Last weekend was the opening of the new season of the National Lacrosse League. 15 teams will battle it out for supremacy, looking to topple the current champions, the Buffalo Bandits. Five of those teams are Canadian, with four of the last seven winners of the NLL Cup coming from the right side of the border.
Lacrosse is one of the most popular options on the betting sites in Canada for those who like to have a bet on sport. With the fast and hard hitting action, that is no surprise but who will lift the trophy at the end of the season? 15 teams start with a blank slate this weekend, we look at who can come out on top.
Finished a poor 3-15 last season, the worst record in the entire NLL with all of their wins coming on the road. There has been a reshuffle in terms of playing talent after that with murmurs coming out of training camp that they are set for a stronger season. That is a low enough bar to aim at but they have added some speed and youth, especially in the form of Alex Simmons.
Simmons went 4th in the 2022 draft but finished his degree at Syracuse before heading into the NLL. A rookie who could make a big impact this season, there needs to be someone to add some fire back into the Wolves but that is a lot of pressure for a youngster.
The reigning champions have that pressure to begin their season and they have been to the decider in the last three seasons on the bounce, losing the first two. It will be interesting to see how they respond to being the victors this time rather than the wounded losers. They managed a 14-4 record to lead the East despite other teams having stronger goals scored and goals against records. They just went out and did the job that they had to do each time.
Dhane Smith is the best player in the league for now, the two-time MVP, he set a league record for assists last season with 96. The Bandits have recently signed him to a new five-year contract which is the cornerstone on which to build another run at the title. Anything less than a trip to the NLL Cup Final will be considered a disappointment.
Five-time champions, they picked up four wins in five years from the 2009 to the 2013 season. They went 13-5 last season which is the best mark that they have set in a regular campaign but they couldn’t get past the Colorado Mammoth in the Western Finals.
Reigning MVP Christian Del Bianco is only the second player to win the MVP award as a goalie and he will be a key part for them to make a similar run. They stepped up when they had to in the second half of the season, going 6-1 down the stretch to finish with that record. A better start would help ease the pressure.
Western champions last season having only finished fourth in the West, closing out the regular season with a 9-9 record. They took the Bandits to a deciding game 3 in the NLL final and will need to avoid the losers hangover that happens in so many sports from that defeat.
To further complicate issues, Ryan Lee has a knee injury but this might just fire them up to rally around and play harder than ever. They won it all the season before last so they have to be a prime candidate to make it to the finals for the third consecutive campaign.
A tale of two halves last season, they got off to a dismal start, failing to win in their first seven games but they picked up victories in six straight in the second half to almost find a way back into the playoffs. It would have been a remarkable story if they had managed to find a berth.
Their season will be massively helped by a much stronger start while a repeat of their goalscoring exploits from last season would be a big plus when they were one of the most prolific in the entire NLL.
Finished 10-8 last season with identical records of 5-4 at home and on the road. That record on their own patch could do with being improved upon, with a first round exit from the playoffs in each of the last two seasons looming over their heads as they enter the season with an ageing group of skill players.
They scored 238 goals last season, the most in the Eastern Conference with only the San Diego Seals netting more, 240 as they led the West. Ryan Benesch will be 39 in January and Cody Jamieson is 36 so there is a little bit of a last chance saloon feel to their chances which will make a good start crucial.
5-13 in their maiden season, they were 4-5 at home which was respectable enough for a new franchise but they were awful on the road. The only win that they had on their travels was at the Albany FireWolves who were the worst team in the entire NLL.
With that experience under their belts, it is fair to expect them to make a step forward this season, especially as they were 4-5 at the halfway mark last time around before they fell apart in the second half of the season. Any small step forward will be a big plus for them and something to continue to build on for the future.
Seventh in the East in both 2022 and 2023, there was not much in the way of improvement in their third season in the NLL. There is hope for the future though as they have a couple of the best young players in the league.
Tyson Gibson was the number one overall pick in the 2019 draft with Jeff Teat following him to New York the following year. They both won rookie of the year so there is enough young talent with some experience who they can build a franchise around. 5-13 last year, they will be looking to make a big jump forward this season with Teat one of the favourites to win the NLL MVP.
The team from Texas were 7-11 in their first season, improving on that to make the playoffs last season with a 10-8 mark. They were unable to get past the Roughnecks in the playoffs but that experience should not be lost on them and make them hungry to get back there again.
It was a brick wall that they ran into made of Roughnecks in the latter stages of the season. They didn’t play them until game 16 but lost that and game 18 to the Calgary franchise before again in the playoffs which was their 19th game of the season. Three defeats in four games to the same team will have hurt. Game 18 will be their sole clash with the Roughnecks this season. Ring that one in the calendar, it should be a hell of a clash.
The NLL is based in the City of Brotherly Love and their Wings are tied as the most successful franchise in league history with six titles. They finished last season with a 9-9 record, beating the Rochester Knighthawks three times in their final five games but it was not quite enough to overhaul that team for a playoff spot.
Mitch Jones is an interesting returning player, signing a new deal in the summer after a season where he finished third overall in the league in points. Joe Resetarits is their other star, coming alive the last two seasons with 111 and 110 points in back to back years. Another campaign like that will be a huge help to the Wings.
They got off to an electric start last season, going 6-0 in the early going. They found that pace unsustainable and ended up 10-8 but will have enjoyed making a playoff berth. They allowed the most goals of any of the playoff teams in the regular season so that is something that they will need to address.
Thomas McConvey is the number one overall pick from the 2022 draft, with big things expected of the rookie. Fans will be hoping his addition will allow the team to play better to a later point in the season. They lost six of their last seven games last season including their playoff drubbing at the hands of the Bandits.
The top team in the West last season, they finished with a 14-4 record, the same as the Bandits who topped the East. The 240 goals that they scored was the best in the entire league which helped them to identical 7-2 records at home and on the road.
At the time, defeat in the opening round of the playoffs to the Western #4 seed Mammoth looked a disappointment but the Mammoth then went all the way to the deciding game of the finals against the Bandits. That’s the second postseason in a row the Mammoth have bested them so they will be desperate for some revenge having won the West both years.
8-10 last year, the Rush had a winning record at home and started the season 5-3 but they had a serious second half wobble that saw them lose five in a row and seven out of eight to allow the Mammoth into the playoffs in front of them.
They won five Western titles in a row from 2016 to 2020 after moving to Saskatchewan (won the 2015 title in Edmonton) but have had the same under .500 record the last two seasons. 2016 and 2018 saw them win championships so fans will be desperate to see that winning franchise come back but they do not look close to that level and another season of around .500 could be all they can do.
Six titles has the Rock tied for the top franchise in the league but you have to go back to 2011 for the last time they won the NLL title. They were the top defence in the league last season as well as scoring the third most goals but their form away from home held them back. They were 8-1 on their own patch but only 5-4 on their travels.
They will be desperate to get going this year, an 11-10 loss at the Bandits in their final game of the regular season winning the East for Buffalo and seeing the Rock finish second. That might have affected their confidence as they were thrashed twice by the same team in the Eastern Finals. The team needs to be stronger mentally this season as they have the class to go all the way.
Bottom of the Western conference last season with a 4-14 record, only the FireWolves had a worse record. They got off to a horrible start and were 1-9 after their first 10 games with the 247 goals that they conceded the worst of any team in the league.
Reid Bowering is their star player, the 2nd overall pick in the 2020 draft has made up into one of the very top defencemen in the league. He has made up into more of a transition man but whatever position, he is the key to them having a better season if they can find the players to go around him.
The Buffalo Bandits and Colorado Mammoths have faced one another in the NLL finals the last two seasons, lifting the trophy once each. Both look likely to be right up there again this season with the East looking the stronger of the two divisions. The Bandits look the most likely winner at about the +700 mark but it would be no surprise if the New York Riptide at about +1300 were to really make a big step forward this season and make a race of things in the East.