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Bandits trade Benesch to Colorado for Crawford, Buque

The remodeling of the Buffalo Bandits is underway.

The Bandits, who finished last overall in the 2017 season, completed a major trade that included one of the team's biggest stars. Forward Ryan Benesch and a conditional third-round draft pick in 2018 went to Colorado in the transition. The Mammoth gave up forward Callum Crawford and goaltender Alex Buque.

"It's been something I've been bantering back and forth on," Bandits general manager Steve Dietrich said. "At first it was not about Benesch, it was more about Alex. It snowballed from there."

The Bandits also signed a free agent, transition player Ryan Wagner, and re-signed one of their players from last year, goalie Dave DiRuscio.

The centerpieces of the deal are the two forwards who are among the sport's top scorers.

Crawford, 32, was sixth in the National Lacrosse League in scoring last season with 98 points. His 36 goals tied a career high. In 2016, Crawford had 32 goals, 83 assists for 115 points.

Crawford and Benesch were teammates with Minnesota for several seasons at the start of the decade. He also has played for Calgary, San Jose, Chicago and Edmonton. Crawford has 789 career points in 171 games.

"I've been a fan of Callum for years," Dietrich said. "He's one of the best passers in the game."

Benesch, 32, missed four games with injuries, but still finished 2017 with 33 goals and 35 assists for 68 points. That ranked third on the Bandits. It was a surprise that he was involved in a trade.

"There are so many people to thank who made my time in Buffalo these last four years unforgettable," Benesch wrote on Twitter. "THANK YOU to everyone who was apart of it!"

Benesch came over in a trade from Minnesota. His best season statistically was in 2015, when he scored 55 goals and had 58 assists for 113 points - both career highs. The forward has 362 goals and 475 assists in 170 career games.

"It was with a heavy heart that we traded Ryan," Dietrich said. "I've known him since he was eight or nine.

"He's been fantastic for us. He scores big goals, and that's tough to find. A lot of guys can put up goals in 19-9 games, but he does it in big games. But when you acquire something good, you give up something good."

Buque, 24, played three seasons in Colorado. He has a career record of 7-9 with a .774 save percentage and an 11.16 goals-against average. Buque will be given a chance to fit into the Bandits' goaltending situation this winter. Anthony Cosmo talked about retiring at the end of the 2017 season, but he hasn't decided about his status for the upcoming season.

"I've talked to him over the last few weeks, and he couldn't give me an answer," Dietrich said about Cosmo. "He's 39. I respect that. He's got a young family.

"I was honest with him. I told him that I couldn't go into August 1," the start of free agency, "without an option. Alex had a phenomenal summer. We still have DiRuscio, and Kevin Orleman is a year away from being a good goalie in this league."

Cosmo and DiRuscio were at the bottom of the NLL statistical list in goals-against average last season, although certainly those numbers are affected by the entire team's play.

DiRuscio had a 1-6 record last season with a 13.97 GAA. He has been with the team for three years, and agreed to a two-year deal.

The day's other signing was the 23-year-old Wagner, who had spent the last two seasons with the Vancouver Stealth. He had five points in 11 games last season, and is from Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. Wagner was a fifth-round draft pick by Vancouver in 2015.

Speaking of free agents, Andrew Watt, Billy Dee Smith and David Brock all became unrestricted free agents on Tuesday. Dietrich said he will be talking with those players in the near future.

Dietrich said that the team's coaching staff - head coach Troy Cordingley, and assistant coaches John Tavares and Rich Kilgour - will be back next season.

The Bandits had one of their worst regular seasons in history in 2017, finishing 6-12.

"You can't turn a blind eye to what happened," Dietrich said about last year. "Do I believe we are as good as we were two years ago when we were in the finals? Maybe not. But are we as bad as we were last year? Maybe not. I think we're better than that."

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