Rebuild, retool or stay the course?
That is the question facing Vancouver Stealth general manager Doug Locker after his squad will face a third straight off-season of watching the National Lacrosse League playoffs from the sidelines.
The season, which came to an end over the weekend, featured several ups and downs.
The Stealth were 3-4 after seven games, but the middle portion of the season saw them swoon, going winless in seven games and prompting a coaching change after the fifth of those losses.
Vancouver closed with a 2-2 record with both losses coming on the final weekend of regular season play.
The Stealth needed to win those final two games, as well as hope for a Calgary Roughnecks loss, to qualify for the post-season.
“Those last two were almost like a tease; we just didn’t have enough weeks left to mount a charge,” Locker said on Tuesday afternoon.
“(But) I think those last two weeks at home showed us what we really had.”
He was referring to back-to-back victories against Calgary and Saskatchewan. The former prevented the Roughnecks from clinching a playoff spot that week while the latter cost Saskatchewan first place overall in the nine-team league.
Locker pointed to a pair of other losses which proved very costly: an overtime defeat in Rochester and then another one-goal loss in Colorado where the Stealth could not hold on to a big lead, allowing the game-winner with one second to play.
“Those two games definitely came back to bite us,” although he did admit that there was probably a game or two where his team rallied for a win where they were not the better team over the course of the 60 minutes.
Now the question becomes what does Locker do moving forward?
“I think you go into a little bit of an analysis stage. Pull back, reflect on things, try and see what you liked, what you didn’t like and try and correct it,” he said.
Heading into the season, Locker envisioned a playoff spot.
“I still honestly feel like starting the year, we had a team to be optimistic with and felt was going to compete into the post-season. Not reaching that initial goal was very disappointing,” he said.
And while every team has injuries at some point or another over the course of a season, it was the fact they lost two key offensive cogs at the same time — Garrett Billings and Logan Schuss — as well as missing core defenders at various points. Despite missing those two, several players on the offence had career years, including Rhys Duch, who tied the franchise record in both goals (48) and points (111).
That is why Locker is leaning more towards retooling the roster, especially to better fit head coach Jamie Batley’s preferred style of play, which is focused on more transition, running up and down the floor and pressuring the opposition.
“I thought we ran the floor much better, we were much more aggressive. We were just a much better lacrosse team,” Locker said.
The plan is to hold player meetings as the team determines the next course of action.
The team will be active in free agency, especially without a first round draft pick, which would have been first overall.
And Locker feels the team has a good foundation but just needs a few pieces.
“I think we have a good core group and a great locker room,” he said.
“Even when we lost those seven games in the middle of the season, the guys stayed together, battled hard throughout the year.”