Well, if they've got nothing else to distinguish them this year, the Canadiens are certainly outstanding for their weird sense of timing. First, Bob Gainey quit in the middle of the season, right before the trade deadline. Now his successor, Pierre Gauthier, has decided to kick half the scouting department to the curb with less than a month to go before the draft.
Yesterday, word began to leak out that Gauthier had fired amateur scouts Denis Morel, Dave Mayville, Pelle Eklund, Nikolai Vakourov, Antonin Routa, and pro scout Gordie Roberts. There are a lot of questions about why, and why now, that we need to have Gauthier address as soon as possible.
Speculation about the "why" part is rife right now, splitting between a couple theories. The more encouraging of the two is that the team's brass has realized their first-round picks are nowhere near the quality of those made by the top-flight clubs against which the Habs are competing. In that case, one would assume Gauthier is attempting to fix the problem by dumping some scouts in preparation for bringing in people he believes are better at the job.
More worrisome is the other theory about why those guys got the axe. There's a worm of doubt among fans about Gauthier's interest in the bottom line and the Molsons' desire to save money by cutting costs like scouts salaries and travel expenses. I really hope this isn't the case. The last time the Molsons owned the team, they scrimped and saved and the result was the trading of high-priced players in favour of less-talented, cheaper ones, and bad drafting by a skeleton crew. I certainly hope owners who just made two rounds of playoff bonus money they weren't expecting, and already announced higher ticket prices for next year, aren't trying to go cheap on the scouting department. Success in today's NHL is built on the draft and it's the place where a team serious about winning should be spending the most money.
I hope there's an announcement shortly that the team has hired a good bunch of people to replace them. There's certainly room for improvement. Morel, the former NHL ref, was responsible for scouting Quebec and, although there haven't been a great number of Quebecers taken in recent drafts overall, the Habs have missed most of them. Vakourov was the Russian scout, and although he spotted the talent, few of the players came over to North America, while those that have made the leap have struggled. His sacking might be an indication of the Habs general frustration with Russian players and intention to stay away from them, regardless of talent. Whatever the reasons behind the choices of guys who won't get their contracts renewed, however, the Habs need more scouts, not less.
It's the "why now" part that has me really worried. The team isn't renewing the scouts' contracts which run out at the end of June. So, we have to assume that Gauthier is going to continue to use their advice for this year's draft, even though they're getting cut loose. It doesn't give me great hope for this draft, if the guys responsible for the Habs' picks are leaving right afterwards because the they're not very good at their jobs. If, on the other hand, they are good at their jobs and they're getting turfed because the owners want to cut costs, well, that's bad too. How dedicated are those guys going to be in the weeks leading up to the draft when they know their jobs are gone, regardless? Either way, there's reason to be concerned about the Habs' chances of uncovering a gem in this draft, and, if money's at the root of this decision, in the coming years as well.
I know there are other scouts in the organization, but I don't want this to be the herald of the kind of penny-pinching we saw from the owners in the pre-Gillett years. Smaller scouting staffs in today's NHL aren't a good thing, no matter what the reason for them. So, while the timing of this announcement is odd, I hope there's at least an explanation...and preferably some new hires in the scouting department...coming before the clock strikes twelve on the Habs development system.