Georgia Swarm defenseman Jason Noble and goalie Mike Poulin (Photo: Georgia Swarm)
Teams don’t report to training camp for another few weeks, but after another exciting summer, there is much to discuss coming into the 2019-20 NLL season- which will see the league move to three divisions: North, East, West.
The East Division will include the Georgia Swarm, New England Black Wolves, New York Riptide, and Philadelphia Wings
As training camp inches closer over the next few weeks and teams look to make their final adjustments and improvements heading into the season, here is one question from each team in the East Division heading into the 2019-20 season.
2019: 12-6; Division Semifinals
Can Georgia stay consistent all season, especially on defense?
As long as Georgia has the offensive firepower that they do, they will always be considered NLL title contenders. Even after losing Holden Cattoni and John Ranagan in the NLL Expansion draft over the summer, this offense with Lyle Thompson, Miles Thompson, Randy Staats, Shayne Jackson, and others is one of the best in the league, ranking 2nd last season with 594 points during the regular season.
While Georgia’s offense did seem to slow down a bit near the end of last season, it wasn’t always on the offense, per se, and the blame was more on the defense for allowing too many goals and sucking the energy out of the entire team. Even with injuries plaguing the last few weeks of their season, their consistency on defense was not very good at all.
Georgia returns Jason Noble, Alex Crepinsek, Leo Stouros, and others that should all look to contribute heavily on the defensive end of the floor. Additionally, Lyle Thompson gets it done in transition as one of the best transition defenders in the game, in addition, to being one of the best offensive talents, as well.
With Mike Poulin re-signing with the franchise for two more years, the Swarm are confident in the goaltending. And barring any injury or unforeseen circumstance, Poulin will continue to be the backbone of this defense. Whether the guys out in front of Poulin can show up every game is the biggest question and issue this team could have going forward. But, the fact that this unit has a full season playing with each other under their belt should mean things will be much better on the back end this season.
New England Black Wolves
2019: 6-6; Division Semifinals
New England has revamped their offense, maybe, more than any other team in the league over the offseason. From trading for Jordan Durston to drafting Andrew Kew with the third overall pick in the 2019 entry draft, this franchise has done nothing up upgrade an offense that wasn’t as deep last season as they would have hoped.
Durston immediately gives them another threat on the left side to go along with Stephan Leblanc and Reilly O’Connor. Kew has long been seen as the most pro-ready player in the 2019 draft class and has big expectations surrounding him as he comes in as a rookie. He is expected to fill the void on the offense left by Tyler Digby getting picked up by New York in the expansion draft.
This New England offense returns 278 points between their top three scorers from last season- Callum Crawford, Stephan Leblanc, and Reilly O’Connor. With that much production coming back and the exciting new additions of Jordan Durston- who was a top-five scorer in Buffalo last season- and highly touted Rookie Andrew Kew, creates a lot of hype for this offense.
Whether or not this offense lives up to its hype or not is still a question. But when you have as much talent on the roster as this squad does, there has to be some good that comes out of, even if there are struggles in terms of chemistry early on in the season.
New York Riptide
Is Kieran McArdle ready to take the next step?
Lacrosse is back on Long Island…well pro box lacrosse that is. The Riptide have had a busy summer with building this franchise through the expansion draft, free agency, the entry draft. It is clear that head coach and general manager Regy Thorpe has a plan for this franchise, and the building blocks are being laid.
Kieran McArdle- a Long Island native and St. John’s legend- was picked up by the Riptide in the expansion draft and is one of the faces of this new franchise as not only an American player but a local product, as well.
Since coming into the league in 2017 with the Toronto Rock, McArdle has been improving his box game each year. Last season was his best yet as he was visibly more confident, was seeing the floor better, and didn’t look as much like a field player lost in the box out there has he had at times in the past. The lefty forward was the Rock’s sixth-leading scorer last season, tallying 40 points (12G/28A).
Teaming up with Tyler Digby on the left side, McArdle is expected to take the next step in his progression in the box game, lead, and be a heavy contributor. While there is a chance that things might not click 100% right away with this new franchise, if McArdle’s performance with Team USA at the World Indoor Lacrosse Championship is any indication of how good he can be when given a bigger role, than New York has a shining star and pure sniper on that left side.
2019: 4-14; Missed Playoffs
Who is the goaltender?
It was a very disappointing inaugural season for the Wings in 2019. Much of their woes lied in the poor defensive play they got for most of the season coupled with the issues that surrounded the situation in net with no bona fide starter seeming to rise to the occasion and take over. While Davide DiRuscio did eventually get the nod late in the season, all hope was pretty much lost for this franchise to make the playoffs by the time they made the decision.
Philadelphia traded Buchan to Buffalo in exchange for Zach Higgins over the summer. While Higgins was the backup in Buffalo last season, he has experience as a starter from his time in Minnesota in 2015.
With two goalies on the roster that both have experience as a starter and potential to be a starter, the question from last season still lingers. Who is the number one and number two goalie in Philadelphia? Do they stick with DiRuscio or does Higgins impress enough in camp that head coach Paul Day feels more confident starting him?
Having a question mark or competition at the goalie spot coming into the season is typical in lacrosse, but Philadelphia will need to figure it out much quicker than they did last season. Both guys are pretty proven and have had great performances over their careers. Higgins has a few more years on DiRuscio, but both have similar experience as a starter.
If Philadelphia wants to win more than four games this season they will need to find a guy and stick with him. This defense proved last season that they just couldn’t function with the interchanging goalies through much of the season.