2018 Expansion Draft results: The expected and the unexpected

The 2018 NLL expansion draft was held on Monday. This was the first expansion draft in ten years so it was kind of new for many fans, but get used to it. This was also the first of at least three over the next few years as the league continues to expand. There were lots of predictions about what would happen in this draft; off the top of my head, I can think of at least three full mock drafts that were done, and there were probably more.

I made my own predictions back in May and got 6 right out of 18 picks, but in my defense I made my choices before the protected lists were announced by the teams. If I’d redone my predictions afterwards, I wouldn’t have predicted Curtis Knight or Eric Fannell to be chosen since they were protected, and I would have predicted Brett Hickey, Josh Currier, and Adrian Sorichetti since they weren’t.

Here’s the list of players chosen (and the team they were chosen from):

Round

Philadelphia

San Diego

1 Brett Hickey – TOR Turner Evans – TOR
2 Kiel Matisz – GEO Brett Mydske – SSK
3 Jordan Hall – GEO Adrian Sorichetti – SSK
4 Josh Currier – ROC Cam Holding – COL
5 Frank Brown – ROC Bryce Sweeting – COL
6 Anthony Joaquim – NE Frank Scigliano – CAL
7 Matt Rambo – NE Garrett MacIntosh – CAL
8 Vaughn Harris – BUF Casey Jackson – VAN
9 Davide DiRuscio – BUF Brendan Ranford – VAN

Immediately following the draft, there were two trades announced, both involving the Bandits:

  • The Seals sent Bryce Sweeting to the Bandits for Ethan Schott and a 2nd round pick in this fall’s entry draft
  • The Bandits sent Zac Reid to the Wings in exchange for the Wings selecting Vaughn Harris

That second one is interesting – I reasoned on Twitter that the Wings wanted Chase Fraser and the Bandits offered them Reid if they didn’t pick Fraser. This was confirmed.

The draft

Before the draft, NLL VP Brian Lemon announced the rules, most of which we already knew. He also said that each team would have two minutes to make their picks, and each could ask for one five-minute extension. But not one of the eighteen picks took as long as it took Lemon to read that rule. The draft was done so quickly that it was very unlikely that it was actually done live. It was probably done earlier in the day and the live stream was just the announcement of who was drafted, and they went back and forth to make it look like a live draft. But when you look at the players that were drafted and where they came from, there’s even more to it than that.

Brett Hickey (Photo: Scott Pierson)

All of the players available from western teams went to San Diego, and all players from eastern teams except Turner Evans went to Philly. Even more telling was the order in which they were announced: Toronto’s two players went first, one to Philly and one to San Diego. Then Philly’s next two picks were from Georgia and San Diego’s were from Saskatchewan. Then Philly took two from Rochester while the Seals took two from Colorado, then New England / Calgary, then Buffalo / Vancouver. Other than Toronto, each team’s two players were chosen in back-to-back picks by the same team, and the players from each division were chosen in the order their teams finished the 2018 regular season.

It seems likely that rather than an actual draft, the two GMs talked and together made up the lists of who gets who. The actual broadcast was them just announcing the results. Maybe they did the draft as intended, earlier in the day, then made some trades among themselves and decided to just skip announcing that part. If that’s the case, I’m OK with it. This is the NLL, so where a player lives very much matters with respect to where he wants to play. Some of the younger guys may not care and are happy to move around the country if they get traded. But there are lots of veteran players who have families and full-time jobs and are far more interested in playing half their games close to home. It makes total sense that the western players were picked by the western team and the eastern players were picked by the eastern team.

That said, if this is indeed how it was done, I’m a little annoyed that they dressed it up like a real draft. If the GMs got together and divided up the available players among them, following the two-players-per-team rule, why not just announce it that way?

The players taken

Given the quality of players available in this draft, it’s no surprise that both teams look pretty good to start with. The Wings have more firepower (Hickey, Matisz, Hall, Harris) while the Seals already have a strong defense (Mydske, Holding, Schott) and transition (MacIntosh, Sorichetti). If I had to pick a winner between the two teams, I’m not sure I could.

Both teams surprisingly picked players with zero NLL experience, Matt Rambo from New England heading to Philly (where he lives) and Brendan Ranford from Vancouver was picked by San Diego. Rambo is a field lacrosse star who was drafted by the Black Wolves last year but didn’t report. I have no idea if he even has any interest in the NLL; maybe he and Paul Rabil watch NLL games online together, saying “I could totally play there if I wanted to.” Ranford is a top prospect from BC but also plays pro hockey, and there was talk that he may play hockey in Europe next season. Perhaps that isn’t the case, or perhaps Patrick Merrill just decided to take a gamble anyway.

Only one UFA was chosen: Brett Mydske from the Rush. Merrill said that Mydske was just too good an option to pass up, and that’s hard to argue. Hopefully (for the Seals), they can sign Mydske to a contract before August 1st, at which time he’s free to sign with whoever he wants. They could also give him the franchise tag, which would prevent him from signing anywhere else but would also guarantee him 10% above the NLL’s maximum salary. Not a bad decision for Mydske to have: play in sunny San Diego and make max bucks, or choose which city you want to play in.

Davide DiRuscio (Photo: Bill Wippert)Philadelphia made a bit of a surprising pick for their goaltender: Davide DiRuscio, who’s been the Bandits backup goalie for a few years though he was injured all of last year. It was widely assumed that the two goalies picked in the draft were likely to be Frank Scigliano and one of Zach Higgins or Alex Buque, but we all picked the wrong Bandits goalie. In previous years DiRuscio has shown signs that he could someday be a starting goalie in the NLL, but has been inconsistent. He’s a big guy and only 26 and while it seems that forwards and defenders tend to peak around 27-28 years old, it can take goalies (those not named Christian, anyway) a couple of extra years to hit their stride. He may not be the next Dallas Eliuk next season but as an expansion team, the Wings are likely to be willing to wait a year or two.

The players lost

Each team lost two players from their roster, but some teams lost fewer than others. As mentioned, two players had never played an NLL game so from that point of view, New England and Vancouver got away a little easier than the other teams. The other guy Vancouver lost, Casey Jackson, has only played four games in the NLL so while he has a big upside for the future, the Vancouver team as it was yesterday is almost unchanged. Buffalo left three goalies unprotected and lost the one that’s recovering from injury. This may or may not be good news for the Bandits, as their goaltender situation was a little dicey last season and that hasn’t changed. They also lost defenders Ethan Schott and Zac Reid but gained another defender Bryce Sweeting. Colorado lost Sweeting and Holding but Holding didn’t play last season anyway, and they’ll be getting Dan Coates back next year, so they’re probably OK.

The teams that lost the most, in my opinion, are the Georgia Swarm and the Rochester Knighthawks. It’s not as though losing Matisz and Hall leaves the Swarm with no strong forwards, but they will be two tough players to replace. Both are versatile and can play forward or transition roles. As I mentioned in my expansion draft predictions article, Hall would be a good candidate for captain of the Wings, but Matisz has been around for a while too and it wouldn’t surprise me to see an A on his chest next season.

The Knighthawks lost Josh Currier, which was a certainty once it was discovered that he was unprotected, and Frank Brown, a defender (though listed as a forward in the Wings draft results article) with a ton of potential. Brown also played half of last year with the Swarm, so he has some familiarity with Matisz and Hall.

Now that the draft is over, I believe the rosters are now “unfrozen”, so teams are free to begin making trades once again. On August 1st, teams will be able to start signing free agents as well, and of course Philadelphia and San Diego will be busy there. They do have players now, but they each have less than half a team. It’s already been one of the most active off-seasons the NLL has seen in years and it ain’t over yet.

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The Blazers and the Sting: It’s drafty in here

The mid-to-late 2000’s were a tumultuous time in the NLL. Teams were popping up, moving, and vanishing all over the place. This all reached “peak weird” in about 2007-2008 and if you are new to the NLL, you might not know about all of these strange goings-on. Even if you’ve been following the league since then, some of this is still hard to believe.

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2018 Expansion Draft

I’ve been looking forward to the upcoming Expansion Draft for months. We get to see two teams get created from scratch, which is every armchair GM’s dream. Trades and free agent signings and such are always exciting, so imagine eighteen of them all on the same day! As I’m sure many others have done, I’ve made my list of which players I would protect if I were an NLL GM. Some are obvious, some might be controversial, and there are probably a few “What are you thinking?” picks in there too. Let me know watcha think!

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NLL team names

Recently, a Rush fan named Rob King tweeted an article suggestion:

Challenge accepted. There isn’t much of a story behind a few of them, but others are very interesting. I had a lot of fun researching this one, and I hope you enjoy these stories. I threw in a couple of “Did you knows” as I came across them.

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5 things you never knew about the NLL! #3 will shock you

I originally started this article as a joke, playing on the popularity of sites like Buzzfeed and their click-baity “you won’t believe what happened next”-type headlines. But then I wondered if I could come up with 5 actual things that many NLL fans didn’t know and I hadn’t used on @NLLFactOfTheDay (and that I don’t have to fit into 140 characters). Many people know that John Tavares the (former) lacrosse player is the uncle of John Tavares the hockey player. Many know that Josh Sanderson played for his father Terry (four times, actually: Rochester, Calgary, and Toronto twice). Many know that there are far more failed NLL teams than there are current teams.

But did you know these?

1. Before they secured nll.com, the league’s website was be-lax.com. (OK, I could have squeezed that one into a tweet.)

Gary Roberts

2. The Calgary Roughnecks once drafted former Calgary Flames star Gary Roberts (after he had retired from hockey). He said he was flattered and surprised, but did not report. The Bandits once drafted Gil Nieuwendyk, Joe’s brother and Derek Keenan’s brother-in-law. He never reported either.

3. The 2007 Championship final was hosted by the Arizona Sting rather than the top seed Rochester Knighthawks because of arena unavailability. A circus had booked the Blue Cross Arena and no alternative arena in Rochester could be found. A 2002 playoff game between the 5th place Washington Power and the 6th place Philadelphia Wings was held in Philadelphia because Washington decided they’d lose more money by hosting it than by travelling.

4. In 2001, the league accidentally posted an article on its web site announcing expansion to Montreal before the deal was actually done. The article was immediately pulled and the deal was put on hold. The Montreal Express joined the league a year later.

5. In 2007, the Arizona Sting went on hiatus and the players were loaned to other teams for a year (through a dispersal draft), the idea being that when Arizona returned the next season, they’d continue with the team they had before. After the 2008 season, the players were returned to the Sting, where the team promptly folded and they were dispersed again.


Did I fool you? One of those five is not true; I made it up. But which one?

The Wings fly away, Part 2

In Part 1, I looked at how great the Philadelphia Wings were from 1987 until their 2001 Championship. And make no mistake, they were great. Then I asked how a team as successful as the Wings could possibly fold or move.

To answer that, we need to realize that all of the great numbers I mentioned in that article were only for the first half (well, about 57% to be accurate) of the Wings tenure in Philadelphia. To say the rest of their tenure (2002-2014) was less successful would be quite the understatement.

Instead of being 42 games over .500, they were 30 games under at 82-112. They allowed 161 more goals than they scored. In 12 seasons, they made the playoffs three times (losing all three games) and finished over .500 only once. Their last playoff win will forever remain that 2001 Championship, thirteen seasons ago.

Things got so bad for the Wings that even the loyal fans started to abandon them. In the years following their sixth Championship, attendance dropped, rebounded again, and then dropped again. In 2005, it dropped over 14%, falling below 12,000 for the first time since their 1987 debut. 2008 saw a little rebound once again but after that it dropped between 5 and 10% every year. In the last fourteen years of the team’s existence (starting the year before their last Championship), the Wings reported year-over-year attendance increases only three times.

In 2014, their final year in the league, the Wings averaged a paltry 6,864 fans per game. Only the Vancouver Stealth drew fewer. If your attendance is being compared to that of the Stealth (whether Vancouver, Washington, or San Jose), you’re in trouble.

WingsAttendance

It’s not that ownership didn’t try. The Wings had more rebuilds than Joan Rivers’ face. After Marechek, Bergey, and Ratcliffe it was supposed to be Sean Greenhalgh, Athan Iannucci, and Merrick Thomson. But Greenhalgh was sent to Buffalo, concussions ended Thomson’s career early, and Nooch missed almost two entire seasons with injuries. Kyle Wailes scored 50+ points in 2009 and 2010 and never played again. The Dan Dawson experiment got them to the playoffs but no further than the first round before he was off to Rochester. Brodie Merrill has played well since coming to the Wings in 2012 but the price for landing him was steep – Iannucci, Alex Turner, Brodie McDonald, and three first round draft picks, one of which won’t happen until this coming fall.

They tried having a morning game on a Friday. I’m not sure if this was a conscious decision and they were trying to draw school trips (as it was advertised) or if it was required because of arena availability. It ended up as a dismal failure, drawing the lowest crowd (5139) in Wings history. They tried putting the players’ Twitter handles on their uniforms to draw attention. It did, but not from anyone outside of the lacrosse world, or at least not for more than a few seconds.

They tried rebranding themselves as “America’s team”, drafting and signing lots of American-born players. Most of these guys were field players who had played very little or no indoor lacrosse, and this strategy had varying degrees of success. Some guys like Drew Westervelt took to the game and became strong indoor players, while others like Ned Crotty never saw the same level of success indoors that they had seen outdoors. In 2014, this plan was further scuttled by a number of players including Crotty, Paul Rabil, and Brendan Mundorf bailing on the team sitting out the season to prepare for the World Field Championships.

Can we find someone to blame for the failure of the Wings? Ownership? Players? Fans? Is there really so much competition for your entertainment dollar in Philadelphia that the Wings can no longer compete? Well, when you only play 3 playoff games in twelve years (and lose them all), it’s hard to convince people to continue paying money to watch your team (unless you’re the Toronto Maple Leafs, but they’re a huge anomaly in the world of sports). You obviously can’t blame the fans who kept going to games, and considering the lack of on-floor success over the last twelve years, it’s also pretty tough to blame the ones who stopped.

If we must blame someone, I suppose it’ll have to be ownership, since they’re the top of the food chain and therefore ultimately responsible. But playing the blame game really doesn’t buy us anything. It doesn’t bring the Wings back, and it doesn’t make losing them any easier for fans of the league, least of all the Philly fans.

The Philadelphia Wings were the cornerstone of the NLL for half of its existence. They were so good for so long and were as close to being a solid fixture in a city’s sports scene as the NLL has ever seen. It’s unfortunate that we now have to add Philadelphia to the long list of cities in which the NLL ultimately failed.

The Wings fly away, Pt. 1

Wings

The 2015 NLL season will not include the Philadelphia Wings. For longtime fans of the league, this is unfathomable. It’s the NHL without the Leafs or Canadiens. It’s the American League without the Yankees. It’s the NFL without the Packers. After 28 seasons, the franchise is moving, though we don’t yet know where. It’s possible that they’ll find a new home fairly close to their old one but even if they do, it won’t be the same.

Starting in 1987, they were outstanding. In their first sixteen seasons, they missed the playoffs once, finished under .500 only three times, and appeared in nine Championship finals, winning six of them. They won 100 games while only losing 58, and they scored 316 more goals than they allowed. They had future Hall-of-Famers all over the place: Gary and Paul Gait, Tom Marechek, Tony Resch, Dallas Eliuk, and owners Mike French, Russ Cline, and Chris Fritz. In 2001 they won their sixth Championship, the same number (at the time) as the Rock, Bandits, and Knighthawks combined.

The Wings had arguably the most loyal fans in the league. In 1987, the league’s inaugural season, their average attendance was 10,972 when the other three teams in the league had averages under 8,000. Their average attendance increased each of the next four years, and stayed above 13,000 for sixteen straight seasons from 1989 to 2004.

So how is it possible that a team that successful could ever fold or move? We’ll get into that in part 2.