Editorial: Right choice made by Wings in Cloutier deal

by Tracey Happold-Brown and Anna Taylor

Note: The title of this article was edited after publication to accurately reflect that it is an editorial.

Chris Cloutier of the Philadelphia Wings. (Photo: Tracey Happold-Brown)

Last week was interesting in Philadelphia after Wings’ fans learned that first-round draft pick Chris Cloutier had been traded to the Buffalo Bandits.

It was a head-scratcher, seeing the team let go of the second-overall pick, someone they had hoped would become the face of the franchise. His outstanding play had been counted on by head coach and general manager Paul Day and the rest of the coaching staff when they used Philly’s first draft pick on him.

Day made no secret hiding the fact that he was less than thrilled with both Cloutier’s play and fitness, and those two factors ultimately led to the trade with Buffalo where Day potentially sees Cloutier being successful in the future if all the pieces come together.

Cloutier had always used his large frame and stellar ability to see the net to his advantage. He trained at The Hill Academy where Brodie Merrill turns good players into great players. He stunned people at the NCAA Championships in Philadelphia a few years ago when he helped UNC take down Maryland. NLL and MLL teams alike salivated over his ability to fight off checks to get to the net. Goalies stood very little chance of stopping his accurate and heavy shot.

Cloutier also excelled with the Denver Outlaws of Major League Lacrosse last summer, putting up 40 points (26G/14A) on his way to winning the league’s Rookie of the Year award.

So of course, everyone is wondering what happened.

In Philadelphia, it quickly became clear that Cloutier’s conditioning had fallen off after the MLL season concluded. It wasn’t only the coaching staff that noticed; the fans noticed – and commented on it.

What began as a sure thing quickly turned into what many believed was a waste of a draft pick. When Kevin Crowley was acquired by Philadelphia it appeared that Cloutier’s role shrank even more. His 11 assists made him fade into the background. Prior to Crowley’s arrival he had scored seven goals and six assists.

Cloutier was noticeably slow on the turf. His goals were not coming as rapidly as people expected. He also did not use his size to block people out or effectively work any sort of pick and roll scenario. At his best, there were hints of his ability. At his worst, he was a liability.

In Cloutier’s defense, during the off-season a potential strike/lockout was likely. That being said, there seemed to be a lack of conditioning when Cloutier showed up to the Philadelphia Wings for a rushed training camp after the season was delayed.

It was odd to see in an age where athletes are in the gym every day working on their conditioning. Fitness includes everything from mobility to strength training, agility to speed. There are a lot of different aspects to fitness that NLL players work on to improve their overall game. When players aren’t able to keep up with teammates it can cause tension, and maybe that’s partly what Day was referring to when he said that Cloutier didn’t fit in as well as they wanted him to.

Philadelphia Wings head coach and GM Paul Day. (Photo credit: Cliff McCaig)

So, it seemed the Wings were stuck. Day’s statements to the press seem to indicate that Cloutier wasn’t willing to do the things he needed to do to help the team. Philadelphia needed an immediate change to compensate for weak areas that were exposed by their 1-6 record. They could have benched their draft pick, but that wouldn’t have helped the team. So trading Cloutier became the only option the Wings had.

The Wings’ mantra has been “we fly together” and it is hard to do that when, for whatever reason, one part of the team is damaged or broken. Day did what he felt he had to do. He’s a smart man whom the Wings hired for a reason. Every new team has growing pains but Day’s got the experience to guide the franchise through it.

Even after they had commented on his play and fitness, many fans were angry that Chris was let go. But with time they’ll understand that Day made a good choice. It wasn’t working out in Philadelphia for Cloutier. The Wings needed to be able to get something in return for their draft pick. They received a pick and Ryan Wagner, and right now Philadelphia seems to have the better end of the trade as Wagner scored one for the Wings while Day pointed out that Cloutier was a healthy scratch in his first game. Wagner is fast and physical and with Crowley taking care of things up front, the Wings needed to look after their back end.

There is more to the story than the public will know, and Day isn’t offering any more explanation, deflecting a question about the former Wing during his last post-game press conference. The bottom line is that with such a short schedule, the Wings could not afford to try and fit Cloutier in. They needed a solution right away and Buffalo offered it.

Day made the right decision for the locker room and the organization. His team already appears to be stronger and ready to move on as a result of the trade.

The Wings have a home-and-home this weekend with the New England Black Wolves beginning tonight in Philadelphia.