Good Riddance to Dudley Do-Wrong


Hello? Yes, this is Dudley.

Many Leafs fans are concerned that Rick Dudley joining the Montreal Canadiens Front Office as an Assistant GM will negatively affect the Leafs at the upcoming entry draft. I’m here to tell you to relax, and maybe even convince you to be happy he’s gone.

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As you’ll undoubtedly remember the Leafs will be drafting 5th this year; the Habs 3rd. While no consensus has emerged, the Top 5 will probably be some order of Yakupov-Grigorenko-Murray-Galchenyuk-Reilly. Now for those concerned that Dudley may convince the Habs to take the guy the Leafs have decided on it’s important to remember that all of the projected Top 5 have been heavily scouted and are known by all the GMs drafting there. While the Leafs may well like a particular player, the Habs wouldn’t be going off the board by taking him. While it might look bad, there was always a chance the Habs were going to take Galchenyuk or whoever at #3. It is unlikely that Dudley would “steal” the player the Leafs had targeted at the 5th spot.

Where there is some cause for concern is in the later rounds. Generally speaking scouts don’t watch players ranked outside the first round more than a few times. If Dudley and the Leafs had pegged a player that not many other teams have scouted, he could recommend that the Habs draft that player. If that player turns out to be a late round steal it would be disappointing. But given what I’ve read about Dudley, I don’t think that is too likely of an outcome.  

As Kent Wilson has done a great job pointing out, GMs have a tendency to value style over content

“Here’s the issue: the above is primarily a description of the style of game each guy plays which is not necessarily indicative of how effective he is at providing value on the ice. It’s kind of like asking how fast a car can accelerate from 0-60 and getting a laundry list of it’s various qualities and specifications (such as wheel size, interior space, color, engine size, transmission type) in response. There might be suggestions and clues buried within the descriptors, but the question remains largely unanswered.”

Dudley epitomizes this mindset. Here is an excerpt from an interview he did with Garret Bauman of Maple Leafs Hotstove last year. 

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GB: When it comes to evaluating players, there are obviously a number of statistical or measurable characteristics that come into play. What are some of the non-measurable characteristics that you look at to differentiate players whose measurables may be similar?

RD: Wow, where do I start? In today’s game, there are two things that are essential: hockey sense and character. If a player lacks a high score in either of those components he is far less likely to be effective. You have to be phenomenally talented to succeed without hockey sense and/or character.

What I would do when I talked to scouts who worked for me in the past was tell them to break down those three components [skill, physique, skating] first. If the players have the three components, then you start to look at their hockey sense and character, and really start to zero in on those because they are so vital.

(Emphasis added) Full Interview can be found here.

Dudley seems overly concerned with how a player looks rather than how he plays. While hockey sense and character are important elements they don’t necessarily translate into an effective NHL player. As Kent puts it:

“it doesn’t matter as much if a guy can skate: it matters if he puts that skill to use in a meaningful fashion. Otherwise he’ll likely be detrimental even if it seems the club could really use some speed. It’s not wrong to desire a mix of qualities or to try to build a team with a balance of abilities. But those concerns should ultimately be subordinate to the question of how effective a guy is at driving possession and goal differential.”

While Dudley was not with the Leafs very long, I think he made an impact. He was brought in just prior to the Draft, and the Tyler Biggs pick has Rick Dudley pick written all over him. I have a suspicion that he was the one who wanted to bring Carter Ashton aboard. Nothing against Carter Ashton, but it gives you a sense of the sort of player Dudley values. Dudley looks like the sort of GM who would take the kid who performed the best at the Draft Combine. Brian Burke already has a blind spot for unnecessary levels of “truculence, belligerence, and testosterone”, and Dudley probably magnified that while he was here.

More than anything the Leafs need players capable of puck possession and driving play in the right direction. I doubt that these attributes would show up anywhere on Rick Dudley’s list. This quote from Gare Joyce’s Future Greats and Heatbreaks sums up why I’m not too worried about losing Dudley: “[he] looks for athletes and athleticism – he’d be anti-Moneyball.”  While he may snag a few players Burke had his eye on in the later rounds they’d be guys unlikely to become the sort of players that the Leafs need. The Leafs are better off without him. 

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  • A positive that can come of this is that it adds another team to the list of teams the Leafs can have a good relationship with. I remember a Burke quote from the deadline or maybe in the summer where he was talking about who he trades with, and he said something like “there are some GMs where you aren’t even speaking the same language.” Obviously that’s a metaphor, but it could be meant in a literal way, as well. Dealing with the Habs is not usually the Leafs first choice, because of division rivalry, but a familiar face in the front office there could help facilitate something where it might not otherwise have gotten done. So at least there is that.

  • Danny Gray

    The argument that Dudley favors pure skill metrics over all other aspects is flawed … and only holds if the ‘hockey sense’ part of the quote is ignored in its entirety.

    One of the unfortunate aspects of writing for publication is we are beholden to word limits, and thus often unable to flesh out articles as much as we would prefer. Having done the interview, I can offer a little more insight into the philosophy described by Dudley.

    Essentially, he is describing a two-step process.

    (1) Identify and rank the players with the highest skill in the areas you are seeking to identify (he gave the examples of skill, physique, skating) — all teams do this.

    (2) Narrow the list of skilled players by identifying and ranking those with the highest hockey sense (or hockey IQ, hockey intelligence, whatever you want to call it) and character. Basically, what you are identifying here is the ability to make smart hockey plays – this is where things such as positioning, puck decisions, the ability to drive possession, competitiveness, work ethic etc come into play.

    If the argument being made in this post based on those quotes is that Dudley favors raw physical skill over any other attributes (the example given as possession metrics), it is defeated by the first quote itself in which Dudley notes “hockey sense and character” as the two most important elements, without which few players will succeed.

    Ultimately, the Leafs will be fine with or without Dudley – there are enough voices and perspectives on the management team that losing one certainly isn’t going to make a huge difference.

    But to suggest the team would be better off without the guy based on a single quote simply isn’t a particularly strong argument … especially when the reading of said quote is flawed to begin with.


    • Danny Gray

      Thanks for the comment Garrett. I understand that he may not value it above all else, but from your interview, as well as the picture painted by Gare Joyce in Future Greats and Heartbreaks Dudley seems to be focused on attributes as opposed to outcomes.

      “The ability to drive possession” was not something specifically mentioned by Dudley, and is not so much of an attribute as it is an ability. Plenty of players have good “hockey sense” but don’t drive play.

      “Hockey Sense” in and of itself doesn’t really tell us anything about a player. Which is why I referenced Kent’s article. A player may have very good hockey sense but lack the ability to drive play.

  • Top shelf

    You can’t use “Moneyball” in scouting via the draft, for one thing. Seeing as these leagues don’t even keep the kind of info you’d need to calculate advanced stats.

    • RexLibris

      You would need some serious scouting, and likely video scouting, to compile those statistical datum on your own. Which is fine if you have all the time and manpower to do it, but on short notice and with thousands upon thousands of players the world over it would extremely difficult.

      What I’m saying is that I basically agree with you.

      However, I also think that a good scout is one who can take almost unconcious note of many of the areas that the metrics attempt to qualify, and process this information into a more complete picture of the player. They may notice that this player steps on the ice and drives the play forward and that he always is sent out in the defensive zone and ends up skating off while his team has possession in the offensive zone, without actually noting down the number of times it happened and so on.

      This is what I think makes the great scouts mysteries to the rest of us. They have a bit of the hockey-observer savant to them.

  • Danny Gray

    It’s a decent try at spinning this story but the argument falls a little short. Perhaps you need to define for your readers what “hockey sense” means to you because as far as I understand it, hockey Sense (aka Hockey IQ) has nothing to do with how a player “looks” and everything on how a player “plays”.

    • Danny Gray

      After writing this I now think that no two people would entirely agree on a definition of Hockey Sense. And the point ws that in and of itself “hockey sense” means nothing. Plenty of players could see the game really well, get themselves into position, do all the right things but still have hands of stone and never score or set-up a play.

      My point was that it seems as though Dudley looked at players for what they are not what they do.

      • Danny Gray

        Scouting isn’t about what you can do now, it’s about projecting what they can do at the NHL level– that means understanding how their skating, fitness, etc. will improve and to what point.

        Stop putting down the work of scouts.