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Game 2 of the NLL Finals Rochester v Saskatchewan 6.2.2018 NLL Expansion

Random Thoughts: NLL Expansion!

It’s time for NLL expansion and that means player movement, predictions, and plenty of uncertainty over the next few weeks!

We now have the protected lists from every team in the league for NLL expansion. After countless hours of digging through contracts and analyzing every team’s situation, in the end, I had a success rate of just 83% in predicting who would be protected. Of course to expect that you would get all 99 correct is a stretch, especially when Buffalo didn’t protect either goalie, a move nobody saw coming. Nor would protecting a player that played a whole two games all of last season, or a goalie that was not only a UFA, but could refuse the franchise tag, or a player that had a sudden career change. As much as you prepare trying to figure these things out, you’re best to know that in the end, you’ll never know everything.

The protected lists do provide some intriguing situations and in some cases leave us with as many questions as answers. So how will this all play out, well stay tuned later this week as Jack Goods of the Buffalo News and I play armchair GM and hold our own mock draft. Jack will be in the shoes of Paul Day, the GM of the Philadelphia Wings and I’ll be in the shoes of Patrick Merrill, GM of the San Diego Seals. As much as I can think I know it will play out, with another mind in the room, you can get some unexpected curve balls, and the results will be interesting.

For those not familiar with the rules, here’s a quick recap:

NLL Expansion – The Rules

1. Each team will lose 2 players.
2. Each team can protect 11 players, with a maximum of one goalie and a maximum 5 forwards.
3. Unlike previous expansion drafts, teams will not be able to protect additional players after they lose a player in the draft.
4. As the result of a coin flip during game 2 of the NLL finals, the San Diego Seals won, and chose to take the #1 pick in the entry draft in September. By default, that gives the Wings the #1 pick in the expansion draft.
5. The expansion teams do not have to draft one player from each team. Expansion teams may draft multiple players from the same team. For example, San Diego can draft 2 players from Colorado, which means Philly gets no players from Colorado, but gets two players from another team, such as New England. This assists dealing with geographic concerns with players’ living and working situations.

It’s the second rule that confused some fans as to why certain players were not protected. Some teams simply ran into the trouble that they couldn’t protect more than 5 forwards. When you see some of the big names that are unprotected, they were simply the 6 th forward in the depth chart on that team.


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NLL Expansion – The UFA Conundrum

A lot of fans took to social media to voice their displeasure about certain players being unprotected, not knowing the Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) conundrum. It would have been very helpful for the league to have revealed the full list of UFA’s to avoid this confusion, but I’ll clear it up on every team’s lists below.

Let’s start with some basics, and then make it a little more complicated. For the most part, UFA’s didn’t need to be protected, and only four of them were (five if you count Kevin Crowley who has been franchised for next year). We will get to those four situations in a bit, but for the rest of the field, the UFA’s are on their current team’s roster until July 31. So technically, they are still on their team’s roster, but unprotected. On August 1, those UFA’s are able to sign with whomever they please. As a result, for most UFA’s, it didn’t make sense to protect them as if the expansion team drafted them, the expansion team could lose them on August 1 anyways. As an expansion team, you certainly want to draft players you know will be in your lineup come next season.

Now let’s complicate things a little, and this explains the situation with one free agent, Curtis Dickson.

Each team has the ability to franchise one player. If the player is between 30 and 33 years old, this means they are no longer a free agent, but they’re earning 25% above league maximum (approx.$39,000 US). Expansion teams have this ability as well if they own the rights to a player. So if there was a free agent that was so good, and had not turned 34 yet, the expansion team could draft that UFA, franchise him, and keep that player, but they could only do it to one player each. Clearly if Dickson is not protected, he is instantly drafted and franchised.

Then to explain the situation with two more free agents, Callum Crawford and Dane Dobbie. New
England has already franchised Crowley so they can’t franchise Crawford. If the Roughnecks franchise Dickson, they can’t do that to Dobbie. The question is why would they protect a UFA that they can’t franchise and could lose on August 1? They could have a potential contract worked out, that is entirely possible. But even if they don’t, if a team has a free agent that signs elsewhere, they are entitled to a compensatory draft pick(s) in future drafts to help replace them. Players like Dobbie and Crawford would at a minimum get their team a compensatory 1 st round pick, and possibly more than just one pick.

If those picks are worth more to the team than the 11 th player they would have protected, then protecting the UFA makes sense. But this only applies to two players.

As for protecting Matt Vinc, I’m totally perplexed. Yes Vinc is an amazing player. But since Vinc is past his 34th birthday, he can refuse the franchise tag if a team offers it up to him. Even if say Philly picked him and franchised him, Vinc is allowed to refuse the tag and sign wherever he wants. As such there is no rhyme or reason to protect Vinc, except for one long shot possibility, that Rochester can’t offer him franchise money unless he’s still on their roster. In any event, I would have simply avoided that and protected an additional defender.

So to recap, UFA’s didn’t require protection unless they were so good, that they might be franchised by the expansion team or the compensatory picks were better than your 11th player.

NLL Expansion Assumptions

In projecting my picks, I’m going to assume that no trades are worked out ahead of time. Team may (and will in some cases) work out trades to get a player back that they just lost. But I’m going to assume that any such deals are worked out after the draft is over. If you look back to the Vegas Golden Knights, they worked out a ton of trades to pick or not pick a certain player ahead of the draft, but that’s easier done when you’re the only expansion team drafting. Where you have two teams involved, you have to work out two trades, one of which is to a team that won’t even have your former player’s rights. I would expect that this comes out after the fact, although conditional trades might be worked out (if you draft this player, here’s the trade we will agree to in order to get him back).

Also, I’m assuming the teams are going after the best available player and that positions matter very little. Teams are filling less than half of their roster in the expansion draft and simply need to get the best available.

Saskatchewan Rush

Protected – Mark Matthews, Kyle Rubisch, Ryan Dilks, Mike Messenger, Robert Church, Ben McIntosh, Ryan Keenan, Evan Kirk, Chris Corbeil, Matt Hossack, Curtis Knight
Unprotected UFA’s – Brett Mydske, Dan Dawson, Tyler Carlson, Jeremy Thompson
Unprotected Non-UFA’s – Jeff Cornwall, Matt McGrotty, Marty Dinsdale, Adrian Sorichetti, Nic Bilic, Jeff Shattler
Projected Selections – Adrian Sorichetti, Marty Dinsdale

For those that follow me on Twitter, my projected picks have changed since Tuesday morning. On
Tuesday night, Stephen Stamp tweeted that Jeff Cornwall is trying to become a firefighter, a very common profession amongst NLL players. The problem is that it comes with a one year probationary period that makes playing in the NLL difficult. That’s not to say you can’t draft
Cornwall, but you do so knowing he might not play until the 2020 season. Let’s put a big asterisk on Cornwall as a result.

Saskatchewan Rush 2016 NLL Champions Champion's Cup Photo: Josh Schaefer

Adrian Sorichetti is certain to go in my mind as he has really stepped up his defensive abilities in the last year. Fortunately for the Rush, there are lots of transition options available to them with the #5 pick in the entry draft. Jeff Shattler is an option, but he’s a new dad, living in Calgary, and to sell him on moving to one of the expansion teams when he’s one year away from free agency, I’ll stick to a little more of a long term option in Dinsdale. Potentially losing Dinsdale is a stinger for me, but the fact is that somebody will be lost. Its not to say that trading to get Dinsdale back isn’t an option for Keenan. I would expect that the Rush would make that attempt, or have the conversations in advance.

Vancouver Lacrosse Club

Protected – Matt Beers, Mack Mitchell, Rhys Duch, Corey Small, Logan Schuss, Justin Salt, Eric Penney, Brandon Goodwin, Tony Malcolm, Joel McCready, Andrew Suitor
Unprotected UFA’s – Chris O’Dougherty, Cliff Smith, Jon Harnett, Peter McFetridge, Ian Hawksbee
Unprotected Non-UFA’s – Evan Messenger, Tye Belanger, Travis Cornwall, Tyler Garrison, Casey Jackson, Brandon Clelland, Cody Teichrob, James Rahe, Seth Oakes, Reid Mydske, Brendan Fowler, Brendan Ranford, Jarrett Toll, Pat Saunders, John Lintz
Projected Selections – Casey Jackson, Seth Oakes

One error I had earlier, Joel McCready is not a UFA, which meant he had to be protected, and that also meant that Pat Saunders wasn’t protected. One huge surprise here is Mack Mitchell getting protected. He only played 2 games this past season and had very few stats in those games. It’s highly doubtful anyone would have bothered to draft him. I have flipped on my projected selections a few times, and I might do it again.

Here’s the key if I’m the Seals looking at the Vancouver Lacrosse Club. I certainly have the opportunity to get west coast players here, but the quality isn’t the same as other clubs. If I’m the Seals as well, I’m not focused on winning the title this year, I’m focused on winning it four or five years from now. As such, I would be focused on picking youth that have a lot of potential, and in Oakes and Rahe, you have just that. Oakes is a former first round pick that never got his shot in New England, and did relatively well when he got his shot in Vancouver late in the year. But I also can’t ignore the season that Casey Jackson is having in the WLA, and that play now has him in the shortlist of players that may be selected.Corey Small Random Thoughts: Lack of Trades, Murky East, Stealth Issues Grow

With the picks that are available in Vancouver, you could ask five people and get five different answers. Saunders is another possibility. With Saunders though, he is one year removed from being a free agent and Jackson two years away. I’m convinced that Oakes will be selected. As for the second player, its anybody’s guess.

Colorado Mammoth

Protected – Robert Hope, Taylor Stuart, Jacob Ruest, Jeremy Noble, Eli McLaughlin, Joey Cupido, Chris Wardle, Dillon Ward, Ryan Benesch, Jordan Gilles, Dan Coates
Unprotected UFA’s –  Greg Downing, Brad Self, Stephen Keogh, Scott Carnegie
Unprotected Non-UFA’s – Ryan Lee, Zack Greer, Josh Sullivan, Cam Holding, Tim Edwards, Bryce Sweeting, Brent Adams, Steve Fryer, Connor Cannizzaro, Justin Goodwin, John Grant Jr., Mike Mallory, Jarrod Neumann
Projected Selections – Ryan Lee, Cam Holding

The differences from my list to the list from the Mammoth were the addition of Stuart and Gilles and not having Cam Holding and Tim Edwards on the list. Also clearly my prior prediction that Zack Greer will be selected is off the board. I am projecting Cam Holding will be picked, with one huge asterisk. We don’t know the situation with his recovery from knee surgery. If the problem is even worse and Holding will miss considerable time next season, you can easily slot Edwards or Sweeting into this spot.

Vancouver Stealth Colorado Mammoth NLL 2017 Photo: Jack Dempsey/Colorado Mammoth

One possibility, although it might only apply to Philly now due to San Diego making the trade for Buchanan, is whether Stephen Keogh gets drafted and franchised. It’s a possibility and something to watch out for. I am one that is big on Ryan Lee, a rookie with a lot of potential, and one of the best goals of the season last year, but who rarely saw the floor after Keogh was reinserted into the lineup. Once again, if you’re looking into the future, Lee is a good starting point.

By the same token, teams could be looking at Colorado strictly for defense given how good the
unprotected defense is on their list. Colorado’s list also goes to show that sometimes you never retire, with the likes of Greer and Grant on the unprotected list.

Calgary Roughnecks

Protected – Wes Berg, Anthony Kalinich, Mitch Wilde, Tyson Bell, Dan MacRae, Holden Cattoni, Christian Del Bianco, Zach Currier, Tyler Pace, Dane Dobbie*, Curtis Dickson*
Unprotected UFA’s – Curtis Manning, Mike Carnegie, Creighton Reid, Bob Snider, Tyler Burton
Unprotected Non-UFA’s – Garrett McIntosh, Chad Cummings, Ryan Martel, Frank Scigliano, Greg Harnett, Kellen LeClair, Cole Pickup, Tyler Richards, Riley Loewen, Tyler Digby, Karsen Leung
Projected Selections – Frank Scigliano, Ryan Martel

Rochester Knighthawks 2017-18 Home Opener NLL Calgary Roughnecks

As stated before, Calgary protected two UFA’s, in Dickson and Dobbie. By protecting Dobbie, Riley Loewen became unprotected, and could end up being the second player drafted. Frank Scigliano is guaranteed to be an expansion draft pick. He’s a starting goalie that is in a backup role because the guy in front of him is one of the best in the league. I’m taking Martel as the 2nd pick, once again focusing on youth with a lot of upside. Another possibility is if Philly takes Digby, who had a poor season this past year, but lives in Pennsylvania.

Toronto Rock

Protected – Rob Hellyer, Tom Schreiber, Challen Rogers, Bradley Kri, Latrell Harris, Nick Rose, Adam Jones, Reid Reinholdt, Bill Hostrawster, Dan Lintner, Sheldon Burns
Unprotected UFA’s – Sandy Chapman, Brodie Merrill, Brandon Miller, Jesse Gamble
Unprotected Non-UFA’s – Kieran McArdle, Turner Evans, Dan Taylor, Phil Caputo, Brock Sorenson, Paul Rabil, Jordan Magnusson, Dan Craig, Darryl Robertson, Zac Masson, Brett Hickey, Damon Edwards, Kasey Biernes, Josh Jubenville, Alec Tulett
Projected Selections – Brett Hickey, Damon Edwards

I flipped back and forth on the projected picks here many times on who the two picks would be. On top of Hickey and Edwards, throw McArdle, Caputo, Evans and Sorensen into the mix, put them on a dart board, throw a dart, and that’s who you pick. That’s how confident I am in these two picks. I had Hickey and Edwards on the protected list in my last version of my projection, so I’ll stick with the point that they are the best available talent. Someone like Hickey can score at a rate that will but people in the seats which will be important to getting these two teams started off right. I think McArdle is someone to look at closely, especially given that he’s young, and he’s American, which is a key selling point.

Toronto Rock 2017 NLL Photo: Graig Abel

I’m not stunned that Kri and Lintner are protected over Hickey and Edwards, but as I stated every time I looked at Toronto, picking the last few players that would be protected was always difficult. People have mentioned whether Brodie Merrill will be selected by San Diego and signed. This isn’t a necessity as he can reject any franchise tag placed on him. If San Diego wanted him that badly, they simply have to sign him as a UFA. Paul Rabil has also been brought up. The answer on him is that Toronto paid a 4 th round pick to get his rights, and would likely trade them away for a 4th round pick. If an expansion team wanted to take a shot at him, they’re better to trade away one of their 4th rounders than to use an expansion draft pick.

New England Black Wolves

Protected – Reilly O’Connor, Doug Jamieson, Adam Bomberry, Colton Watkinson, Stephan LeBlanc, John Lafontaine, Joel Coyle, Nick Chaykowsky, Brett Manney, Kevin Crowley*, Callum Crawford*
Unprotected UFA’s – Aaron Bold, Kevin Buchanan, Jay Thorimbert, Dylan Evans
Unprotected Non-UFA’s – David Brock, Johnny Powless, Derek Suddons, Mark Cockerton, Anthony Joaquim, Brett Bucktooth, Chad Culp, Myles Jones, Andrew Mullen, Matt Rambo, Garrett Thul, Kyle Trolley
Projected Selections – Johnny Powless, Anthony Joaquim

When Jack Goods and I did our mock draft, after 7 rounds, 7 of the 9 teams had both of their players selected and two had no players picked. One was Vancouver (highly doubtful Philly wants to pick anyone up there) and the other was New England (unlikely that San Diego wants to pick anyone up there). New England really doesn’t have much to protect, which has had people speculating that Aaron Bold or Jay Thorimbert could be selected as UFA’s. I’ll avoid that temptation.

Rochester Knighthawks New England Black Wolves NLL 2018 Photo: Ryan McCullough / NLL

Johnny Powless is likely on the move again, the best of a relatively weak pot of unprotected players. Brock’s age will mean teams will likely pass on him. In a pool of weaker talent, I’ll take Joaquim with the other projected selection. A seldom tested lefty forward and first round pick last year, he has some potential that would be of benefit to Philly.

As for Bold, if San Diego wanted to shore up the goaltending situation, Bold is a possibility. But their franchise tag might be needed on Buchanan, and if it is, Bold is only an option for San Diego as a UFA signing.

Buffalo Bandits

Protected – Justin Martin, Kevin Brownell, Mitch DeSnoo, Thomas Hoggarth, Nick Weiss, Steve Priolo, Mitch Jones, Jordan Durston, Dhane Smith, Josh Byrne, Shawn Evans (5F, 5D, 1G)
UFA’s Prior to Draft – Mark Steenhuis, Bill O’Brien
Unprotected – Alex Buque, Craig England, Davide DiRuscio, Ryan Wagner, Matt Bennett, Chase Fraser, Ryan Fournier, Reid Acton, Ethan Schott, Zac Reid, Vaughn Harris, Zach Higgins, Alex Kedoh Hill, Zach Herreweyers, Dallas Bridle, Anthony Cosmo, Dylan Malloy, Adam Will
Projected Selections – Zach Higgins, Chase Fraser

The Bandits’ decision not to protect a goalie still perplexes me. By not protecting a goalie, it allowed them to protect a 6th defender, likely Justin Martin. I don’t believe Martin gets selected in the expansion draft anyways. But by not protecting a goalie, now the Bandits have to work overtime to convince teams not to take the goalie they want to keep (likely Buque) and take the one they are more comfortable to allow to go (Higgins). This method may cost them additional players or picks, so it makes no sense. As well, for the guy that returns, he can’t be too confident that he’s valued on the team if he wasn’t protected. As for which one goes, I’m a bigger Higgins fan than Buque fan, so if I had to pick between the two, I take Higgins. As well, an expansion team may already have a compensation package in place to take Higgins over Buque. But to think about it, Higgins was a mid-season free agent for the Bandits. Losing a guy you gave nothing to get isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Zach Higgins NLL 2018 Buffalo Bandits

Chase Fraser is the other player that is high up on most people’s list, including my previous version. Fraser is from BC, so this will increase when he is drafted, because he’s a good fit with both expansion teams. Fraser is the unfortunate end result of trading for Shawn Evans, and since Evans has a three year contract with two years remaining, he must be protected by the Bandits and there’s simply no room for Fraser on the protected list.

Rochester Knighthawks

Protected – Graeme Hossack, Brad Gillies, Joe Resetarits, Austin Shanks, Eric Fannell, Kyle Jackson, Cody Jamieson, Jake Withers, Luc Magnan, Scott Campbell, Matt Vinc
Unprotected UFA’s – Angus Goodleaf, Billy Dee Smith
Unprotected Non-UFA’s – Paul Dawson, Cory Vitarelli, Quinn Powless, Sid Smith, Eric Shewell, Ian Llord, Josh Currier, Frank Brown, Mike Manley, Sean Young
Projected Selections – Josh Currier, Frank Brown

As I stated before, the decision to protect Vinc really didn’t make much sense. I was floored by the decision to protect Fannell over Currier, and you can bank on Currier being an early round pick, even if its to San Diego, and even if either team picks him to trade him, the value is simply too high. As for the second guy to go, I’ll take the young defender Frank Brown who did well in the finals against Saskatchewan. Protecting Scott Campbell, who had a great year last season but is 37 years old was also a surprise that exposes Brown. Players such as Vitarelli are too close to free agency to bother taking here and it appears that the injury to Sid Smith is going to keep him out of the lineup for a considerable amount of time.

Game 2 of the NLL Finals Rochester v Saskatchewan 6.2.2018

Will the Knighthawks trade to try to get Currier back? That is entirely possible.

Georgia Swarm

Protected – Lyle Thomspon, Miles Thompson, Randy Staats, Jordan MacIntosh, Shayne Jackson, Chad Tutton, Connor Sellars, Mike Poulin, Jason Noble, Jesse King, Bryan Cole
Unprotected UFA’s – None
Unprotected Non-UFA’s – Kiel Matisz, Jordan Hall, Ethan O’Connor, Kevin Orleman, Leo Stouros, Zed Williams, John Ranagan, Joel White, Alex Crepinsek, Mitch Belisle, Mason Jones
Projected Selections – Kiel Matisz, Zed Williams

Kiel Matisz is the simple victim here of Georgia not being able to protect six forwards. Matisz isn’t the worst of the six. The stats show clearly that Miles Thompson had the worst year of the six, but you’re not going to break up the chemistry of the two brothers nor are you going to break up a major piece of marketing for the club. Its entirely possible with the arsenal of draft picks that Georgia still has, they try to get Matisz back.

Rochester Knighthawks Georgia Swarm NLL 2018

As to who the second player to go is, it’s a toss-up. Joel White certainly has the most talent of the group, but he has had work conflicts the last few years that have not allowed him to play a full schedule. Both he and Crepinsek are one year from free agency. Jordan Hall has one year left in his deal and not only is a free agent a year from now, he can also reject the franchise tag at that time. This leads me towards Zed Williams who was Georgia’s 1 st round pick last season at #4 overall. He would appear to me a better long term target for an expansion team.

NLL Expansion Conclusions!

At the end of it all, there are some names out there that are good targets for these expansion teams. Some tools they can build around. But to expect to be playoff bound right away is likely a stretch. When you’re the Seals and you look up in your division at the Rush, there is little sense in trying to win it all right now. You should get a competitive enough team to get fans interested in and build for a future cup run.

But as much as this is my opinion as to how to build a team, others have their opinions as well and we could see an expansion team try to build on experience right away. How it will play out, there are a lot of possibilities, a lot of potential deals that can be made, and I fully expect Paul Day and Patrick Merrill to be very busy the next two weeks making phone calls, figuring out player availability, making deals, and even once the draft is over, making even more deals.

It will be a long month for these two men. With a roster to fill, free agency is only 4 weeks away. Getting available free agents, including those on practice rosters who’s names were not on the available players lists from the league, will be sought.

But the one thing we can guarantee, this will be one of the more exciting off-seasons we have seen in a long time.

Until next time…

For the latest news follow me on Twitter – @evanschemenauer.

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