Well, when someone emails you a question and you feel it’s deserving of its own (lengthy) reply.
Kiki D sent me this question for my next mailbag:
I’m sure that these are your least favorite type of questions to answer, but it’s incredibly useful to get a genuine scout’s perspective on the front office of the Bruins. I think that a lot of people are perhaps too doom and gloom (there have been some good drafts, trades, and signings under Sweeney – Lysell and Hall stand out as the big ones), but the 2015 draft still seems to be a hang up for people.
Questions: what attracted the Bruins’ front office so much to Senyshyn, but put them so off the “infamous three” of Connor, Barzal, and Chabot, specifically Barzal? Do you think that the strategy of Sweeney and Neely with the recent NCAA signings and drafts indicates a change in FO philosophy, or just a change in who they saw as the best players available? And although I presume you can’t be too vocal about any changes in personnel you’d like to see on the Bruins (as their scout), what is something that you would like to see that side of the team’s hockey operations do differently going forwards?
Thanks so much for your time and for doing these!
Well Kiki, you are correct about one thing: They are my least favorite questions to answer, but I won’t shy away from them. But fans do have a right to be upset about 2015. I guess the question is: when should they stop being upset and move on?
I do believe that if the Bruins had beaten the St Louis Blues in 2019 for the Stanley Cup that we’d be hearing less about the failure of the 2015 draft. I am sure there is a segment of the fan base that would then turn the conversation into something like “well if they had drafted better in 2015, we could have had multiple cups.”
It must be pointed out that Jakub Zboril wasn’t a reach as he was the top ranked defenceman still on the board when they selected him, not Thomas Chabot. In fact, on Bob McKenzie’s final draft rankings for 2015, Brandon Carlo was ranked ahead of Chabot and they got Carlo at 37th. (I like to use McKenzie’s rankings over independent rankings because they are a consensus rankings of actual NHL scouts. It doesn’t mean it’s correct, just how actual NHL scouts saw the draft).
Moving onto Jake DeBrusk, he was kind of a reach based on McKenzie’s rankings where the scouts had him 28th. If you look at McKenzie’s list and compare it to how the draft actually played out when you look at where DeBrusk was picked to where he was ranked, and what those players have accomplished since then, DeBrusk has outperformed several of them and that is coming off of two mediocre seasons.
As for Zach Senyshyn, I will say what I said in 2015 prior to the draft: I wouldn’t mind Senyshyn in the second round. I don’t know why the Bruins decided to select him 15th overall. Maybe they felt they couldn’t resist a player with size, speed and scored 26 goals from the fourth line without special team time.
Bruins President Cam Neely basically has come out and said they were caught with their pants down and maybe should have taken some time to consider their options. It’s been rumoured that the Bruins were trying to move up in the draft to select Noah Hanifin. While I do believe they were trying to move up, I don’t believe Hanifin was their target. But that’s a story for another day.
On April 15, 2015 Neely fired then General Manager Peter Chiarelli. Despite the GM being fired, it is the scout’s responsibilities along with then Director of Scouting Keith Gretzky to prepare for the draft and provide new GM Don Sweeney with all the information he needs so that he can make an informed decision.
At the same time the Bruins fired Chiarelli, they fired his brother Mike Chiarelli who was their OHL scout and Denis Leblanc who was their QMJHL scout. Boston didn’t replace them until September 12, 2015 when they hired the North Bay Battalions Director of Scouting Bob Wetick and Alain Bissonnette who was the Director of Scouting for the Shawinigan Cataractes. They didn’t have a voice at the table representing the OHL (Senyshyn) or QMJHL (Zboril) so your guess is as good as mine as to why they selected Senyshyn. I do believe though that if Wetick was at the Bruins draft meetings, he would have pushed for Travis Konecny over Senyshyn. I’ve heard the Bruins were not interested in Konecny and that’s fine, but at the very least Wetick’s voice at the table would have raised some eyebrows.
Sweeney has revamped the scouting department since 2015. Also gone with the firing of Chiarelli was European Head Scout Jukka Holtari and replaced him with PJ Axelsson, a move that has paid dividends for Boston, along with those mentioned. He’s also expanded the number of scouts in the OHL, QMJHL, USHL, NCAA and Europe. I think we are seeing it start to pay dividends.
Moving onto Kyle Connor. I do know that Chiarelli openly talked about a plan to go watch him play and I am guessing that was on intel provided by the scouts. But he got relieved of his duties before that happened. So why not select him? I don’t know. It was the same scouts at the table that would have seen him play and I don’t have an answer for you.
As for Matthew Barzal, I will probably get roasted for this (history will repeat itself) so I’m just going to say what I said prior to the 2015 draft: I don’t think Barzal is a player who can lead a team to a championship if he has to be “the guy” and I still to this day believe that to be true. Obviously, only time will tell if that is true or not so go easy on me.
I’m not going to knock them on the Zboril pick. I’m not even going to knock them on the DeBrusk pick. Heck, I wouldn’t even knock them if they had taken Carlo as one of the three consecutive picks based on consensus (NHL) scout rankings. And as I said earlier, I wouldn’t have minded Senyshyn in the second round, but picking him in the first was the blunder.
As for their most recent signings of NCAA free agents, it’s a bonus that they are able to get those players in black and gold, because when you are trading picks in an attempt to win (and even picking low in the draft) you have to replenish the prospect pool somehow. And the Bruins are very successful when it comes to NCAA free agents. I wrote about this a few weeks ago, but since 2012, no team comes close to the Bruins success with NCAA free agents in terms of NHL games played. In fact, they have twice as many as the next most successful team.
Now, the tough question: What changes would I make? For years, prior to Sweeney’s promotion, I begged for a bigger and better scouting department. Besides the changes I’ve already mentioned, Sweeney has added: Jeff Barratt in the US and Ontario, Andrew Dickson in Eastern Canada, Brett Harkins and Parker MacKay in the NCAA, Doug Leaverton in the US, Matt Ryan in Ontario, Arseniy Bondarev in Russia, Jan Ludwig in Czechia, Teemu Numminen in Finland and Victor Nybladh in Sweden.
The only holdovers from the Chiarelli era are Scott Fitzgerald who Sweeney promoted to Chief College Scout, Ryan Nadeau who he promoted to Associate Director of Scouting and Dean Malkoc who still scouts the WHL. Those changes didn’t happen over night because you just don’t find bright, hard working and knowledgeable hockey people just like that. Not only has Sweeney expanded the scouting department, he has brought in that high quality personnel.
Its not all sunshine and rainbows, although I make it seem that way. I have had and still have an issue with the professional scouts. Long time pro scout Tommy McVie has moved on to brand ambassador. Adam Creighton has been with the organization for over 20 years. Sweeney has brought in Matt Lindblad and Dennis Bonvie and my confidence level is not very high there.
Finally, I am not completely satisfied with the player development side. Sweeney brought in Jamie Langenbrunner on the player development side and a couple of seasons ago promoted him to Director of Player Development. A few seasons ago he brought in Kim Brandvold as Skills and Skating coach. At the same time, he brought in Mike Dunham as the Goaltender Development Coach to work with goaltenders under the NHL level. And a year ago Sweeney brought back Adam McQuaid as the Development Coordinator.
Those are excellent moves both individually and for the organization and Sweeney could have done a lot worse then hiring them. But I have to ask: Who is working with the forwards? Because that seems to be an ongoing issue with the Bruins development of young players.
Personally, I would have done everything I could to bring Marc Savard back to fill that role. Savvy has done a masterful job in his first season as Head Coach of the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL, getting more out of his young players on that squad than anyone could have imagined. He has them sitting at the top of their division and ready to make a playoff run. I’m not surprised, but what I am surprised about is the performances he is getting out of some of his players. He’s done a masterful job and the Bruins could use someone like him to work with their young forwards.
Sweeney’s best move off the ice was the hiring of Evan Gold as the head of legal affairs. Not only is Gold involved in the legal aspects, but he is a master at managing the cap, he does some scouting, he helps negotiate contracts and for all that, Sweeney promoted him to Assistant General Manager.
While there has been a marked improvement throughout the off-ice staff, I do believe there is some work to be done.
I hope that answers some of your questions Kiki.