Pop Quiz: Can you name the Director of Professional Scouting for the Ottawa Senators? Do not feel bad. I had to look it up too. His name is Jim Clark. He has been with the Senators in a pro scouting capacity since 2008-09 and the Director or Chief Professional Scout since 2014-15.
This department has felt the wrath of Sens Nation and the media of late for a less than impressive off-season of free agent signings and trades. However, is all as it may seem? Are the Senators' pro scouts not delivering the goods? Let us dive a little deeper into the entire body of work and figure it out for ourselves.
I just did a piece on the Amateur Scouting department and we started with the org chart to gain a greater understanding so let's do the same for Pro Scouting.
The Pro Scouting division is more sparsely populated than the Amateur division, at first glance, with Jim Clark having only three pro scouts at his disposal. There also appears to be some overlap as Steve Stirling handles NCAA recruitment as well as Pro Scouting. There does not seem to be any dedicated European assets at Clark’s disposal, though Michael Abbamont does NHL, AHL and Europe and, since someone found Artem Zub in the KHL, perhaps we have him to thank for that. I noted, in the previous article, that Trent Mann had more than double the resources of Clark including boots on the ground in Europe.
Does the gap signify a lack of vision on the part of the Senators or is it more of a reflection of where we are as an organization? Is there more ground to cover in the amateur ranks than the professional ones?
Professional scouting is primarily scouting players within their own professional ranks and the systems of other teams in the league to support Pierre Dorion in making trades, waiver claims and free agent signings. Unlike amateur scouts, a professional scout may be as well known to Dorion through work they did to prevent a bad signing or bad trade. Amateur scouts need to provide a list of players to target given the number of picks that a team is planning to make for a given draft.
There is no pre-defined number of trades or free agent signings a team must make. A quiet day at the trade deadline does not necessarily reflect the work that was done. The Sens traded three expiring contracts on defensemen for draft picks this week, which would have nothing to do with pro scouting. However, the pro scouting aspect of it would be the claiming of Victor Mete off waivers from the Montreal Canadiens.
Pro scout territory may not seem as onerous, at first glance, but there are plenty of professional leagues in Europe to watch and every year, someone like Dominik Kubalik, Artemi Panarin or Artem Zub emerges from nowhere and has an impact. It also comes with a much lower profile. The NHL Draft is an annually televised, two-day event with huge media coverage. Draft picks are assets being valued like BTC by actuarial mathematicians.
The trade deadline and free agent frenzy also gets a lot of fanfare, assuming something happens. That said, no one is on the clock so to speak. There is no lottery. Many free agent signings happen long after James Duthie signs off. There is a lot of hurry up and wait.
Pro scouting is also not limited to simply scouting opposing teams. If Pierre Dorion is considering trading for a player or considering an offer, he would ask Jim Clark to scout all players involved in that potential deal. This would then get pushed down to the scouts for their book on this player(s).
In a previous article, I asked the following question: What do the following Ottawa Senators players all have in common?
Thomas Chabot, Drake Batherson, Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle, Josh Norris, Colin White, Nick Paul, Erik Brannstrom, Alex Formenton, Filip Gustavsson, Ryan Dzingel, Joey Daccord and Marcus Hogberg.
The answer was the Mann brothers having played a role in their ascension to the NHL. Only Norris (San Jose), Paul (Dallas) and Brannstrom (Las Vegas) were not drafted by the Senators.
However, try this question on for size: What do Connor Brown, Evgeny Dadonov, Ryan Dzingel,
Chris Tierney, Nikita Zaitsev, Austin Watson, Artem Zub, Artem Anisimov, Mike Amadio, Clark Bishop, Matt Murray, Victor Mete, Anton Forsberg and Josh Brown all have in common?
All were a product of the Senators' Pro Scouting department.
The Senators had a very disappointing crop of free agents and trade acquisitions this past off season. Artem Zub appears to the big success story. Austin Watson has not underperformed but he is as good as he is going to get. Evgenii Dadonov has been very inconsistent. Matt Murray has struggled mightily with play and injuries.
That list above would have been longer if, Cedric Paquette, Braydon Coburn, Erik Gudbranson and Mike Reilly had not been moved.
That said, has the professional scouting been that bad?
Connor Brown has been a solid acquisition, even before his eight goals in eight games streak. Chris Tierney has performed well since arriving, though his offensive numbers this season are not what they were. On aggregate, he has played well. Zaitsev takes a lot of flack because of his contract. However, he eats a lot of minutes and the Senators have cost certainty for another three seasons. Lest we forget that Ryan Dzingel, previously a product of the Senators' Amateur Scouting, returned to the team as a product of its Professional Scouting in the Paquette trade.
Anisimov played well here last year and has played well of late. One would not call him a flop, though his cap hit of $4.55 million AAV does sting and likely why he was not relocated at the deadline. Reilly played well enough to get the Senators a third-round pick in return. The book is still out on Amadio and Bishop, though they have shown some potential. Josh Brown has not been what Pierre Dorion had hoped, to be sure. Gudbranson played too high in the rotation but can still play. Now that he is in Nashville, it would not surprise me that he would get slotted properly and play to his potential.
All this to say, there are more success stories than not. The problem is that the most expensive players (Dadonov and Murray) have not lived up to expectations and this overshadows a lot of good work. If they both come back next year with solid seasons, the narrative will change considerably. If Victor Mete becomes a steal from the Canadiens' backyard, it may also restore a little faith. It all appears to be about the fit.
The fan base tends to be uniquely focused on what happened in the last 48 hours. On aggregate, for a staff of three, I would say they're getting what they paid for.
That last point really speaks to the issue. As the Senators become more of a contender, it would behoove them to beef up their pro scouting staff to help with those deadline acquisitions and free agent signings the club may need to win a Stanley Cup. Without additional assets, the temptation might be to rely on analytics rather than boots on the ground.
I do not look at the staff itself as weak but rather understaffed. If this is a case of focusing more assets on Amateur Scouting, that is fine. However, do not expect anything different in the years ahead without taking Pro Scouting at least as seriously.
By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockey