The Athan Iannucci era ended in Edmonton the other day. The stats: zeroes across the board. But the Washington Stealth don’t care about that, they’re just concerned with the more important number associated with Iannucci: 71, the record-setting number of goals he scored in 2008 when he was league MVP. This number was so intriguing to the Stealth that they were willing to give up a player who has been called “the best lacrosse player in the world”, Paul Rabil. That quote was referring to field lacrosse, not box, but Rabil is no slouch in the indoor game either. But who really wins this trade?
After being sent to Edmonton in the biggest trade of the last off-season, Athan Iannucci never reported to the Rush because he never signed a contract. The details of the negotiations were never released, but there were rumours that Nooch was asking for top dollar on a multi-year contract. Iannucci himself said that this wasn’t the case and that there would be players in the league making double what he was asking for. Rush owner Bruce Urban said that what Iannucci was asking for, specifically in the second year, was not allowed by the CBA. Regardless, the Rush started the season without Nooch and it quickly became clear that he was unlikely to suit up for them.
I remember watching Iannucci in a playoff game in Buffalo during his 2008 MVP season. He just had a presence when he was on the floor. You knew that every defender was watching him and yet it seemed that he could score at will anyway. The only other player I’ve seen with that level of dominance is John Grant. But Grant has kept up that dominance for a decade, and this season it seems stronger than ever. Iannucci, on the other hand, had injury problems and only played 10 games in the 2009 season and missed 2010 entirely. He returned last year, apparently back to full health, but wasn’t nearly as dominant, only racking up 29 goals and 61 points in 13 games. Neil Stevens from Lacrosse Magazine points out that he only played in one playoff game, a loss, in his “five years with Philadelphia” (which was really four because of the year he didn’t play) but that’s hardly Iannucci’s fault – the Wings had sucked for years before Nooch got there, and he did score four goals in that one playoff game.
Dominance aside, Iannucci’s numbers make him look like the prototypical “ball hog” during his MVP season – he only had 29 assists to go with his 71 goals. John Grant, on the other hand, has had more assists than goals in 9 of his 11 NLL seasons. Now Iannucci didn’t have Shawn Williams, Scott and Shawn Evans, Cory Bomberry, and Craig Point to pass to in Philadelphia, so perhaps that’s an unfair comparison. But Bob Chavez at IL Indoor recently ranked Iannucci as the 16th best player in the league saying that, in short, he’s back. In 15 playoff games with the Langley Thunder this past summer, Nooch picked up 45 points, helping the Thunder to their first Mann Cup appearance. It would not surprise me if Stealth GM Doug Locker was at one or more of those games, and liked what he saw.
Paul Rabil has been one of the best transition players in the NLL for three years. He is, as I said, widely known as one of the best field lacrosse players in the world – he’s been named MLL MVP twice, MLL Offensive Player of the Year twice, and MVP of the World Lacrosse Championship in 2010. His shot has been clocked at a blistering 111 mph. He was a big part of Washington’s 2010 and 2011 NLL Championship appearances, and seemed to be one of the faces of the Stealth franchise along with Rhys Duch and Lewis Ratcliff. Given his offensive success in the MLL, he can obviously be a scoring threat, but he’s listed as a transition player and that’s how he’s primarily been used.
But Washington’s problem this year is not transition, it’s offense. Even including Rabil, they have three players with more than 10 points after five games – and one of those three only has 11. Tyler Richards, the starting goalie, is tied for 7th on the team in points. Unless they convert Rabil to be a full-time forward, he can only have so much of an impact. Iannucci, on the other hand, is pure offense. I honestly don’t know how good of a defensive player he is, and with the new rules promoting transition, it’s more likely than in previous years that he’ll be caught on the floor and have to play some defense – this is true for all offensive players, not just Nooch.
On the assumption that Iannucci is average defensively (i.e. not a superstar but not a pylon either), it would seem that the Stealth are willing to give up some transition and defense for a ton of offense, which is what they need. The Rush gain a great transition player while giving up nobody from their starting roster. There are still rumours that Rabil is not finished being moved, and that he may come even further east, in which case he’s trade bait, and the Rush will still get something significant for him. It’s hard to say that they got Rabil for free though, even if Iannucci never played for them, considering they did give up Brodie Merrill to get Iannucci. The Rush also receive a first-round draft pick for next year from the Stealth, while Washington gets the Rush’s second round pick. Note that this brings the total count of first round draft picks Edmonton has received for Brodie up to four (over the next three years).
I think the Stealth did improve in an area that they absolutely had to improve in, and so this was a pretty good move for them. I’d have to call Edmonton the winner though, considering they got one of the most exciting and dynamic players in the game, gave up nothing from the roster that played their first four games, and upgraded a second round pick to a first. As with all trades though, we’ll have to revisit this after the season ends, or even a year or two down the road, and see how it really played out.