitions of Chad Cummings and Curtis Conley appeared to pay dividends immediately, as the Riptide picked up their first win on the road against Albany. Assuming that trend continues, particularly on the defensive side, it’s not a stretch to think this team could get back around the .500 mark in time for the final third of the season. In a tough East Division, a 9-9 record could be just enough to get the Wild Card over a 4th-place West Division team.
The delayed payoff from these trades will come with the young players and draft picks acquired from the trade of Callum Crawford to Panther City. The return on this trade doesn’t impact the question at hand here. Plus, more moves could be made before the trade deadline, depending on how the next five games go. However, it may ensure that New York doesn’t end up attending next year’s Panic Button Party. Frankly, no one wants to be in this conversation, nor do they want to have to hit that %#$@!*& button…
“Muffler” Mike Kostiuk was formally introduced to box lacrosse when he attended a New England Black Wolves game on a whim in 2016. Instantly hooked, he has since become an avid follower of the National Lacrosse League. Following the postponement of the 2019-2020 NLL season, he was offered the chance to share his wealth of statistical knowledge and unique insights with the lacrosse community at large. He cheerfully accepted, and currently serves as Edge of Philly’s correspondent for both the Albany FireWolves and New York Riptide.