The Black Wolves are in their first year as a new franchise and are not content to just “feel out” their new surroundings. As the NLL trade deadline approached, they made two huge splashes. The first was sending team captain Joel White and a 2017 second round pick to Minnesota for their captain, Andrew Suitor. The second move was a straight up trade with Toronto, sending Kevin Crowley up north for Garrett Billings.
First let’s talk about why these trades happened. In the offseason, the Black Wolves loaded up on young talent, stockpiling draft picks. As the season has progressed, their two season opening wins were followed by five straight losses, another win, and then two more losses. Sitting with 10 games played and eight left to go, changes needed to be made. If most of their losses were by a goal or two, there could be some comfort in turning things around, but four of them were by at least five goals. Currently, the Black Wolves have the second worst scoring defense and the third worst scoring offense in the league. If they make the right tweaks, and go on a serious run, playoffs are a possibility, especially since just one game is against an opponent from the West Division.
The first action was the Joel White trade. White was the “obvious” choice for captain according to head coach Blaine Harrison. He absolutely played this role well. He was the vocal leader for the team, but also led by example. Through the first 10 games, he was the team leader in loose balls (by a wide margin – 117), short hand goals (2), caused turnovers (16), shooting percentage (.292), and points (10) and goals (7) among non-forwards. To say this was his breakout season is an understatement. White is a very difficult player to replace.
Through Suitor’s 12 games, he matches up well with White’s production in everything but ground balls (60), which is good for third on the team. For Minnesota, he was second in caused turnovers (15) and third in shot percentage (.281). He also has nine goals to go with his six assists. The stats are just one thing that Suitor brings to the floor though. He plays with an intensity that is nearly unmatched in the league and evident to everyone in the stands. He was fan favorite in the Hive and many fans were very upset with his departure, expressing their serious displeasure on social media. A great example of the leadership and team first mentality in Suitor is back in 2013 when his season was cut short by injury. He said right after that he would be “the team’s biggest cheerleader”. He would still travel to all the games and be there for his teammates, even if it wasn’t on the floor. This was also coming off his 2012 campaign where he won the NLL Transition Player of the Year Award, in just his second year in the league. Since then, he has also been a huge part of his teammate Jordan MacIntosh winning the award in both years since.
Suitor is an old school type of player that will do anything required of him. He’ll play hard defense for an entire game, he’ll push transition and go to the goal, he’ll run on offense, and if needed (or just for fun) will drop the gloves and go toe to toe with any player in the league. White’s loose ball total will be hard to makeup individually as he’s the best in the league at this out of anyone who doesn’t take faceoffs. Other than that, Suitor should be able to fill in quite well and bring some new qualities to the table. Joel White’s importance to this team should not be minimized, but there’s a reason he went with a draft pick for Suitor. Suitor commands respect around the league and is of the best transition players in the game. He should quickly win over his new fans in New England and be a key part of New England trying to form an identity in the league.
The next transaction was a huge deal. Kevin Crowley has been the face of the franchise since day one and has delivered. He leads the team in points (52) and is the focal point of the offense. But why trade? Currently, he sits at 12th in the NLL for points per game. What may be discouraging for the Black Wolves front office is he’s only shooting at 12.9%, second lowest amongst the top 25 scorers in the league (fellow Black Wolves forward Kevin Buchanan is lowest). There are also only two teams with their top scorer having fewer points per game than Crowley (Rochester and Minnesota). Rochester’s Cody Jamieson is only .02 points per game behind him as well. In front of him are three players on Toronto, two from Buffalo, Colorado, and Calgary, then one each from Edmonton and Vancouver. It’s entirely possible that as good as Crowley has been, the production doesn’t meeting the leadership’s expectations of a number one forward.
Garrett Billings has been an interesting case this year. After ending last season early with an injury, Billings hasn’t stepped foot on an NLL floor. He was rumored to have been cleared to play earlier this year against Minnesota. Interestingly, Suitor joked on Twitter that Billings should find another weekend to return so Suitor wouldn’t have to play him. Now it looks like they might play Minnesota together if they both dress this weekend. Since then, Billings never rejoined the team and reports were out that he was in contract negotiations with Toronto ownership that weren’t going well. After ending last season with MVP caliber numbers, he became the ultimate trade bait, even though his requirements of where to land were demanding.
If Billings is anywhere near last year’s form, his points per game average would be good for second in the league right now. Despite being out for the final three games last year, he still finished third in overall scoring in 2014. In 2013, he was second. In 2012, he was second again. There are only a couple of players in that span who are able to match that level of production. Simply put, Billings can produce at a truly elite level.
What allowed this trade to make sense is that Billings was holding out. He also may play slightly more cautious in the first few games back because of his injury. This likely gave just enough question marks to other GMs that a straight trade for Billings was possible for a player like Crowley. In the end, I think New England comes out ahead in this deal.
The effect of losing Crowley and White should not be overlooked. Both were willing to be faces of franchise, in a new market, and with new fans. Both are world class talents who are excellent at interacting with fans and the community. They are leaders on the floor and were using this year to establish themselves as the guys at their respective ends. What New England gains are two players in those same positions who have already proven themselves on other teams. While only time may tell, I believe that this may be an upgrade for the Wolves. It’s hard to say that because they gave up two players I would’ve deemed irreplaceable a few days ago.