Men's Lacrosse

The Must Protect List

Major League Lacrosse has a talent problem. In some respects this is a good thing because there are more MLL caliber players than roster spots throughout the league. Fortunately, the Atlanta Blaze, the league’s newest franchise, which begins competition in 2016, offers a pressure release valve in the way of additional playing opportunities.

As all of the teams approach the deadline for submitting their 10 or 12-player protected rosters leading up to the Expansion Draft on November 18 th , it’s worth thinking about who the “must haves” for each team are. (If a team protects two goalies they get a total of ten protected players, and if they only protect one that number increases to twelve.)

A number of surprises already emerged last month when teams trimmed their rosters to 23 players. Some familiar names found themselves returned to the player pool. No doubt the folks in Hot-‘lanta already have some impressive talent to choose from, and that talent pool is only going to get better from here.

It’s worth a brief detour to highlight how the expansion draft works. As the new kid on the block, Atlanta will get the first pick in all of the upcoming drafts—expansion, supplemental, and collegiate—as well as top priority on the waiver wire through week four of the 2016 season.

Once three players from a team’s current twenty-three man roster is selected in the expansion draft, that team will be able to protect one additional player. For each subsequent player taken beyond the third the team can protect one more player. The maximum number of players a team can lose during the Expansion Draft is six; if six of a team’s twenty-three players are selected then the remaining players are returned to the team (unless that team declines to do so; in that case they are returned to the player pool).

That’s a roundabout way of saying that no team will be completely gutted during the Expansion Draft process.

Back in the day when guys like Jay Jalbert, Roy Colsey, and Jeff Sonke dominated the field, MLL was considered by many to be a midfielder’s league. Nowadays, that concept has given way to MLL as a superstar league; it doesn’t matter what position one plays because domination is as domination does.

So with this lengthy preamble out of the way, let’s get down to the business of looking at each current MLL roster and considering what may come on October 7 th , focusing on a few key players that each team can’t afford to lose.

 

Boston

One of the most pleasant surprises of the 2015 campaign was the unexpected resurgence of the Boston Cannons. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Boston not only made the playoffs but pushed the eventual champions, New York, to the brink in the semi-finals.

With John Tucker taking his talents to Atlanta, Boston’s personnel direction is harder to predict because they have yet to name a new head coach. For that reason, it makes sense for Boston to go conservative and focus on the leadership core of their team.

Boston fans, therefore, should not expect to see the likes of Max Siebald, Brodie Merrill, Scott Ratliff, or Jordan Burke anywhere but the protected list. Not only are these guys the leaders of the team, but they also represent most facets of the game, midfield, LSM/defense, goalie, respectively, which makes them no-brainer choices.

Merrill is the oldest in this group and some may think the most expendable, but with players like Casey Powell and John Grant re-writing the book on career effectiveness and longevity there’s no reason to think that Brodie is pumping the brakes on his career. Ratliff is the obvious successor for Merrill in Boston so the longer the former can work with the latter the more that tutelage will pay dividends in the long-term.

One of the biggest questions for Boston will be whether the club decides to protect both Burke and Adam Ghitelman. This decision could have a major impact on the shape of the team going forward.

 

Charlotte

Perhaps the most difficult team to predict here is Charlotte because unpredictable personnel decisions are the team’s modus operandi, or so it seems. Things didn’t go as well as Charlotte hoped this year, but a legitimate superstar emerged in the Tar Heel state in Joey Sankey.

The Hounds have an amazing stable of short stick defensive midfielders. It doesn’t make sense to protect them all, but you never know. It would come as little surprise if Kevin Drew was the one that emerged unscathed from the entire process.

In addition to Sankey and Drew, expect faceoff specialist Brendan Fowler to remain with in Charlotte. If 2015 showed us anything it’s how important a good faceoff man is to a squad and Fowler is one of the best in the league.

Pierce Bassett is the only goalie listed on the Hounds’ twenty-three man roster so it’s safe to assume they will have the luxury of twelve protected players going into the Expansion Draft. Who those other eight players are may be one of the most anticipated things on October 7 th .

 

Chesapeake

The Bayhawks by far released the most players into the player pool in the September cull; they released twenty-one players, which was seven more than the next closest teams (several released fourteen players).

One this is for certain: Chesapeake needs help at the faceoff dot. Will the Bayhawks try to address this need in the Expansion Draft or will they focus on retaining current players and look to bolster faceoffs in one the subsequent drafts? That may be the biggest question for Chesapeake.

As for who are shoe-ins for the ‘Hawks this time around, pencil in Matt Abbott first and foremost. Dave Cottle remains with the organization and he’d probably rather lose a kidney than Matt Abbott if one is to believe previous comments Cottle has made.

Tyler Fiorito is the obvious goalie to make the protected roster based on the goalie-of-the-year caliber performance he turned in in 2015.

On the offensive side of the ball three names stand out for the Bayhawks. The first is Matt Mackrides. He missed a large chunk of last season with concussion after-effects, and if those issues are in the past he should be high on the “retain” list.

The other two have known box lacrosse commitments, but given their impact on the team it would be foolish let that cloud such a crucial decision. The second and third players in this case are Joe Walters and Drew Westervelt. The only surprise associated with either of these names is that they weren’t mentioned sooner here.

 

Denver

The Outlaws salvaged a disappointing season this year with a .500 finish. Obviously this wasn’t what the defending champions intended to do, but for a team ravaged by injuries like Denver was the fact that they managed to balance the scales is impressive. The problem Denver faces is that there isn’t much fat to trim in the organization. In many ways the team facing the Expansion Draft is the same one that won the 2014 title.

Like Charlotte, Denver only protected one goalie for their twenty-three man roster so go ahead and put Dillon Ward’s on your twelve-man protected roster bingo card. Whether Denver can pick up a viable second goalie in the Supplemental Draft remains to be seen. Ward’s availability for the opening weeks of the season isn’t guaranteed due to box lacrosse commitments.

John Grant, Jr. has to be on the protected list. He’s as effective as ever and has strong roots in the Denver community. Junior isn’t going anywhere.

Both Eric Law and Dillon Roy have connections to the Denver area, and in a league where player travel is a major concern means that these two are safe bets as well. It doesn’t hurt that both are standout performers for the orange and black.

Finally, Drew Snider and Jeremy Sieverts will return to Denver. No one reading this should be surprised when Denver retains its two all-star midfielders.

Where intrigue will strike in Denver is over the faceoff position. Does Denver protect two faceoff men in Kelly and Hiken? Or do they opt between the past and the future, respectively?

 

Florida

Lyle Thompson.

Miles Thompson.

Kieran McArdle.

That was easy. Where things get tricky is when we consider Casey Powell. He all but said he was hanging up his cleats at the end of last season, yet he’s on Florida’s twenty-three man roster and no official retirement announcement has crossed the wires yet. Let the speculation begin.

Two additional unknowns for Florida: goalie and Jovan Miller.

The Launch could very easily protect both Brett Queener and Austin Kaut. The former is the most electric goalie in the league and the latter proved his mettle at the tail end of the season. Florida started to gel at the end of the season so will they try to keep as much of the core together as possible or opt to bolster their backstopper position?

Jovan Miller made an immediate impact in Florida and deservedly earned a spot on the protected roster. But he will miss the 2016 season while pursuing additional educational opportunities in the United Kingdom. Will Florida play the long game with Miller, much like Denver did with Curtis Dickson? This may depend on how David Earl has progressed from his injuries last year, but it’s still something to keep an eye on.

 

New York

Was any team more thrilled with the “pick six and return the rest” rule than New York? Would it come as a surprise if other teams turn their attention to raiding the champs’ cupboard? No, no it would not.

Without even thinking pretty much everyone can name the five players guaranteed to remain in green and black next year. The order they’re listed simply depends on which end of the field you start with: Rob Pannell, Paul Rabil. Greg Gurenlian, Joe Fletcher, and Drew Adams.

The Lizards may be forced to make some tough decisions on draft day. Looking down the Lizards twenty-three man roster it seems likely that they will go with a twelve-man protected list, with the hoping of getting a second goalie in one of the coming drafts. Clearly they like Charlie Cipriano as he made the initial cut, so re-acquiring his services may be in the cards.

 

Ohio

The ‘sheens will be fine on offense. There are too many important players on this team to let them all get away. This means that there is little chance that they Machine will protect two goalies. So consider Brian Phipps to have punched his ticket.

This is a team that struggled on defensive until last year. Keeping on goalie allows the Machine to preserve as much of their defensive core as possible. Brian Farrell’s retirement creates a hole that needs to be filled at the same time that is does the team a favor by freeing up another critical slot.

Ohio’s juiciest storyline will be what they do about their defense and role players. That said; don’t expect Peter Baum, Jimmy Bitter, Kyle Harrison, Marcus Holman, Greg Puskuldjian, Tom Schreiber, or Steele Stanwick to go anywhere.

 

Rochester

Twice the bridesmaid in two seasons is not something that sits well with the Rattlers. Like last year’s other championship contenders the prospect of having the pantry raided is very real up in Rochester.

Don’t expect the Orange flavor of Rochester’s roster to change though. John Galloway will be the goalie that Rochester retains. It’d be a major statement if the Rattlers kept Sam Somers at the deadline, but with so many others needs to fill those two extra spots will likely prove necessary upstate.

Jordan Wolf will remain. So will Jordan MacIntosh. Michael Manley and Mark Matthews are likely bets as well. That’s already five players and we haven’t even gotten to Kevin Rice, Randy Staats, or Joel White yet. Out of those three there’s no way one of the best LSMs in the league, White, so much as sniffs the land of the player pool.

 

Atlanta

If MLL is a superstar league and all of the other teams protect their superstars what are the Blaze to do? Fortunately this is where the talent issue mentioned above benefits the new guy. In addition to the players that other teams neglected to protect, the Blaze will also have the entire player pool to select from.

A few names that may interest John Tucker that are already available, listed by position:

Goalie

Matt Poillon

Adam Fullerton

 

Defense

Callum Robinson

Kyle Sweeney

Ken Clausen

Luke Duprey

 

Faceoff

Stephen Robarge

 

Midfield

Josh Amidon

Matt Clarkson

Kip Orban

Tim Edwards

Cam Flint

Colin Dunster

Mark McNeil

Sam Bradman

Hakeem Lecky

 

Attack

Owen Blye

Zach Greer

Jack Rice

Greg Melaugh

Cody Jamison

Mike MacDonald

Jeremy Boltus

Mark Cockerton

 

Jason Myers is freelance lacrosse journalist who has covered the game for Inside Lacrosse, 10 Man Ride, and In Lacrosse We Trust.

You can follow Jason on Twitter at: @doc_lunchbox