It’s one of our favorite times of the year – NLL Free Agency! As of Tuesday, August 1, unrestricted free agents are free to sign with whichever team offers them the best deal. We asked NLL experts Teddy Jenner and Pat Gregoire who they think are the top 10 free agents on the move.
Here are eight of the top names that we could see on the move come Tuesday as the FA period opens.
Hot take alert: Vancouver is going to be a popular destination!
The Big Cat in a new jungle
With the Warriors hiring Curt Malawsky, Vancouver will likely become a hot destination for free agents, especially for players born on the west coast. Why not grab one of the biggest fish in the pond, or biggest cats in the jungle, we’ll say? Kevin Crowley would be a huge addition on the right side of the floor to play alongside Keegan Bal. Although Crowley is entering his 12th NLL season, he is still only 34 years old and has a ton left in the tank. He’s a big body with elite playmaking ability and a lethal shot, making him a matchup nightmare across the league. His impact off the floor is already monumental in the Greater Vancouver Area. Crowley’s influence on the floor paired with his grassroots development initiatives such as Fusion West Lacrosse will help BC continue as a hotbed of the game and reach new communities. Of course, there’s a chance Patrick Merrill convinces Crowley to stay in San Diego for one more kick at the can in pursuit of capturing the Seals’ first NLL Cup in franchise history.
Beers reunited with Malawsky and the Warriors organization
Matt Beers spent the first 10 years of his pro career with the Washington/Vancouver franchise, where he won an NLL title and solidified himself as one of the league’s toughest defenders. After a tough falling out with the previous Warriors’ regime, Beers played in Saskatchewan for the past two seasons, where he continued to show that his game is at an elite level. He has size, leadership and since rejecting the franchise tag with Panther City, all signs point to him not wanting to play in Fort Worth. Back in 2010, Beers captained the Coquitlam Adanacs to a Minto Cup where his head coach was Curt Malawsky. Bringing Beers back home to Vancouver – where he never should have left – and reuniting him with Malawsky would be the perfect full-circle story arc.
Wardle in a Warriors jersey would be a huge get
Over the past few expansion drafts, Chris Wardle has been exposed by Colorado three times. Now, they would ultimately trade back for the underrated and hardworking left-hander. But after seven seasons in the Rockies, could Wardle find himself back with the organization that originally drafted him? Vancouver has some solid youth to work with out the front door but with the loss of Mitch Jones (traded) and Logan Schuss (ACL recovery), bringing in a veteran lefty is something probably quite high on their to-do list and Wardle would be a perfect fit.
Liger could be on the prowl
After back-to-back trips to the NLL Finals with a championship, is Eli McLaughlin ready for a new challenge? Perhaps. As mentioned, there’s no denying that Vancouver is looking more and more enticing as a destination for UFA’s this offseason and McLaughlin could be a major boost to an offence that showed flashes of brilliance last season. McLaughlin also is spending time on the east coast this summer playing for the Peterborough Lakers in Major Series Lacrosse. Maybe an east team makes an offer to keep the Surrey, BC product away from the west. Could you imagine McLaughlin alongside Jones, the Cattoni brothers and Joe Resetarits in Philly? But then again, why would he want to leave the Mammoth, a team that was one win away from becoming back-to-back champions?
Rubisch may not be in San Diego long
Even though he was just traded to the Seals, there’s no telling what he will do when Free Agency opens up Tuesday. There had been rumblings that he wanted to be closer to home in Ontario and San Diego isn’t exactly within driving distance. It’s not like he’d be the only guy crossing three times zones to play in the NLL but it takes a ton out of anyone doing that much traveling. Most feel that him landing in Buffalo makes the most sense, maybe even Halifax. What doesn’t make sense is for one of the game’s most elite defenders to be on a non-contender. Every team will want to obtain his services but there are probably only a few teams on his wish list and they’ll have to do all they can to woo him out of the San Diego sunshine.
Jackson and Matthews reunited?
Although Shayne Jackson has embedded his roots in Georgia, the thought of playing alongside former Junior A teammate and lifelong friend Mark Matthews while battling for an NLL title for the team you grew up watching certainly has to be enticing. The former NLL MVP would be another gem in an already bedazzled offence, creating one of the most loaded left sides in lacrosse with Matthews, Dan Craig and Corey Small. Owner and General Manager Jamie Dawick has made it evidently clear that the Toronto Rock are in “win now mode” and trying to build an offence as potent as their backend is. This might possibly be a pipedream for Rock fans with Jackson likely to stay put in Georgia, but he would be silly not to answer that phone call on August 1st.
Buchanan to the Rock could fill the Dangerous hole
Having finally captured his first NLL title, the little waterbug may seek another challenge in his career. Now entering his 12th pro season, the Nepean product will be a highly sought after UFA come Tuesday. Obviously, the Bandits would love to keep their diminutive work-horse but they are incredibly deep on the right side of the floor with the likes of Smith, Fraser, Nanticoke, La Rue and Kozevnikov all vying for floor-time. Will the Bandits give their youth a chance at the expense of one of the veteran leaders? Well, the Rock would sure hope so – as they’ve lost their own veteran leader in Dan Dawson who officially retired this off-season. Just imagine Schreiber, Keogh, and Buchanan playing opposite Matthews, Small and Craig – that would be one heck of a top six.
Downing to an Eastern U.S. market
After 13 seasons south of the border, Greg Downing was acquired by the Rock. Toronto made another serious title run that was eventually stopped short, once again, by the Bandits. As an older UFA, Downing can reject a franchise tag and does have the option to really choose where he wants to go next. Ending up back in Albany is definitely an option but two teams make the most sense for him. New York needs stability on its back end. That’s what Downing has been doing his entire career and he would be a perfect fit in Dan Ladouceur’s D-unit. The other spot would be Philadelphia, where GM Paul Day continues to try and morph the Wings into a championship contender.