NLL: Rock heat up a lacrosse-less summer with two trades

Mitch deSnoo. Buffalo Bandits @ Philadelphia Wings, March 9, 2019. (Photo credit: Tracey Happold-Brown)

On March 8th, 2020, the Toronto Rock hosted the Calgary Roughnecks. The game marked the return from injury of both Tom Schreiber and Dan Dawson, but was a 13-10 victory for the visitors. It also began the Trade Deadline conversation, just over two weeks away. But the National Lacrosse League never got there.

The scope and severity of the current pandemic quickly brought into perspective things like simple wins and losses, playoff seeding and roster management. The safety of players, staff and fans caused the unprecedented postponement, and eventual cancellation, of the 2020 season.

As sports around the world begin to return, lacrosse fans caught a glimpse of the faint shimmer of light at the end of this long tunnel when actual trades and actual lacrosse news broke on Monday afternoon, nearly four full months since that game.

Calgary actually jumped first in the trade game as they acquired Dereck Downs from the New York Riptide for a third-round pick on Friday, when the roster freeze was lifted. One of the more intriguing deals on a busy Monday saw long time Mammoth captain Dan Coates leaving Colorado for Georgia’s Zed Williams (with various picks going both ways). Mack Mitchell also heads to New York in a deal seeing the 29th and 18th overall picks included in what will be a very deep 2020 NLL Entry Draft.

The busiest General Manager was Jamie Dawick of the Toronto Rock. Toronto completed two trades, acquiring Jason Noble from Georgia for a pair of first-round picks (one conditional) and Mitch de Snoo from Buffalo for Brock Sorensen, Alec Tulett and a conditional first-round pick.

Toronto Rock’s Brock Sorensen celebrates an empty net goal. (Photo credit: Anna Taylor)

Tulett leaves the Rock after appearing in 18 games (two in the playoffs) over two seasons for the Rock. Sorensen, a locker room leader anywhere he plays, spent the 2020 season on the Rock’s PUP list after injuring his Achilles tendon in the 2019 Mann Cup.

The interesting part of the trades is the Rock dealing away their first-round picks for the next three seasons, in what should all be deep drafts. The Rock have never been a team to build through the draft, however, so the trades for players who will help now should not be surprising. The Rock selected Aaron Forster 15th overall in last year’s draft, but their previous first round pick was in 2016 when they picked an 18 year old Latrell Harris 12th overall.

As play shut down in March, yes, the Rock offense got a boost from Schreiber and Dawson. The transition game was solid this season led by now back-to-back Transition Player of the Year Challen Rogers, and the emergence of Scott Dominey. After adding David Brock last offseason, the Rock now add two stellar defenders in Noble and de Snoo – both of whom also play with many teammates for the Oakville Rock in MSL. With Nick Rose between the pipes, it is a formidable roster.

If there is one dark spot for Toronto it is at faceoff. The Rock sent a combined eight players to the dot, yet only won 111 of 275 faceoffs (40.4%, fourth worst in the league ahead of Vancouver, Georgia and Buffalo). It is possible Jamie Dawick and Matt Sawyer believe in their defence and transition ability to accept that percentage. However, there are teams in the league who would argue starting with the ball more often than not tends to lead to more offense (see also: Halifax’s ability to come back in games).

Undoubtedly, the Rock improved on Monday with two trades for two top defenders. But at the end of the day, in a summer without lacrosse and a season cancelled March 8th, lacrosse fans feel like they themselves won in the end, since there were actual trades to discuss, and something to look forward to as we head towards the free agency period (August 1st), what should be an incredible NLL Entry Draft, and ultimately, the NLL’s return for the 2021 season.