By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
You think you’ve got problems?
How would you like to be in charge of drafting players for a team in the National Lacrosse League?
That’s what some people had to do Thursday night, as the NLL staged its annual draft on a virtual platform. While there have been a few trades and the announcement of an expansion team since the league went into semi-hibernation in March because of the pandemic, it was nice to see some activity again with the draft.
Last time you remember, the Buffalo Bandits and the rest of the teams had to suspend the schedule. While the other sports such as basketball and hockey managed to figure out a way to stage a playoff schedule in the summer and fall – and take in the television revenues that come with it – indoor lacrosse didn’t really have that option. The owners in the NLL had to accept their fate and have an unfinished symphony of a season.
In the meantime, the lacrosse calendar has kept flipping in the past six months, and the to-do list still needed to be done. Free agents have changed places, and trades have been completed. Therefore, nothing will be as it was when the teams resume. The question, though, becomes – when will that be?
The league has the same problems as it did back in March. Even if we guess that teams will try to open the doors to buildings for games, it’s tough to say what the restrictions on attendance in indoor arenas might look like in December. Playing football games in front of 25 percent of capacity of big outdoor stadiums is one thing. Playing indoors in the winter in front of a handful of fans is another. There’s a value to playing games and receiving publicity in order to keep the brand going during tough times, but it’s not easy to quantify that value in dollar terms, and it might vary from team to team.
Is there a number in the area of percentage of capacity that the owners (and, of course, government officials) might be willing to accept? I know. It’s “to be determined.” Down the road, if the league determines that it can’t start a season if its teams can’t sell more than a few thousand tickets per game, a new question comes up. Would the owners be willing to write off all of the 2020-21 season if there was no way to come close to breaking even? That goes into the “we’ll see when we get there” department.
And that doesn’t include one other obstacle – border crossing. Teams have to shuffle between the United States and Canada during the course of the year – the Bandits do it constantly, as they practice in Ontario and play home games in the United States. They would need a full waiver of restrictions in order to stage a normal-looking season.
Let’s face it – until a vaccine arrives, guesswork will be the order of the day.
Meanwhile, the draft had to go on. The usual scouting methods were to watch college games in the spring, and follow the Canadian summer indoor leagues. But the NCAA took most of the year off, and so did Canada’s circuits. So the teams had to rely on some old scouting reports that are at least a year old. My guess would be that there is some information out there, but it’s not as plentiful as the football and basketball analysts might have.
That makes it even more difficult to predict the future, so the teams were flying a little blind. Adding to the fun is the fact that some of the NCAA players have chosen to go back into the amateur pool and play for their respective colleges next spring. So the drafting teams lose a year – and to be bleak, someone could be injured during that time. On the other hand, if a player has to be taken and then stashed for future delivery, well, this isn’t the worst year to do that.
There apparently is a general consensus out there, and the first round generally followed the good work of media expert Stephen Stamp this year – as usual. But something tells me if there could be a redraft of this draft in three years, it would look even more scrambled than what this exercise usually produces in terms of chaos.
In other words, the NLL’s general managers were really rolling the dice this time. Good luck to them.
Bandits take McCulley
Stamp got the Bandits’ pick in the first round (ninth overall) right. They took Brad McCulley, a forward from Robert Morris University and the Langley Thunder. McCulley is a good all-around player, and might fit in with the Bandits at either transition or forward. The good news – he is not returning to college, so there should be playing in Buffalo as soon as possible.
McCulley checks in at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, according to his college media guide, filling out physically in his last couple of years in college. “Being at university and lifting and working out helped me out quite a bit,” he said in an interview on NLL’s broadcast. “I’m realizing my size. It’s useful to my game.”
He got six games in for RMU during 2020. McCulley had seven goals and seven assists to finish sixth on the team in scoring. Two of those goals came in a game against Canisius College, played on a neutral site outside of Rochester. His teammate, Ryan Smith, went third overall in the draft to Rochester. Brad was a good scorer for Langley, getting 37 points to lead the team in 2019.
In the second round, the Bandits ended up with two choices. They took midfielder Sam La Roue from New Westminster Jr. A and defender Jordan Stouros from Limestone University in South Carolina. Buffalo took Carter Stefaniak from Canisius in the seventh round.
The Bandits also swung a good-sized trade during the course of the draft. They sent Matt Gilray and a draft pick in 2020 to Rochester for a first-round pick in 2021, a second-rounder in 2020, and a second-round choice in 2023. Gilray, 25, is a former first-round choice (third overall) who had 12 points in 11 games last season. The transition player was expected to grow into an important player of the team’s future.
However, the Bandits couldn’t resist a chance to pick up a potentially high draft choice next year. Buffalo will receive the pick either from Rochester or Vancouver – whichever is the earlier choice. Since both teams had choices in the top three this year, it’s certainly possible that one of them will be in the top three again in 2021 – and maybe even higher. In addition, the NLL will expand to Fort Worth next summer, and that draft choice is a valuable player that won’t have to be protected in the expansion draft.
Jeff Teat of Cornell University went first to the New York Riptide, as expected. He plans to return to school this coming season.
Three players with local connections were picked in the second round. Ron John (Lake Shore High School) went to Colorado, Larson Sundown (Akron) went to New York, and Mattieu Boissonneault (Canisius College) was selected by New York. In the seventh round, Toronto selected defender Daniel Balawejder of Canisius.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)