As Benjamin Franklin once said,
“…but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
This is brought up not because you are about to read about death or taxes (your taxes are due today, by the way), but rather the first part of the quote. If one thing has been true about the MLL, absolutely nothing is certain about what will be happening year to year. Leading up to the MLL’s 20th season in 2020, this is no different.
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Change was absolutely everywhere from teams to owners, to rosters, to whether there would even be a season due to COVID-19, and it was felt by every organization.
Under even normal circumstances, rosters are always going to be subject to change. Trades, drafts, retirements, and injuries all factor in for who will be around from one season to the next. In 2020, it’s amplified through the condensing of the season into an eight day event in Annapolis to crown a winner. Not only do teams have to deal with normal offseason transactions, they now need to craft rosters based on what will work in this sprint of a tournament.
With the shortened MLL season upon us, it makes this a perfect time to look over the rosters to see what changed and how it positions each team for a run at the championship.
Tracking MLL Rosters
One concept I once explored was the impact that roster continuity had on playoff and championship performance. I did this based on several years worth of NLL information, but found out that it was largely useless.
If we were really in the scientific world, this would have been published as a way of disproving a theory, but to do an entire post saying “Hey, guess what? This doesn’t matter!” just didn’t feel right. If there wasn’t a strong correlation for percent of roster continuity or years from expansion, what does matter?
In short, it’s what team you are able to put together that year.
Team chemistry is always a factor, but so is health, additions, addition through subtraction, and coaching. Instead, let’s take a look at each of the six MLL rosters comprehensively with a focus on how their personnel changes position them for this year compared with last year’s rosters at the end of the season.
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The natural place to start with everything is of course the 2019 MLL Champs, the Chesapeak Bayhawks.
We knew going into last year that their team was going to be good, and they proved it at the end. So what do they have going into this year? For the 25-man roster, they will be returning six of last year’s All-Stars, headlined by Lyle Thompson.
But, only 40% of their entire current team was dressed for the championship, with a few defections to the PLL and working in five new rookies. Even with a locked down roster, the great news for the Bayhawks is their rookies are mostly in support positions. Most of their returners are doing the heavy lifting in the starting roles.
Their biggest question mark sits at close defense. Only Warren Jeffrey returns of that 2019 Championship Game defense, but they added some depth in Leo Stouros, a proven pro defender. What does this all mean for the Bayhawks? Chasing a title starts with defending their title.
When you want to talk about consistency at professional level, look no further than the Outlaws.
A perennial playoff fixture, the Outlaws always seem to be in the mix at the top of the league regardless of what is thrown at them. For this year? They’re actually returning a league-high 52% of their championship game roster, adding four new rookies, but only have three All-Stars returning in Max Adler, John Grant Jr., and Mikie Schlosser.
The challenge for this team, is actually similar to the Bayhawks in that they need to completely rebuild their close defense and goalie situation. The departure of Dillon Ward, Finn Sullivan, and Eli Gobrecht all leave large holes on that half of the field. But, Christian Knight may jump from backup goalie to starter, unless rookie Nick Washuta can earn the job. Getting Army grad Tom Rigney as a late addition to the roster is going to be a gigantic benefit, likely taking over as the number one cover defender.
One more big loss for the Outlaws was Zach Currier, who’s absence is going to be felt both by Adler not having him on the wing and Schlosser at midfield. That’s going to make Schlosser essentially a guaranteed target for opposing LSMs on every possession. Once they get the ball, they’re fine. They still have Ryan Lee leading the way with Chris Aslanian and John Grant Jr. That’s before you even start to work in rookie Miles Silva.
While the Outlaws took some big hits, with the core they retained, if they are able to come together as a team, they might be back in that Championship game once again. History says that’s pretty likely.
The 2019 Cannons and 2020 Cannons might as well be completely different teams.
Boston returns the same percent of their roster as Chesapeake, but only have a single rookie dressing and boast an incredible eight MLL All-Stars. Three of those stars are on the offensive side of the ball, adding more *Pun Alert!* firepower to the Cannons offense. Shot-slingers Bryce Wasserman, Randy Staats, and Bryan Cole are an impressive trio to bolster last year’s MVP candidate Mark Cockerton.
Looping that group in with Kyle Jackson and Challen Rogers gives you a matchup nightmare of a starting six on offense. Defensively, they return MLL All-Stars Zach Goodrich at SSDM, Nick Marrcco in goal, and Justin Pugal at close defense. By picking up Matt Gilray for LSM, their returning group can stay put. Having a horse in the race like Tim Edwards at the second SSDM spot means this team has championship contender written all over it.
While the Barrage are a “new” team, they really worked out to be the relocated Blaze.
Blaze Barrage keep 48% of their semifinal roster from a year ago. They still have five MLL All-Stars, and another five rookies being worked in.
How do they look?
At attack, they have All-Stars Brendan Sunday and 2020 NLL MVP Shayne Jackson leading the way. Sunday and Jackson could potentially find a groove with a pair of rookies, but most likely Tommy Palasek taking that third spot. That will depend how a quick training camp plays out, but they did like using Palasek out of the box last year, which was quite effective.
The Barrage midfield is certainly capable, but this is an attack-oriented team. Defensively, they have Defensive Player of the Year Liam Byrnes anchoring things with rookie Mark Evanchick looking to play a significant role as well. Even though they were active in trades, this team still has a playoff core and will be a major challenge from game one.
The Hammerheads are an interesting one. As the relocated Rattlers, they were a team reeling from the PLL losses the season prior, and had a season-long rebuild.
They still lost even more to the PLL once again, which means they return zero All-Stars and are bringing only three drafted rookies. This sounds grim, but there is more than enough hope for this team to play underdog.
The Hammerheads are anchored by Goalie of the Year Sean Sconone, but his defense is going to have somewhat of a new look to it and fresh faces in rookies Matt Farrell and Gunnar Schimoler.
Where the Hammerheads hope lies is with their attack. Bradley Voigt showed MLL All-Star potential as the season progressed, and he’ll be joined by Will Sands from the Cannons and rookie Michael Kraus out of Virginia.
Kraus ay have more weight on his shoulders than any other rookies in the league. He was the #2 pick in the MLL Draft and the #3 pick in the PLL draft. To say his picking of the MLL was a disappointment to the PLL would be an understatement. They even went as far as deleting their social media posts announcing his pick. This is only brought up to reinforce that he is someone blanketed in high expectations regardless of the league coming out of college. Adding to those expectations is a team looking for a fresh start, and he will need to be a major part of that.
New York Lizards
Oh, the Lizards. On your 20th season, you deserve better.
Losing Rob Pannell was expected. Undoubtedly, the loss of his raw talent will be felt. Even with Pannell, to say things went poorly last year would be a total understatement.
The Lizards, like the Rattlers/Hammerheads, we decimated by division of leagues. They were then able to load up in free agency in response and got Dylan Molloy to defect from the PLL before the season started. This made them look like a super-team on paper.
Once the games were played, everything started to change for the Lizards and the season ended in 5-11, playoff-less disappointment. 2020 is not without hope. New York still returns some key parts to try to build from. All-Stars Jack Carrigan and Ben Randall playing close defense in front of Austin Kaut should hopefully yield better results in year two.
Molloy now also has the reigns of the offense, much like he did at Brown where he won his Tewaaraton. Alongside him mostly will be Connor O’Hara, who was added in a trade from the Cannons and rookie Andrew Pettit from Lehigh. Midfielders will likely be rookie Colin Burke out of Utah, Nick Aponte, Justin Reh, and Nicky Galasso. In looking at this roster, they did make some positive changes, but it is difficult to confidently say there’s any team they’ll win head-to-head with.
The strange 2020 season may be their edge. If they can come out of the gate hot, there’s not much time for other teams to play catchup. Being a little unknown could be their biggest advantage.