May 8, 2013

Washburn's MLL Power Rankings: Boston in Last

by Evan Washburn | LaxMagazine.com

The Boston Cannons face the possibility of the franchise's first 0-3 start should they lose to the Denver Outlaws this weekend.
© Lee Weissman

If you can believe it, we are entering Week 3 of the 2013 Major League Lacrosse season. All eight teams now have at least one game under their belt, which is a good time to kickoff the first installment of my weekly power rankings.

Early season performances in this league can be deceiving with rosters continuing to take shape through the first five to six weeks. This is due to many of the league's prominent players wrapping up the indoor season, some coaching for the nation's top college programs and the league's rookies finishing up their college careers as late as Memorial Day weekend.

So the true identity of a team is not forged until mid-June or early July.

Even so, early season wins and losses are crucial and will reappear in August when the playoff conversation heats up. Ask the Rochester Rattlers and Hamilton Nationals of 2012.

These rankings are based off the past week's performance in conjunction with the season as a whole. Earlier in the year, what you do on the weekend will affect your standing much more.

1. Chesapeake Bayhawks (2-0)

The Bayhawks have come back from winning the 2012 championship motivated and determined to repeat. This team will admit that they have not played their best lacrosse, but when you have as much talent as they do, your bad is good enough to win.

The key stats echo the statement of the players and coaches.

Chesapeake is shooting 21 percent from the field and is facing off at a 47 percent clip, but has gotten wins over Rochester and the highly-touted New York Lizards.

Head coach Dave Cottle demands a lot out of his All-Star laden roster and the players respond, which is bad news for the Ohio Machine when they visit Annapolis on Saturday night. The Bayhawks will get John Grant Jr. back this weekend, which may not necessarily help the team's shooting percentage, but will certainly add another dimension to the offense.

I have the Bayhawks head and shoulders above the rest of the league until some team can beat them at their worst, and best.

2. Denver Outlaws (2-0)

I have a bad habit of doubting what the Outlaws do in the offseason. I then have to swallow my words when success follows the roster moves that were made. When general manager Tony Seaman and head coach Jim Stagnitta decided to trade away Peet Poillon and Mark Matthews I was shocked, but they clearly have a plan and it has worked thus far.

The Outlaws are shooting above 30 percent and have an efficient offense that is predicated off sharing the ball. The personnel is built around 2012 MVP Brendan Mundorf, who looks to be healthy after off-season ankle surgery. Fellow attackman Chris Bocklet is developing into an all-star.

The early season team MVP has to be faceoff veteran Anthony Kelly, who is winning better than 70 percent of his draws. Kelly is playing his best lacrosse in his eighth year in the league.

This team is built much like a college roster. There are one or two stars and then a bunch of players that understand their role. This formula has proven to be successful for early in 2013.

3. New York Lizards (1-1)

This was the toughest slot for me to fill, because I thought Saturday's loss to Chesapeake was ugly. The Lizards shot 7 percent, went 0-for-9 on man up opportunities, did not score in the fourth quarter and lost the ground ball battle 26 to 19 despite winning 63 percent of the faceoffs.

Without faceoff man Greg Gurenlian I think this team would be 0-2.

So how do I have them as my third best team in the league? They have the potential at full strength to be as good as Chesapeake. Once Max Seibald and Mark Matthews enter the lineup, along with Rob Pannell down the road, this group will be much more dynamic offensively. At the moment long-stick midfielder Steven Waldeck is the team's second leading scorer with three points.

This team is talented and can be explosive, but it will have to happen sooner rather than later.

4. Hamilton Nationals (1-0)

I had the chance to see the Nationals open their season in person last Saturday night in Boston and walked away really impressed. Under new head coach Dave Huntley this group played a complete game on both ends of the field.

Offensively there were seven different goal scorers and three players with three-plus goals. Kevin Crowley was the headliner, with four goals and three assists. In his third year in the league it looks like things have clicked for Crowley and with size and ability; he could be an MVP caliber player. Also important to note that this group played without starters Joe Walters, Stephen Keogh and Cody Jamieson, who are still playing in the NLL.

On the defensive end Brodie Merrill was impressive as usual. The biggest change was seeing goalie Brett Queener play a full sixty minutes, which is the plan under Huntley this season. Queener came up big with 18 saves and a strong command of young defense in front of him.

This team has all the tools necessary to challenge Chesapeake, and we will know even more after they play New York this weekend.

5. Charlotte Hounds (1-1)

The Hounds are playing a solid brand of lacrosse and have shown visible improvement from last season. A 33 percent shooting percentage highlights the weapons this team has in 2013, most notably Peet Poillon and Eric Lusby. A league leading 72 ground balls shows the toughness this group is now playing with.

Going on the road to Rochester and getting a win without Matt Danowski is a testament to this team's depth, something that was sorely missing last season.

The biggest concerns moving forward are at the faceoff position and in the goal. The Hounds are only winning 41 percent of their draws, with Tim Fallon as the starter. The hope is that the arrival of Geoff Snider, who just wrapped up the indoor season, will boost those numbers. In the net consistency has been an issue. Adam Ghitelman and Mark Manos have each started one game with Ghitelman getting the only win.

6. Rochester Rattlers (0-2)

The Rattlers have the ability to be in every game and walk away with a win. I just don't see a huge upside with this team. There are a lot of the same faces on this roster and while continuity is a huge positive in this league, I am not sold on their depth of difference makers.

The one player that can make depth and lack of star power meaningless is Ned Crotty. I am on record in saying that he is one of the top three players in this league. The 2012 season was a disappointing one, due largely to injury. He needs to play like a MVP candidate for this team to be in the top half of the power rankings.

7. Ohio Machine (0-1)

Through one game it is unfair to judge how much Machine have improved. Their season-opening loss to Denver came down to being outscored 8-2 in the first and third quarters.

Head coach Ted Garber needs to get more production out of the offense. That starts and finishes with Steele Stanwick having a breakout season. Stanwick is healthy and heading into his first full season in the MLL. In Week 1, he had just one goal.

This team will get an added boost when all of their draft picks become eligible. The headliner is obviously Peter Baum, who will not be in the lineup Saturday night against the Bayhawks, due to remaining academic obligations.

Relying on draft picks to add dimension and playmaking ability is a dangerous proposition. We are in wait-and-see mode with Ohio and they may take a drop in the rankings after a visit to the Bayhawks this weekend.

8. Boston Cannons (0-2)

I will admit whole-heartedly that this ranking is predicated on a first-person account of the Cannons' 15-8 loss to the Nationals last Saturday. Boston's first-half performance was one of the worst I have seen as an analyst and fan of the league.

Look, I understand that this team has a roster with enough talent and experience to win a championship. But if they can't consistently put it together offensively, they are in for a disappointing season.

Even with offensive stars like Paul Rabil, Ryan Boyle, Kevin Buchanan and Matt Poskay, it seems there is a struggle to come together and play as one. Too many times against Hamilton and really much of last season this group relied on isolation dodging. It became very predictable and stale.

The Cannons start the season 0-2 for the first time since 2009, when they finished 6-6. They did make the playoffs that year, but mostly due to the fact there were only six teams in the league. This team now faces a confident and talented Denver Outlaws squad who would love to give the Boston their first 0-3 start in franchise history.

Evan Washburn, host of "Inside the MLL" on CBS Sports Network, and a regular MLL game analyst, will be writing a weekly power rankings item throughout the Major League Lacrosse season. Follow Evan on Twitter @EvanWashburn.


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