In a time where sports are suspended and in a market where fans are starving for news, things spread quickly and the discussion becomes engulfed by that one topic. The discussion can often be characterized as toxic, though some prefer the word passionate. News spreads quickly and it goes from within the market to nationally in an instant. This Judd Brackett situation encompasses all of that. The drama, the reaction, the attention of national media, everything. It’s not often a scout gets this much attention but many would argue that this situation warrants it.
For those who aren’t familiar with Judd Brackett’s past, Judd Brackett is the director of amateur scouting with the Vancouver Canucks, a position that he has held since August of 2015. That means that he has overseen all drafts since 2016. He was originally hired by Mike Gillis in 2008 to serve in the amateur scouting role. Prior to that, he worked in the USHL, a league that has become a drafting strength for the current Canucks regime.
Of that group, the only player to have not vastly exceeded expectations is Jack Malone - a sixth-round draft pick who is still only 19 years old. While Brackett wasn’t the director during the successful 2015 draft which brought current Canucks Brock Boeser and Adam Gaudette into the organization, as a scout, he likely had an influence.
I’ll give credit where credit is due though. After absolutely whiffing at the 2007 draft, the Canucks had not selected a single player out of the USHL until 2015. That includes seven drafts, many of which are considered failures. The prioritization of a different league has proven to be greatly successful and that’s in the responsibility of the management. For them to have found an area of strength and to have utilized it effectively bodes well for the team.
The USHL drafting success is especially important since the drafting from CHL leagues continues to be underwhelming. To this point, only two Canucks draft picks from the CHL since 2000 have played over 400 career NHL games. Both of those players were drafted in the top-15. The CHL is also where the prior regime typically drafted from, using five of their six first round draft picks. The only player drafted from the CHL to have exceeded expectations in over two decades is Bo Horvat. The understanding and prioritization of other leagues is certainly a strength.
Of course, the scouts are still the ones doing the work. They spend numerous hours scouting numerous leagues and the one at the forefront of the scouting group is Judd Brackett.
I preface with that as the news around the situation doesn’t reflect too well on the team.
Speculation about a potential rift between management and and the scouting department has existed for months now with the animosity reportedly to have began on day two of the 2019 NHL draft. The report is that general manager Jim Benning, along with his assistant general manager John Weisbrod, had tinkered with the draft board. The extent at which remains unknown but it was clearly enough to frustrate Brackett who had then gained the belief that his role was unfairly diminished. It certainly did not help that management and the scouting staff had previously debated over the target at tenth overall. Reportedly, management had targeted Phillip Broberg while the scouts desired Vasili Podkolzin. In the end, Broberg was already chosen by Edmonton so the scouts got their pick.
Since then, he has seen further reduction of his role and has been excluded from things which he had previously been involved in. The lack of autonomy within the organization is precisely what this conflict is about.
Whether it’s warranted or not, I could not say. What I can say is that historically a management group has large influence over a specific group of players, typically 50. They settle on that group with the help of their scouting department and determine possible targets. After that top-50 has been selected, they then turn to the scouts to make the remainder of picks with specific qualities in mind.
This is done because ultimately, a general manager does not have the time available to watch an extensive amount of prospects play. They have way too many responsibilities to tend to. That is why every team has a scouting department that they can rely on.
Jim Benning, who has a rich scouting history and has found drafting success with various organizations, is believed to have taken a larger role. John Weisbrod has as well. Whether they should or not is another subject and is entirely dependent on what that larger role entails.
The success that the Canucks have experienced in recent years with regard to drafting has been undeniable. It has easily been the strength for this current regime. Losing someone who is perceived to be responsible for a considerable amount of that success will certainly not be taken lightly. Canucks fans’ frustration have also been fuelled by additional details of the situation.
The end result has been an outpouring of reports claiming the success of Brackett and incompetence of Jim Benning. As Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet said on Sportsnet 650, “somebody clearly is going out of their way to make the Canucks look awful by saying that everything they do is stupid and everything that Brackett does is smart.”
That bit seems too true. In recent months, reports have described the 2017 draft to be one where Benning was overruled. The claims are that Benning favoured Portland Winterhawks centre Cody Glass with the fifth pick while The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy went as far as to say that Benning was never interested in selecting Elias Pettersson.
J.D. Burke of Eliteprospects has also been at the focal point of this situation, confirming and denying a few things. Among those that stand out is the confirmation that Benning overruled his scouting staff to select Jake Virtanen in 2014 while the staff had wanted Dylan Larkin. Past reports have added that the decision was made likely with the influence of ownership.
He, along with Province Sports reporter Patrick Johnston, have also repeatedly mentioned that the three individuals most responsible for the selection of Pettersson were Inge Hammarstrom, Trevor Linden, and Judd Brackett. Brackett is the only member of the three that still remains with the organization.
As one would assume, this has resulted in the vilification of both Benning and Weisbrod in the market. It certainly hasn’t helped their already tarnished reputation among portions of the Canucks fanbase.
The outcry has been very loud. Just check any of the replies to tweets of Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini.
And if this is all true, rightfully so. This seems to be a destructive relationship. One that could be avoided altogether had the autonomy been provided.
It also depicts Canucks management to be incompetent of scouting, an aspect of the team where vast improvement coincides with Benning’s arrival in Vancouver. That seems a bit disingenuous.
I don’t know the accuracy of any of these statements as I’m obviously not an insider. What I do know is that Satiar Shah of Sportsnet 650 also mentioned that some of this news isn’t true citing a lot of agenda based narratives. What he specifically meant remains unknown but it’s available for speculation now.
Friedman continued by saying “there’s only two logical explanations for this: either he’s saying it or someone he knows is saying it.”
While Ryan Kennedy was against this notion, Rick Dhaliwal via a TwitLonger alluded to Brackett leaking the story as well.
If what Friedman said is true, what does this say about the Brock Boeser pick, and to a lesser extent, the Olli Juolevi pick as well.
I say lesser extent as while no reports have tackled whether Brackett was a proponent of the Finn or not, Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre said this in a mailbag article:
But if what Iain MacIntyre states is accurate, then does it invalidate the reports of Benning being vetoed by then-president Trevor Linden at the 2017 draft? Does this mean that he was indeed pro-Pettersson? Why would he be comfortable with letting someone whom he’s trusted leave?
Do I doubt that Benning wanted Juolevi? Not at all. The wording just seems a bit inconsistent.
Jason Brough on TSN 1040 also stated, via a former Canucks executive, that John Weisbrod was actually the main proponent of the Elias Pettersson selection. The source also cited the abundance of varying stories to have resulted from Weisbrod’s abrasive style having created enemies.
That would not be a surprise to most Canucks fans who are well aware of Weisbrod’s reputation. Friedman referred to Weisbrod as polarizing. “If you ask anybody about John Weisbrod you meet nobody with a neutral opinion. There are some people who speak very highly of him and there are some people who speak very negatively of him.”
The information regarding this situation remains inconsistent and it’s difficult to accept most of what is said as factual when the facts often differ. We know the gist of it. We know that Judd Brackett’s frustrated with his marginalized role. We know that there were scouting clashes at the 2017 and 2019 drafts which resulted in the reconstruction of the scouting staff. We also know that a lot of information seems to be fabricated. What we don’t know are the specifics.
As Friedman said, "Judd Brackett and the Vancouver Canucks, clearly are not comfortable with each other.” That seemed unlikely to change.
A few months ago, Benning stated that he had offered an extension. That extension was later said to have been declined.
And now they've made it official that they are parting ways once Brackett's contract expires.
In his media availability following the announcement, Benning did state this:
"I've been in the business 28 years, I don't know too many places where a team is going to give a head scout total autonomy to make all the picks without collaborating with people higher up."
A lot of people interpreted that quote in a variety of ways. I viewed it as an issue of scouting personnel. They had disagreements on the assembly of the staff and ultimately were unable to settle on an agreement that worked for both sides. Benning preferred the traditional approach while Brackett believes that his success warrants a bit more opportunity.
"It got to the point where Judd is looking for another opportunity, a fresh start and I guess so are we."
Losing Brackett is a tough loss but in a business like hockey, change is natural. Is it unfortunate that Brackett is leaving? Absolutely. The drafting success of the organization since 2014 is likely among the greatest periods of drafting in the history of the team. Is it going to be an irreplaceable loss? I’d hope not. Benning had previously stated that the current Canucks scouting staff is the best it’s been in his tenure. Like Brackett, there could be another relatively unknown scout within the organization with the talent to be highly successful. Of course, that remains to be seen but it’s not incredibly improbable.
The biggest issue is the leak of news. Whether it’s fabricated or not, the level of animosity reported between the two parties is definitely not a good thing. Neither are the reports that are leaking. Reputation is of great importance to any organization and this situation hasn’t done the Canucks any favours.