Training camps in the National Lacrosse League are now well underway with all nine franchises still busily securing contracts with their returning players while evaluating new talent.
The league and the Professional Lacrosse Players Association reached a seven-year deal on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement on Oct. 22, but the late arrival of that deal meant that teams were unable to make deals with their free agents over the summer, so they've been scrambling over the last month to make that happen.
The new CBA makes things more challenging for each team in that it reduces roster size to 20 players with four on the practice roster, down from 23 active and three on the practice roster. Additionally, the schedule has been lengthened to 18 games, up from 16.
That puts more pressure on every team to make each spot count and also puts pressure on the players to be as fit as possible, since there will be fewer guys dressing for each game.
As noted by Geoff Snider of the Calgary Roughnecks, via In Lacrosse We Trust, "The team that’s gonna be the most dangerous is the one that stays the healthiest. A commitment to training and a commitment to fitness and staying fresh ultimately is what is going to win a team a championship."
It’s going to be difficult. We have to get down to 20. There’s going to be some players who will be left off. ... There’s competition in all areas. The high level of competition is bringing out the best in everyone. The veterans don’t want to lose their spot and the younger players are gunning for those spots. This is going to be a tough decision with three less spots to pick. This makes our job a lot tougher because everyone is battling.
When all is said and done, it means high-energy camps with new players trying to make smaller rosters and veterans trying to hang on to what they already have.
Some of the older vets will be pushed particularly hard. The new luxury tax system that has been implemented as part of the CBA will seek to ensure no one grabs too big a talent advantage by signing every high-priced veteran available.
The net result is that young teams like the Minnesota Swarm will be at a financial advantage over older teams like the Bandits.
It also means players like the Bandits' John Tavares—the all-time leading scorer in NLL history—will have to fight especially hard to earn their roster spot. After an injury-plagued, disappointing 2013 season, Tavares will have to prove himself worthy of a big contract in order to reclaim his place on the roster ahead of younger, cheaper players.
Teams don't have a lot of time to make their decisions. With the longer schedule, the season is starting earlier than usual, with six of the nine teams playing their season openers on Dec. 28.
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