Following a disappointing 7-9 regular season and a first-round exit from the playoffs in 2013, the Philadelphia Wings are looking to rebound and get back into the thick of things in the NLL East Division.
That's a task that might be easier said than done.
Head coach and general manager Johnny Mouradian stepped aside from his coaching duties over the summer making way for Blane Harrison to take over after being an assistant since 2011.
According to the Wings website, wingslax.com, the team had been grooming Harrison for the role and it gives Mouradian a better chance to focus on player procurement.
Harrison will be challenged after a number of significant departures. Drew Westervelt, who was second on the team in scoring last year, is gone to the Colorado Mammoth. Kevin Buchanan, who was third in scoring, and Paul Rabil, who was sixth, are also out of the picture.
In fact, 16 members of the 2013 roster are now gone, including starting goaltender Brandon Miller, who had been given the franchise tag in the offseason.
The new-look Wings offense will once again be led by Kevin Crowley. The former first-overall draft pick scored 34 goals and added 38 assists last season. He'll be helped by free agent acquisition Ryan Ward who picked up 75 points with the Edmonton Rush in 2013.
Kevin Ross had a 53-point season for the Wings last year and will be counted on to keep up the production on the left side.
Forward Kyle Buchanan played his rookie season last year with the Washington Stealth, where he collected 22 points in nine games. Expectations will be high for him to improve on those numbers in 2014.
Brendan Mundorf is another critical piece to the Wings offense but, for the second year in a row, he's on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. Last season he didn't play a game until March. He did, however, rack up 22 points in just six games once he was healthy.
The Wings scored 170 goals last year, the fewest in the league. They'll be counting on the offseason moves to pay huge dividends for them and they'll be counting on Mundorf to be back in the lineup sooner rather than later this year.
The Wings also gave up 207 goals against, third most in the NLL. Shoring up the defense is also critical if Philly is to be competitive this year.
Brodie Merrill is arguably the best transition player in the league. He's a loose ball machine, having collected 123 last year. Merrill was recently named the 11th-best player in the NLL by ilindoor.com, making him a major asset for the team.
Merrill is joined by Kyle Sweeney (37 LBs in nine games), Joel White (87 LBs) and Brett Manney (39 LBs).
With Miller failing to make the team, the Wings are counting on Evan Kirk to shoulder the load in net. Kirk, acquired from the Minnesota Swarm in the offseason, had a great rookie campaign in 2012 (9.81 goals against average), but suffered from the sophomore jinx last year, with his goals against ballooning to 14.47.
In spite of last year's numbers Kirk is a solid goaltender, but if he falters the Wings will have to hope that rookie Don Alton is up to the task.
The Wings have a bunch of question marks this year and not a ton of answers. If everything goes well, they should be all right. But it won't take much to take this team off the rails.
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