A scout's hard work can be seen first-hand on draft day. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
“Reputation and experience don’t necessarily translate into better job security. I knew a guy who had been in the business for 18 years on 18 one-year contracts.” – Philadelphia Flyers scout.
The scouts are the future of the game. Every year they are the ones who bring in the next crop of youngsters and do the grunt work to make Stanley Cup-caliber teams just that.
Scouts pound the pavement and spend days on end away from home, installing the building blocks of each team’s future and, consequently, the entire league.
But when it comes to contracts and job security for these worker bees, their job can be a thankless endeavor. So, a scout has to be dedicated to his job and not just looking for an attractive title.
“We’re involved and you have to be,” said Steve Lyons of the Phoenix Coyotes. “Guys who don’t want that commitment, maybe they’re just looking for the job to go and hang out with their buddies and say they’re a scout, but they usually don’t last too long.”
To be a scout, devotion to the craft is a must. But to survive as a scout, you always have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. Those looking for a stable, reliable occupation should shy away from this profession. And one thing is for sure, scouting is not a line of work you just drop everything for on a whim.
“Most start out with one-year contracts, so if you’re leaving a good job for a one-year contract, you have to really consider (the ramifications),” said Stu McGregor of the Edmonton Oilers. “It can change quickly. You look at guys who get hired one day and a year or two later they’re gone because the GM or head scout got fired or moved on. So there’s not a lot of security.”
And that’s what complicates matters of stability further. The future of your position often depends on the status of those above you in the organization.
“In major junior you live and die by your coach,” explained Darrell Woodley of the Ontario League’s Barrie Colts. “If a new guy comes in, he might want to overhaul his staff.”
In the NHL, it’s not the coach you come to rely on, but the management team. As one scout said: “If your GM gets fired, you better get looking.”
For Jim Cassidy of the OHL’s Mississauga-St. Michael’s Majors, his NHL experience came as a part-time scout for the Los Angeles Kings under then-GM Dave Taylor. But when the guillotine dropped on Taylor, Cassidy figured his time was running out, though it didn’t impact him as much as others with bigger concerns.
“When Dean Lombardi came in he wanted his own guys, so they moved most of their scouts out, which seems to be the way,” Cassidy said. “It’s a full-time job for those guys. It was different for me because I was just doing a little part-time for them. But for guys with a family and kids it’s not very secure that way because once they hire a new GM they usually make a change. If you go back 20 years you’ll see that, so when Dean came in I expected that.”
You are more likely to survive a purge if your track record is an impressive one and, though it doesn’t ensure you’ll hold a job on the same team, it will help you find work with another.
“It depends on the individual GM, but if you’re doing a good job usually you’ll be OK,” Lyons said. “But if you’re a good scout caught between a rock and a hard place, sometimes there’s movement on other teams and guys can hitch up there.”
And if short contracts and having to rely on the success of others wasn’t enough to open your eyes to the real world of a scout, Lyons goes on to explain that having to keep everything surrounding this component of the game hush-hush hinders your ability to plan for the future.
“Most contracts I’ve got have been for two or three years, but some do it year by year and they’ll tell you at the draft,” said Lyons. “It’s a tough business in that way, it really is. You’re under contract and until the day it’s over they’re not obligated to tell you anything, so you just hope you draft well as a team and your job is secure.”
A Scout's Life is a weekly look at the world of minor and pro scouting throughout North America. Each week we'll talk to different scouts from all levels of the game, getting a first-hand perspective of the different aspects of talent evaluation.