Musings

The Return – Fireside Chat

Do you believe in miracles?

No!

Anyways, since you’re here I felt it necessary to add on to a point that Sam made in his post yesterday about Brandon Saad and the scouting department. This was something I’ve been pondering for awhile now. Everyone loves to discuss the roles of Stan Bowman, John McDonough and Joel Quenneville and the (perceived) power struggle between the three. Yours truly, included.

However, when discussing Bowman it’s important to keep in mind who is feeding him the information that he’s using to base his decisions. After all, he and his galaxy brain alone are not watching thousands of hockey games per day, compiling a database of players, their tendencies, strengths and weaknesses, etc.

I’m talking about the scouting department. For the purpose of this exercise, we’ll break it down in three categories with the man in charge for the Blackhawks organization:

  • Amateur (Mark Kelley since 2008)*
  • European (Mats Hallin since 2013)
  • Pro (Ryan Stewart since 2012)*

If I had to rank the returns the Hawks have received from these three departments, it would go European, Amateur and then Pro very well below that.

The returns the Hawks have gotten from Europe are nothing short of miraculous in this decade. From Artemi Panarin to Antti Raanta and even down to Michal Kempny, the Hawks are/or have gotten a ton of value from their European efforts. Hell, David Kampf looks like a piece that could be a part of something down the road. I can’t think of one guy they acquired from Europe who didn’t at least look like a NHL player or would be deemed a mistake signing.

Mark Kelley became VP of amateur scouting in 2015 after being director of amateur scouting since 2008. For the time being, let’s look at his work since his fancier title. You can thank him for the Hawks selecting DeBrincat in 2016. Henri Jokiharju is obviously being penciled into future plans and has put together a terrific campaign in the WHL thus far. Those are the two big names. Then there’s others like Ian Mitchell, Chad Krys, Graham Knott, Matthew Highmore, Nathan Noel, Dennis Gilbert. You get the point. There’s still a lot of TBA in the pile; although Knott we can probably launch to the career AHLer pile but he was the 54th pick in the draft. At the very least, DeBrincat is a grand slam that will be a feather in Kelley’s cap and will get him a ton of leeway as we move forward.

That brings us to the pro scouting department and Ryan Stewart. It’s at this point I may recommend closing your eyes. I started thinking about the Hawks pro scouting department yesterday when I saw Elliotte Friedman mention that the Hawks may consider moving Saad (again) to clear cap space. Then when Sam brought up how his scoring droughts in Columbus should have been noticed by the pro scouting department, I knew it was time for a deeper dive.

Since Ryan Stewart took over pro scouting, here is a glimpse at some of the names the Hawks have acquired with pro experience. I’m warning you, cover your eyes:

  • David Rundblad
  • Brad Richards
  • Kris Versteeg (The Return)
  • Antoine Vermette
  • Kimmo Timonen
  • Tim Erixon
  • Artem Anisimov
  • Andrew Ladd (The Return)
  • Trevor Daley
  • Rob Scuderi
  • Brian Campbell (The Return)
  • Ryan Garbutt
  • Marko Dano
  • Jiri Sekac
  • Dale Weise
  • Tomas Fleischmann
  • Richard Panik
  • Johnny Oduya (The Return)
  • Patrick Sharp (The Return)
  • Brandon Saad (The Return)
  • Connor Murphy
  • Tomas Jurco
  • Anthony Duclair

It’s obviously quick to judge on Duclair and the early returns have looked promising. We’ve covered Saad ad nauseum and it’s not anyone’s fault in the front office that Connor Murphy is being punished for not being Niklas Hjalmarsson circa 2013. Anisimov filled a need. Brad Richards did the same for a year. Perhaps I’m missing a few more solid acquisitions. Please don’t say Jordan Oesterle.

The rest of the names on that list, though…Woof.

Ladd was clearly not the same player when he was re-acquired and had no business skating on a top line of a Cup contender; same with Versteeg as he was coming off knee surgery. The Hawks said they watched Kimmo Timonen skate at practice when he was making his way back from blood clots and said he’d have no problem keeping pace. Then he was nearly murdered by Anaheim and we all wept in horror as we watched. Rundblad, Weise, Fleischmann – there’s no need to relive any of that.

I get that the Hawks have had to go on the cheap when it came to acquiring guys with pro experience because they needed a lower cap hit and certain guys were Hail Mary acquisitions (Erixon, Panik and Sekac come to mind). But the names I mentioned in the previous two paragraphs were all guys where a ton of resources from other departments were sacrificed so the Hawks could acquire them. And their returns (other than Versteeg in 2015 and even that was not a home run) have brought back essentially nothing.

This, of course, raises a plethora of other questions to which we will never know the answers such as “How many of these acquisitions were made based on Stewart’s positive (incorrect) reports?” for one.

We’ve discussed on the podcast this season that the lack of young and polished defensemen has been one of the biggest reasons the Hawks find themselves in the position they are in. If we dig even deeper, I think you’ll find there’s another huge gap in the organization and that is in their ability to accurately project pro players. Meanwhile, the European and amateur departments are continuing to fill the roster with useful pieces as we see the aforementioned DeBrincat, Schmaltz, Hinostroza and Kampf growing into more responsibility.

Pro scouting should really be the easiest pieces to identify. After all, there is not nearly as much projection or player development required compared to the other two. It’s also the department that can make the most immediate (positive or negative) impact as teams are not waiting months or years for guys to grow into a role. In the case of the Hawks, it’s also arguably the most important as they’ve been in a Win-Now mode since 2008.

This divide of talent identification between the three departments has been growing for awhile and it’s helped put the Hawks in the position they find themselves today. Now, there are rumblings that their two main off-season acquisitions (Saad and Murphy) look like question marks as to whether they’re even in the team’s plan for the future. How in the hell is that even remotely healthy for the long-term picture, Senator?

If you’re tired of blaming the same three guys for the Hawks current woes, here’s another place where you can point a finger.

*Two friends of the program alerted me after the original post that Mark Kelley has been in charge of amateur scouting since 2008 and Ryan Stewart has been in charge of pro scouting since 2012. Their titles have changed over the years and I originally went by what was listed on the Hawks website. The changes were made above to reflect that.

 

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