By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
The NBA and NHL have been making headlines lately. The National Lacrosse League doesn’t want to be left out of the conversation.
On Tuesday morning, the NLL released the list of players who were protected from the upcoming expansion draft, which will help fill the rosters of the new Philadelphia and San Diego franchises. When the lists were exposed, there was a surprise – the Buffalo Bandits did not protect any goaltenders.
That news came a day after the Bandits formally announced that Steve Dietrich would be back as general manager of the team.
Buffalo protected five players on offense: Josh Byrne, Jordan Durston, Shawn Evans, Mitch Jones, and Dhane Smith. The Bandits chose to protect six defenders – Kevin Brownell, Mitch de Snoo, Thomas Hoggarth, Justin Martin, Steve Priolo and Nick Weiss.
Buffalo went that route instead of protecting five defenders and a goalie. Therefore, netminders Alex Buque, Dave DiRuscio and Zach Higgins will be available in the draft.
“I like all three guys,” Dietrich said. “There’s a chance we’re going to lose one of them. I’m comfortable with any two coming back. Zach proved last year that he’s a capable goalie. Alex was up and down. He’s still only 25 and was in his first year as a starter, so you expect that. Davey has a chance to be a really good goalie. Unfortunately for him he got hurt last season. We’re confident about our goalies, especially if we bring all three back.”
PLENTY TO CHOOSE FROM
The list of available players also includes; Reid Acton, Matthew Bennett, Dallas Bridle, Craig England, Ryan Fournier, Chase Fraser, Vaughn Harris, Zach Herreweyers, Alex Kedoh-Hill, Dylan Malloy, Bill O’Brien, Zac Reid, Ethan Schott, Mark Steenhuis, Ryan Wagner and Adam Will. Fraser (second-round pick in 201), Wagner, Harris (18 goals last season) and Buque are liable to receive particularly close looks by the two new teams.
“It was tough,” Dietrich said about the process of determining which players to protect. “The five guys up front were pretty iron clad. Chase Fraser, who wasn’t able to practice because of school, couldn’t really show what level he could get to. … On defense, Wagner would be tough to lose. Bennett is coming off surgery. But the six guys were protected are pretty solid.”
Much could happen by the time the new teams actually pick some players on July 16. They will only receive nine players each, and need bodies to fill out the roster. Therefore, it’s quite possible that the expansion franchise will look to complete trades for additional depth.
“I’ve been in consultation with San Diego and Philadelphia about just that,” Dietrich said. “We may try to entice them to pick this person or that person somehow. The release of the list was just like Christmas morning, looking over the names. We might be able to use our depth to make a move with us. There will be constant dialogue with those guys until the draft.
He added that the expansion draft was “good and bad. Guys who have been around the league for a while have clamored for expansion. The only way for the league to grow is to expand. Still, I’ll lose two guys. It’s difficult.”
The Monday announcement about Dietrich’s situation was rather slow in coming, since the Bandits finished the 2017-18 season in late April. However, he obviously was told well before Monday that he’d be returning to the position – and he was happy about the chance to come back. The Bandits haven’t made the playoffs for two straight years, which prompted questions about whether a major shakeup was coming this summer.
“It’s been frustrating,” Dietrich said about the last two seasons. “My ultimate goal is to win a championship. To have another kick at it is really important. I’m a fan too. I’m as much of a fan as anyone sitting in the bowl watching. I think we’re set up for success. We’re sitting with No. 3 and 4 in the draft, so we are set up to have a good team. I think we’ll be OK with more consistent goaltending and a more structure defense.”
COACHING STAFF UNCERTAIN
However, the composition of the coaching staff – consisting of head coach Troy Cordingley and assistants Rich Kilgour and John Tavares – remains up in the air. All of them are believed to be contractually free to talk to other teams now that the Bandits’ fiscal year has ended. It would be difficult to believe that Kilgour or Tavares would go elsewhere for another assistant coaching position – and it’s tough to think of these two original Bandits as working for another NLL team. Cordingley probably wouldn’t want to start a job search of any kind unless he was told by the Bandits that he definitely was not going to be rehired.
“Those guys have done a tremendous job,” Dietrich said. “Those guys have done a tremendous job, but we want to have the best possible staff. Buffalo is a premier destination for general managers, coaches and players. Let’s leave no stone unturned. If we already have the best, fine. If change is needed, we want to have something in place prior to the start of free agency. We want players to know who they will be playing for, so we should be settled by the end of the month.”
The Bandits lost something resembling the game of musical chairs in terms of a playoff position last year by losing their final game to Rochester. The season would have felt much differently had Buffalo won that game.
“If you win that game, you finish second and host a playoff game,” Dietrich said. “And the team you lost to (Rochester) goes to Game Three of the Finals. It’s so close. That bodes well for us. But we have a lot of work to do.”
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB.)
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