What lies ahead for rebooted Warriors?
NLL and players have finalized a CBA, but lengthy negotiations have led to delayed season start
Now that the National Lacrosse League and its players have made up, we can get back to guessing how Dan Richardson will remake the Vancouver Warriors.
Richardson signed on as general manager of the since rebranded Vancouver Stealth days after the Vancouver Canucks bought them this off-season and moved them from the Langley Events Centre to Rogers Arena. The Warriors were supposed to open the regular season on Dec. 8 against the visiting Toronto Rock, but the league called off the first two weeks of the season due to a failure to reach a new collective bargaining agreement with its players.
The two sides settled on a five-year pact on Saturday, and the Warriors will now start training camp this coming weekend in Langley, with their sights set on a revamped Dec. 15 debut on the road against the Calgary Roughnecks and a Dec. 21 home opener versus those same Roughnecks at Rogers Arena.
As it was around the league, there were happy feelings galore through the Warriors organization this weekend. There’s much work to be done here, though. Richardson is looking to turn around a team that went 2-16 a season ago and now has a much grander spotlight available to shine on it, thanks to those Canuck ties.
“I want to first thank Corey Small and the rest of the player reps for doing such an amazing job on behalf of the players,” Warriors left-hander Logan Schuss said, pointing specifically to fellow forward Small, a longtime Vancouver teammate who was part of the CBA negotiations.
“Now we can get back to doing what we love and begin our 2019 journey together. The players have stuck together during this process and continued to put the work in off the floor and in the gym and we are prepared to produce the best we can for the fans at Rogers Arena this season.”
Where Small fits in with the Warriors is the team’s most compelling storyline right now. Former general manager Doug Locker mortgaged the future heavily for the present, trading away draft picks frequently. Vancouver hasn’t chosen in the first round of an entry draft since 2013 and isn’t slated to do so next September, either, with that selection belonging to the Saskatchewan Rush as part of a 2015 trade for Small.
Richardson has said that he wants to get younger. Small, a deft shooter, was a finalist for league’s most valuable player two seasons back, but, he’s 31 years old, a pending unrestricted free agent. The St. Catharines, Ont., native moved back east this summer to be closer to family after living on Vancouver Island for several years while playing with the Western Lacrosse Association’s Victoria Shamrocks in the summers.
It does seem like a tailor-made trade situation.
There were rumblings about a possible Small swap at the trade deadline last March, but nothing materialized. Richardson has openly talked about the possibility of moving Small when asked about it. It will be interesting to see if he can get what he wants early in the year or he feels inclined to wait until the season plays out some.
Vancouver did announce veteran goalie Aaron Bold, 33, as a free agent addition earlier this off-season. He’s been a starter the past seven seasons in the NLL, and was part of the Rush becoming the league’s preeminent team.
The Stealth were both the league’s lowest-scoring team (10.33 goals per game) and worst defensive team (15.39 goals against per game) last season. They had finished 9-9 in 2017 and lost out in the first round of the playoffs. That was the only year in their five in Langley that they qualified for the post-season. They were 25-65 in league play in their time there.
No word yet on what will happen to that Dec. 8 game. There have been few details come out about the CBA. The league had a 20-man active roster last season and a $400,000 salary cap per team. They did add two new teams in the off-season with the expansion Philadelphia Wings and San Diego Seals.