Already the largest indoor lacrosse league in North America, the NLL continues to expand into the 2021-2022 season.
In three days, the NLL franchises must submit their protected lists. Eleven players can be sheltered, with a maximum of five offensive players. Other protection formats include a 4/7/1 or 4/8. Both forms of protection require four offensive players protected and a variant of eight defensive players.
There will be a heavy amount of talent available for Panther City LC to create a foundation. For the Philadelphia Wings, the players protected mold the team in Paul Day’s vision.
Adding Panther City shifts the paradigm of the NLL. Teams are refreshing after an interruption by COVID-19. Aside from the 2021 NLL Expansion Draft, the 2021 NLL Entry Draft is nearly overflowing with prospects. This upcoming offseason could arguably be the most critical in recent memory. Drafting prospects will be more difficult, especially when losing a valuable NLL player is simple.
Panther City has many advantages heading into the 2021-2022 NLL season. The players already in the NLL have already shown they are capable. There are fewer question marks in comparison when Panther City builds their team versus other franchises preserving theirs.
How could the Wings protection list look?
If the Philadelphia Wings can protect five offensive players while keeping the team’s core together, they will. Again, they will expose explosive talent to Panther City LC, but it doesn’t mean all is lost. Protecting the max amount of offensive players means a 5/5/1 format works splendidly.
Three forwards who will be protected finished one, two, three in team scoring before COVID-19. Kevin Crowley led the team in points and assists. Brett Hickey topped the team in goals. Matt Rambo finished second across all offensive statistics. Those three forwards are locks for protection.
The Wings traded a lot to acquire Ben McIntosh. Josh Currier, who had a breakout season in 2019-2020, and two first-round picks were the price for McIntosh. Trading that draft capital and personnel means Paul Day searched for another top playmaker to fit his win-now approach. If McIntosh is exposed, Philadelphia gave away a ton of value for nothing in return.
If Panther City doesn’t select Vitarelli, then no harm, no foul.
Again, the Philadelphia Wings have the luxury of securing their defensive core for 2019-2020. They will also protect their two best transition players. Panther City LC should pay attention to the Wings exposed list on defense. The best value could reside here.
The obvious two are Trevor Baptiste and Kiel Matisz. Both transition players are locks to receive protection slots. They recovered more than a hundred loose balls in 2019-2020. Matisz is a workhorse, ironman in Philadelphia, while Baptiste could be the best transition player in the league. His 73.2% faceoff winning percentage was second to Jake Withers in 2019-2020.
Other defensemen who will receive a protection slot are Steph Charbonneau, Liam Byrnes, and Anthony Joaquim. Those three are the core of the Wings defense. Paul Day should keep them together while circuiting rookie defensemen from the 2020 and 2021 NLL Entry Draft.
Those five protected defensemen and transition players could have one more join the rankings if Day decides not to secure a goaltender. He should, especially with Zach Higgins on the roster.
The assumption here is that Paul Day chooses the 5/5/1 model over the 5/6. Zach Higgins led the NLL in saves and wins during 2019-2020. He just missed the mark in save percentage, securing an 81.5%, good for third in the league. The Philadelphia Wings need to hold onto Higgins. He should be a lock for protection.
Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre