As we turn the calendar on 2008, most teams will have conducted, or will soon hold, their mid-winter meetings that will map out a course of action for the stretch run.
When I managed in Tampa Bay we typically held our mid-winter meetings in January. Our goal was to allow our scouts to get through the end of the calendar year and see each team in the NHL, American League, Canadian League and major European leagues at least twice; once at home and once on the road. We also wanted our scouts to see the World Junior Championship and the Spengler Cup prior to coming to our meetings. We wanted to get as much coverage as possible prior to bringing the entire group together.
It probably won’t surprise you to learn we held our meetings in Tampa every year. After being on the road, in some cases for five or six months at that point, our scouts were generally pleased to come to Tampa in mid-January for a week of meetings and organizational activities. We always planned the mid-winter meeting around at least two or three home games so our entire scouting organization could see our club play in person.
We believed it was critical for our scouts to see our system in action. In addition, to supplement what they were seeing on the ice, we would have our head coach, John Tortorella - or a member of his staff - sit down and meet with the scouts to discuss the team and talk about the type of system we were playing and why. I always maintained that not every hockey player is able or willing to play the demanding up-tempo system we insisted upon and our scouts needed to understand that also.
The mid-winter meetings enabled us to map our course going forward. On the amateur side, our preliminary draft list would start to take shape and our chief scout, Jake Goertzen, would make sure our scouts’ schedules were in order, as coverage was critical. If a part-time or regional scout told us about a player, we would make sure our full-time scouts were scheduled to see that player somewhere along the line.
Director of player personnel Bill Barber and I would also discuss what our perceived needs were as the trade deadline approached. We would identify teams we wanted to target as a result of previous discussions we might have had with another organization. Many times the groundwork for a trade that takes place at or near the trade deadline has actually been put in place months before during informal discussions between GMs.
The scouts also played a role in sharing rumors they had heard while on the trail. For example, during the process of rating all professional players in each of the 29 other NHL organizations, a pro scout might mention he had recently been in city “X” for a couple of games and word in the press box was “Player Y is in the doghouse.” Or perhaps a player was sitting out as a healthy scratch and our scout would tell us he heard it was because of a poor work ethic, etc. Such information could be very beneficial.
The bottom line was the mid-winter meetings helped set the table for the rest of the season. With the NHL trade deadline less than 60 days away, it will be interesting to see which organization’s seeds will bear fruit and which fields will lie fallow down the stretch.
Let the trading begin!
Jay Feaster is a former GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he took over in 2002 and helped build the team into a Stanley Cup champion in 2004. As he did last season, he will blog on THN.com throughout the 2008-09 campaign. Read his other entries HERE.