August 7, 2013

Washburn: For Eliminated MLL Teams, What Now?

by Evan Washburn | LaxMagazine.comTwitter

The Boston Cannons and New York Lizards both have big potential, but fell flat in 2013 to miss the playoffs. 
 ©Lee Weissman

The 2013 Major League Lacrosse Championship Weekend field is set. Denver, Hamilton, Chesapeake and Charlotte will descend on PPL Park outside of Philadelphia at the end of the month to compete for a Steinfeld Cup. For Boston, Rochester, New York and Ohio, this means that their seasons endSaturday.

Since there will be plenty of time for predictions and prognosticating about the playoffs over the next few weeks, today seems like a good chance to dissect what the four non-postseason-bound teams need to do this offseason.

Boston Cannons (5-8)

The Cannons head into the offseason with more concerns and questions than any other team in Major League Lacrosse. There are clearly tough decisions to be made on multiple fronts. The two most glaring issues are the defense and what to do about some aging all-stars.

Boston has the worst defense in the league. The Cannons have allowed 182 goals over 13 games -- 15 more than the next worst team (Ohio, 167). The personnel are the problem. Of the seven poles on the Cannons' active roster, six are natural long-stick midfielders -- great at picking the ball up off the carpet and sparking transition, but not built to play the brand of bruising team defense that is successful in the MLL. The good news is that the front office has a bunch of tradable long-stick talent.

Then there is the situation of what to do with some of the veterans that have helped build this organization's reputation for success, but have clearly lost a step. Ryan Boyle did not look like himself all season. After an impressive 2012 campaign that saw the nine-year pro put up 58 points, Boyle has had his worst season to date with just nine goals and 16 assists. Along with Boyle, Matt Poskay's production has declined, and the trade for Stephen Berger did not provide the spark intended.

The Cannons have a nice nucleus of young talent in Will Manny, Cam Flint and Mike Stone to go along with Paul Rabil, but if they don't upgrade the roster with some fresh weapons, they will be on the outside looking in on the playoffs again in 2014.

Rochester Rattlers (5-8)

While Boston may have the most questions regarding its roster heading into the offseason, Rochester must deal with the uncertainty surrounding its franchise as a whole. A number of rumors have been floated, from relocation to Atlanta to dissolving of the organization as a whole and starting a new franchise in another market. Clearly, that issue must be figured out before anything else. But with respect to this exercise, let's presume the team stays intact.

The Rattlers had enough good players to make the playoffs this year. But they never showed the on-field organization or motivation necessary to accomplish that goal. This team needs an offensive schematic overhaul. The Rattlers were the most predictable and boring team to watch play offense. Despite having one of the league's most dynamic playmakers in Ned Crotty and an elite finisher in Kevin Leveille, the Rattlers averaged just 10 goals per game.

The roster does need some tweaking. Priorities should be adding a few more two-way middies that have proven consistent at this level, like players this team traded away in Kevin Drew and Roy Lang.

New York Lizards (3-10)

So the 2013 season has been a disaster. All the offseason moves did not prompt the dividends intended, but this is not a blow-up-and-rebuild situation. There are clearly a few additions and subtractions that need to be made for this team to realize the goals it thought would be a reality this year.

Priority number one has to be to upgrade the close defense. Specifically, the Lizards need big, athletic defenseman that can cover and bring an edge to a unit that is soft. This can be done in the draft. Just ask Hamilton, which has transformed its defensive identity with rookie Tucker Durkin.

Priority number two has to be the midfield. If Joe Spallina wants this to be Rob Pannell's team, then downhill-dodging, ball-dominating players like Max Seibald and Stephen Peyser just are not going to fit in. The offense needs to have much more off-ball movement and the midfielders need not dominate the ball to be successful.

Lastly, if Pannell is going to take that next step and be this team's leader and one of the main faces of this league, he has to play with more unselfishness and fire. I understand that this has been an extremely long lacrosse season for Pannell, a year that has included more pressure and expectations than perhaps any other player in history. He has handled it all incredibly well, and that is part of the reason he is my rookie of the year in the MLL. This offseason should be about rest and recovery. Come back recharged with a game that makes those around him better. In only nine games Pannell has taken 97 shots, 31 more than next-highest total by Stephen Peyser. Pannell has all the tools, proven over his college career. He just needs to make that commitment with the players that management puts around him.

Ohio Machine (2-11)

One thing seems set heading into the offseason: The Machine have found their head coach in Bear Davis. Since Davis took over June 24, Ohio showed consistent improvement, a fact capped off with a huge win on the road against Boston last Saturday. It has been well-documented that there is some nice young talent on this team, but there are still a lot of holes to be filled.

The offense, while more organized and productive under Davis, still is very limited. Rookie Logan Schuss has proven to be the real deal, but as a whole the Machine have the MLL's worst production, averaging just nine goals per game. The obvious weakness lies in the midfield, where for the most part the Machine have guys playing out of position. The goal should be bringing experienced players that still have a lot left in their tank and something to prove.

This team also needs an upgrade on the defensive end. Much like New York, this group lacks consistent cohesion and intimidation from its close unit.

Evan Washburn, the CBS Sports Network and NBC Sports Network commentator and host of CBS Sports Network's "Inside the MLL," provides weekly MLL power rankings throughout the season for LaxMagazine.comFollow him on Twitter @EvanWashburn.

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