The Buffalo Bandits were eliminated from the playoffs for a second straight season after a disappointing 15-13 loss to the Rochester Knighthawks last weekend. That means the offseason has begun, and while it likely won't be as busy as last year, there are some looming questions yet to be answered regarding the direction of the franchise.
1. Will Steve Dietrich and Troy Cordingley return as general manager and head coach?
The Bandits just completed their first full season of a rebuild, but two years without the playoffs is tough to take for a team that's enjoyed decades of success like Buffalo. Bandits Director of Lacrosse Operations Scott Loffler told The Buffalo News on Thursday that the pair's future with the team has not been decided. He also said no timetable has been set for a decision.
Dietrich has been the team's general manager since July of 2012, while Cordingley took over as Buffalo's head coach in 2014. The Bandits have gone 52-54 since Dietrich arrived and 46-44 under Cordingley. The duo led the Bandits to the Champion's Cup in 2016, where they lost to Saskatchewan.
2. Who will the Bandits lose in the expansion draft?
The National Lacrosse League is expanding for the first time since 2008, adding the Philadelphia Wings and San Diego Seals to the fold next season.
Each pre-existing team can protect 11 players, with a maximum of five forwards and one goalie. Each team will lose two players, but not necessarily one to each team. Unrestricted free agents can be selected, but there is little value there since they can still sign with anyone they want. Buffalo only has two UFAs: Mark Steenhuis and Bill O'Brien.
3. What's the plan going forward with the goaltenders?
When Buffalo acquired Alex Buque from the Colorado Mammoth last offseason, he was seen as a up-and-coming keeper for a team needing to replace recently retired starter Anthony Cosmo. Less than a year later, it's hard to argue that his first season in the orange and black was anything but a disappointment. He had his strong moments, particularly the season opener against Toronto and Buffalo's road blowout of New England, but was pulled six times and finished the season ranked in the bottom half of the league in save percentage and goals against average.
Dietrich never had to face the looming backup goalie question this season, as Davide DiRuscio never returned from the hamstring injury he suffered against the Rochester Knighthawks on Dec. 23. The Bandits signed Zach Higgins to be his replacement, a move that paid off quite well. In fact, his numbers this season were better than what DiRuscio put up last year. Buffalo had so much confidence in Higgins that Cordingley opted to start him in the team's must-win finale.
Complicating the situation is the expansion draft, as there's a good chance at least Philadelphia will be interested in Buffalo's backups. The expansion teams may make the backup decision for Buffalo.
4. If he stays, how will Dietrich revamp the defensive unit?
Buffalo's offense, at least statistically, had a decent season. The defense wasn't so sharp, finishing seventh in the league with 240 goals against. Fourteen defensemen and transition players made an appearance, as the team was often shuffling the unit due to injuries. The group is young, so there is potential for growth, but Dietrich admitted it's the side of the ball that needs the most tinkering.
"I know we need to improve the defense," Dietrich said. "Whether that means moving a (forward) piece up there to improve the backend and draft a person on O, that's something that we'll definitely look at."
5. How will the Bandits use their draft capital?
The Bandits own two high first-round picks in the upcoming entry draft, No. 3 (courtesy of the Vancouver Stealth) and No. 4. When it comes to defensemen, Inside Lacrosse NLL Draft expert Stephen Stamp said to keep an eye on Peterborough Laker Matt Gilray, who notched 11 points in 15 Major Series Lacrosse games last summer.
"He is an absolute beast," Stamp said. "May have been their best defender at times last summer. Still has to work on consistency but he will be fantastic in the NLL. Very similar to Zach Currier but bigger and with better finish. Not the loose ball magnet that Currier is, though."
Stamp has three other defenders/transition players in the top 10 on his big board: Six Nations' Ian MacKay and Shane Simpson and Brampton's Travis Burton.