Owner Brendan Kelly and general manager Dave Cottle knew they were mortgaging the future when they traded draft picks to acquire veteran talent shortly after the Chesapeake Bayhawks moved to Annapolis.
It was hard to argue with the strategy at the time because the Bayhawks captured Major League Lacrosse championships in 2010, 2012 and 2013.
However, Chesapeake has paid the price ever since as its roster aged and the veteran parts did not produce at the same level. Cottle recognized the Bayhawks had to get younger and essentially reversed philosophy, trading proven veterans for younger players and draft choices.
Blockbuster trades for midfielder Myles Jones and attackman Lyle Thompson gave the Bayhawks two young offensive stars to build around. Cottle stockpiled draft choices for this year because he felt the incoming class was loaded with depth.
Chesapeake learned on Monday that it had missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season, having been eliminated by last Thursday's overtime defeat at Denver. The Bayhawks (6-7) can finish .500 by beating the Outlaws in a rematch on Thursday night, but all the tiebreakers go against them.
"Obviously, it's frustrating to miss the playoffs. That being said, I still feel like we're one of the best teams in the league," Chesapeake head coach Brian Reese said in a statement. "We have a very young team with a lot of potential. We will keep this core group together and I think the future will be very bright for the Bayhawks."
Cottle was equally optimistic, opining that Chesapeake has put together a team that will only getting better moving forward. The Bayhawks dressed 11 first- or second-year players last week and those youngsters provide hope for returning to the postseason in 2018.
"We had an older roster from 2013 through 2015 that we had to turn over," Cottle said. "I think this year's draft class really changed the complexion of the roster. We feel we're headed in the right direction. I think the future is extremely bright. We have some outstanding young players."
Chesapeake finished in a seven-way tie for first place last season and come out on the wrong end of numerous tiebreakers. This year's club has lost seven games by two goals or less.
"We're disappointed in the record, we're disappointed in the results of all those close games, but we're not that far away," Cottle insisted. "I was encouraged by what I saw this season. Clearly, our personnel has improved. We've gotten younger, faster and more athletic. About the only thing lacking is experience and our young guys got a ton of that this season."
Cottle acknowledged there are still some areas needing improvement. The Bayhawks need to get a bit younger and deeper on defense while the goaltending and faceoff numbers rank middle of the pack or worse in Major League Lacrosse.
Cottle echoed the sentiments of Kelly, who recently stated that Major League Lacrosse needs to develop a better working relationships with the National Lacrosse League. Thompson, a true difference-maker, has only played five games with the Bayhawks this season because he led the Georgia Storm to the championship of the indoor professional league. Jason Noble, a defenseman who could have really helped the Bayhawks this season, did not play a single game outdoors after suffering an injury during the NLL playoffs.
"There has to be a way for these two leagues to work together so that you don't have three different teams over the course of the season," Cottle said.
While the playoff drought is disheartening, the Chesapeake braintrust believes the foundation for future success has been laid. Seven members of the 2017 Collegiate Draft class contributed for the Bayhawks this season with attackman Josh Byrne, midfielder Jake Froccaro, faceoff specialist Ben Williams and defensive midfielder Isaiah Davis-Allen leading the way.
Byrne, the team's third-round pick out of Hofstra, proved a real revelation — scoring 32 goals in eight games. The left-handed Canadian can break the MLL record for goals by a rookie by notching a hat trick on Thursday night.
Coach Reese believes Davis-Allen, a fast and athletic product of Maryland, has already established himself as one of the top short stick defensive midfielders in MLL. Fraccaro, a No. 1 draft choice out of Villanova, has displayed ability to stretch defenses with his perimeter shooting.
Attackmen Colin Heacock (Maryland) and Nick Aponte (Penn State), close defenseman Chris Fennell (Navy) and short stick defensive midfielder Nick Manis (Maryland) have also shown flashes.
"Our roster is 100 percent better than two years ago when Coach Reese took over," Cottle said. "Again, the constant changing of personnel over the course of the season made it difficult to develop chemistry. It was not a talent problem, it was an assimilation problem."