Monday, May 31, 2010

Scout Purge Continues in Edmonton

Last month it was 20-year Edmonton scout/executive Kevin Prendergast that was shown the door and last week another long time Oiler employee was unceremoniously released. Chris McCarthy, a scout with Edmonton since 1992 and veteran of 17 NHL drafts at the Oilers table, was fired over the phone last Thursday.

Frequent listeners to The Pipeline Show and readers here at our blog and of my stuff during my days at Hockey's Future will recognize the name. McCarthy was a guest a few times on the radio show before the Oilers stopped allowing us to speak with their area scouts. He was also a valued source when it came to discussions on old drafts and scouting reports while I was doing those things for HF.

McCarthy was hired by Kevin Prendergast which, in the end, might be the biggest contributing factor to why he's now unemployed. That might also be a sign for others on the staff, all of whom were hired by the former VP of Hockey Operations.

Based in Boston, McCarthy was an area scout covering the Eastern NCAA Conferences and the QMJHL. He also spent a lot of time in Minnesota watching high school hockey and Midwest covering the USHL.

The Oilers scouting staff has always held to a 'draft as a team' mantra and thanks to the changes instilled by Prendergast when he took over from Barry Fraser, the entire staff did get first hand viewings of the top 50-100 players. In the later rounds the area scouts are relied upon heavily.

One of McCarthy earliest "finds" was Brad Norton who Edmonton selected in the 7th round in 1993. Norton, from Massachusetts, would go on to play parts of 6 years and 124 games in the NHL with 5 different teams.

Popular netminder Mike Morrison, another Bostonian, was also a "McCarthy guy". While he didn't reach NHL stardom, he was an injection of quality and personality into the organization.

A few years ago, McCarthy took an interest in high school forward Chris Vande Velde and brought his name to the Oilers who ended up taking him in the 4th round of the 2005 draft.

I've mentioned several times this year that I expected changes to the scouting staff. I was pretty sure that things would end for Prendergast the way they did and with the way some scouts were left wondering about their jobs last June, more changes seemed inevitable.

I've told you how scout Bob Mancini's contract expired last June 30th without any indication from Steve Tambellini whether he'd have his deal extended. As I understand it, eventually Mancini got tired of waiting and went back to work with USA Hockey.

I also told you that Mancini wasn't the only Oiler scout who went for more than a week not knowing if the organization was hiring him back or not - see Chris McCarthy. I'm told it was about ten days without any communication from Tambellini in regards to his job status before finally getting extended for another season, that's a long time to sit and stir when you have a young family at home.

At an Oil Kings game this past year I asked scouts from a few different NHL teams to find out if that was normal practice or not and I wasn't surprised by how many told me they thought it was a classless way to treat someone. Many scouts, I'm told, have contracts that get renewed early in the season for the year after meaning they know a year ahead of time that they are still going to be with the team.

McCarthy won't have to wait long to get another NHL scouting gig, if he wants one. With his connections he could end up, like Mancini, working with USA Hockey or once Prendergast lands his next NHL position, I'm sure that will facilitate a new spot for him as well.

One quick story about my initial meeting with Chris.

My first year covering the Oilers was 2003-04 and you may recall that the big story that fall was Mike Comrie's holdout. There was an air of tension around the rink and many people seemed, to me, to be on edge.

Anyway, my first morning was at training camp in Sherwood Park and I was there to get stuff for what I was writing for Hockey's Future. The Oilers have never really been partial to Internet Media but I was given a little rope, just enough to hang myself if I turned into some sort of fan boy.

To be honest, I was as nervous about being around the media people I looked up to as I was the players that I was there to interview. Mark Spector, Robin Brownlee, Dan Barnes, Jim Matheson... these were writers that I looked up to. While we waited for the rooms to open up after practice I found the nerve to actually (gasp!) speak with some of those scribes all the while just trying not to do or say anything that would (A) embarrass myself (B) get me in trouble with the team.

Day 2 of camp starts and things are going well - I've spoken with lots of prospects and have written some in-depth stuff for HF. Back in the hallway waiting for players to come out and I spot this big guy striding towards the media group. He spots me and in front of the assembled horde says "You the Hockey's Future guy?"

Well I assume that's it, I've done something wrong and the team has sent their muscle down to escort me out of the building.

"Yeah... that's me," I sigh.

The big guy, and I mean in the 6'3 or 6'4 ballpark, motions to turn me around and leads me away from the pack towards the exit. When we get out of ear shot from everyone else he stops and sticks out his hand.

"Chris McCarthy, I'm one of the scouts with the team. Love your stuff."

One minute I feel like I'm about to get kicked in the junk and the next I'm being praised by the guy I expected to be doing the punting!

I feel bad for Chris McCarthy because he's a good guy and a good scout. Although I'm sure he saw the end of his Oilers tenure coming, it has to be a tough way to leave the organization that he's been a part of for so long. Still, I have no doubt that he'll be back at the draft table in 2011 and that will be with a lucky team.


Guy Flaming said...

News also today out of Montréal that GM Pierre Gauthier has gassed 6 scouts from the Canadiens!

Anonymous said...

uni said...

Montreal's drafting never struck me as an area of weakness, so yikes!

I can't believe how the Oilers have treated their scouts; you just don't leave people twisting in the wind ransoming their future like this with no communication. Utterly classless. The fact that they apparently do this to players as well, Glencross, Hedja, Reasoner, Dvorak, Souray's rant coming to mind show this as alarmingly near standard operating procedure.

If this is how Tambellini intends to continue running things then it'll be very difficult to like this management group, and I don't hold much hope of them improving. Smacks of arrogance, callousness, and short-sightedness.

Guy Flaming said...

@ oilfieldhockey - stay classy, man. The guy just lost his job.

Ribs said...

So does KP end up with Montreal then? He's from Quebec, isn't he?

Ribs said...

Found a relevant quote from one of the Habs scouts that was let go....

Denis Morel, who is also a former NHL referee, confirmed the dismissals in a phone interview with QMI Agency.
"I have to admit I wasn't expecting this at all," Morel said. "I loved my work and I was ready to continue for a few more years.
"The organization didn't give me a real reason, only that it's changing course with its recruitment team."

So maybe it's not as uncommon as you'd think to let guys go without any real warning like this.

Guy Flaming said...

Hey Ribs,

I understand guys get fired, it happens in all walks of life.

But KP was fired in the lobby of a hotel... Tambellini couldn't have had a meeting with him in a bit more privacy?

Now he fires a guy over the phone. this one wasn't out of the blue, Chris knew it was coming but if you're the GM and you know you're going to fire a guy and he knows it's coming too... couldn't you have done it at a time when you're in person?

If you don't want him at the scout meetings next week, OK, I can kind of get that. So why not do it a month ago? Or Two months ago? Whenever the last time you were in the same city as each other?

Just my opinion but there's a way to be courteous and professional, especially in light of the years of service these guys gave to the organization.

A phone call like this doesn't, to me, reflect any sort of respect or gratitude for the work someone has done. It's kind of like breaking up with your girlfriend over the phone, or text. No very cool.

Maybe it's just me, it could be.

Ribs said...

In full agreement here, Guy. I sure wouldn't run a business like that. It's just common courtesy.

I wish we knew what Tambellini's response would be to those questions you've thrown out there. Gauthier's answers would be great too. Is this just a cold, hard, business to be in? Is this the norm? Were they just too terribly busy to do the proper thing? Miscommunication somewhere?

One thing for sure is that it makes them look like asses. They must know this. Why go ahead and do it anyway?

It just seems like some piece of the puzzle is missing here.

Mark-Ryan said...

I have a tough time feeling a lot of pity for these guys. They know it's a performance based position, and for half of those years, you could make a legitimate argument that they should have been completely purged based on their performances. I have a hard time reconciling why anyone is still around from the last decade of Barry Frasier.

That said, after two decades of work, you could probably extend them the courtesy of a face-to-face meeting. I've gotten that from people far less company loyalty than an 18 year veteran.

Guy Flaming said...

@ Mark-Ryan

Thanks for getting it. Your last paragraph is basically what my bone of contention is here too.

Shawn said...

I dunno I broke up with my ex over the phone because we were living 7 hours away from one another. Seems sort of pointless to go through all the effort to see one another only to break some bad news. Maybe it's the same deal here. Why fly him in or vice versa just to fire him. Waste of everyone's time.

Guy Flaming said...

Two things Shawn:

1) You're a giant ASS

2) I'm not saying fly him in special just to fire him... do it when you are together because your schedules had you in the same place at the same time.

Believe it or not, Tambellini did some scouting this year and was at games with the scouting staff.

3) See #1. Ass.


Shawn said...

Well to be fair it was mutual so my ass level is probably lower than that came off ;)

But again to me that is him having to go to some event only to be fired when in theory he never would've had to leave home.

Mark-Ryan said...

According to Robin Brownlee's latest article, it was actually Stu MacGregor who made the call on firing McCarthy.

Onto the Montreal thing... isn't firing (or not renewing) your entire scouting staff less than a month away from the draft a little strange? I wonder if they've had their final meetings, yet?