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Bandits notebook: Game on

Everyone seems happy that the National Lacrosse League and its players have a new collective bargaining agreement. This should include fans and, yes, journalists, so that there will be a season this winter and in years to come.

I'm not sure the two sides had much choice.

The league obviously isn't in great shape, with some franchises struggling at the gate. The whole sport has to grow in order to make it more attractive to possible new owners of expansion franchises.

To everyone's credit, both sides must have realized that the situation called for fixes. The NLL opened up the books, the players believed adjustments were needed, and they went to work and got a deal done quickly. It was the rational thing to do, but that doesn't mean the effort shouldn't be saluted.

The owners got a reduced roster - 23 to 20 is a good-sized cut. That's going to save some money. More importantly, it's going to make the league even more competitive. We're down to the 180 best players around now, so roster spots will be squeezed a little more. The players saw the age for unrestricted free agency drop by two years to 30, which seems more than fair. Interesting that Billy Dee Smith and Chad Culp of the Bandits were in that slot and thus benefit from the new deal. The practice roster does go up by one to four.

There's also a luxury tax of at least 25 percent starting at $400,000, and the numbers go up from there. Commissioner George Daniel said a few teams probably would have been over that number in the past, but that the reduced roster probably would make it easier to hit that target.

Here's one other interesting note about the CBA: A player older than 34 can walk away from a franchise designation, which would force a player to stay with a team otherwise. It was called "the Tavares rule" in the conference call. In other words, if the Bandits wanted John Tavares to stay with the team through the age of 45 without ever giving him the chance at free agency, they could. Since he's been around for more 20 years, he should have the chance at testing the open market if he so chooses. I don't think he's going anywhere - it sounds like Tavares will give playing a shot at training camp and then see what happens - but he and others in that situation deserve a shot.

The Bandits have been active in terms of transactions already this season. They still have players to sign, naturally, and there may be some new free agents out there later this year of interest. I would think that increased free agency would help teams in the traditional lacrosse hot beds like Buffalo, Toronto and Vancouver (Rochester might be counted there too), so I'll be paying attention to how that shakes out. I saw on IL Indoor that John Grant Jr. has re-signed with Colorado, a good move by the Mammoth.

--- Budd Bailey

Bandits' Harasym calls it a career

Whenever I went off on a speech about the working class nature of indoor lacrosse players, I usually pointed to Jon Harasym of the Bandits, who announced his retirement on Wednesday.

Harasym worked in suburban Toronto, often driving a snow plow truck during those winter days and nights. You know how much applause that job gets. Then, on Friday, he'd pack up the car, drive to Buffalo, and play lacrosse - where he would be cheered by 15,000 fans in the First Niagara Center.

Harasym wasn't the biggest guy on the field by any means. But he was relatively quick, which made him a threat to take off on transition, and played with an edge to his game. Plus, Jon was always a friendly guy. We just didn't have many reasons to talk to him after games, as others got the glory. Our loss.

Harasym finished with 48 points in spending most of six seasons here. 

"Jon is the epitome of what being a Buffalo Bandit is all about," said Bandits General Manager Steve Dietrich.  "It’s guys like him who teammates appreciate the most.  He’s a blue collar, hard working guy who gave everything he had each and every time he came to the rink.  You don’t come across guys like Jon Harasym everyday." 

-- Budd Bailey

Bandits notebook: Turn back the clock

The Buffalo Bandits had a good 2012 draft -- in 2013.

Stay with me a minute on this one.

The Bandits turned their initial second-round draft pick (the 10th pick overall) in Monday's National Lacrosse League draft into Joe Resetarits, who went sixth overall to Calgary in 2012. Each side gave up a second-round draft choice in the swap as well.

Let's say the second-rounders cancel each other out. So ... the Bandits get a top-six player for a 10th pick. Resetarits also has been in the league for a year, so he'll be more likely to contribute right away. And he's from Hamburg. if my Twitter feed is any indication, the move was a popular one with the fan base.

Joe's brother, Frank, spent parts of a couple of seasons with the Bandits. However, he was cut last year. Frank obviously wasn't too happy about the way things ended here, and understandably so. I would guess that the change in coaches by the Bandits made the trade a bit easier to take, at least around the Resetarits dinner table. And, maybe Frank will pop up at some sort of training camp tryout in December. Stranger things have happened.

Meanwhile, the Bandits also acquired Mitch Jones from Vancouver. He was the Stealth's third-rounder in, you guessed it, 2012. He was a good scorer in junior plan in Ontario. Same logic applies to Jones as Resetaritis, although Jones has more to prove.

Otherwise, your guess is as good as mine when it comes to the draft picks. The second round picks, Nick Diachenko and Mitch Wilde, are said to be good-sized and athletic. Without knowing a thing about them, I'd say the Bandits can use those type of players.

Kevin Pym's name was a familiar one. His father, Dave, is part of the Bandits' front office and used to be the coach at Calgary. If his Twitter feed is any indication, Kevin loves lacrosse. Can't wait to see the contract negotiations there.

When the Bandits announced they had completed a trade with Toronto late in the sixth and final round of the draft, I wondered if General Manager Steve Dietrich had traded his rights back to Toronto. All right, I jest. But it was a sixth-rounder next year for the chance to take Dylan Goddard, a big Junior B scorer in Ontario.

Drafts are tough to judge in any sport, and it's particularly true in lacrosse. Most of the stars have come from the initial picks. But, from what I can tell a mere three hours after this draft's completion, the Bandits come away a better team tonight than they were last night. That's all you can ask.

Postscript: The Luke Wiles trade to Philadelphia took place this weekend. Wiles got off track last year, what with visa and contract problems. He certainly needed a fresh start. I thought he might get one under a new coach here, but he'll certainly get one in Philadelphia. In the meantime, I'll miss his great sense of humor when hanging around the Bandits.  

-- Budd Bailey

Bandits notebook: Trying again on the playoffs

It doesn't pay to go on vacation when it comes to the Bandits. While I was away last week, work came out that the National Lacrosse League is changing its playoff format for 2014. had the story on Friday. For those of you who didn't like the idea of one team out of nine missing the playoffs, this is a step forward. Three teams will sit out the postseason under the format, and two of them will be in the East. Minnesota is switching from the West to the East.

In the first round, the 2nd seeds will play the 3rd seeds in each division. The winners play the division champions in a best-of-two format. All right, that's not exactly right. The lower seed hosts one game, and then the upper seed hosts a game a week later. If there's a split, the teams will play a 10-minute minute game to determine who will win the series. It's a little contrived, but it will be dramatic at times.

We'll have two division champions at that point, and we'll go through the same process to determine an overall league champion.

The league doesn't have a collective bargaining agreement yet, and that will be something to watch in the weeks ahead, and this sort of move needs to be part of the CBA. So ... the league hasn't confirmed it. But is really good on this stuff.

Remember, an 18-game regular season is planned for 2014. So a few weeks will be added to the season in order to fit everything in.

--- Budd Bailey

Rich Kilgour, Teat return as Bandits' assistant coaches

New Buffalo Bandits' coach Troy Cordingley has brought back the two top assistant coaches from last season's squad. Rich Kilgour and Dan Teat will return to the team's coaching staff.

Kilgour has been with the Bandits for almost all of their history. He joined the team in its first year in 1992, and stayed through 2009. Kilgour is in the National Lacrosse League's Hall of Fame, and his uniform number (16) was retired by the team. He has been an assistant coach for the past three seasons.

Teat has been an assistant coach for the previous two seasons. He played 14 seasons in the NLL, including five with the Bandits (2004-2008). Teat scored 630 points in 195 NLL games in an outstanding career.

Both Kilgour and Teat were said to be finalists for the job as head coach with the Bandits this summer, so this move obviously met the approval of general manager Steve Dietrich.

Rusty Kruger will be back as an assistant coach, mostly serving as an Eastern scout.

The Bandits also have hired Dave Pym as an assistant coach, Western scout and video coordinator. He had tweeted earlier this month that he'd be joining the team. Pym is a former coach of the Calgary Roughnecks who worked last season as a Western scout for the Toronto Rock.

Steve Toll and Rob Buchan complete the staff. Toll - who played for five NLL teams - also will be an assistant coach and Eastern scout, while Rob Buchan will work as a Western scout.

--- Budd Bailey

Bandits acquire Benesch, Watt from Minnesota

You may have heard by now that the Bandits' reconstruction project is underway. Buffalo picked up Ryan Benesch and Andrew Watt from Minnesota. In exchange, the Swarm received first-round picks in 2015 and 2016 and a third-rounder in 2017.

Now here's a deal that can create some offseason conversation. I'd call it "hot stove" talk - related to a century ago when baseball fans sat around a hot stove in the winter months and talked about their favorite teams. But, frankly, the idea of a hot stove today isn't a particularly good one in Buffalo.

Let's start with the obvious effects for Buffalo. Benesch is a heck of a player. You know that he's been in the top ten in the NLL in scoring for the past three seasons. Minnesota hasn't been a great team in that span, but Benesch has been a great player. if I had to pick 10 players who I'd like to put on my mythical team, he probably would be on the list. I haven't noticed Watt that much - tough to judge those Western teams some times - but he seemed like a responsible transition player.

Is it interesting that both are from Kitchener, Ont., and are much closer to home by playing in Buffalo? Yes, although I can't say I've heard of any public trade demands out of them.

As the Internet forums say, the Swarm have been collecting young players for the past couple of years and seem to not trust anyone over 30. Benesch and Watt are less than two years from hitting that number. I thought the Swarm were closing in on contender status last season, based on some big games down the stretch, but it's tough to think of this move as addition by subtraction. Still, Minnesota has the number one draft pick in the league this fall, courtesy of the Bandits and the Anthony Cosmo deal, and the team still will have a bunch of talent.

From the Buffalo standpoint, it was a shock to see the Bandits give up a couple of future first-rounders. There had been public statements that the team needed to go in a different direction, but this does feel like something out of the Darris Kilgour Era. Still, if you want to mortgage part of your future, acquiring Benesch and Watt is a good return on that investment.

There's one last point, which I mentioned on Twitter earlier in the day. Put yourself in the Bandits' shoes. You are coming off a 2013 season in which you missed the playoffs, the only team in the league to do so. And, you are facing the possibility of not having John Tavares in your lineup for the first time ever, if Tavares does indeed retire.

Would you want to try to sell season tickets for 2014 under those circumstances? Me neither. The trade gives the team a star to sell.

This move doesn't necessarily send out alarm bells that Tavares is set to retire, because it helps the roster no matter what the circumstances are. But the trade does offer some good insurance concerning that possibility. And if the Bandits believed that Tavares probably wasn't coming back, they'd want to acquire reinforcements before he made that announcement instead of after it. They'd have more leverage in negotiations that way.

--- Budd Bailey

Bandits notebook: What's next for JT?

Now that the first big question about the Bandits' offseason has been settled - in the form of a hiring of a head coach - we move to the second one.

What will John Tavares do?

Tavares, who has played for the Bandits since 1992 and who holds every major scoring record in National Lacrosse League history, suffered a torn calf muscle near the end of the regular season for Buffalo. He has not played summer lacrosse so far this season. Bandits' general manager Steve Dietrich said he expects Tavares to take the summer off and make a decision before training camp.

I've had a couple of longtime Bandit observers guess this summer that Tavares may be almost ready to call it a career. He will turn 45 later this year. His love of the game is strong, but he just may not be able to compete at the game's highest level. He probably hates sitting around while the summer league goes on.

If Tavares does determine that he can't play any more, what's next? One of those observers guessed that Tavares would wind up as a Bandits' assistant coach under Troy Cordingley. From JT's standpoint, he'd have the chance to maintain a connection to the game. Tavares also would get to explore the coaching business without the pressure of stepping right into a head coaching job - and he probably would like that.

Tavares obviously played with Cordingley and also played under Cordingley when Troy was an assistant coach for the Bandits. I have no clue about their personal relationship. However, I got a sense that despite the mutual respect between Tavares and Darris Kilgour in a player-coach relationship, JT might not have been enthusiastic about working on a Kilgour-topped staff.

In short, I'm not writing off Tavares from wearing #11 on opening night in 2014. I am suggesting that the Cordingley hire could improve Tavares' chances of turning up in the First Niagara Center in 2014 even if he does retire.

--- Budd Bailey

Bandits hire Cordingley

When the Bandits fired Darris Kilgour last month, the conventional wisdom was that the likely successor to replace him was Troy Cordingley.

That turned out to be the case. Cordingly has been hired as the team's seventh head coach.

The connections between Cordingley and the Bandits are lengthy. Start with the fact that he began his career in pro lacrosse as a player for the Bandits, spending seven seasons with the team (1993-1999). Cordingley was part of two championship teams in Buffalo (1993 and 1996). He finished his career with the Albany Attack. Cordingley was an assistant coach of the Bandits from 2003 to 2007.

Cordingley became the head coach in Calgary in 2008, and won a championship there in 2009. For the last four seasons, he has been coach of the Toronto Rock. There he also won a championship (2011). Cordingley is a two-time winner of the Les Bartley Award as the NLL coach of the year, with one of the wins coming this past season. His departure from Toronto was considered a major surprise. The Rock went 10-6 in 2013.

Bandits general manager Steve Dietrich served as an assistant coach under Cordingley in Toronto. One NLL insider had predicted this week that Cordingley would get the job, due to the close relationship between the two men.

“I am honored to be given the opportunity to become the next head coach of the Buffalo Bandits,” Cordingley said. “As both a former player and assistant coach with the organization, I have orange and black blood running through my veins. Helping this team get back to where it belongs is something that excites me, and I look forward to that challenge. Plain and simple, I’m coming here to win.”

Two of the other finalists for the job were said to be Bandits assistant coach Rich Kilgore and Colorado Mammoth assistant coach Ed Comeau. Dan Teat, another Bandits assistant, also had expressed interest in the position.

“It was a very tough decision as every candidate we interviewed came highly qualified with lots of experience,” said Bandits General Manager Steve Dietrich. “However, it came down to Troy’s track record of winning championships in the NLL and turning teams around in a quick manner.”

--- Budd Bailey

Bandits' notebook: The guessing game continues

You'd have to think the Bandits are closing in on a coaching decision as they decide who will replace Darris Kilgour. There's no great hurry, since life in the National Lacrosse League is pretty quiet from the end of the playoffs until the time near the draft. Still, it would be good to get the matter settled in the near future.

If I were doing the hiring, I'd probably get out the clipboard and start making up lists of good points and bad points of possible candidates. The names that are making the rounds the most these days as finalists are Troy Cordingley, Rich Kilgour and Ed Comeau. I'm not prepared to say those are the last candidates standing - a couple of other names have popped up - but let's take a look at the three of them.

As one league source put it, all three are good lacrosse people. They all would be more than acceptable and rational picks to coach the Bandits.

Troy Cordingley - He's the current coach of the year, and won a championship with the Toronto Rock. Cordingley once played for the Bandits and served as an assistant coach. He also has a strong relationship with Buffalo GM Steve Dietrich through their time together in Toronto. The biggest catch might be that he has a similar coaching style to Darris Kilgour, one that might have exhausted the players in Toronto and led to his departure. A different approach for coaching the Bandits might be a good idea after several years of "intense."

Rich Kilgour - You want a guy with connections to the Bandits? This is your man, since he's more or less been part of the franchise since Day One. Kilgour is a head coach in Ontario in the summer, and knows the game. He's also a warm person. If you wouldn't run through the boards for him as a player, something's wrong with you. Rich's biggest drawback might be that he's part of the old coaching staff, and thus wouldn't exactly be a clean break from the past. Would it be odd for a sports team to hire the younger brother of the coach it just fired?  The Washington Capitals once fired Bryan Murray and hired Terry Murray, so anything's possible.

Ed Comeau - The veteran coach's only tie to Buffalo is that he was an assistant in Ontario under former Bandits' coach Les Bartley. He was a head coach in Rochester and New York/Orlando, and has been a part of five championship teams. Comeau lives just up the road in Hamilton, and did a good job keeping the Titans competitive during what was must have been a difficult situation because of the financial problems that eventually led to the team's collapse. Currently an assistant in Colorado, the chance to come back East as a head coach would have to be attractive. The lack of a Buffalo pedigree might hurt his chances, particularly when it comes to the reaction of the fan base.

Cordingley still is considered the favorite by most, simply because of his track record and of his  connection to Buffalo. We'll just have to see who wins.

P.S. Since this was written, I've heard that Comeau is not the winner. Hmmm.

--- Budd Bailey

Lacrosse: The Stealth move again

The Stealth of the National Lacrosse League are starting to do an impression of the Sacramento Kings of the National Basketball Association.

The Kings started in Rochester way back when. They moved to Cincinnati, then to Kansas City-Omaha, and finally to Sacramento. The team motto practically has been "Go West, Young Men."

The Stealth started as the Albany Attack in 2000, and lasted four years. Owners couldn't make the team go there, so it was off to San Jose. Instead of moving West after that (Honolulu?), the franchise went north to the state of Washington.

Alas, that didn't work well either. The team announced today that it was moving to the Vancouver area. The Vancouver Stealth will play in Langley Events Center in Langley, British Columbia. If that sounds familiar, the championship game was played there in May when Washington's facility was booked.

Everyone associated with indoor lacrosse figured Vancouver would be a natural stop for the league. The area has a pool of players, which means the fans don't have to be introduced to the game. Vancouver's rivalries with Edmonton and Calgary will jump a couple of notches.

The catch, of course, is that Langley is not Vancouver. It's quite a distance away - an hour or so by car, according to the stories I've read today, if there's only a little traffic. The building also holds 5,200 people, as that was the sellout number for the championship game. It will be tough for the Stealth to compete against Buffalo and Colorado with that size of a building.

Speaking of those two other teams, they are the obvious blueprint for success -- have the larger big-league teams in town own the lacrosse team, and use marketing synergy to cross-promote the franchises. There are all sorts of savings involved in terms of costs.

I'm sure the league tried to find someone who would put a team in downtown Vancouver. If that option isn't viable, this might turn out to be a good intermediate step. If the franchise sells out in Langley, maybe that could lead to a move to Vancouver proper down the road.

In the meantime, I feel sorry for people back in Everett, Wash., area. That was quite a distance from downtown Seattle, and it was tough for lacrosse to make an impact on the crowded Seattle sports calendar from that distance. That's in spite of the fact that the team did quite well there for the most part, a record that included a championship and a couple of appearances in the finals.

The road to franchise stability no doubt will be easier in British Columbia, and that's good. But it's still not going to be easy. Any more north for the team, and the Bandits will be hosting the Fairbanks Stealth any year now.

--- Budd Bailey

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About Sports, Ink

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey has served in a variety of roles in Buffalo sports in the past 35 years, including reporter, talk-show host, baseball announcer, public relations staffer and author. He covers the Bandits and running for The News when not working as an editor.