Armchair critics love trade deadline time.
It’s a chance to imagine big moves and cheer or hector ones that happened.
General managers in the Western Lacrosse Association, first of all, are happy to oblige, because without the fans there is a big hole in your acquisition budget.
For Burnaby Lakers’ Kevin Hill and New Westminster’s Dan Richardson, the options are all about bolstering the present without mortgaging the future before the June 30 roster freeze.
Both teams have looked like serious contenders for a league title – the Lakers sit atop the standings at 7-2, while New West isn’t far behind, as 5-3. Both are targeting similar pieces in a chance to load up for a potential Mann Cup challenge.
But it isn’t easy.
“This is an extremely busy time with the trade deadline coming up on June 30, and every team is working to improve,” said Hill. “Only four teams make the playoffs, and we’re atop of the standing today but that could quickly change in this league. We’re still looking to improve and get better.”
Each club has demonstrated obvious strengths at this stage of the season – Burnaby’s defence has surrendered a league-low 6.66 goals per game, while New West is tops on offence, averaging a league-best 11.3 goals per game.
Some may feel pressure to counter what the defending league champion Maple Ridge Burrards did a week ago, when they put their chips on the table in dealing for sniper Wes Berg, defender Alex Bohl, the rights to Brett Kujala and National Lacrosse League netminding standout Christian Del Bianco. Talk around the lacrosse rink is that Del Bianco and Berg are rentals whose rights will revert back to Coquitlam upon the conclusion of the 2019 season.
The Adanacs, struggling at 2-7, gained veterans Chase McIntyre and Ryan Johnson, future considerations, and the Burrards’ first round picks in 2020 and 2022. It’s not known exactly if any of the players are permanent acquisitions.
In the off-season the WLA governors voted to permit the previously banned practice of ‘rental trades,’ to give local teams the similar option that their Ontario counterparts, as well as B.C. junior clubs, have.
“I thInk you’ve got to look short and long term,” mused Richardson. “You can put all your chips in, but then what do you have to play the next year or two? It’s kind of a balance if you’re going to rent a player or two but you’re only willing to give up ‘X.’ That’s the balancing act. Some teams may give up too much.”
Swapping future draft picks for the short-term may not hurt so much if it leads to a Mann Cup. However, getting on a roll and winning the WLA title, nevermind the national championship against a stealthy, pro-calibre opponent from Ontario, is never a given.
Things change rapidly in lacrosse, with momentum shifts occurring mid-shift.
“Playoffs are a different animal on their own. It doesn’t matter what you do in the regular season, you just have to get your foot in the door and then it’s a whole different ball game,” remarked Hill, whose own experience saw his club hit a historical height in 2017 by winning a first-ever regular season banner, to missing the playoffs and drafting second at the end of last season.
The players are a vital source of information, as well as encouragement. With most players having links to opposing players through junior and/or National Lacrosse League experiences, the flow of information is strong.
Still, a team’s management has to balance areas of need with the fear of upsetting the chemistry cart that has been building over the first two months of the short WLA season.
“I was at the NHL draft and you look at all the teams that go all-in at the deadline and make those rental trades, how many were successful with those? You have to balance that. What about the chemistry in your room, when you bring in guys how do they fit,” asked Richardson.
For the players, getting a shot at the Mann Cup is something that is all encompassing. No one wants to lose their spot, or see reduced time, because of a late addition. But the majority also embrace the team concept, where no player is bigger than any other. You’ve got to give up something to get in a trade, and if it means giving the coaches more options to win, they’re all for it.
“We’re building something special here,” noted New West’s Austin Shanks, a recent addition from Ontario. “It’s from top-down; Dan bringing in guys, the coaching staff and the players doing the job. So if our biggest problem is sitting guys who are really talented, I think we’ve got a good problem.”
The next few days will see the dust settle, with New West, Burnaby, Victoria and Maple Ridge – and possibly Nanaimo – trying to add a few more pieces. The fear that your main competition could steal that rock-solid defender, or sharp-shooting righthander, could drive up the price.
Both Hill and Richardson, who also have reinforcements due to bolster their lineup (for Burnaby, Eli McLaughlin and Tyler Digby; for New West, 2018 WLA scoring champion Logan Schuss and Kevin Crowley), say this year, with the Mann Cup hosted by the B.C. champ, is a huge window.
“You want to have the best team in that room, that means guys being at practice, guys working together. It doesn’t mean you have to have the best talent, but you want the best team,” said Hill.
“I’m not guaranteeing anything, but we’re working on something.”
Richardson was equally non-commital, but said the process of finding a match was well-advanced. Making a deal to put your team over the top can’t be done at the cost of chemistry, however.
“You have to also be careful of what type of player you bring. What does he do off the floor? What values does the person have? If it’s not matching up with what you have, stay clear. So you have to do your homework.”