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, Joey Daccord and Marcus Hogberg.
The answer is simple. The Mann Brothers. They were all either brought to the Senators organization by being scouted and/or drafted by Trent Mann and/or were coached by Troy Mann with the Belleville Senators before moving to the parent club. Of that group, only Josh Norris (San Jose), Nick Paul (Dallas) and Erik Brannstrom (Las Vegas) did not come through Trent Mann to get into the system. Only Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stutzle skipped the development phase of Belleville altogether and Tom Chabot’s brief stint was before Troy Mann’s arrival.
This is not an exhaustive list either. There are many players still toiling in major junior, Europe or University programs that the Sens have yet to sign and there are several players in Belleville who have yet to make it to the parent club but hope to one day.
Having said that, you would be hard pressed to find two people in the Senators org chart who have played more integral rolls in bringing the Senators to where they are in the current rebuild with such low profiles
Trent Mann has been part of the Sens organization since the 2011-12 season where he worked as an amateur scout for six full seasons before being promoted by Pierre Dorion to fill the Director of Amateur Scouting role that he vacated when replacing Bryan Murray as Senators GM.
Ardent Sens Nation members would know his name. To most, however, it’s Trent who?
Even those who know his name do not really know his body of work. He does not hold court with the media, with the exception of NHL draft day. If he has a Twitter handle, I cannot find it. Why would a Director of Scouting be telling the world who he thought was a good prospect and who was not? Such is the life of an NHL scout. You toil in obscurity, move around a lot even if you work for the same team year over year and you try to do good work in the hopes that as many of the names you bring to the table on draft day as possible end up with the parent club. If you do this well enough, the people who matter will know who you are and you build a name for yourself as having an eye for talent. You bide your time until an opening comes up where you will possibly be promoted to the ranks of Director of Amateur Scouting.
As do most scouts in the NHL ranks, if you look on www.hockeydb.com, you will find Trent Mann’s profile. You will read the high-level story of a goalie who played in nearby Pembroke for the Lumber Kings before playing briefly in Canadian University followed by a brief minor pro career in places not often mentioned in hockey circles. That too is the life of an NHL scout. There is no superstar entitlement which allows you to skip the line and move directly to higher level positions within an organization. That is not to slight Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, Doug Wilson, Ron Francis and Bill Guerin. However, most General Managers, Directors of Player Personnel and Directors of Player Development, have to go through the ranks so to speak. You have to prove your worth to get to the next level. This seems to be something that Trent Mann is more than prepared to do. He is now in his ninth season with the Senators and third as Director of Amateur Scouting. His body of work may not be well known to the layman but in NHL circles, you can bet that the name Trent Mann is very well known.
Therein lies the problem doesn’t it? The Senators have cultivated a reputation as a team that scouts very well at the amateur level. The book on Pierre Dorion as a GM may not be closed. However, there are few that would question that he knows a great deal about evaluating amateur talent. It just so happened that Bryan Murray had taken ill which led to Dorion ultimately moving to the next step in his career as the GM. How long can Trent Mann be expected to toil in his current role before his work gets recognized by someone looking for an assistant GM? It would be hard to imagine that someone goes to the trouble of ascending from amateur scout to Director of Amateur Scouting only to stop there. What do the Senators have to offer the younger Mann brother to keep him here? A raise in pay does not sound like something that Eugene Melnyk would approve of even if it made sense.
Regardless, the prestige that comes with being in a management position in the National Hockey League is not just about money. It comes with knowing that you “made it”. It will be very interesting to see how long the soon to be 48 year-old Mann is prepared to wait.
Much like his younger brother, Troy Mann (51) never ascended to the NHL as a player. He did, however, have a much longer minor league playing career which ended in 2004-05 where he did his best Reggie Dunlop impression as a player coach for the Topeka Tarantulas. He transitioned to assistant coach the following season and climbed through the ranks of assistant coach to head coach in the ECHL and AHL alike. The superstar entitlement or lack thereof applies to coaches who never made the show as players as well. Mann is now in his third season as the Belleville Senators Head Coach and his ninth season as a professional head coach overall. There are no championships on his resume though, while coaching the Hershey Bears in 2015-16, his team did fall in the Calder Cup finals.
How much value does an NHL team place in a potential Head Coaching candidate on what he won in the AHL or ECHL? That is a difficult question to answer. Kurt Kleinendorst was the Head Coach of the Binghamton Senators who won the Calder Cup in 2010-11. He never as much as coached an NHL game as an Assistant Coach much less as a Head Coach. That said, Mike Yeo, who coached against Kleinendorst in that Calder Cup Final series and lost, has had two NHL Head Coaching gigs including moving up to the parent Minnesota Wild the following season. He is currently in his third NHL Assistant Coaching position with the Philadelphia Flyers.
When Luke Richardson was not considered seriously for the Head Coaching job that Guy Boucher ultimately got, he left as Head Coach of the AHL Senators not having another job to go to. Clearly, he did not want to become a lifetime AHL coach. Four seasons in that roll with no playoff wins and two seasons of missing the playoffs did not deter him from moving to the NHL as an assistant coach again after a year. Maybe Richardson knew that there is such a thing as being an AHL Head Coach for too long if your goal is to be an NHL Head Coach. The same has applied to players over the years as well.
It would seem, that Major Junior, World Junior or NCAA championships as a Head Coach matter more when assessing a coach’s credentials for ascension than an AHL championship does. The reason for this, one could conclude, is that the AHL team serves at the pleasure of the parent team. When Kleinendorst coached that Binghamton Senators team to the Calder Cup, the Senators had blown up their roster and were in the midst of a rebuild. Players like Colin Greening, Erik Condra, Bobby Butler and Zak Smith who had played significant portions of the season with the parent club were returned to join Binghamton for the playoff run. Who knows how that might have played out otherwise? You can bet if there were any parent team playoffs, none of those players would have returned to Binghamton. This is not to snub a championship coach. It simply highlights that in the AHL, it may not be all about wins and losses.
This then begs the question as to how do the Senators value Troy Mann? If we are looking strictly at his ability to help players ascend to the NHL, thus far, we would have to say he is trending in the right direction. However, you are not a developmental coach to the same degree in the NHL even as an assistant. DJ Smith won an OHL championship and a Memorial Cup as a Head Coach with the Oshawa Generals before working as Mike Babcock’s assistant in Toronto. Pierre Dorion went outside the organization to fill the Head Coaching job despite having a seasoned AHL coach working in his organization. Granted, Mann had only been there one year. Is Mann a serious candidate for Assistant Coach or Head Coach in the years ahead? Troy Mann was brought in by former Assistant GM, Randy Lee. How many Head Coaches is Pierre Dorion going to get to hire? That plays into the decision as well. Mann has the advantage of familiarity with much of the roster he would be coaching. Could that prove to be a disadvantage? He would not be developing players for the next step as a Head Coach anymore. He would need to get them to perform for him and perhaps in different roles than they had in Belleville.
Erik Brannstrom is a number one defenseman in the AHL. He plays the power play and gets Thomas Chabot type ice time. Any bias for players you have developed, would need to be set aside. The natural ascension would seem to be as an assistant coach with the parent team where his development skills would still be of value while honing his NHL skills. Is that a path he will get to take? Time will tell.
For his younger brother, Trent, it is much easier to quantify his value to the organization as there is nothing impeding him from drafting the players he wants. Budgets are not a concern for amateur scouts. If your recommendations pan out, you can point to that as proof of ability. If you ascend to the Director of Amateur Scouting position and the draft results continue to bare fruit, now you are a leader who not only recognizes talent in players but also in other amateur scouts. The progression is much more linear and identifiable.
In the elder Mann’s case, the water gets a little murky. Your ability to develop prospects into an NHL caliber players, while admirable and necessary, may not sell the GM on hiring you as a coach in the NHL. Do you have a winning pedigree? Strange as it may seem, it may have helped Troy Mann when his playing career was over to find a Junior Hockey or University coaching position to show that he could get results out of a team on a level playing field with no parent team encumbering him. Regardless, one has to like what he has brought to the table in his short Senators coaching tenure despite no playoff success.
Regardless of the next step in either Mann’s career, it is a nice story to see two brothers chart a course for the NHL in two completely different ways and yet end up both having substantial impacts on the same parent club roster. It would seem, that the next steps in their careers will hinge, not only on what and how well they do but on what and how well the Ottawa Senators do. If the Senators ascend to the playoffs in a year or two, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to see Trent Mann as assistant GM and second in line to the throne. His boss would likely still be employed. This would create an interesting dynamic as he would then be his brother’s boss. Troy Mann ascending to assistant coach at the NHL level would seem to be a logical path and would also eliminate any discomfort in having his boss being his younger brother. A change in regime could mean starting again somewhere else for both.
Brain drain is a common term and if you have talent, you hate to lose it. There are, however, only so many seats at the poker table. The younger Mann seems to have a more linear way to reaching the NHL. His older brother will be hoping the Senators bench staff has an opening and then the likes of Nick Paul, Drake Batherson and Josh Norris who thrived under Mann’s tutelage can go to bat for him.
Regardless, Sens Nation should feel good about what these two Menn are doing. 😊
By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockey