June 1, 2017 by Nathan Jesson in Analysis, Opinion with 0 comments
Last August, on the Friday night before the AUDL semifinals at Championship Weekend, the AUDL hosted a game broadcast by Evan Lepler featuring some of the best players in the league, with all stars like Travis Carpenter and Justin Allen suiting up against a team featuring the likes of Ben Jagt and Patrick Baylis. It was the closest thing the league has produced to an all-star game. Of course, it wasn’t a true all star game: fans paid for the experience to play at Breese Stevens with AUDL players under AUDL rules.
But after watching that game, it was hard not to think about how much fun it would be to watch a real AUDL all-star game. What if we got to see Justin Norden quarterback an offense that also featured Cassidy Rasmussen and Mark Burton? Alan Kolick could throw to players like Cam Harris and Jeff Babbitt. Justin Allen and Jay Froude could play on the same D-line. Who wouldn’t want to watch that?
With a league that has so little crossover play between divisions, this game would feel like it had some real stakes because it could potentially settle some arguments about which division is the best and which can’t measure up. You think players in the Midwest haven’t noticed when commentators say things like “If Nashville played in the Midwest division, they might go .500.” Not a chance. Plus, there’s always the added drama of heated rivals suiting up to play together. Empire and Breeze players don’t usually seem like they get along on the field, but they’d have to at least try in this game. Same for Cannons players and everyone else in the South.
Is this idea practical? No, not really. Will it happen this year? No, it won’t. But would it be fun to watch? Absolutely. And what might be even more fun is speculating on the starting seven for each division, not based on who the best player is but on who is having the best season. Are there any role players that have been playing out of their mind into the starting lineup? Any perennial all stars getting snubbed? With the AUDL at about the halfway point for most teams, it seems like a great time to name a starting line for each division.
Josh Klane (Minnesota)
Ryan Osgar (Minnesota)
Greg Cousins (Minnesota)
Travis Carpenter (Indianapolis)
Pawel Janas (Chicago)
Kevin Pettit-Scantling (Madison)
Pat Earles (Pittsburgh)
With apologies to: Max Thorne, Andrew Meshnick, and Rick Gross
The Midwest has been referred to as the weakest division in the league for the last few seasons. Madison has been viewed as having beat a bunch of pretenders to coast into the final four. But this year, Minnesota has started the season 7-0. Josh Klane, Ryan Osgar, and Greg Cousins have led a Wind Chill offensive attack that is far more versatile and efficient than in previous years. Klane’s hucking ability opens up the field for the Wind Chill, giving everyone more space to operate. It’s no surprise that Osgar and Cousins have thrived with him as the point guard. Klane already has 34 assists and 321 completions with a 93% completion rate, impressive for a handler that is asked to make big yardage throws. Osgar and Cousins are both getting the goal or assist on over 25% of the points they play, with Cousins on pace to break the 50 goal mark and Osgar on pace for a 40-40 season.
Having three players from one team on the starting seven, especially a team that lost in the first round of the playoffs last year, may seem like a stretch. But the Wind Chill have looked better than any other team in the division so far. The defense for this team is much improved, too, but there’s not one particular player that stands out amongst the rest from that unit. Minnesota has had a weaker schedule than most other top contenders but the Wind Chill have won every game they’ve played and few if any have ever been in doubt late in the fourth quarter.
The Indianapolis AlleyCats are 1-5, but don’t place any blame on Travis Carpenter. He leads Indianapolis in points played, appearing on the field 24 more points than the next person. He’s the only player on the team to have logged at least 60 points for both the offense and defense, with 99 points played on the o-line and 78 on the d-line. And the AlleyCats are much better when he’s on the field. He can drop back and handle. He can be the primary cutter. He can play defense and take the toughest matchup. Indianapolis converts breaks 32% of the time with Carpenter on the field, a rate just as good as the Radicals, and 6% better than the AlleyCats’ average. The offense is better too, converting 65% of the time compared to just 60% without him. Indianapolis is better than its 1-5 record shows; if and when they turn it around, Carpenter will no doubt be a big part of it.
The Chicago Wildfire are another team that is struggling, but Pawel Janas has had a great season for them so far. Playing in the often unforgiving unpredictable wind at Lane Tech Stadium in Chicago, Janas has completed 410 passes at a 92% clip. He leads the Wildfire with 29 assists, 19 more than the next person. Quite frankly it’s difficult to imagine what the Chicago offense would look like without him this year; he’s been that important. He’s had a particularly impressive connection with Michael Pardo, who’s having a strong season himself. 12 of Janas’ 29 assists have been caught by Pardo. Chicago has shown some potential so far, most notably with two very close losses in Madison. There’s a chance Janas can help salvage this season and Chicago can improve on last year’s 4-10 record.
Kevin Pettit-Scantling’s raw numbers don’t jump off the page the way they do with some other players on this Midwest starting line. He has just six assists and ten goals so far this season. But he has become on of Madison’s most valuable players on its vaunted defensive line. Pettit-Scantling has 10 blocks so far this season, and some of them have been jaw-dropping. And while his primary value comes from his defense, his offense has improved this year too. Pettit-Scantling has been a cog in the Madison defense for years, but in 2017, he has really started to stand out.
Pat Earles may not have the most efficient stat-friendly game given how much he is asked to do for Pittsburgh. He racks up the assists, leading Pittsburgh with 24, but his 89% completion rate is not up to par with most players on these teams. That is due to what Earles is asked to accomplish in leading the Pittsburgh offense, often finding himself in difficult spots. Without him, though, the Pittsburgh offense would become far too predictable and stagnant. As it is, the Thunderbirds actually have the most efficient offense in the division, converting 67% of the time, 1% better than Minnesota. Earles is a big reason why.
Tyler Monroe (DC)
Rowan McDonnell (DC)
Alan Kolick (DC)
Cameron Harris (Toronto)
Andrew Carroll (Toronto)
Jeff Babbitt (New York)
Alec Arsenault (Ottawa)
With apologies to: Sean Mott, Antoine Genest, and Taylor Brooks
DC has yet to drop a game at home and is coming off a big win in New York this past weekend. The Breeze entered into the season as something of an afterthought in the East after many of their well known stars departed. Players like Tyler Monroe and Rowan McDonnell had to step up, and they undoubtedly have. Monroe has only played in five of seven games so far, but he already has 22 assists and 19 goals, getting the score on a flat out ridiculous 39% of the points he has played. The DC offense converts a solid 68% of their points into scores normally; when Monroe is on the field that number jumps up to 78%. And as great as Monroe has been on offense, McDonnell has been just as essential on defense. Playing about two thirds of his time on D, he has registered 11 blocks, over 100 completions, and 19 assists to go along with a 94% completion rate. McDonnell has been named AUDL Defensive Player of the Week once already; it would be no surprise for him to get the honor another time before the season ends.
Of course, as much as some of the relatively new faces for DC have been difference makers, some familiar ones are having good seasons too. Alan Kolick has often played the role of primary cutter this season for the Breeze, and has looked good doing it. The Breeze offense hasn’t missed a beat from 2016. If anything, it has looked better. Kolick crossing over from the defense after the departures has been a big reason why.
At some point every year, fans, commentators, or others start to doubt the Toronto Rush. For some reason or another, we convince ourselves that this is the year that Toronto falls off. That the time has finally come that Toronto will not successfully defend its crown as the top team in the East. And every year, Toronto wins the Division. Yes they dropped a game in DC, by a lot. And yes, they lost a game to Montreal. Like they do, literally every year. There’s really no reason to believe that the Rush won’t win the East again this year, and Toronto has players like Cameron Harris and Andrew Carroll to thank for that.
Harris has been his normal do-it-all self and is the most well rounded player in Toronto, if not the Division. Halfway through the season, he has 19 assists and 21 goals and could end up being a dark horse MVP candidate if Toronto closes the season on top of the standings in the East. Andrew Carroll is a fairly recent convert to the Toronto offense, after spending years as one of its best defensive players. He has not disappointed. Carroll is leading the team in goals with 23 and is unbelievably quick. He’ll also be heading to Poland to play with Team Canada, so I’d say he’s having a good year.
There is really nothing but well worn superlatives to describe Jeff Babbitt’s game. He already has over 20 goals and 20 blocks, still on pace to join the kind of 40-40 club that he would be the only member of in AUDL history, apart from Jonathan “Goose” Helton, who accomplished it in the era of the 16 game regular season in 2012, when the competition was nowhere near this stiff. Babbitt has registered a block on 13% of the points he has played. For some perspective, that’s about 6% better than DC’s McDonnell, a tremendous defensive player in his own right. I suppose one could critique Babbitt for not being a threat with the disc in his hands, and it’s true that he only has two assists. But there’s something to be said for a great player that knows his role. With 61 completions. Babbitt has only two throwaways. New York has underachieved. Jeff Babbitt has not.
Who is Alec Arsenault? That’s a fair question, as even in AUDL circles, he’s not exactly a well known name. But Arsenault has been great for Ottawa so far, though the Outlaws have played only four games. But Arsenault already has 26 goals and seven assists to his name, scoring on 31% of the points he plays. With key downfield players from 2016 like Mike Lee and Karl Loiseau having departed Ottawa, there was a vacuum to be filled on the team. Arsenault has done a great job doing so thus far. Ottawa is 2-2 but its offense has been on par with DC’s so far this season. With New York struggling, the playoff window is definitely open for Ottawa, and with help from Arsenault ,it looks like a realistic goal.
Justin Norden (San Jose)
Jackson Stearns (San Jose)
Cassidy Rasmussen (San Francisco)
Antoine Davis (San Francisco)
Mark Burton (Seattle)
Hunter Corbett (San Diego)
Mark Elbogen (Los Angeles)
With apologies to: Marcelo Sanchez, Chuck Cao, Lucas Dallmann, and Eric Lissner
It’s unbelievable the kind of season Justin Norden is having. Literally, if you would have told me what his statistics would be at this point in the season, how good the San Jose offense would be, and what their record would be, there is a 0% chance I would have believed you. Norden has 43 assists and 401 completions, scoring on 31% of the points he has played. That’s an absolutely unreal number for a handler, especially one who completes 95% of his passes. He has twice been named AUDL Player of the Week, and any halfway point conversation of MVP candidates has to include him. He does not have the flashiest game. He doesn’t give and go with the style of Dylan Freechild, or rip hucks with the force of Dylan Tunnell. He just ensures that it gets to the right person, and nobody in the league has done a better job of that in 2017.
Of course Norden wouldn’t succeed if he didn’t have good players to throw the disc to. And after Sean Ham departed the Spiders this past offseason, the same Sean Ham who scored a total of 108 goals in 2015 and 2016, it was fair to question whether or not anyone could ably step into that role. Jackson Stearns has. Stearns has 30 goals this season, and has often saved his best for the biggest games. He opened the season with a five assist, four goal performance in a losing effort in San Francisco. The next week he scored seven goals to help the Spiders get the upset over the FlameThrowers. The Spiders offense is definitely more than a two person game — the disc goes through many people’s hands — but Norden and Stearns have been absolutely vital for San Jose this season.
And while San Jose may have gotten the better of San Francisco once, given that Cassidy Rasmussen plays for the FlameThrowers it may not be wise to bet against San Francisco in their next game. As good as Norden has been, Rasmussen has been better. He already has 38 assists and 17 goals, leading the most efficient offense in the division. Rasmussen is not on the World Games roster, nor was he one of the 20 finalists, but he has looked like the best player in the AUDL this season. There’s not a lot more to say that hasn’t already been said about him, this guy can do it all.
One player on the FlameThrowers that doesn’t have nearly as many accolades as Rasmussen but that has still made a big impact this season is Antoine Davis. Davis has 14 blocks for San Francisco, leading the team with six more than the player with the second-most. It’d be easy to try to pigeon hole him merely as a guy that gets blocks and scores a few goals, but Davis has nine assists to go with his 17 goals, plus a 93% completion rate. Davis has been a highlight machine and shows no signs of slowing down.
Mark Burton just makes plays. If you were to see him warm up, time his 40, or watch him in a throwing competition, you may not think he was special compared to other players at this level. Coming into the season, there was reason to doubt whether or not he could put up the same numbers he had in the past when he wasn’t surrounded by the top players from Sockeye. But Burton is a wizard on offense no matter who he is on a team with, in a totally different way than someone like Justin Norden. Norden’s game on offense is often serene. There is an elegance to it. Mark Burton is more direct. Open player on the break side? No hesitation before throwing a hammer that gets there in no time. Sloppy huck to the area Burton is in while he’s surrounded by bigger defenders? No matter. Somehow he will manage to come down with the disc. In Seattle’s win over San Francisco, Burton had two goals and nine assists. He had eight assists in the game against San Jose. He puts up eye popping numbers every single game.
Hunter Corbett switched sides in the Southern California rivalry, joining San Diego after spending two seasons with Los Angeles. Primarily a defensive player in his time with the Aviators, Corbett has been running the show on offense in San Diego. The Growlers are just 2-5 but Corbett has 25 assists and 20 goals. He’s also been something of an iron man the last couple years, appearing in all seven San Diego games last year after playing in every regular season game and playoff game for the Aviators in 2016.
Mark Elbogen is no stranger to lists like this. Just last year he made 1st Team All-AUDL. This year Elbogen hasn’t quite been at that level but he’s produced nonetheless. He’s scored on 33% of the points he’s played, better than any other West all-star on this list not named Mark Burton. The 13 assists and 22 goals are nice, but Elbogen has also benefitted from a very underrated handler core. Tim Beatty, Eli Friedman, Eric Lissner, and Allen Lai have all played big parts in making Elbogen look so good. Los Angeles is coming off a tough loss to San Diego and is currently on the outside looking in of the top three spots in the West. Last year, this team ended the season on a ridiculous hot streak. If it happens again, count on Elbogen to light up the rest of the West along the way.
Dylan Freechild (Dallas)
Jay Froude (Dallas)
Dalton Smith (Dallas)
Jeremy Langdon (Jacksonville)
Bobby Ley (Jacksonville)
Justin Allen (Raleigh)
Jon Nethercutt (Raleigh)
With apologies to: Abe Coffin, Jimmy Mickle, Cole Sullivan, Dylan Tunnell, Mischa Freystaetter
It is almost silly how stacked the South is with talent. Look at the snub list: those players are all-stars in any other division. The snub list isn’t even big enough, honestly; there are so many players in the South that merit consideration. And while only three teams are represented in the starting seven, these are three teams that are clearly the class of the division. Raleigh, Dallas, and Jacksonville have yet to lose a single game to any of Atlanta, Austin, and Nashville. That will most likely change at some point but the fact that it’s a reasonable possibility that it won’t speaks to how good the top three are.
Dylan Freechild has missed three games, but in the six he has appeared in, he has taken over. Last year he primarily played defense, and this year he has shifted over to the offense. No surprise here, but it has been a smooth transition. Freechild already has 27 assists and 24 goals while completing 95% of his passes. He’s got a Player of the Week award under his belt, and while the games he’s missed so far along with World Games commitments will most likely keep him out of the MVP conversation, it doesn’t take anything away from the season he’s having.
Jay Froude has been a beast this season. After spending a couple seasons as probably the most underrated Madison Radical, Froude has been unleashed in Dallas, and it has been a sight to see. Whether they are big highlight defensive plays or just putting himself in the right place at the right time, Froude has been maybe the best defensive player in the AUDL. Statistics only tell part of the story, though they do reflect well on Froude: he leads the team with 20 blocks and 33 goals.
Dalton Smith played a relatively small role for the Dallas Roughnecks last year; 20 players logged more playing time than he did. In his role he played well, but there were not many moments when he was called on to lead the team. That has changed this year. While Smith still has spent a majority of his time on defense, he leads the Roughnecks in points played and has been a big part of their success. Smith has 32 assists and is coming off an eight assist, four goal performance two weeks ago to take down a resilient Atlanta Hustle team. Smith may not end up on the All-Division team at the end of the year but the output and production he’s had for the Roughnecks so far is undeniable.
The Jacksonville Cannons are much improved this year, and it’s not hard to figure out why. They’ve brought in a strong contingent of new players, and returning players have stepped into different roles in a big way. Jeremy Langdon has come over from the Roughnecks and has been outstanding. With 23 assists and 36 goals, Langdon has been a huge part of the most improved offense in the South. With Langdon on board, the Jacksonville offense has a cutter that can open up the field with his throws, a role they lacked last season.
Bobby Ley is a returner from 2016, though he only played seven games last year. Although he played well, it often felt like he was trying to figure out what his role should be in an offense so dominated by Cole Sullivan, Mischa Freystaetter, and Stephen Poulos. This year, Ley has had no problems fitting in and has also appeared in every game thus far. His statistics are very similar to Sullivan’s, but Ley’s step up this season is a big reason why the Jacksonville offense is the second most efficient in the Division, trailing only Dallas.
The Raleigh Flyers are much improved this year, and it’s largely because of their depth. Players 11-20 on the roster are much stronger than they were last year, so the all stars they do have don’t have the same kind of numbers that some others do. Except for Jon Nethercutt, who already has 41 assists halfway into the season. Nethercutt has a bevy of terrific receivers to throw to: Goose Helton, Jacob Fairfax, Matt Bode, and Terrence Mitchell all make appealing targets. But without Nethercutt, it’s tough to see the Flyers taking down Dallas, or at least not with as much style and oomph as they did it with. In that game, Nethercutt had an absurd 13 assists, 50 completions, and just one throwaway.
A player that played on offense for Raleigh the last couple years that shifted primarily over to defense this year is Justin Allen. His 22 assists and 13 goals are good, no doubt, though not on pace for the numbers he put up last season, when he had 43 assists and 45 goals. Despite that, Allen is undoubtedly enjoying a better season this year. Last season, Allen completed just 86% of his passes, often forcing the issue without gaining much from it. This season Allen is completing 95% of his passes, a hugely positive swing. The Raleigh defense greatly benefits from his presence as well: he has registered ten blocks so far.
The South team is definitely the favorite in this hypothetical throwdown, but really it would be the viewer that would win. The one time that this idea could approach being practical is in that same Friday night of Championship Weekend, though that would mean the players that qualified for the final four wouldn’t participate, taking some of the luster off the idea.
For now it’s still just a fun exercise, but given the recent expansion of cross division play and that AUDL owners clearly don’t mind risking capital on an idea if they think it will draw attention, who knows? Maybe come 2020 the fans will be voting to determine the starting lineups and we can all gripe about the decisions they make.