More NLL players will likely see time in Major League Lacrosse this season, but it wasn’t until last week that this became truly obvious. While they may seem like minor news stories to casual fans, the MLL Supplemental Draft and NLL Roster announcements both provided outstanding insight into how the MLL will look in 2016, and how many box players will see time out on the field.
During the 2015 MLL season, we saw more franchise ease back from relying on NLL players. This made sense since the MLL started earlier in 2015 than it did in 2014, making the two leagues’ schedule overlap a much bigger deal for players, coaches, and teams.
However, when the MLL recently announced their 2016 schedule, they went back to the 2014 model of starting in late April as opposed to the weekend of April 12. What this creates in 2016 is a situation where if an NLL team misses the playoffs, the players on that NLL team will be MLL eligible after only missing a couple of MLL games.
In fact, based on the scheduling for 2016, the Denver Outlaws could get all of their NLL players back after only one game one assuming they meet the following criteria: their NLL team misses the playoffs, they do not play for the New England Black Wolves or Rochester Knighthawks, and they also want to play two (or three in Vancouver’s case) games in the first weekend.
Ok, that last criteria point kind of blows the deal, as few guys ever play NLL and MLL in the same weekend, but the point stands: MLL teams will get their NLL stars back much sooner this year, and it’s making waves across Major League Lacrosse.
Now, the reason why I’m paying much more attention to this topic this year is because as the MLL supplemental draft was unfolding last week, there were more and more NLL names being called. To drill into the numbers a little bit more, there are 40 MLL players who are either on NLL opening day rosters, or are signed to a team by way of PUP, IR, or Practice Squad. The expansion draft alone had 12 of these players selected while another two big NLL free agents also had their names called.
The schedule certainly had a little bit to do with the above numbers, but so did MLL expansion. Each team could end the draft with 35 players on their roster, meaning the MLL now had 35 more spots to fill. While absolutely nothing in professional sports is set in stone, here’s a look at who benefits the most from the MLL expanding to Atlanta and moving their schedule a few weeks later.
More NLL Players – Free Agents
The one group of players to keep an eye on is the free agents, meaning they were cut from their respective NLL teams. If they go the entire NLL season without getting picked up by a team, they can play in the MLL for the first game, and maybe even make some of the preseason.
The big names here that do not have a box team right now are Geoff Snider, Drew Westervelt, Mark Cockerton, Garrett Thul, and Casey Powell. I know Powell hasn’t been playing pro indoor much lately, and Thul’s in the middle of military service, so their NLL availability was questionable to start with. The other three are definitely impact players would have realistic possibilities of signing with a team over the winter. There are a handful of other players would could see time in both leagues, but these are the headliners. Cockerton being available right away would be great news for the Rattlers, who have suffered in the past from the lack of early season firepower with their box heavy roster.
Speaking of the Rattlers, they have eight active NLL players on their roster, which is the highest number in the league. Unfortunately, they have some impact players in that group as only two of them were picked up in the supplemental draft, meaning they traded for, or protected, the other six. Those six are Mike Manley, Jesse King, Jordan MacIntosh, John Ranagan, Ty Thompson, and Joel White. Neither Thompson or King saw the field much for the Rattlers, but the other four are huge pieces of coach Tim Soudan’s game plan.
Manley is starting the NLL season on the IR due to an injury sustained during last year’s MLL season. Ranagan also is back into the NLL for the first time since 2014, signing on with Manley’s New England Black Wolves as a defender. Soudan also added Team Canada’s Kyle Rubisch and Curtis Dickson in the draft. These two are world class lacrosse players, but spend most of their summers indoors playing for a Mann Cup. Rochester might just be close enough geographically to draw them outdoors, and if they do, it would be huge for the Rattlers.
The team with the next highest number of indoor players is the Outlaws with seven. Adding only Zack Greer from the draft, they hope to get the other six on the field as soon as possible. John Grant Jr. is a major piece of their offense (just look at last year’s OT win over Rochester for exhibit A). Wes Berg didn’t see much time for them in 2015, but that is likely to change going forward. I wouldn’t call Greg Downing, Cam Holding, Chris O’Dougherty, and Dillon Ward role players by any means, and they all saw the field for the Outlaws last year. This list of players is more about keeping the existing Outlaws together than it is about adding more box talent.
New York Lizards
The Lizards are coming off a championship run where they were the team to beat in the league from week one. Most of that group is returning and they did not rely on much help from NCAA or NLL talent to get through the season. What’s interesting is that all the NLL players on their roster were added in this most recent draft. Cam Flint, Cody Jamieson, Brian Megill and Jordan Hall all have the chance to help New York repeat as champs. It’s hard to see where they would fit into the Lizards’ championship lineup, but if they see the field, this team is just that much scarier. Each player also adds to the potential trade fodder we are sure to see soon.
The Launch are a team that really hopes they get their NLL talent, and quickly. They’ll be OK to start the season, but when they add Reid Acton, David Earl, and Chad Tutton to a team with fellow NLLers Jeremy, Myles, and Lyle Thompson, this team becomes explosive, and a totally different animal.
The newly formed Blaze did not shy away from NLL players. I would have wagered that any NLL players they grabbed would have also been on the cross-town Georgia Swarm, but only Randy Staats fits that bill. Having Mark Matthews, Jeremy Noble, and Brodie Merrill join the team will give them gigantic upgrades in their offense and transition games. Graeme Hossack is a little more unknown in the field game for MLL standards, but is a young player with some excellent potential, and after a year of NLL experience he might just be ready to contribute.
The Hounds have historically been light on box players, but added four this offseason who are well known in the field game. Kiel Matisz joins Kevin Crowley, Sean Young, and Stephen Keogh in North Carolina. Young never saw time for Rochester last year after finishing his NCAA ball at Syracuse. Keogh’s most recent MLL time was four games in 2014 for the Launch. Crowley played for Chesapeake last year immediately after losing the NLL championship. We’re talking next day immediately, so it does happen, but like I said, it’s rare. If you ever want to see what an angry box player looks like while playing field, watch that game again. Number 12 had some aggression.
Ohio, Chesapeake, and Boston
These teams each have only two box players a piece, which was more or less keeping who they had. Boston with Kevin Buchanan and Mitch Belisle, Ohio with Logan Schuss and Marcus Holman, while the Bayhawks kept Joe Walters and Jason Noble.
After looking at all of these moves, some likely would have happened no matter what. Players like Kevin Crowley, Brodie Merrill, Joel White, Mike Manley, and Lyle Thompson are going to have a foot in both leagues likely until they retire from one or the other. The players who I think really benefit from MLL expansion and a smaller league overlap are the Canadian players who may not have been “worth” the limited roster spots knowing their preference for playing indoors. These are players like Matisz, Dickson, Rubisch and Hossack. All great players, and now they are getting a shot.
There are still plenty of things that can (and will) happen between now and the beginning of the MLL season, but it’s great to see more fluidity of players between the leagues. While many like to take sides in saying that one league is specifically better than the other (yes, even I have done so at times), both leagues benefit from having the absolute best talent in front of fans at every opportunity. If players are continually pressured to choose one form of lacrosse over the other, the sport overall, and not a particular league, loses.