Field players: Thinking inside the box

The winds of change might be sweeping over the lacrosse scene this winter, affecting not only the NLL but the MLL too. OK, that’s a little melodramatic, but there have been some significant signings over the past month or so. A few NLL teams have signed a number of MLL players to contracts and some of those players seem excited to join the NLL. This is not unprecedented, but it does seem to be reversing a trend.

There have been players who’ve played in both the MLL and NLL for many years. The roster of the inaugural Toronto Nationals back in 2009 looked like an NLL All-Star team. Some guys like Brodie Merrill, John Grant, and Kevin Crowley have played in both leagues every year, while others like Jesse Gamble, Kiel Matisz, and Chad Tutton were listed on MLL rosters this past year but did not play. There have also been players who were primarily MLL guys but played in the NLL too, guys like Paul Rabil, Ned Crotty, Max Seibald, Brendan Mundorf, and Connor Martin. Some were successful indoors, others weren’t. Rabil scored 161 points in 68 games over 5 seasons and won a Championship with the Stealth, while Connor Martin’s NLL career consisted of 6 games with the Mammoth, picking up 2 goals and no assists ā€“ though his backflip off the boards after his first was memorable. None of these guys has played in the NLL since 2013.

Paul Rabil with the Stealth

But the NLL and MLL seasons overlap, and to make matters worse for players who want to play in both leagues, the NLL season has become longer over the past few years. First they expanded the regular season from 16 to 18 games and then they also extended the playoffs. As a result, NLL players end up missing the beginning of the MLL season. In 2011, Kevin Crowley went to the NLL finals with the Toronto Rock and missed at least a month of MLL games.

So when it was announced in July that the Toronto Rock had traded a draft pick to the Black Wolves for the rights to Paul Rabil, it seemed like a weird move. Why bother trading for someone who’s already been in the league and has seemingly given up on it? But when Rabil acknowledged the trade and didn’t immediately say “yeah, not gonna happen”, a few eyebrows were raised. Could he actually report to camp and suit up for the Rock? Rabil is obviously a very skilled player but I don’t think that was even the main reason the Rock went after him. He’s probably the most famous lacrosse player in North America so what he brings to the team in attention off the floor may be worth just as much as what he brings on the floor.

Almost three months later, the New England Black Wolves drafted Myles Jones in the fourth round. Jones went first overall in the MLL draft earlier this year and is regarded as the steal of the (NLL) draft ā€“ if he plays. It sounds like this is unlikely (or he would have gone earlier) but it got people talking about MLL players in the NLL again.

Tom SchreiberBut then the bigger news came down early in October. The Rock signed MLL stars Tom Schreiber and Kieran McArdle to one-year contracts and both have gone on the record as “looking forward to the challenge“. And these aren’t just MLL guys. These are really good MLL guys. McArdle was Rookie of the Year in 2014 and led the Florida Launch in scoring in 2016, finishing 6th in the league. Schreiber led the Ohio Machine in scoring, finished 3rd in the league, and was named league MVP. For comparison’s sake, Callum Crawford was 3rd in league scoring last year with 115 points and Mark Matthews was 6th with 109. This is not exactly the same since Schreiber and McArdle have no box experience but if you’re that good at field lacrosse, you’re unlikely to suck at box.

The same day, the Buffalo Bandits announced that they had signed Blaze Riorden, another MLL player. This one’s a little weird in that Riorden is a field goalie but was signed by the Bandits as a forward. Both Matt Vinc and Anthony Cosmo are goalies in box but not field, so there’s no reason Riorden couldn’t do things the other way around. And he’s familiar with the other end of the floor field too; here’s some (dizzying) video of Riorden the goalie scoring a goal.

Ten days after signing Schreiber and McArdle, the Rock signed McArdle’s Florida Launch teammate Connor Buczek. Buczek finished second in scoring on the Launch this past year and just like Schreiber and McArdle, he’s said that he’s looking forward to playing in the NLL.

For me, the big deal here isn’t that NLL teams are signing MLL stars. That’s happened before. But after the last three years where many MLL players have shied away from the NLL, the big deal is that now they’re not. Rabil hasn’t said whether or not he’ll report but hasn’t ruled out the possibility, at least not publicly. I haven’t heard anything from Riorden but the others have said that they are looking forward to it.

I have to think that if more MLL players are interested in playing in the NLL, this is good for both leagues. More players will start asking the two leagues to work together to make it easier, and eventually the leagues will have no choice but to work something out. But that possibility is a whole other kettle of fish ā€“ or can of worms. I’ll discuss that in a future article.

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