The Rebuild has begun. So what do the Flames have by way of internal structure to help facilitate this venture?
During the course of a rebuild the emphasis is usually put on drafting and development. This is the most cost-effective method of acquiring talent and is the one constant in any rebuilding blueprint. Most teams have now realized that identifying and acquiring talent through the draft is important, but that turning a later-round pick into an actual NHL player pays dividends for the franchise in the long run. In an effort to make draft picks more efficient most teams have added heavily to their player development departments, something that was all but non-existent a decade or more ago.
With this in mind I decided to take a look at the Hockey Operations personnel and developmental infrastructure of a variety of teams around the league and then contrast that with the Flames’ structure.
I’m looking solely at development, and leaving aside amateur scouting and minor league coaching as these areas are already almost identical from one organization to another. I want to examine how different teams approach the handling of their drafted prospects. I’m also leaving out any strength and conditioning coaches, as there tends to be a fairly even playing field in terms of physical therapists and skills coaches amongst NHL teams as well.
The teams I looked at were the Detroit Red Wings, Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks, Philadelphia Flyers and Carolina Hurricanes, five other teams chosen at random. The list begins always with the General Manager and then proceeds in what appears to be the hierarchy of their organizational structure. Any person listed below has direct player development duties listed in their job title as taken from the team’s website in the last week.
Proceeding alphabetically then, the Anaheim Ducks have the following managerial responsibilites as it relates to Player Development:
- Bob Murray GM
- David McNab Senior VP of Hockey Operations
- Rick Paterson Director of Player Personnel
- Todd Marchant Director of Player Development
- Jim Rutherford GM
- Jason Karmanos AGM
- Ron Francis VP of Hockey Operations
- Cory Stillman Director of Forwards Development
- Glen Wesley Director of Defense Development
- Darren Yorke Video Scout and Hockey Operations Assistant
- Stan Bowman GM
- Norm MacIver AGM
- Scotty Bowman Senior Advisor to Hockey Operations
- Barry Smith Director of Player Personnel
- Mark Bernard Director of Hockey Administration/GM to minor league affiliates
- Keith Carney Player Development Coach
Detroit Red Wings
- Ken Holland GM
- Ryan Martin AGM
- Kris Draper Special Assistant to the GM
- Jiri Fischer Director of Player Development
- Chris Chelios Advisor to Hockey Operations
- Chris Osgood Goalie Development Coach
- Paul Holmgren GM
- Barry Hanrahan AGM
- Ron Hextall AGM
- John Paddock Director of Player Personnel
- Don Luce Director of Player Development
- Derian Hatcher Player Development Coach
- Don Maloney GM
- Brad Treliving VP of Hockey Operations and AGM
- Sean Burke Assistant to the General Manager / Goaltender Coach
- Dave King Development Coach
How the Flames Stack Up
Now, let’s compare those management structures to the Calgary Flames
- Jay Feaster GM
- Michael Holditch Senior Vice President and AGM
- John Weisbrod AGM of Player Personnel
- Craig Conroy Special Assistant to the GM
- Clint Malarchuk Goaltending Coach
I’m stretching there to include Malarchuk as he is listed with the coaching staff, although to be honest almost every team has a goalie coach that could have been listed above. Also, Michael Holditch’s name appears mostly due to his being associated with the vaguely described area of “team development”, in addition to numerous other duties including CBA negotiations and contract research. Despite listing them here, I would have been justified in omitting them from the roster.
By my count the Flames currently commit the time and efforts of two individuals part time to the Player Development department: John Weisbrod, whose other duties lean heavily towards amateur scouting, and Craig Conroy whose job description has run the gamut from professional scout to preparing performance appraisals of current players. He is apparently moving into a managerial role in Abbotsford this season.
Relatively speaking, The Flames are one of the most understaffed teams I could find while scanning around the league, on par with the San Jose Sharks who have their GM, AGM and two development coaches listed as having anything to do with prospect development. As an organization, Calgary appears to have committed fewer structural resources to the area of player development than most other organizations in the league and are in the range of the Phoenix Coyotes, a team who until recently were owned and under the financial aegis of the league.
For a sporting organization with such a high degree of corporate and marketing integration under the watchful eye of Ken King, it is surprising to see such a structural gap and lack of attention to detail present in the development and training of player assets.
It should be noted that often teams will have regional scouts keep in touch with some prospects who are still playing in those areas after being drafted (usually NCAA and CHL prospects). However, in the case of the Flames it is unclear with whom the prospects liaise during the course of their college or junior careers to ensure their development remains on the right path. Perhaps tthe org routes this workload through their regional amateur scouts or even Craig Conroy, but in either case that would be stretching resources relatively thin. Suffice to say there are gaps in their organizational structure that provide opportunities for an individual to step in and act as a regional development coordinator.
The NHL salary cap covers all NHL player salaries – players in the NHL and those in the AHL on so-called “one-way” contracts. This has leveled the playing field for many organizations outside of the few who still operate on internal budgets due to financial restrictions. Moreso than at any time during the league’s history, the value of money spent on drafting and development can mean the difference between a franchise’s success or failure.
Perhaps in the days to come the Flames will announce the hiring of one or two extra bodies in the player development or personnel departments. They appear willing to entertain the idea of expanding their front office with recent rumours of their courting Brendan Shanahan, however if they proceed with this rebuilding effort investing heavily in the draft, without attending to their development resources they will be risking the development, and ultimately their full value to the franchise, of those drafted assets before they even materialize in the NHL.
(I couldn’t find a photo of Troy Woodcroft, so I found the next most famous Troy I could think of)
*I wrote the above not 48 hours before the announcement of the addition of Troy Woodcroft and Robbie Ftorek to the scouting and coaching crews, respectively.
What things will change with these most recent additions? Based on Feaster’s press release Woodcroft appears to be another bridge executive, someone tasked with a variety of responsibilities but in line with the concept of integrating different scouting regions under one supervisor.
There was also mention of the aforementioned alteration to Craig Conroy’s role and expanding his position within the organization, accelerating, as it were, his development as a management executive. Here’s the exact quote:
“The next step in the continued development of Craig Conroy as a front office executive for our hockey club is to get him day-to-day management responsibility in the AHL,” said Feaster. “Given that we have asked John Weisbrod to spend more time with our NHL coaches and players this season, as well as see even more NHL games, we believe the opportunity exists to transition Craig further into the hockey operations in Abbotsford. Craig will continue to report directly to me, and Troy Ward will report directly to Craig as we continue to add to the depth and overall quality of our hockey department”
(taken from the Flames site August 7th, 2013).
Here’s one more interesting quote from Feaster in the same release relating to the hiring of Ftorek, but addressing the topic of this article:
“In light of our commitment to rebuilding, and providing our young players with a chance to play, there is even greater importance being placed on development and getting our prospects ready to contribute as quickly as possible in Calgary”. (ibid)
So it appears that the Flames management has decided to flesh out their acquisition and development departments, adding to the scouting and coaching staffs. I suspect we shall see a few more additions by the end of the calendar year, bringing the Flames Hockey Operations staff in line with the league average in terms of structure and manpower.