If you were to poll Sens Nation, I would expect nearly 100% would say that Amateur Scouting is amazing and Professional Scouting is in the way. It would be more than fair to say that, of late, the Senators' amateur scouting division is getting lauded quite a bit more than their Pro Scouting counterparts. The name Trent Mann may not be a household name. However, it is compared to his Pro Scouting counterpart, Jim Clark. The question becomes, is this a fair assessment or not?
How do these two activities differ? How are they similar? Do they intertwine?
We have discussed, in previous articles, that the Amateur Scouting staff is more than twice the size of the Pro Scouting staff. We have also covered where their roles begin and end.
In terms of differences, we have already discussed what each other focuses on. While Amateur Scouts flock to the World Junior Hockey Championships, the Pro Scouts would go to the Spengler Cup. While Amateur Scouts go to the Memorial Cup (sadly not this year), the Professional Scouts would attend the World Championships. We have also noted in previous articles that Amateur Scouting’s bread and butter is the NHL Draft whereas Pro Scouting’s bread and butter is trades, waiver claims and free agent signings. Amateur Scouting is more structured with specific events to attend such as U-18, WJHC and Memorial Cup all happening at the same times every year. Pro Scouting is much more fluid with the needs of the GM dictating their itineraries.
In terms of similarities, Professional and Amateur scouts both build profiles on players, they research beyond what they see on the ice and, to varying degrees, may also be using analytics. Some teams, such as Arizona, have built their teams around analytic models. This does not appear to be the Senators' modus operandi. With only three professional scouts at his disposal, surely Jim Clark attempts to supplement with analytics. If you are unable to see a player live often enough, other than video, what other options are there?
The key similarity appears to be how their success is determined. Whether it be Amateur Scouts having their player get to the Senators or Pro Scouts having their trades, waiver claims and free agent signings bear fruit, a scout’s value is in their ability to see in a player what others cannot, both from a positive and negative standpoint. Passing on a player who ultimately does not pan out in another organization is as important as getting your own picks to pan out.
There also appears to be a path that scouts follow. Some do both amateur and professional scouting. However, in the Senators organization, the heads of each department have been dedicated to either the amateur or professional wings since they joined the Senators. They are two very different disciplines and moving from one branch to another would be akin to starting over one would think.
Where these two disciplines intertwine would be in the trade aspects. Trades often do not involve one type of player. The big trades typically involve players at the NHL, AHL, Major Junior and NCAA levels and draft picks. Consider the biggest trade in Ottawa Senators' history with Erik Karlsson going to San Jose.
While Karlsson and AHL prospect Francis Perron went to San Jose, the Senators haul was as follows:
Chris Tierney (pro), Rudolf Balcers (pro), Dylan Demelo (pro), Josh Norris (amateur) and 2020 first round pick, Tim Stutzle (amateur).
In making a deal like this, it is easy to see how both Trent Mann and Jim Clark’s groups had significant impacts. Though Balcers and DeMelo are no longer with the organization, DeMelo performed well enough while he was here to get a 3rd round pick from the Jets in a trade and Balcers was a waiver casualty who seems to be enjoying some success back in San Jose.
On aggregate, the general belief is the Senators got the best of that trade based on what Karlsson and the Sharks have done since then. If you operate on the belief that any trade leading to a Stanley Cup was worth it, only time will tell on that deal for either team.
Going back to the key question at the beginning of this article, is the assessment that the amateur scouting group is doing better work for the team than the pro scouting group a fair one?
Who is to blame for our current state of affairs? Do we need to assign blame? Is it shared? Are things that bad?
The Senators sit 30th in a 31 team league. Heading into the season, I was thinking 56 points in 56 games. Not good enough to be in the playoffs but at least to show some returns on the club's most recent investments. The team then promptly started the season with 13 losses (12 in regulation) in the first 15 games. They quickly discovered that some of their acquisitions in the off-season were not up to the roles they were being asked to play. Artem Zub did not dress until game nine of the season. Colin White and Artem Anisimov were healthy scratches early on as well. Since playing the younger players who could play with more pace, they have gone a respectable 12 wins, 13 losses and 3 OT/SO losses.
It is hard to blame either of the scouting divisions for those decisions. Line up cards belong to the Head Coach do they not? Had the Sens played the whole season with an emphasis on getting the younger players in the lineup, perhaps that 56 point goal would have been attainable.
I would agree that the amateur scouting department is yielding greater returns right now and I would expect them to. The Senators are a bad team and have been for a few years now. I do not mean to downplay their work. Trent Mann’s group has done some very impressive work in the later rounds as well. I am simply counterbalancing things so when the club goes back to picking in the bottom half of the first round, where they're not likely to bag a Tkachuk or Stutzle, the fan base won't turn on them. Hopefully, they will continue to find Chabot type players at 18.
The Pro Scouting misses have been on full display this year and they have been getting pounded in the Twittersphere.
However, I do not see them as being entirely to blame for where we are right now. They own their piece of the pie both from a positive and negative viewpoint. Have the results been great? No. Should we expect more? I cannot say that for sure. I do not know what is realistic to expect from a Director Scouting with a staff of three to cover the planet. I think the Senators are getting what they paid for.
Everything rolls up to Pierre Dorion at the end of the day for these decisions and I would say his background as an Amateur Scout may also show in his trade decisions. He seems to know a lot more about who can develop into an NHL player rather than who will fit best with his team. This would be why the Karlsson trade seems to have worked out much better than the Matt Duchene deal with Colorado, which may go down as one of our worst in team history.
The Mika Zibanejad trade is also one that we do not necessarily look back on fondly. That said, with Derrick Brassard playing at the top of his game, the Senators were within one goal of the Stanley Cup final in 2017. Again, the narrative would change substantially if that trade were immediately followed up by a trip to the finals and perhaps a championship? Instead, Brassard gets flipped out for a 1st round pick that ultimately becomes Jacob-Bernard Docker in 2018. Once again, Pro Scouting and Amateur Scouting collide.
So, who is doing better work for the Senators? By virtue of greater resource allocation and where our team is in its cycle, you would have to give the nod to the Amateur Scouting division. However, the gap is not nearly as big as people might think and it is not necessarily talent that lacks in the Pro Scouting department but rather boots on the ground. Eugene Melnyk said we can expect 5 years of cap spending when we hit our window. That cannot be just for the player salaries. You have to speculate to accumulate and this includes Pro Scouting.
Scouting is cyclical just like team success. Returns are seldom immediate and without lulls. Look at the whole body of work objectively. Next year, Matt Murray could return to form, Evgenii Dadonov could find his comfort zone in a new environment. That sow’s ear may be a silk purse after all…and vice versa.
By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockey