By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
We all knew that the Buffalo Bandits had some difficult choices to make when it came to this year’s expansion draft, where they will lose two players.
We got an idea just how painful when the list was released on Tuesday.
Buffalo exposed two of its top three and three of its top five scorers, in addition to some other veterans who have become familiar faces at the KeyBank Center.
To review, here’s the protected list: Josh Byrne, Chris Cloutier, Mitch de Snoo, Chase Fraser, Matt Gilray, Thomas Hoggarth, Justin Martin, Ian MacKay, Steve Priolo, Dhane Smith and Matt Vinc. That’s five forwards, five defenders/transition players, and a goalie.
The unprotected list: Reid Acton, Kevin Brownell, Jordan Durston, Craig England, Shawn Evans, Jon Hartnett, Zach Higgins, Dylan Malloy, Ethan O’Connor, Devlin Shanahan, Corey Small, Matt Spanger, Mark Steenhuis, Bryce Sweeting, and Nick Weiss.
Evans was the second-leading scorer on the team last season, and is a former league MVP. Small led the team in goals with 36. Durston had 47 points and was frequently praised for his willingness to do the “dirty work” on offense. Weiss and O’Connor also played in all 18 games last season.
The Bandits had a deep roster last season that took them to the finals. You knew a price was going to be paid for that. What’s more, Buffalo was loaded with high draft choices from the last two years (four from the first four overall picks), which crowded the roster.
Still, this probably isn’t the end of the story. Players such as Brownell reportedly are going to be unrestricted free agents, and therefore don’t necessarily have to be protected. (I’m assuming that Smith and de Snoo will be back if they haven’t agreed to new contracts already.)
Also remember that “side deals” are legal. For example, the Bandits could agree to send an extra player to one of the expansion teams if they agree not to select another player. This happened last season when Vaughn Harris and Zac Reid both ended up in Philadelphia.
The biggest name on the list is Evans, naturally. He is 33 and no doubt has a good-sized salary. It’s also at least interesting that he was scratched for a late-season game without much of an explanation. Evans spent the first six years of his career in Rochester, and might be an attractive name as Knighthawks 2.0 get going this season. I have no inside information here, but we might have the makings for an agreement between the Bandits and Rochester. The Knighthawks could use a big name in order to rekindle enthusiasm after the original franchise moved to Halifax.
Small is 32, and it looks as if he was a victim of his age and the team’s deep roster. (Note: His contract status was not listed on an unofficial league database.) Durston probably was left off the protected list in favor of Hoggarth and Fraser – not an easy decision. Weiss and O’Connor are handy guys to have around, but you can’t keep everyone.
I’m not going to guess what the Bandits’ roster might look like when the expansion draft ends next month. There are too many variables. But, there will be some pain involved, perhaps more than for any other team in the league. That’s the price of success.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)