If you’ve been near the grapevine over the last month, there’s a chance you may have heard some chatter about the Vancouver Stealth possibly trading forward Corey Small to an East Division team. Whether Stealth GM Doug Locker decides to ship Small across North America in the next couple of days before the NLL trade deadline or not, the possibility of the dynamic Stealth left-hander heading to another franchise only seems likely if the right deal arises.
These rumors, of course, stem from Small’s decision to depart from the Western Lacrosse Association’s (WLA) Victoria Shamrocks to be closer to his immediate family. Small made the tough decision to leave the Shamrocks on Valentine’s Day Eve after seven phenomenal years in Victoria.
“Everyone [with the Shamrocks] is a little disappointed,” Small said of his departure from the WLA squad. “Given the situation, everyone has been understanding of the reason why. Everybody has a family, and everybody has a home. As much as Victoria has been my home for the last seven to eight years, home for my wife and I has always been St. Catharines and that’s where our families are.”
A fundamental difference from these rumors compared to the circumstances in Victoria is that Small let the team know that he would not be returning. Small has not had any conversations with Locker about leaving the club but says it is not even on his mind.
“No. Not really. [Leaving Vancouver] is not the focus right now or what I plan to do next year,” Small said. I’m more focused on how to turn things around in Vancouver, take things as they come, and see how things turn out in the offseason.”
Locker stated that the Stealth aren’t willing to give up on a 2018 NLL Playoff spot just yet, and suggested that if the team were to make a late run, they would need to keep Small. “It sounds corny, but it’s the truth. We’re trying to figure out how to win some games and get back in the race. Corey is a massive part of that for us.”
The Stealth GM did say, however, that if Small were to approach him to request a trade, that the team would be more inclined to ship him off if they could get someone in return that would increase the team’s chances of winning more than with Small on the roster.
“I think what we would do is we would look at what’s in the best interest of the club like we always do. We wouldn’t just move him to move him. If it was something that helped our club and something that he wanted, you would look at that. But, first and foremost, it would have to help us.”
To the surprise of many, the goaltending in Vancouver this year has proven to have too many holes. As unfortunate as it looks, Tye Belanger’s 11.28 goals allowed average (GAA) and .796 save percentage (SV%) in 2017 may have been a flash in the pan. In four games, Belanger has a GAA of 19.60 and a SV% of .683. His backups this season Brodie MacDonald and Eric Penney also have GAAs above 13.50 and SV%s less than .750.
Could Vancouver ship Small to a team in need of offensive support on the left side and receive a goalie in return? The Toronto Rock might want to send rookie Riley Hutchcraft to Vancouver to acquire Small to help their youthful left side. Adam Jones is the only Rock lefty that has more than ten goals, and he is the only left-hander on the team that is older than 25. Small’s scoring prowess and wisdom could bring the extra punch the Rock need to assert themselves in the East Division. Not to mention that the right team is still missing right-hander Tom Schreiber.
Might a team like the Buffalo Bandits continue to make moves by attempting to snag Small in exchange for one of their goaltenders such as Zach Higgins? Again, the Bandits left side is fairly young, and while they have excellent mentors and playmakers on the right like Shawn Evans and Dhane Smith, the East Division is as tight as it’s ever been and a player like Small could help to further balance the offense. Remember, Higgins recently had one of the best goaltending performances of the season stopping 54 shots in Feburary. He still remains the backup to Alex Buque despite the promise he shows.
With all the speculation surrounding Small, Locker is trying to stay focused on the team’s mission of reaching the playoffs. It is clear that he still believes that the guys he brought together can still achieve that goal.
“We’ve got to play games here on out as if they were playoff games,” Locker said with urgency. “I think if we can get a win here this week – I think this club has been working hard all year – that’s going to be a huge win for us. I like the team we have; they’re working their butts off. We’re trying to support our guys and put them in a position where they can be successful.”
With Small still in the lineup, bringing the Stealth to the playoffs is his main priority. To him, everything that he’s heard about him leaving is all just speculation.
“The only thing I can say about people who are skeptical about [staying in Vancouver], is that I’ve always been a player that’s been loyal to my team my entire career. I played all of my junior lacrosse at St. Catharines, I played seven years with Victoria, I played six years with Edmonton until they traded me and I’ve been here in Vancouver for three seasons. I’ve never been a person who makes those decisions on my own; it’s always up to the team. As I said, I haven’t even had that discussion with Doug. I know there’s a lot of speculation out there, but there’s no truth to it right now.”
As the hours wind down to the 3:00 EST deadline on Monday, Locker is likely to receive many phone calls about various players, including Small. If he feels there is a deal to be made that betters the Stealth, he’ll probably pull the trigger, but for now, this unit remains intact, no matter how juicy the gossip.