Comparing the Flames’ Development Structure



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.

The Competition

Proceeding alphabetically then, the Anaheim Ducks have the following managerial responsibilites as it relates to Player Development:

Anaheim Ducks

  • Bob Murray GM
  • David McNab Senior VP of Hockey Operations
  • Rick Paterson Director of Player Personnel
  • Todd Marchant Director of Player Development

Carolina Hurricanes

  • 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

Chicago Blackhawks

  • 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

Philadelphia Flyers

  • 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

Phoenix Coyotes

  • 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.

Instant Update!

(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.

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    • RexLibris

      Dastardly Ken King! Foiled again.

      Seriously though, this wasn’t rocket surgery. Follow the math:

      The Flames have a tonne of prospects coming.

      The Flames have been terrible at turning prospects into players since the Cubs won the World Series.

      The Flames don’t have anyone specifically handling prospect development.

      Ergo, even a simpleton Oilers fan could figure out that it was likely they’d get around to fleshing out this area of management sooner or later.

      • DoubleDIon

        No, he was on 960 this summer talking about all of the visits he does throughout the year. It’s my understanding that he’s their “roaming” PD guy. He visits kids in junior and college.

        • RexLibris


          I had commented to Kent the other day that there seems to be a lot of vague language about specific roles and duties amongst management on the Flames’ site with a lot of people falling into the “other duties as required” bin.

          Now, granted, I think that a lot of NHL teams would prefer to publish as little internal information as possible, but for teams that include this information the Flames are one of the least transparent.

          Glad to hear that Sutter fills that role, because it is crucial in player development and the careers of many of these young men (even if they are Flames *wink*), but then why not list him with their personnel?

  • It doesn’t matter how many you have it’s what you do with it. ( Just kidding) The more views the better especially if they are not yes men/women. What I find interesting is that Weisbrod was not at the WJC go round himself; with 5 significant prospects you would think there would have been at least 1 significant player personal on site (Feaster, Weisbrod, Connie, Hartley or one of his assistants and they would have been in contact consistently.) Also the scouts should have been there to looking for the great unknowns; a chance for the NA scouts to see some of the draft eligable lesser lights from Europe. Once players are back with their club teams one does not want to be to involved. That’s what the development camp is for. Also does anyone know if the European goalies are in Canada yet; if I was the organization I would have strongly suggested this as they need every advantage they can get, NA ice, English, etc.

  • RexLibris

    I really liked the intent of the article but after reading the comments it appears it fell short on the research side of things. I can understand the difficulty because its clear that the flames site was not helpful to a large extent. But rushing the article prematurely because it is a good idea really took away from the value in my mind.

    • SydScout


      Trying to get a read on the inner workings of a business like the flames, especially given its not publicly listed (lower obligation to release info) is extremely difficult. I’m trying to get a better idea of flames governance structure and better determine how decisions are made, and its nigh on impossible.

      Assumptions are necessary in this kind of article. What is helpful is the later discussion to fill in the gaps.

      An excellent article given the resources.

      • Arik

        Your right it is harsh, but accuracy of analysis is important. As soon as we start “guessing” we might as well just worship the grit chart and focus on cliches rather than hard evidence.

        • RexLibris

          I never guessed about the information that is presented. I took what was provided straight from the team sources published online, and which was therefore most likely to be up-to-date.

          Now, let’s suppose that I had included Ron Sutter based on anecdotal evidence (something along the lines of “I think I remember him being involved a few years ago and haven’t heard anything to the contrary since”) that would be undermining the validity of the rest of the information.

          Case in point – It was discussed whether I ought to have included Chris Snow in the player development department because of his involvement with the video analytics and scouting. My argument against such inclusion was that his specific job profile as presented by the Flames themselves is too vague and makes only passing mention of coordinating the Flames summer development camp. At the same time, virtually every other team in the league has at least one person, in some instances two, who perform exactly the same role. Therefore, I felt it was prudent to exclude Snow because I could not prove with certainty that he has anything to do with actual prospect development and his position is not, in and of itself, so unique as to suggest that the Flames have created a niche developmental advantage.

          Back to Ron Sutter for a moment, though. If you do a standard internet search for him you’ll find a somewhat out-of-date wikipedia article, a link to his stats with the Flames and his Linkedin account which features four mentions of his having attended the Flames development camp. the latter is the only online mention I could find of any involvement of his in this regard.

          I’ll admit to an error of omission due to unfamiliarity with his being involved with the team. I don’t live in Calgary and there are a number of media resources to which I am not privy as a result. That being said, don’t throw the baby out with the proverbial bath water here.

    • supra steve

      I tend to agree. I knew that one of the Sutters was heavily involved in player development (though I couldn’t remember which Sutter till now–thanks Ron Sutter for clarifying). Would a call to the Flame’s office not get a FN writer a little info on team personelle? But then I guess you would need to do the same for each of the other organizations? I can appreciate that the research could very quickly become a big job.

      • Arik

        Actually, calling the Flames office would probably result in nothing. The org has a history of being VERY closed doors to non-traditional media. They were one of the last teams to have players on Twitter.

        EDIT: to expand on this, while in Tampa, Feaster would email bloggers and talk to key fans. In Calgary? Nothing. I’m also led to understand it’s mostly Kelso and KK who are pretty anti-new media.

  • RexLibris

    Based on the heading of this article in regards to professional development I would be interested if 4 areas could be expanded to compare against other organizations:
    1. The number of farm teams.
    2. The type of farm teams.
    3. The stabilitiy of each farm team.
    4. The location of each farm team.

    Reasoning for each point:
    1. Teams that have not had an AHL or ECHL affiliation if any? Wasn’t Edmonton splitting players amound 4 AHL teams before Oklahoma?
    2. Going back to the time when the Flames had a shared affiliation of the Lowell Lock Monsters and Carolina was calling the shots in terms of coaching and the system.
    3.The musical chairs that the Flames did in the AHL (Lowel, Omaha, Quad Cities then Abotsford) and the ECHL (Las Vegas & Utah) when Detroit has had Grand Rapids for 10 years.
    4. Someone on FAN960 (possibly Ryan Pinder the ABH PBP voice) mentioned that the heat can not develop players the same way as eastern AHL teams because they are traveling the majority of the time? Also the accessiblity for the parent club as it was difficult to get players from QC.

    In combination with the drafting,I believe that the stability of the full affiliation in Abbotsford the past 3 years has helped in developing the recent batch of prospects.

    • RexLibris

      I’ve looked into something similar awhile ago when I wrote about the Oilers beginning to integrate their Hockey Operations from the Oil Kings to the Barons to the Oilers.

      Yes, the Oilers split a farm team with both Dallas and Pittsburgh, which resulted in some of their prospects having to split time (Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers being one of them). One could easily argue that it cost the franchise one or two NHL players and perhaps a few young men a halfway decent professional career, be it in the AHL or NHL.

      This is what surprises me about the Flames. They are a heavily integrated organization from a marketing perspective – that this philosophy has not been expanded into their Hockey Operations and Player Development models is beyond me. It isn’t as though the idea is new to the oil business in which Mr. Edwards is familiar – Standard Oil.

      Imagine a scenario where the skills trainers in the Hitmen worked hand in hand with those from the Heat and Flames, where all were familiar with techniques, approaches and a general career plan for each and every young player. The Flames would be able to groom prospects, scout them, draft those they can, and then transition them seamlessly into the next phase of their hockey operation – and I’m only talking about skills trainers within a single CHL team, not NCAA, Europe, USHL or other CHL teams. The cost savings in terms of training time, value of drafted players, ability to advance young players internally and dispose of costly contracts for supporting players would be well worth the effort.

      Just a thought.

  • RexLibris

    I just wanted to comment on Ron Sutter the player deveilopment coach of the flames. I did a quick internet search usin just his name and the second or third article after wikkepedia had a link to the flames network and the development camp, about a two minute interview on day one of camp.

    • RexLibris


      I’ll admit, I wouldn’t have even looked him up because I hadn’t remembered that he was even still involved with the team. I got different results from my search yesterday, but then that is that nature of search engines based on trends and tags.

      Thanks for the info, though.

      • RexLibris

        I agree that search engines are not always the most helpful, I knew there was a Sutter in charge of player development because initially when Brent left I had thought it a good idea to purge all the Sutters just to get a fresh start. Then I thought let Feaster decide who he wants; it now seems obvious that Feaster thinks he is doing a good job or he would be gone. It would be nice if the Flames were more transparent in some places but in many areas they are and I found some answers to my own questions by just going to the official website.( I had asked someone who made up the scouting team and low and behold today I just looked on the website and Tada) If I was part of the leadership team I would have someone checking fan based sites like this and maybe even blogger. Who knows what kind of information they could get from all of us experts.

  • RexLibris

    So. I believe Ron is involved with regional scouting now. He basically flies all over the place and is a phone call away to all the prospects at every level. When jay took over I remember there being a small release about Ron not being fired but being moved to a primary role in regional scouting.

    I believe Johnny G or someone (I don’t remember exactly who) mentioned his name in an interview about how he’s always available just to talk if they’re having a hard time in their current season or for whatever reasons may arise.

    So that kind of goes to the point about regional scouts being available in their regional areas.

  • RexLibris

    I would like to expand point 2 into A: full or partial affliation and B ownership. From an Oilers perspective it sounds that Oklahoma is more effective being owned by the Oilers as opposed to Springfield was being run by someone else even with being a full affiliation.

    As far as ownership of CHL teams, Edmonton can show that as an advantage as they have had prospects play for the kings in Musil. Of the ~6 WHL prospects that the flames have had in any recent year few if any have played for the Hitmen. Is there any real advantage? Are any USHL teams owned by NHL teams?