Over the summer, since Kyle Dubas has taken over as General Manager of the Maple Leafs, one of the major tasks on his agenda was re-tooling the front office staff to his liking.
It started with the promotion of Brandon Pridham and the hiring of Laurence Gilman as his Assistant General Managers. Following that, a number of changes have occurred in the amateur and pro scouting departments, as well as some minor changes in the analytics group, and some shuffling of the directorships. The departure of Lindsay Hofford to the Arizona Coyotes also left some a hole to fill, and a chain of movements to fill that role and the roles beneath him followed.
I don’t intend to cover the exact re-shuffling of names; the goal here is to introduce the new characters and discuss their backgrounds, and what they’re likely to bring to the table.
In the Pro Scouting department, former Leaf Troy Bodie was promoted to Director, and Tommy Albelin and Bryan Stewart were let go.
The new hirings were Blair Mackasey, from Minnesota, and Rick Olczyk, from Carolina.
Blair Mackasey was formerly the Director of Pro Scouting and/or Director of Player Personnel with the Minnesota Wild, since 2006. Mackasey was let go when his former boss Chuck Fletcher was let go by the Wild, and it didn’t take long for the Leafs to sweep him up.
The 62-year-old is no doubt part of the “old school”, but his enthusiasm for working under a new wave thinker like Kyle Dubas shows that he likely isn’t a dinosaur unwilling to change his ways. From Stu Cowan’s report for The Montreal Gazette:
“I’ve known him for a fair number of years now,” Mackasey said about Dubas. “He’s really smart. I think he’s smart beyond his years. He speaks well, he’s got an opinion. I think he really knows the game. I think there’s obviously a lot of new-school in him, but I think there’s also a lot of old-school in him. I think he brings the best of both worlds in a lot of ways. He’s an enthusiastic guy. He’s not afraid to do things and get things done. He’s still a young kid and he’s already a general manager … I think he’s got a bright future.”
The Olczyk hiring also came as a result of upper management change. Tom Dundon and Don Waddell recently took over running the Hurricanes, where Olczyk was working as Assistant General Manager. It seems in this case that Olczyk was not let go, instead he made the decision to jump ship. This is intriguing, since he’s made the step down from Assistant GM to Pro Scout. This suggests that, like many others, saw the great things happening in Toronto and wanted to come aboard.
Rick, the brother of former NHL Great and current broadcast analyst Eddie Olczyk, is 48 years old. He was formerly the Assistant GM in Edmonton. The direct responsibilities are unknown for pro scouts, but we can assume that he’ll be operating in an area of familiarity. Perhaps he focuses on the Eastern Conference, or maybe it’s more specific and he focuses on the Metropolitan Division.
With the departures of Mike Gerrits, Nikolai Ladygin, and Evgeni Namestnikov, some new faces were definitely going to fill in those ranks. The Leafs have found three scouts to replace the three departures, and they are Grigory Shafigulin, Olegs Korskovs, and Chris Roque.
For anyone wondering, Grigori has no relation to Bulat Shafigulin, drafted by the Los Angeles Kings this most recent NHL draft.
He’s actually only 33 years old, and was playing in the KHL as recently as 2016. Most of his playing time was with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv and Dynamo Moscow. He’s also the featured image, from his time with Ak-Bars Kazan.
It’ll come as no surprise that he’ll be scouting the Russian leagues. The Leafs have been trying to take advantage of the Russian leagues with Kara, Korshkov, and most recently, Semyon Kizimov. This was formerly Nikolai Ladygin’s area of operation.
Despite his roots being Latvian and living his playing and coaching days in Europe, has predominantly been a scout in the USHL with the Chicago Steel. This league hasn’t been the most notorious for star prospects outside of the U.S. National Team Development Program, but there’s value in having your fingers in all the pies, of course.
Formerly, John Lilley was the one responsible for the scouting in the United States, but since he was promoted to Director of Amateur Scouting, Olegs will be filling in for that role.
The most obvious of these hirings is the Chris Roque who had mostly been a scout with Kyle Dubas’ former team — the Soo Greyhounds. The Greyhounds have been acquiring solid talent for many years now, headed by Dubas and other intelligent scouts and managers.
Hopefully that background is a good sign for what he can bring to the Leafs’ organization. Lindsay Hofford and Mark Hunter were both heavily involved in the OHL and with their departures, the Leafs will likely be relying heavily on Roque’s more recent experiences with that league.
Hockey Research and Development
There were small changes, numbers-wise, in this department. Darryl Metcalfe, the creator of the hockey analytics site Extra Skater, was promoted to Director of this department, and one new name was brought in to replace him. From a social perspective, this is a big change, as the Leafs have hired the first woman into their analytics department: Lauren Moriyama.
Moriyama, a former collegiate player at Yale University, was born in Toronto. It’s really unclear what her history is with analytics. She played just one year at Yale, and is 19 years of age.
There have been no details given from the Leafs, and none of her work is in the public sphere that I can find, so there’s nothing to do but speculate with respect to her role and experience. And since speculation is unfair and likely problematic, I’ll refrain from doing so. Let’s just state that it’s cool to see the Leafs hiring a woman into a field overrun with men, and leave it at that.
Surprisingly, when researching these new hires, I didn’t find the analytics-heavy thinkers that I expected to find. At least, the people discussed above have no outwardly expressed views on analytics. There’s no doubt some elements of tracking will be employed in scouting — but those are processes that can be done by anyone, and are likely lead by the research department, not the scouting department.
Some experience and some fresh eyes were both incorporated into the Leafs’ front office and to me, this balanced approach is perfect. I’m excited to see what new and exciting things this group can come up with, and how they tackle maintaining a pipeline of prospects and good depth players to surround the elite core of players the Leafs have already established.