It’s not a lot of fun being with the Minnesota Swarm these days. So much promise coming into the 2014 National Lacrosse League season, but a 1-6 record is nowhere near that promise. Is the season lost? Can it be turned around? The Swarm have 11 games left if they want to be a playoff team this year and the unfortunate thing for them is that they have a few wrinkles to iron out. It’s one of those situations where the answer depends on who you ask, so ILIndoor went ahead and did that. Check it out as staffers Bob Chavez, Teddy Jenner, Ty Pilson, Stephen Stamp and Marty O’Neill tackle the issue of the Swarm and what may be the cure to the ills of this team.
CHAVEZ: So the Minnesota Swarm are 1-6 and just can’t seem to put together a complete game. It’s too early to write this team off, but this was not the year to get off to a slow start considering “the letter” team management sent out prior to the season about how more fan support was critical to the survival of the franchise. How much do we need to worry about this Swarm franchise?
JENNER: If we’re all being honest, this is a team that has been on a downward spiral for the past few seasons. Sure, they’ve made some big leaps in the past (one terrible game shy of going to the finals) but youth will only get you so far. The Swarm don’t have a proper lacrosse mind in control and it’s showing in many of the moves the club has made. Ryan Benesch, Andrew Watt and Evan Kirk all traded away. Players who become expendable because they aren’t Arlotta guys have been thriving on new clubs. Then with ‘the letter’ going out before the season started, you had to know this team was in peril.
PILSON: To be fair, the team’s braintrust — led by the Arlottas — looked brilliant last season. The moves they made improved the club greatly. But they seem stuck between a rock and a hard place being a solo ownership group, meaning many of the roster moves I would guess are likely influenced by the almighty dollar. Rookies are cheaper. And hey, if you can load up on first-round picks and get younger, faster players, so much the better. It worked till this season. What went wrong? Chemistry. They simply tinkered too much. The trades they made in the off-season — especially dealing Benesch — have really hurt the club. This year’s crop of rookies are taking longer to adjust and make a big impact in the league. Quite simply, this year’s edition of the Swarm is a weaker overall team at this point. Bad news in such an ultra-competitive league.
STAMP: First of all, if it’s too early to write them off, it’s not by much. Say it will take a 9-9 record to make the playoffs; that means the Swarm would have to go on an 8-3 run to get there. That would be difficult for any team, let alone a club that has struggled to find effectiveness and consistency in any phase of the game so far this season. It’s obvious to everyone watching that cost-cutting has been a primary concern when constructing this team. The brain trust has worked hard to get picks that will allow them to bring in top rookies, and that has worked pretty well. They had a bit of bad luck in the way the years worked out. Had they had the top pick last year instead of this year, maybe trading Benesch isn’t so crippling because you have Mark Matthews. Logan Schuss is good, but Matthews is a really special talent. They also took Cam Flint with a first-round pick. He hasn’t gotten into the lineup consistently and in training camp didn’t look ready for the NLL. He may turn out to be a good selection long term, but when you need rookies to step in and play well right away, you don’t have the luxury to wait for the long term. I don’t know how much I worry, because the core fan base in Minnesota seems really supportive. The trouble, of course, is that you have to grow that base to thrive, and losing doesn’t help that. I just hope they can get have a better second half and create some more excitement, at least in part because I do like the Arlottas and believe that they wholeheartedly want the team to succeed in Minnesota.
O’NEILL: It’s the worst spot in sports to know that the season is unsalvageable when you have so many more games to play. At this point, Minny has one of the toughest remaining schedules and an extremely important double game weekend on tap. Are they done for this year? Nothing is impossible, plus they have been a second half of the schedule rally team the last 2 years and have lots of divisional games left to make up ground. Leadership is in question and I’m not talking about the “go thru the wall” motto stuff either. I’m talking about the one guy who can walk on a field an orchestrate an offense and knows he can do it and believes he can do it every shift. The straw that stirs the drink. The Swarm traded that guy this past summer. They also banished some grunts like Nik Bilic and Dan Ball, who gave the Swarm a deeper edge. Benesch and Callum Crawford were 3-4 years in the making themselves, so it was wishful at best to think a rookie could come in and cover that much ground. Schuss is not the playmaker Benesch was and that is the biggest difference in 2014.
CHAVEZ: So the trade of Benesch and loss of a couple of middle men seem to be really hurting the Swarm and it’s not so much production that’s missing, it’s leadership and experience that takes time to develop. The Swarm don’t appear to have that luxury with the halfway point of the season coming up. Given that, is there a lineup change with the current roster that can be made to spark a rally? Move Andrew Suitor up to get some grit in the set offense? Or, is it time to call Gavin Prout?
STAMP: I wouldn’t mess around with moving Suitor out of the back end; he’s just too valuable to the team back there. Prout is an interesting option and suits what they need, which is a guy to help facilitate the offence. He played in a CLax game last weekend and looked great. One issue is that they have a lot of righties already on O with Crawford, Jordan MacIntosh and Kiel Matisz pretty well established. If they feel like they need a lefty who could play the kind of role that Benesch did for them, perhaps they look to another CLax standout and take a shot on Andrew Potter. He’s really been terrific for the Niagara Lock Monsters the last year and a half and might be worth a look, especially given that he wouldn’t be expensive.
JENNER: I honestly believe the Swarm have too much of a good thing and often times, as we are seeing this year, it’s having the opposite desired effect. Much like the Stealth, the Swarm are incredibly unbalanced on offence and teams can easily defend them knowing the left-handers won’t hurt them. Potter is an interesting name to come up as he’s had some coffee in the NLL but never really stuck. But put in the right position, he could make a difference. But if I’m the Swarm I find a GM that knows what he’s doing and can find some middle of the road veterans to complement my youth. Exactly what the Arlotta’s are trying to avoid but in this league, you have to be focused on winning as much as you are cutting costs.
PILSON: I’d leave Suitor be for the reason Stamper pointed out. This Swarm team has tons of offensive talent, they just aren’t playing well as a group. Moreover, as has been pointed out in a few places this season, I think the biggest issue is they are too much of a perimeter offence. They are predictable. They need to change things up, start using off-ball cutters more and Crawford needs to step up and lead by example. This is his offence. He’s the star veteran who can quarterback them. The answer to their problems has to come out of that dressing room. They may be able to tinker by adding a player, but they need a lot more than just tinkering right now.
O’NEILL: The Swarm have so much invested in the guys they dress now I can’t see them going to CLax for help, the Dane Stevens move was already out of character and didn’t address anything. They could make a trade with all the resources they have on hand to go and get what they need. What they need IMHO is the guys they already had like Kevin Ross, Sean Pollock or Jay Card and Ryan Benesch. They could dress Corbyn Tao and move Matisz back for a start. Buffalo ain’t trading Benesch so the next possible lefty they could acquire would possibly be a Shawn Williams, Joe Walters or a Lewis Ratcliff that may be expendable for the right price. On the right side it would be a Joel McCready or Aaron Wilson to work with Crawford. In a nine-team league, trading is almost dead. The Swarm would have to overpay for anything they went shopping for.
CHAVEZ: Crawford pointed out after last week’s game that change for the Swarm needs to come from within, meaning the guys in the locker room. He’s done his part with some solid production the last few games, and Jordan MacIntosh is on a pretty strong run as well. But Schuss hasn’t panned out as planned, and Shayne Jackson has been struggling. If the Swarm are to turn things around, they’ll need Schuss and Jackson to ramp it up a bit to balance out the offense and force opponents to make more than 1 or 2 decisions on defense.
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