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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.

ILIndoor.com 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 ILIndoor.com 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

Bandits Blog: What's next?

The Buffalo Bandits may be better in 2014 than they were in 2013. They may be worse. They'll definitely be different.

The news about the departure of Darris Kilgour on Monday was shocking but not surprising, if you know what I mean. When a team goes on a six-game losing streak and is the only team in the league to miss the playoffs, the coach obviously is a likely target. In some sports, waiting six weeks to make such a decision would be odd, but indoor lacrosse works under a different clock.

Still, Kilgour was a public face of the franchise. Except for a brief break more than a decade ago, he's been with the team since Day One as either a player or head coach. Yes, John Tavares has been with the team non-stop, but Kilgour has been more visible as the coach and major spokesman to the media. Kilgour also brought an aggressive style of play to the team that had its good points (the Bandits were always tough to play against) and bad points (sometimes that spilled into bad penalties). But until the past few seasons, the Bandits always won.

There have been rumors of front office disharmony throughout the season. Kilgour shot down any talk of problems with general manager Steve Dietrich, but said he didn't agree on some issues over the years with Director Dave Zygaj. And we know who wins that type of argument, ultimately - the boss, one way or another.

Any Bandits coach and general manager has a different sort of pressure than many teams in the National Lacrosse League. Many of the other franchises are worried about staying afloat and not losing money. The Bandits, as well as Colorado, draw about 15,000 per game. That means they're certain to keep playing from year to year, but they also need to keep the turnstiles humming by winning.

Was that a factor in some of the Bandits' personnel decisions? Hard to know from the outside. Certainly, though, the Bandits were quick to give up high draft choices in trades for veterans, especially at a time when the league was getting younger and more athletic by the year. In other words, the deals sending first-round picks for players like Tom Montour and Tracey Kelusky haven't worked out as well as was hoped.

So now what? The first phone call probably goes to Tavares, so he can be asked, "Have you made a decision on playing next year?" followed by "Are you interested in becoming a coach?" If he wants the job, it would be tough to turn him down.

Troy Cordingley is an obvious candidate, with many Buffalo connections and a proven track record as a winner. He is the current NLL coach of the year. One catch - Cordingley and Kilgour do bring the same intensity to the game, and it's easy to wonder if a different approach might be appropriate for the Bandits after 11 years of Kilgour's fire.

Speaking of that, Rich Kilgour certainly would offer a more relaxed approach if he were moved up to head coach. He knows the game, and is a head coach in summer ball. Rich has the type of personality that creates a level of warmth. Still, it's hard to picture him taking over the Bandits - if only because of family loyalty.

From there, who knows? There are plenty of people out there with coachng experience, and the job certainly will attract plenty of phone calls. Lacrosse is a small world where everyone knows everyone, and Dietrich like any GM probably had a list of coaching candidates in his desk just in case.

As for Darris, I wouldn't be surprised to see him connected with Rochester at some point, although I'm not suggesting that he immediately take over a team that has won two straight championships under Mike Hasen. But the league would be less interesting and colorful without him around in some capacity over the long term.

--- Budd Bailey

Kilgour out as Bandits coach

The Buffalo Bandits have announced that Darris Kilgour will not return as coach of the team for the 2014 season.

Kilgour had been coach of the team since 2003, when he took over for Frank Nielsen. During that time, he had not missed the playoffs until 2013, when the Bandits finished last in the National Lacrosse League's East Division with a 6-10 record. He departs with a career coaching record of 103-73, and is the NLL's all-time leader in coaching wins with 121.

"It’s never easy making this type of decision," said Scott Loffler, Bandits director of lacrosse operations. "However, we felt that a change at head coach is needed at this time to turn things around. What makes this decision especially difficult is that we are parting ways with Darris Kilgour, who has been an integral part of the success and history of the Buffalo Bandits. Words cannot express our gratitude for what Darris has done for this organization and there is no doubt he will have success in lacrosse circles in the future. We wish him the best of luck."

“It was an incredibly tough decision,” said Bandits General Manager Steve Dietrich. “Because when I think of the Buffalo Bandits I think of Darris Kilgour and John Tavares. I had the pleasure of playing with, for, and against Darris and I love his utter belief in the Bandits organization. We believe we need a new voice and a new vision behind the bench to lead the new generation of Bandits as we continue to strive to bring the Champion’s Cup back where it belongs.”

The team said in a news release that the search for a successor will begin immediately. The name of former Troy Cordingley certainly will come up in any discussion about the position. Cordingley, who lost his job with the Rock earlier in the offseason, is a former player and assistant coach of the Bandits.

--- Budd Bailey

Bandits notebook: Change in Toronto

I've been following indoor lacrosse for the past five years, and there were basically two teams in the National Lacrosse League where the coach and franchise seem linked at the hip. One of them was Buffalo, where always fired-up Darris Kilgour certainly met that standard. The other was Toronto, where Troy Cordingley brought the same sort of attitude and approach to the job in the past four years. (Admittedly, I don't see the Western teams as much.)

Imagine my surprise, then, when word came out Friday that Cordingley had lost his coaching job with the Rock.

You could just see the intensity that Cordingley brought to each game behind the bench. When Toronto played Buffalo, I wondered if the two coaches competed to see who could yell the loudest. I've heard Cordingley rage after games despite having a locker room wall between us. It' was difficult to picture Cordingley in his day job - kindergarten teacher - at such times. Still, his interviews were always interesting. He knew the game and had a sense of humor.

When word filtered around the lacrosse world that Cordingley had been shown the door, I assume I had the same reaction as every other lacrosse follower in Buffalo: Hmmmmm.

The Bandits are coming off a season in which they were the only team to miss the playoffs, which certainly didn't go over well. General manager Steve Dietrich was essentially told that former general manager Darris Kilgour would stay on as coach no matter who got the job. That's unusual and potentially awkward, although both men have said in public that their arrangement worked fine and haven't hinted about changing it.

Meanwhile, Cordingley is a former player (a rookie in the perfect season of 1993) and assistant coach with the Bandits. And Dietrich is a former Toronto assistant coach under Cordingley.

Add all that together, and it's easy to at least wonder if Cordingley could have a role for the Bandits at some point in the future. It's hard to believe that Cordingley would return as an assistant coach under Kilgour; the reaction might be "been there, done that" - although I've heard the two were a very good combination in terms of coaching here. But maybe there's an immediate fit somewhere else in the organization. And if nothing else, if Kilgour does depart at some point in the relatively near future for any reason, everyone will be wondering if Cordingley is swinging a bat in the on-deck circle if he didn't have a job at the time.

I thought it would be interesting to see how the Bandits reacted to their 10-loss season before Cordingley's departure. That news bulletin adds just a bit of additional drama to the offseason.

--- 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.

@WDX2BB | bbailey@buffnews.com

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