Dread it. Run from it. The expansion draft arrives all the same. Some teams were hit harder than others when Waterdogs LC head coach Andy Copelan snapped his fingers at NBC studios. Here’s a ranking of the biggest losers (from the slightly depleted rosters to those with gaping holes). Think of it less as a ranking of the talent that was lost, more as a ranking of the club’s ability to replace that talent.
6. Redwoods LC
Players drafted by Waterdogs: Brian Karalunas (LSM), Wes Berg (A/M)
Given what the Woods could have lost, this can be considered a win. They can bounce back from this. Larken Kemp – who essentially played with a :52 shot clock for four years at Brown – will get more runs at LSM. Clarke Petterson can slide into Berg’s right-handed finisher role. Escaping expansion unscathed was never realistic; the Redwoods were never going to be “winners” of this draft, but they could have been much bigger losers.
Defensive midfielders who can push in transition (Pat Harbeson and Jack Near) and offensive midfielders who can get into the hole (Sergio Salcido) are extremely valuable in the PLL. The two teams with the best fast break defenses made the championship; the two with the worst missed the postseason.
Had Harbeson, Near, and Salcido been poached, the Redwoods would have slipped in both areas. Head coach Nat St. Laurent leads one of the craftiest substitution offenses. From Near inverting at X to Harbeson playing cat-and-mouse games early in the shot clock, his Redwoods regularly find ways to score early in the clock.
5. Chrome LC
Players drafted by Waterdogs: Chris Sabia (D), Drew Simoneau (FO)
The Chrome defense rotated personnel more than any backline in the league last year. Sabia was one of their only staples – and their youngest defenseman. Most of the defensemen on the roster are past their primes. But they have experience playing together, which the Whips and Woods proved is the most important quality in a defensive unit.
4. Archers LC
Players drafted by Waterdogs: Christian Cuccinello (A), Ben McIntosh (A/M), Danny Eipp (M)
Questions about this offense in the wake of expansion: Who plays behind the cage? Who pairs with Tom Schreiber on the high righty wing? Is there any way to replace Danny Eipp’s unselfish dodges, relentless cuts, and willingness to hoof it into the hole?
The first question will be answered at the 2020 NCAA Draft. The Archers hold the top pick, and two stud X attackmen – Michael Sowers and Grant Ament – sit at the top of Paul Carcaterra’s Big Board.
The second question might have more than one answer. Marcus Holman would be a perfect pairing, but both Schreiber and Holman will draw poles at all times. Smart defenses will switch all big-big two-man games above goal-line extended. Creating big-littles with another midfielder (maybe Davey Emala out of the box?) would be better. Of course, Schreiber can always play with Ryan Ambler or Ian MacKay on the lefty side, because handedness does not apply to Tom Schreiber. Bottom line: It is possible to find a professional lacrosse player capable of working a two-man game with the best player in the world.
Replacing Eipp is tricky. It’s cliché, but he’s one of those players who can only be replaced by two or three other players. Keep an eye on the little stuff this summer – the Archers’ transition defense (one of the best in 2019), their offensive spacing, and their ability to win long dodges from the midfield.
3. Atlas LC
Players drafted by Waterdogs: Kieran McArdle (A), Noah Richard (D), Steve DeNapoli (SSDM), Ryan Conrad (M)
The Bulls were bloated with talent in 2019. All four of these picks will play better in increased roles with the Waterdogs than they played last summer for the Atlas. Let’s remember how tough it was for McArdle to find a rhythm alternating quarters with Chris Cloutier or how Conrad couldn’t crack the gameday roster before tweeting “WhY dId ThE aTlAs LeAvE mCaRdLe UnPrOtEcTeD?”
2. Whipsnakes LC
Players drafted by Waterdogs: Connor Kelly (A/M), Ben Reeves (A), Drew Snider (M), Ryan Drenner (A)
The Whips knew they’d lose four players (the most that the Waterdogs could snag from any one team). They probably knew they’d lose these four players -- a Tewaaraton winner, a Tewaaraton finalist, a Team USA gold medalist, and their overtime hero.
Rebuilding an offense around Jim Brown MVP Award winner Matt Rambo and 2-point king Mike Chanenchuk is the reigning champs’ next challenge. Joe LoCascio is ready for an increased role. Jake Bernhardt could take more offensive runs. Brad Smith – injured in 2019 – was protected as a “rookie holdout.” Add in Jay Carlson, Dylan Maltz, and Jeremy Sieverts, and there’s a decent amount of depth for an offense that was pillaged 48 hours ago.
1. Chaos LC
Players drafted by Waterdogs: Brodie Merrill (D), Charlie Cipriano (G), Kyle McClancy (M)
McClancy is a modern SSDM. He took advantage of lenient referees, throwing (and landing) one-handed wrap checks for caused turnovers. He led all short-stick defenders in assists. The Chaos were only as good as their transition offense; without it, they struggled down the stretch. Without McClancy, can they generate early looks for their Bomb Squad?
It’s tough to understate how important Brodie Merrill was to the Chaos defense. He was everyone’s two slide. As the young, physical defenders flew around to make players, Brodie cleaned up their mistakes. He was the second-to-last line of defense in front of Oren Lyons Goalie of the Year Award winner Blaze Riorden (who had to make an absurd amount of saves on a weekly basis).
Good defenses prevent goals; great defenses prevent shots on goal. The Chaos defense was not great last summer. Without Brodie, expect Blaze to be bombarded with even more shots on goal.