Buffalo qualifies Priolo, R. Smith, Thorimbert & Watt as free agency looms
The Buffalo Bandits have announced that the team has placed their franchise tag on forward Mark Steenhuis for the 2015 NLL season. Buffalo also avoided restricted free agency for all four of their potentially-eligible players when the team made qualifying offers to defensemen Steve Priolo and Rory Smith along with transition players Jay Thorimbert and Andrew Watt before the July 31 deadline.
Steenhuis, who at age 33 is ineligible to reject the franchise designation, would have become an unrestricted free agent. The veteran appeared in all 18 regular season games for Buffalo in 2014, recording a team-high 31 goals and totaling 63 points overall. The St. Catharines, ON native went on to tally 16 points (6+10) over four postseason appearances. Steenhuis currently ranks second in Bandits franchise history in goals (350), assists (386) and points (736).
Smith was acquired from Colorado prior to the 2014 season and tallied a career-high six points (0+6) in his inaugural campaign with Buffalo. The 27-year-old reached the 100 games played milestone in 2014 and added an assist over four playoff contests.
Thorimbert, fresh off his fourth year as a member of the Bandits, tallied 11 points (5+6) over 18 games in 2014. He also recovered a career-best 191 loose balls, won 56 percent of his faceoffs (253 of 454) and registered an assist over four playoff games.
Watt, also acquired prior to the 2014 season, saw action in just nine games due to injury. Over this span, the Kitchener, ON native contributed five points (3+2) before adding one goal over four playoff games.
Priolo enjoyed a breakout season in 2014, establishing career-highs in goals (8), assists (18) and points (26) over 18 games played. After producing an additional two assists over two playoff outings, he was named a finalist for 2014 NLL Defensive Player of the Year.
The Bandits have not yet signed three restricted free agents in defenseman Glen Bryan, forward Jamie Rooney and goaltender Kurtis Wagar while Buffalo holds the rights to three inactive restricted free agents in Alex Kedoh Hill, Drew Petkoff and Joe Smith.
Five other Bandits players are eligible for unrestricted free agency including forwards Chad Culp, John Tavares and Shawn Williams, and goaltenders Anthony Cosmo and Ken Montour.
Modifications to the Free Agency system designed to increase free agency are outlined in the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, which was reached in the summer of 2013. The modifications, effective starting with the 2015 NLL season, include:
– Lowering of the qualifying age for Unrestricted Free Agency from 32 to 30 years old.
– Reduction of Franchise Designations per team from two to one, effective for the 2015 season.
– Ability for veteran players with ages 35 or older to reject Franchise Designation for the 2015 season.