October 29, 2013

Players, Coaches React to NLL's New CBA, Playoff Format

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

Calgary Roughnecks veteran Geoff Snider laments decreased roster sizes in the new CBA, but hopes the agreement will "provide solidarity to the league and the business model to drive future expansion."
© Brad Watson

Think back to last spring. The Toronto Rock completed the National Lacrosse League regular season with a league-best 10-6 record but then they get bounced from the first round of the NLL playoffs in a win-or-you're-out elimination game at the hands of the 7-9 Minnesota Swarm.

Fast forward to the new seven-year collective bargaining agreement that was announced last Tuesday that gives regular-season division champs first-round playoff byes into two-game division and championship finals instead of the previous single-game eliminations.

"We're a year late for that one,'' veteran Rock forward Josh Sanderson said when quizzed on the new first-round bye. ''That would have come in handy. Obviously, that playoff game [20-11 for the Swarm] didn't go the way we expected.

''The new setup is different and unique. The one-game playoff was great when you won and bad when you lost. We had a real bad playoff game last year. If it happens again next spring, maybe we get a chance to rebound.''

Ah, would could have been.

Each team will get a home game in the new playoffs setup. The lower-seeded team is host for Game 1. The higher-seeded team is host for Game 2 so that, if the teams split the two games and a 10-minute mini-game is required, it'll be in the higher-seeded team's arena.

Another significant change: three teams instead of four from each division will qualify for the playoffs. The East includes Toronto, Buffalo, Rochester, Philadelphia and Minnesota. The West includes Colorado, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.

''I think it'll be a lot better,'' Sanderson, 36, who is preparing to play a 17th NLL season, said of the fewer numbers of playoff participants. ''Last year, with only one team in the league not making the playoffs, the playoffs were set well in advance for some teams.

''There'll be more meaning to regular-season games now. I definitely like going to fewer playoff teams. Every game will be meaningful and that's better for fans and for the overall regular-season product.''

Salaries remain the same for the next two seasons, but players have agreed to play two more games as the schedules rise to 18 games from 16 per team, and there's no loud griping about what amounts to playing two additional games for free.

''The players want to help grow the game to the next level,'' Sanderson said. ''Obviously we had to take a hit on a couple of items but the big thing for the players and owners is that we continue growing the game.

''We wanted to make sure that franchises are healthy when the time for expansion comes. Hopefully, this is a step in the right direction. We took a couple of hits but that needed to be done. Five or seven years down the road the league will be in a better spot.''

The new setup reduces to 18 from 20 in the number of players allowed to dress for each game. That might keep payrolls down but that might also mean more tired legs late in games.

Here's Who Made it Happen

The new CBA took long hours, back-and-forth talks and compromises that allowed every piece to fall into place.

Commissioner George Daniel and vice-president of lacrosse operations Brian Lemon along with Steve Govett, chairman of the NLL board of governors and president of the Colorado Mammoth, were prime players on the league side as well as members of the player relations committee which is comprised of chairman Dave Zygaj, who is the governor for the Buffalo Bandits, Minnesota co-owner John Arlotta, Philadelphia part owner Brad Brewster, Calgary GM Mike Board and Vancouver president Doug Locker. Add lawyers and it was an NLL executive all-star team.

Edmonton Rush player rep Chris Corbeil attended every face-to-face session with PLPA president Peter Schmitz and executive director Dave Succamore. Others involved in face-to-face talks were player reps Mike Poulin (Calgary), Gavin Prout and Mac Allen (Colorado), Dan Dawson (Rochester), Garrett Billings (Toronto) and Kevin Ross (Philadelphia) as well as PLPA treasurer Gee Nash and various lawyers. Others involved in the negotiations included player reps Curtis Hodgson (Vancouver), Derek Suddons and Luke Wiles (Buffalo) and Andrew Suitor (Minnesota) as well as PLPA secretary John Rosa and numerous lawyers.

"It’s great that the league and the players got a deal done that allows for both parties to grow as the sport grows,’’ Dawson said. "To lock in a long-term CBA will help the league bring in more sponsors and a stable TV deal. It’s disappointing that we’ve lost some jobs with the roster size but due to the economic times and the state of the league it had to happen.’’ — N.S.

''That's one thing I don't like,'' Sanderson said. ''Going to 16 runners and two goalies, that's a part that doesn't make sense to me. There will be the chance of more injuries and a chance of slowing down the product. We want guys running up and down the floor.''

Calgary Roughnecks vet Geoff Snider concurs with what most players are saying.

''I'm confident in the PLPA and their efforts to negotiate on behalf of the players,'' Snider said. ''It's sad to see the reduction of rosters as there are a lot of excellent athletes who would greatly benefit in being part of an NLL club but, hopefully, this [new CBA] will help provide solidarity to the league and the business model to drive future expansion.

''Ultimately, I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to play professional lacrosse and am glad that a deal is done.''

Bob Hamley, head coach of the Colorado Mammoth, provides his take on some of the changes.

  • On dressing 18: ''Time will tell how this is going to change the game but I believe our coaches and players are good enough to make the necessary adjustments for two less runners. I really believe specialty guys may go by the wayside during the next couple of years. Maybe you had a shutdown D guy or a power-play guy. There might not be room now for those type of guys. But, overall, players will be even that more athletic. It won't be a huge change. Everybody will adjust and we'll be better for it.''
  • On 18-man lineups further curbing fighting: ''We understand that concussions and the health of our players are very important. We've worked hard to eliminate head shots. Fighting, I'm not sure where it goes from here. It's an ongoing process. But we certainly want to address the players' health. I just read Brodie Merrill's blog on hits to the head and everybody should. We're going to continue to monitor fighting and head shots with our players' safety in mind."
  • On three playoff teams per division instead of four: ''It came right down to the last game to decide the last playoff spot last season. Buffalo was a goal away and missed out. But we listened to what everybody had to say and we've narrowed it down. It's such a fine line between making the playoffs and missing out and this will make it even more exciting and put even more emphasis on our regular-season games. I think it's going to be great, as competitive as ever.''
  • On two-game finals: ''One of challenges we've had is that some of our teams are second and third tenants in our buildings and dates are hard to come by at that time of year. We came to a compromise. Maybe it's not ideal but it gets our fans a home game. There have been some teams in the past, Edmonton for example, that have been unable to host a playoff game. This gives fans the opportunity to see their team in the playoffs. It's a great compromise.''
  • On willingness of both sides to compromise in reaching a new deal: ''I give credit to our governors, [commissioner] George [Daniel] and the players. They worked hard to give us a chance to attract to owners. We want to grow and the players want to grow with us. They've proven that with this new CBA. It's exciting to think about what the future can hold for the NLL. It's a great game and this CBA gives everybody a chance to prove we can move forward and attract new fans and new ownership.''

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