Four Big Takeaways From Roster Announcements

March 20, 2024
By Adam Ruffner

UFA teams announced their rosters yesterday and it feels like the official start of the 2024 preseason. And with just 37 days between now and the opening pull on April 26, here are four big takeaways and revelations from looking through the new lineups.

Chicago is a contender again in the Central Division

Last year, Chicago didn’t just have the worst offense of any of the 12 playoff teams—they averaged the fewest holds per game for a UFA team since the 2016 season. But signing 6’6” offensive hybrid John Lithio away from New York while re-adding stars Jeff Weis and Joe White makes the Union a whole new beast in 2024. All three can individually take over games with their combination of size, throwing, and playmaking ability.

Lithio scored six goals in his first game with the Empire back in 2021, and only got better from there. He finished with 114 goals in 41 starts over three seasons with New York, and by the end of his tenure was one of the most complete passers on a championship team; Lithio averages over 15 completions per game at a 95.5 percent clip for his career. His production, imposing frame, and excellent hands—Lithio has just six drops in three years, including zero in eight playoff appearances—make him a prototypical receiving target, but his throws elevate him to a full offensive weapon. 

A longtime Union veteran, the 27-year-old Weis took a season off after making a championship appearance with the Union in 2022. He finished with a team-high 3,584 receiving yards that season, and notched single-season career highs in assists (28), goals (38), completions (338), completion rate (95.2 percent), hockey assists (27), and points played (335). Weis excels in one-on-one matchups downfield, and knows how to leverage his playmaking into creating space for himself as a thrower. He’s also been vicious against division rival Minnesota, and averaged 356 receiving yards per game in four meetings against them in 2022. 

When he’s playing at his peak, there’s currently no peer on offense for White and his full set of skills. Sure, his turnover rate isn’t great, and he’s made just 10 starts over the past two seasons for Chicago and Carolina. But his Week 6 performance in DC last season—13 total scores, 51 completions, 784 total yards—shows the kind of supernova he can become when the conditions are right. Whether it’s galloping past players in the open field or chain spamming backhands against helpless defenders, White adds a confidence that Chicago was sorely in need of in 2023.

Colorado is reloaded after first round playoff exit

There’s no replacing 2022 Defensive Player of the Year and D-line captain Cody Spicer following his retirement this offseason. But with the rest of their offensive and defensive cores still intact, as well as some key additions and improved roster health, the Colorado Summit look revitalized heading into their 2024 campaign.

A handful of impactful defenders including Alex Tatum, Mathieu Agee, Kai Marshall, Sandford Brown, and rookie standout Saeed Semrin missed multiple games in 2023, giving Colorado’s coaches a constantly spinning carousel of holes to plug in their defensive lineups. Tatum and Agee are two of the most explosive players in the league when at full strength, while Marshall-Brown-Semrin constitute one of the more formidable rotations of bigs. Add in newcomers Chance Cochran, Chris Ward, and longtime Madison vet Logan Pruess, and the Summit look like one of the deepest and most versatile defenses in the league. 

And after watching their offensive efficiency plummet seven percentage points from 2022 to 2023, Colorado has seemingly addressed their over reliance on the longball by adding in precision passers Jeremy Knopf and Cody Johnston. Both former DC Breeze handlers, Knopf has just five throwaways on over 300 attempts in his last 16 starts, while Johnston finished the 2019 season with zero throwaways in six of his 10 starts; Johnston averaged the second most completions per game (34.2) on the team that season, and had the highest completion rate (96.9 percent) of any DC player with more than 150 completions. Jonathan Nethercutt, Alex Atkins, and Quinn Finer ensure that Colorado will always be explosive from range, but the additions could help stabilize what was a rocky Summit offense last season. 

Ambrose, Foster, Sweeney, Worthington headline big free agency for Seattle

Signing the 2023 “Rookie Of The Year” and league leader in blocks Lukas Ambrose alone would’ve been enough to transform the four-win Cascades into something feisty this season. But with big lefty thrower Ian Sweeney, pulling specialist Christian Foster, and former Seattle defensive standout Shane Worthington all aboard for 2024, the Cascades look to have their most legit chance at a playoff spot since their last postseason appearance in 2016. 

In particular, Ambrose, Foster, and Worthington will help fortify a Seattle defense that hasn’t ranked in the top half of the league in goals allowed in over half a decade. Last season opponents had the third highest offensive success rate against the Cascades, and scored 24 or more goals in half of their games. The Cascades sneakily ranked seventh in blocks per game in 2023, and now with Ambrose and Worthington on the roster, could push into the top five in the UFA in takeaways. Add in Foster’s ability to give Seattle opponents unfavorable field positions, and this D-line could give a lot of offenses in the West fits at the start of possessions. 

If Seattle can climb to even league average in coverage, their offense will be explosive enough to make them challenging for anyone. 

Big name omissions

No 2023 MVP Jeff Babbitt on the New York roster as of Monday. No Christian Boxley for DC. Mac Hecht is MIA after making an All-UFA team last season and quarterbacking Oakland to within two seconds of their first playoff appearance since 2017. There’s some big holes yet to be filled on a number of the top rosters in the league, and that could spell more parity and opportunity for teams on the come up.