Among the more interesting mysteries surrounding the modern Calgary Flames can be found in its scouting ranks. Originally hired as an amateur scout in the summer of 1997 by then-general manager Al Coates, Tod Button soon moved up the ranks and became the head of Flames scouting in the fall of 2001. By sheer coincidence, the person who promoted him was his brother, Craig.
Now, despite being the primary consistent architect of what’s been derided by hockey media folks as one of the weaker prospect bases in the league, Tod Button remains the head of Flames amateur scouting. Last summer’s much-ballyhooed shake-up of the scouting department had one major impact on Button: he was placed directly underneath assistant general manger John Weisbrod (the new head of all scouting), but remained the head honcho of organizations drafting department.
To understand how, exactly, Tod Button still has a job with the Calgary Flames, let alone the same job he’s had for over a decade, it’s worthwhile to delve into his drafting record.
Since he became head of amateur scouting in 2001, Button has overseen the drafting of 76 players at the NHL Entry Draft. If the measure of a scouting staff is how well they can find players that are able to make the jump to the professional ranks, then the best measure of Button’s worth would be how many of those 76 have took the big step into the pro ranks.
To date, 37 of Button’s draftees have turned pro with the Flames organization (including Sven Baertschi and Max Reinhart). That’s 48.7% of drafted players. If you exclude the last two drafts, as those players are just becoming eligible for full-time pro hockey, then the “conversion rate” jumps to 53.8%. This isn’t all that exciting a figure, as it indicates that just under half of all the players that Button drafted never played a single minute for any of its affiliated pro teams, including AHL and ECHL clubs.
That said, Button does seem to be in the midst of a very good tear in this respect, during which half of the drafted players have turned pro with the organization in 5 of 6 recent drafts.
- 2004 Draft: 10 players drafted, 6 turned pro (Kris Chucko, Brandon Prust, Dustin Boyd, Aki Seitsonen, Adam Pardy and Adam Cracknell)
- 2005 Draft: 8 players drafted, 7 turned pro (Matt Pelech, Gord Baldwin, Dan Ryder, J.D. Watt, Kevin Lalande, Matt Keetley and Brett Sutter)
- 2007 Draft: 5 players drafted, 3 turned pro (Mikael Backlund, John Negrin and Keith Aulie)
- 2008 Draft: 7 players drafted, 5 turned pro (Greg Nemisz, Mitch Wahl, Lance Bouma, T.J. Brodie and Ryley Grantham)
- 2009 Draft: 6 players drafted, 3 turned pro (Ryan Howse, Joni Ortio and Gaelan Patterson).
After reading this list of draft picks, an immediate thought is that there aren’t a whole lot of big-time impact NHLers drafted under Button’s watch. Outside of Dion Phaneuf, whom the organization openly coveted, Mikael Backlund represents the only first-round pick to crack the everyday Flames line-up. However, all the first rounders but Tim Erixon turned pro with the club (and Erixon was moved for Roman Horak, who did), while Pelech and Chucko struggled due to injuries sustained after they were drafted. Hard to blame Button for that, especially with the reputation Darryl Sutter had in terms of being hands-on with choosing first round picks.
The Late Show
It’s probably the later rounds where Button has sang for his supper, so to speak. Brandon Prust and Adam Pardy became regular NHL players while Lance Bouma and T.J. Brodie are arguably everyday Flames roster players heading into next season. John Negrin and Dustin Boyd went pro and then were traded for decent assets – Akim Aliu for Negrin, and the draft pick used to select NCAA standout Bill Arnold for Boyd. Brett Sutter became a capable pro for such a late pick, then was used to help acquire a very underrated Tom Kostopoulos.
This is also ignoring Button’s contributions over the past two drafts. With no first or second round picks in 2010, Button seemingly ran the show at the draft. He used six picks to bring in a bunch of players from different sources, including Max Reinhart and Michael Ferland, who both could contend for roster spots in Calgary in a short while. Late 2011 pick Laurent Brossoit was just named the MVP of the WHL’s playoffs, while John Gaudreau was a point-per-game player in his rookie season in the NCAA.
And of course 2011 first-rounder Sven Baertschi, chosen when the Flames staff was instructed to “work their list” at the draft, played a handful of games for Calgary and had a dominant season in the WHL.
In short, it appears that Tod Button has a job because the failure of the Calgary Flames to draft well in the first round wasn’t held against him. This may have been because the general manager was more involved in those picks than in the later rounds, where Button’s scouting staff found a number of players that turned pro and became useful NHL players or at least became assets that could be moved for other pieces of the puzzle. The positive results of the past two drafts probably haven’t hurt his stock within the organization either.