Men's Lacrosse

Protected Roster: Surprises, Analysis and Next Steps...

Constructing 10- or 12-man rosters for expansion is a task that involves weighing endless variables about 23 players. Talent plays a large role. Age and salary is also considered. Some teams factor in the philosophy of Atlanta Blaze general manager John Tucker to determine whom he would be least prone to select. Others do not want to risk a thing, protecting the 12 players who fit their system the best.

No two players have the same situation. There are players who work on Wall Street and players who coach lacrosse. Among those who coach, there are college coaches, high school coaches and those who work on the camp circuit. Travel determines a player’s value, but even that consists of more variables than distance alone. Is a player who lives across the country and is able to travel mid-week more or less convenient than a player who lives in your team’s city but works Monday through Friday?

Eighty-eight phone calls were made this week from coaches to unprotected players. All of the variables mentioned above were considered during that process. Protecting the 12 players whose on-field talent, availability and role best suits the team’s identity was all coaches and general managers could do. Now each team must utilize the expansion, supplemental and collegiate drafts to round out its roster.

Cue the chaos -- while Atlanta currently holds all 15 expansion draft picks, any team can trade its way into the draft. If three players from the same team are selected, then that team has the opportunity to reclaim one player and one more player for each subsequent selection from their team until Atlanta selects the maximum amount (six) of players from a single team. Here’s where each team stands at the moment and what each team needs to focus on this offseason.

 

Boston Cannons

Protected:  Brent Adams, Kevin Buchanan, Davey Emala, John Glesener, Josh Hawkins, Will Manny, Scott McWilliams, Joe Nardella, Scott Ratliff, Max Seibald, Wells Stanwick, Chad Wiedmaier

Unprotected:  Mitch Belisle, Martin Bowes, Craig Bunker, Jordan Burke, Rob Emery, Tyler German, Adam Ghitelman, Brodie Merrill, Jack Murphy, Ryan Tucker, Ryan Young

Biggest Surprise: Neglecting to keep a goalie was a surprising yet strategic move by the Cannons. No team had an easy time trimming its roster down to 12 players, but the Cannons may have had the toughest. Their team was built upon the idea of running as many athletic, two-way midfielders as possible -- and it was built by John Tucker, the head coach and general manager of the Atlanta Blaze.

In order to keep as many of those athletic position players away from Tucker, the Cannons sent three goalies (Jordan Burke, Adam Ghitelman and Jack Murphy) to the player pool. Both Jordan Burke and Adam Ghitelman saw significant time for Tucker in 2015. History indicates that Tucker values Burke and Ghitelman roughly equally; instead of choosing which goalie Tucker can have, the Cannons decided to give him the choice. Essentially, Boston deferred the coin toss to the second half, which allowed them to protect an extra position player.

Offseason Priority: Defensive experience was a strength of the Cannons during their 2015 run. If Mitch Belisle and/or Brodie Merrill are claimed in the expansion draft, then that would be missing down low. Chad Wiedmaier is an excellent on-ball defender. Scott Ratliff plays a huge role between the arcs and in transition. But without Belisle and Merrill, the Cannons would lose two smart veterans at close defense. Their slides and fills are nearly flawless. Having a leadership presence who can talk the team through in-game adjustments and slide packages is a luxury; having savvy, high-IQ close defenders is a necessity.

 

Charlotte Hounds

Protected:  Mike Chanenchuk, Kevin Crowley, Kevin Cunningham, Kevin Drew, Michael Ehrhardt, Ryan Flanagan, Brendan Fowler, John Haus, Will Haus, Joey Sankey, Brett Schmidt, Garrett Thul

Unprotected:  Pierce Bassett, Shamel Bratton, Joe Cinosky, Thomas DeNapoli, Terry Kimener, Pat Laconi, Henry Lobb, Kevin Massa, Mason Poli, Mike Sawyer, Jake Tripucka, Justin Ward

Biggest Surprise: A Canadian in a Charlotte Hounds uniform?! This is not tradition. This is not tradition at all. Over the last few years, the Hounds have made a concerted effort to construct a roster that will look the same in April as it will in August. Back-to-back last place finishes led to a change in philosophy.

Crowley is a player defenders must remain aware of off-ball. While he won’t blow by many people one-on-one, he makes a living dodging off a change-of-field pass. The Hounds love to initiate with the left-handed Joey Sankey; if you collapse to the crease from Crowley, then Sankey will find his new teammate and put him in position to score. 

Offseason Priority: Throughout its history, Charlotte has lacked a dominant dodging presence from the midfield. Garrett Thul should be available now that he has finished ranger school, but acquiring another slide-drawing midfielder should be the priority. Ideally, Duke senior midfielder Myles Jones will fill that void. Charlotte has two first-round and two second-round draft picks in the 2016 collegiate draft. Expect them to look to trade up with Atlanta to get Jones.

 

Chesapeake Bayhawks

Protected:  Matt Abbott, Jesse Bernhardt, Dan Burns, Matt Danowski, Matt Donovan, Michael Evans, Tyler Fiorito, Matt Mackrides, Brendan Mundorf, Charlie Raffa, Joe Walters, Drew Westervelt

Unprotected:  Niko Amato, CJ Costabile, Patrick Harbeson, Chris Hipps, Ben Hunt, Jason Noble, Eric O’Brien, Nikko Pontrello, Jeff Reynolds, Henry Schoonmaker

Biggest Surprise: Brendan Mundorf made the cut after missing all of 2015 due to injury. The 2012 MLL MVP has played just eight games since being acquired by the Bayhawks. The decision to protect him over several talented players in whom the Bayhawks have invested high draft picks implies a sense of optimism about Mundorf’s health.

Offseason Priority: The Bayhawks and Launch were the only two teams to keep just two poles. Chris Hipps, Jason Noble and CJ Costabile all had terrific seasons in front of Tyler Fiorito in 2015. Don’t be surprised if the ‘Hawks are only able to retain one of those three.

 

Denver Outlaws

Protected: Erik Adamson, Wes Berg, John Grant Jr., Anthony Kelly, Eric Law, Chris O’Dougherty, Dillon Roy, Max Schmidt, Jeremy Sieverts, Michael Simon, Drew Snider, Dillon Ward

Unprotected: Chris Bocklet, Matt Bocklet, Mike Bocklet, David Dickson, Greg Downing, Brent Hiken, Cameron Holding, Noah Molnar, Jeremy Noble, Justin Pennington, Domenic Sebastiani

Biggest Surprise: Potentially the most surprising move across the league is the omission of the Bocklet brothers. The Outlaws kept four poles from the league’s seventh-ranked defense on a per possession basis (per LaxDirt.com) along with a goalie who plays in the NLL. Maybe the Bocklet brothers are loyal to the Outlaws organization, but they recognized how special it was to play professionally with each other. It’s hard to believe they wouldn’t suit up in Atlanta if given another chance to play alongside each other.

Even if the Outlaws are able to return the Bocklet brothers as a package deal, too many poles were protected over two-way threats Jeremy Noble and Justin Pennington. Noble can do anything on the field -- he played attack for Team Canada a month before running SSDM for the Outlaws, leading each to a championship. Pennington has been a glue guy for years, recently flirting with the fine line between “underrated player” and “so underrated he’s become overrated.” Teams are looking for two-way players like Noble and Pennington; players who are comfortable on either end can help a team increase its tempo and propensity for creating mismatches.

Offseason Priority: The Outlaws need to build a roster for the spring. Goalie Dillon Ward and attackmen Wes Berg and John Grant Jr. will be playing into May. Although the overlap between NLL and MLL should be shorter in 2016, piling up losses is not a great way to start. Even if the Outlaws find viable replacements for the early weeks at these key positions, they will have holes elsewhere.

Defensively, the Outlaws lack footspeed. Head coach BJ O’Hara referred to them as “slide-happy” at times this season. Sliding to eyes resulted in 108 assisted goals allowed (2 nd most in MLL) and just 137 caused turnovers (tied for 6 th in MLL). A league-high four of their 12 returning players are poles -- how many supplemental or collegiate picks are the Outlaws willing to spend on the defensive end?

 

Florida Launch

Protected:  Steven Brooks, Connor Buczek, Tucker Durkin, David Earl, Pat Frazier, Roman Lao-Gosney, Christopher Mattes, Kieran McArdle, Casey Powell, Brett Queener, Lyle Thompson, Miles Thompson

Unprotected:  Reid Acton, Tom Croonquist, Nicky Galasso, Casey Ikeda, Austin Kaut, Cameron Lao-Gosney, Bobby Lawrence, Joe LoCascio, Jovan Miller, PT Ricci, Chad Tutton

Biggest Surprise: The Launch didn’t take any chances with this roster. It’s not a bad thing -- it’s just not the league-wide norm. They returned their 12 best players regardless of age and location. Casey Powell has been an ambassador for the game in South Florida, but Atlanta isn’t all that far away. Plus, there’s nothing stopping another team from claiming him and marking him as ‘DNR’ on the roster (àla the “Keep Nicky Polanco Away From New York” waiver wire game of 2014).

Offseason Priority: A team that was just beginning to take shape is forced to rebuild again. Galasso, LoCascio and Tutton provided nice depth on the offensive side of the field, but they are replaceable. Finding players to complement Lyle Thompson and Kieran McArdle is not the challenge. Revamping a defense that is only guaranteed to return two poles is at the top of head coach Stan Ross’ checklist. Often labeled as the scapegoat of this team by media, this defense was actually 1.93 goals per 100 possessions better after Memorial Day (per LaxDirt.com). Frustratingly, that progress has been halted by expansion. Even playing at the league average defensively as the Launch did late this summer would make this team a serious contender.

 

New York Lizards

Protected:  Drew Adams, Steve DeNapoli, Joe Fletcher, Matt Gibson, Greg Gurenlian, Kyle Hartzell, Steven Holmes, Dave Lawson, JoJo Marasco, Tommy Palasek, Rob Pannell, Paul Rabil

Unprotected:  John Austin, Charlie Cipriano, Chris LaPierre, Conrad Oberbeck, Dylan O’Shaughnessy, Jerry Ragonese, Michael Skudin, Brian Spallina, Mike Stone, Kevin Unterstein, Ryan Walsh

Biggest Surprise: None. You would think that the best team in the league would have the toughest time selecting a 12-man roster, but that’s not the case. Few should pity the Lizards, whose nucleus includes five (!) All-MLL Team members. Their collective trophy case has more sponsorships than Ricky Bobby’s dinner table -- in 2015 alone the Lizards dressed the Maverik Goalie of the Year, the Coca-Cola MVP and the Warrior Defensive Player of the Year.

Sure, the Lizards are at risk to lose a few players. Kevin Unterstein is widely regarded as one of the best short-stick defensive midfielders in the league. Short-stick defender Chris LaPierre ran as a two-way midfielder at the University of Virginia and can help a young team looking to get up and down the field in transition. Former All-Star midfielder Mike Stone was not a favorite of Coach Tucker’s when both were in Boston in 2014, although there’s no promising another team will not trade into the expansion draft to select Stone, though. Head coach Joe Spallina’s brother Brian was traded from Chesapeake to New York prior to 2015 to be closer to home; at this point in his career, it’s unlikely he will want to travel for 14 games.

Offseason Priority: The Steinfeld Cup wasn’t handed to the Lizards (and subsequently dropped in the ocean) when they traded for Paul Rabil. It was earned. Everyone on this team worked hard. Most were bitter about their 2014 silver medal; others just wanted to prove people wrong. The Lizards are #stillchamps, but are they #stillfocused? Matching last season’s midweek intensity is the key to repeating.

 

Ohio Machine

Protected:  Peter Baum, Jake Bernhardt, Jimmy Bitter, Kyle Harrison, Marcus Holman, Brian Karalunas, Brian Phipps, Jackson Place, Greg Puskuldjian, Tommy Schreiber, Steele Stanwick, Dana Wilber

Unprotected:  Dominique Alexander, Jake Bailey, Kevin Cooper, James Dailey, Dan Groot, Ryan Izzo, Matt McMahon, Michael Noone, Scott Rodgers, Logan Schuss, Steven Waldeck

Biggest Surprise: The 2015 Machine returned most of a playoff team, yet still seemed to have more question marks than this partial 2016 Machine roster. Left-handed attack, face-off specialist and close defense were labeled as unknowns or weak spots. Jimmy Bitter and Greg Puskuldjian burst onto the scene with impressive seasons. Defensive coordinator Tom Mariano transformed a flat-footed unit into the league’s second best defense on a per possession basis (per LaxDirt.com). Now instead of having several question marks at key positions, the Machine needs to replace Brian Farrell (retired) and some unprotected contributors.

Offseason Priority: 2014 Oil Can Award winner Dominique Alexander (6-2, 215) is a unique chess piece. His size allows him to match up with any of the league’s midfielders. Ohio frequently used him to shut off their opponent’s top midfielder. Retaining the Ohio State product is a priority for this team. Without him, their defensive creativity and aggression would be limited.

 

Rochester Rattlers 

Protected:  Ned Crotty, John Galloway, Will Koshansky, John Lade, John LoCascio, Jordan MacIntosh, Mike Manley, Donny Moss, Jack Near, Kevin Rice, Joel White, Jordan Wolf

Unprotected:  Kyle Denhoff, Jesse King, Michael Lazore, Mark Matthews, Mike Poppleton, John Ranagan, Sam Somers, Randy Staats, Jordan Stevens, Ty Thompson, Justin Turri

Biggest Surprise: The Big Boy Line is broken up. Whether or not Ranagan and Turri return remains to be seen; but All-World midfielder Dave Lawson is now a Lizard. The Rattlers welcome back their leading scorer from 2011 and 2013, Ned Crotty. Offensively, the dynamic of the Rattlers has completely shifted.

Jordan Wolf is still the team’s primary initiator and arguably the most difficult cover in the league. In 2015 the Rattlers’ secondary dodging frequently came from the top of the field with Ranagan and Lawson. Now, Kevin Rice and Crotty join Wolf as the team’s three biggest threats to run by someone -- and assuming Crotty returns to his natural position, all three will be playing attack. The combination of Wolf and Crotty will give slower defenses fits, but Crotty will not present Wolf the same redodging opportunities that Ranagan and Lawson did.

Offseason Priority: Acquiring shooting midfielders is a must. Failing to do so will put too much of a burden on Wolf, Rice and Crotty. The only protected midfielder on this team, Jordan MacIntosh, is primarily a physical, low-wing dodger. Until the Rattlers find cage-facing players who can spray step-down shots, slides will come early and crease fills will come even sooner.

Last season the Rattlers attempted a mere 34 two-pointers (7 th in MLL). While the two-point shot itself is not necessary to win games, the ability to shoot from beyond 12 yards is. All shots inside the 16-yard arc are worth the same, but midrange shooting opens up pockets for finishers to float into. Johns Hopkins’ Ryan Brown and Duke’s Deemer Class fit this mold, but the Rattlers don’t pick until late in the 2016 collegiate draft.

 

Joe writes about MLL weekly at Laxdirt. He joins James Boger and Tom Bovee on the radio on Tuesday nights when he’s not cheating his way to fourth place in trivia at Chili’s. Follow him on Twitter at @joekeegs.