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Bandits opt to leave all three goalies unprotected for expansion draft

The Buffalo Bandits are likely taking a page out of the National Hockey League's book when it comes to the National Lacrosse League expansion draft.

The NLL's current nine franchises released their protected player lists Tuesday for the July 16 expansion draft. Buffalo's included one of the biggest surprises, as none of the team's three goaltenders, Alex Buque, Davide DiRuscio and Zach Higgins, was protected.

That doesn't necessarily mean the team will lose Buque, who started in 16 of the Bandits' 18 games last season. Bandits General Manager Steve Dietrich said he's exploring trade opportunities with the two new franchises, the Philadelphia Wings and San Diego Seals, in the same style as the negotiations NHL teams did with the Vegas Golden Knights last summer.

"We're probably going to lose a goalie but I'm going to do anything I can to see if there's any deals that I can make ... to have it almost be our choice," said Dietrich, who is navigating his first expansion draft since being named the team's general manager in 2012.

Buffalo acquired Buque last offseason in a trade with the Colorado Mammoth. He posted a 6-6 record, 12.94 goals against average and .771 save percentage last season.

There weren't many surprises when it came to the rest of the Bandits' protected list, especially among the forwards. Each team could protect 11 players with a maximum of five forwards and a goalie.

Here is the Bandits' complete list:

Forwards: Dhane Smith, Shawn Evans, Josh Byrne, Jordan Durston, Mitch Jones.

Defensemen: Steve Priolo, Kevin Brownell, Nick Weiss, Thomas Hoggarth, Mitch de Snoo, Justin Martin.

Unprotected: Goalies Alex Buque, Davide DiRuscio and Zach Higgins; Forwards Chase Fraser, Craig England, Vaughn Harris, Mark Steenhuis, Alex Kedoh Hill and Zach Herreweyers; Defensemen Ryan Wagner, Matthew Bennett, Ryan Fournier, Reid Acton, Ethan Schott, Zac Reid, Liam Patten and Bill O'Brien.

Steenhuis is an unrestricted free agent. While Philadelphia and San Diego can select UFAs in the expansion draft, those players have less value since they are free to leave in the summer.

"Those were the 11 guys that we wanted to take off the table," Dietrich said. "Now it is open to talk. 'If you're going to take this guy from us, what if I get you to take this guy if I also throw in this guy?' We're going to come out of this OK. I've had preliminary discussions with both Philadelphia and San Diego."

Other than the goalies, the three biggest names on the Bandits' unprotected list are Fraser, Harris and Wagner.

Fraser, a second-round pick in last year's draft, is an athletic righty who notched eight goals and 14 points in nine games. Harris was a revelation for Buffalo after being acquired right before the start of the season. He played every runner position on the floor, taking 338 faceoffs, notching 32 points and getting time on defense in his 14 games.

Wagner, a Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario, native, had a goal and 10 assists in his first season with the Bandits after being acquired from Vancouver in a trade.

"You get to 11 early," Dietrich said. "It's kind of scary. ... We just didn't have any room to protect them."

Bandits retain Steve Dietrich as general manager

San Diego had the choice of the first pick in the expansion draft or the entry draft after winning a coin toss during game two of the NLL Finals. They chose the latter, meaning Philadelphia will have the first selection in the expansion draft. Each existing team will lose two players, but not necessarily one to each of the new franchises.

League rosters were frozen once expansion lists were submitted. They'll be locked until the expansion draft.

This is likely the first of many expansion drafts in the coming years, as NLL commissioner Nick Sakiewicz said in his state of the league address last month that he sees a path to 14 teams before 2021 and 30 teams in the next 10 to 12 years. Dietrich said the fact that they'll lose more players in the future did have some effect on his decision-making but not enough to get him out of a win-now mentality.

"You want to try and keep as much youth as possible, but you also can't be thinking two or three years down the road," Dietrich said. "You can try and play as many games as you want, but you're going to lose two players and they are going to be players that hurt. You hope that you have enough depth that you can either make trades to have it come from an area of strength or have enough depth to control who you lose."

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