Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of Colin Doyle getting the phone call that he was being traded from the Toronto Rock to the San Jose Stealth. It went down as one of the biggest trades in league history: the â€™05 NLL MVP being shipped from the only team he’s ever played for to San Jose for Ryan Benesch (the No. 1 pick in the â€™06 Entry Draft) and a group of young, talented players.We had Andrew Lupton of the National Post in Toronto do an in-depth look at this trade a year later: why it happened, what it’s done for both teams and what it means for the future. Definitely was a hot-button issue for a lot of people around the league, but what Andrew wrote was, in my opinion, a very insightful and even piece for Inside Lacrosse Magazine. This article, along with this sidebar, appears in IL’s January issue.
Curious to read people’s opinions on this one, so be sure to post your thoughts at Wingszone.com.
When the Toronto Rock traded star forward Colin Doyle before the â€™07 season, it sent shockwaves through the league. A year later, both sides are still assessing the fallout
By Andrew Lupton
Two days after Christmas and less than a week before the 2007 National Lacrosse League season kicked off, Colin Doyle emerged from a movie theater to find his cell phone buzzing.
Doyle, one of the gameâ€™s most prolific goal-scorers, knew what the glut of messages meant even before the phone reached his ear.
â€œI said to my dad, â€˜hey, I think I just got traded,â€™â€ he says. â€œI knew I just had to go home, talk with my family and sort it all out.â€
For weeks the rumor mill had hinted that Doyle, the Toronto Rockâ€™s all-time leading scorer, would be traded away from the only NLL franchise he had ever known.
Instead of starting his 10th season as a member of one of the leagueâ€™s most successful teams, Doyle was slated to join the San Jose Stealth, a fledgling franchise located across the continent from his Ontario home.
The trade sent Doyle to Silicon Valley in exchange for forward Ryan Benesch, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 NLL Entry Draft. Also coming to Toronto were two first-round draft picks and defenders Kevin Fines and Chad Thompson. Joining Doyle was Toronto backliner Darren Halls and the Rockâ€™s 2007 first-round selection.
Almost a year after the trade, talking to Doyle and the Rock front office is like talking to both parties of a bitter divorce and trying to discover who caused the breakup.
On one side is Doyle, a premier player who feels scorned by his former team; on the other, the Rockâ€™s coach and general manager, who both believe their star player left them with no choice but to trade him away.
DOYLE JOINED THE ONTARIO RAIDERS as a rookie in 1998. The franchise was based in Hamilton, Ont. for that season, before being sold and relocated an hour up the road to Toronto, where the Rock would spend the next few seasons winning NLL titles in a run worthy of the dynasty label. Doyle was the 1998 NLL Rookie of the Year and the league MVP in 2005.
But the Rockâ€™s good times came to an end hours after the team won its fifth Championâ€™s Cup in 2005. The day after the game, the teamâ€™s beloved former coach Les Bartley was lost to the cancer that had kept him from the team for more than a year. Terry Sanderson, a respected coach from Ontario who guided the team to the 2005 title, led the defending champions into the 2006 campaign.
Then, suddenly, the Rock resembled a team that had forgotten how to win. After an 0-4 start, Toronto finished 8-8 and fell to Rochester in the first round of the playoffs. From the ashes of that season, the knives were quick to come out; fans unaccustomed to losing pointed to the Rockâ€™s over-reliance on a handful of scorers, Doyle in particular, and the teamâ€™s inability to handle quicker teams in transition.
Sanderson was fired as both coach and general manager a few weeks after the playoff loss, a decision that did not sit well with Doyle.
â€œEveryone was saying how bad we were and I just didnâ€™t agree,â€ Doyle says. â€œWe had a tough year and weâ€™d been depleted by expansion drafts, but I thought we still had a good core.â€
New general manager Mike Kloepfer was hired along with new head coach Glenn Clark, a respected former Rock player with no NLL coaching experience.
Although he admits to disagreeing with the hires, Doyle says his plan was not to cause trouble.
â€œI think Clark deserved the benefit of the doubt,â€ Doyle says. â€œWe had a good training camp and I was looking forward to the  season with renewed energy. I was never a disruptive force in that locker room.â€
Here, the two stories diverge dramatically. Clark and Kloepfer both say Doyle made his disapproval of the new regime clear in ways unspoken but not subtle. However, sources tell IL that Clark might have been at least partly responsible for that tension.
â€œ[Glenn] was trying to set the tone and from what I hear picked on Doyle and called him out quite a bit to make sure the rest of the guys knew who was boss,â€ says one NLL source.
Says Clark, â€œTerry and I both came in wanting to keep Colin. But it was clear he had a problem with me.â€
Rock captain and 15-year NLL veteran Jim Veltman believes Doyleâ€™s reputation with the team never recovered from a trade request he made during training camp leading up to the 2006 season, when Sanderson was still in charge.
Doyle was offered an opportunity with the Colorado Mammoth to not only play for the team but also work full-time within the organization; the offer became irrelevant when Sanderson was unable to strike a fair deal with Colorado.
â€œTerry said he tried to make the trade happen but that he couldnâ€™t make it work and I accepted that,â€ Doyle says. â€œThe offer was a great opportunity for me and my family. A lot of players I spoke to about the job said I would have been crazy not to consider it.â€
With no trade to the Mammoth forthcoming, Doyle continued with the Rock in what would be his final season in Toronto.
â€œIt disappointed a lot of his teammates, myself included,â€ Veltman says of Doyleâ€™s trade request. â€œI told him he had to win back the trust of the team.â€
HEADING INTO THE WINTER OF 2006, with the relationship between Doyle and Rock management worsening by the week, San Jose Stealth general manager Johnny Mouradian was busy working the phones. Mouradian wanted to make a trade that would help the Stealth rebound from a disappointing 5-11 season.
He had already used the No. 1 overall pick to take the player he felt was the best on the board: the left-handed sniper Benesch. But as good as Benesch looked, he was only 21 and had yet to play in the NLL.
â€œWe felt we were one more offensive player away from where we needed to be,â€ says Mouradian. â€œWe were looking for a guy that could quarterback the offense and bring some stability to our attack. Colin gave us that stability and championship experience.â€
For the Rock, the trade was a chance to add youth to an aging team.
â€œWe had no first-rounders coming to this team for four years,â€ says Kloepfer. â€œWe had to do something that would replenish the team down the road.â€
In Doyle, the Stealth acquired the offensive quarterback they sought: team scoring jumped by an average of almost two goals a game last year.
The Stealth began 2007 with a 1-5 record but steamed through the second half of the season to finish 9-7. More importantly, San Jose knocked off the defending champion Colorado Mammoth in the NLL Quarterfinals. Doyle had 10 points in the victory, nine of them assists.
The Stealth fell 9-7 to Arizona in the West final, but the teamâ€™s season and playoff run let their opponents know that San Jose was no longer a West Division wimp.
â€œColin was a big part of our success last year,â€ says Mouradian. â€œHe upgraded our offense big time.â€
Meanwhile, the Rock went 6-10 in 2007, the franchiseâ€™s worst finish. Toronto backed into the playoffs, where Rochester eliminated them in the opening round for the second straight year.
The silver lining in the Rockâ€™s season was Beneschâ€™s head-turning play. After a slow start, the kid they call Benny established himself as a gifted forward with golden hands, able to score highlight-reel goals even while draped in defenders. Benesch finished second to Aaron Wilson among Rock goal-scorers and won NLL Rookie of the Year honors.
Meanwhile, Fines and Thompson added scoring threats from the defensive end while the pair of first-round picks to come in 2008 and 2009 will help Toronto build for the future. Says Veltman: â€œI honestly think the trade will end up being one of those win-win deals.â€
For what itâ€™s worth, Doyle says heâ€™s happy with the Stealth and has become accustomed to his weekly flights to the West Coast.
â€œBy the time the trade came down, I didnâ€™t feel I had much connection to the Toronto Rock anymore,â€ Doyle says. â€œIâ€™ve moved on and theyâ€™ve moved on.â€
The two teams play in separate divisions and, barring an unlikely meeting in the NLL final, will not play each other in 2008. Still, Doyle says he relishes the chance to return to the Air Canada Centre and, for the first time, play there as a member of the visiting team.
â€œI definitely would like to play there,â€ he says, â€œto take them on and play in front of that crowd again.â€
Andrew Lupton covers the Rock for the National Post in Toronto.
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