Teams have held their own private draft combines for years to supplement the NHL's main event. But the GMs have talked about eliminating these team-specific meets.
One of the proposals made at the GM's meeting in Florida this week was a clamping down on the combines run for draft prospects by individual teams. On the surface, this makes sense, as the NHL holds its own draft combine every year, inviting approximately 100 of the best teens from around the world to work out in front of their potential employees and interview with any franchise interested in their services.
But teams have been using their own private combines to work out players for years, often with great results. For example, Chicoutimi left winger Charles Hudon was not invited to the NHL combine in 2012, much to the surprise of prospect followers. But the Montreal Canadiens held their own gathering later on, inviting a slew of Quebec Leaguers who had been snubbed, including Hudon.
The Habs then grabbed Hudon with the 122nd pick overall that summer and he ended up making Team Canada's world junior team two years in a row (though an injury held him out of action the first time). Right now he's playing for Baie-Comeau, the best team in the 'Q.'
Toronto, Buffalo and New Jersey are just a few more examples of franchises that have held their own gatherings and it only seems fair that teams can bring in the players they want to view if they're willing to pay the costs. After all, the salary cap only covers players – richer teams have put tons of money into management positions recently, so why should scouting be any different?
I can understand the toll this travel may take on the kids, but these journeys are both fun and important for their futures. Some prospects have even spent time hanging out at the home of New York Islanders GM Garth Snow in years where the Isles picked high; will that be eliminated?
If the combine process is to be streamlined, the pool needs to be expanded and Central Scouting needs to improve its selection process. Every year there are kids at the combine who don't end up getting drafted and I don't like how that would get their hopes up. Sure, you could say that perhaps they didn't perform well at the combine and that's why they weren't selected, but when I talk to scouts and team execs, they don't tend to place a ton of emphasis on what happens at the NHL's combine.
Due to the scheduling, which sees the combine take place very shortly after the CHL's Memorial Cup, there is no skating portion of the current combine since it would be unfair to judge kids who have just been through all-out war versus those whose teams missed the playoffs and have been sitting on the sidelines for two months.
To that end, the testing portion is a bit of a dog-and-pony show – the effort counts more than the results, the most infamous example being the VO2 Max bike exercise, where throwing up afterwards can actually help your resume.
I've always felt the best judges of talent are the people who have some skin in the game – the NHL franchises and their staff members. If they're happy with a one-size-fits-all combine run by the league, then that's fine with me. But if they want more evaluation under their own terms, I don't see the problem.