A conversation with Flames director of scouting Tod Button

On June 30, 2013, in New Jersey, 210 young hockey players will take the next step towards their dream of playing the National Hockey League.

This is the day that the NHL has scheduled their annual entry draft, which has the Calgary Flames currently scheduled to select eight players.

The draft starts at 1:00 p.m. local time and you can catch all the action on TSN.

With the big day – that can change the fate of an NHL franchise for better or worse – on the horizon, Flames director of scouting, Tod Button, sheds some light on the preparation that goes on as team prepares.

What kind of preparation do the Calgary Flames go through during the year to get ready for the draft?

We have six full-time scouts in North America and three in Europe, along with a few part-time ones. The first couple months of the year is spent with everyone covering their areas and identifying who they think the best prospects are for the upcoming draft.

This graphic was created prior to the Calgary Flames trading their fourth round draft pick to the Floridia Pathers in exchange for Corban Knight on June 18, 2013.

Graphicby Ian EsplenDuring those few months we are constantly sharing information with each other through databases, phone calls and in person.

Once our scouts have seen the players in their area a few times, we then compile a list and have our scouts cross over and start seeing the players on other guys’ lists.

Then in January, we will hold a meeting together and make our first formal list.

Once we have that list, we set up a schedule and prioritize who we need more information on and who we need to see play a little more. This will go on until the end of the hockey season.

In May we will meet again as a group and by that time the scouting process is about 80 per cent complete and we have watched video and games, done some interviews, talked with coaches and looked over game reports. At this point our list is close to complete.

Next, I’ll scout the Memorial Cup and some of the other guys will do some background type things like making sure no one has any injuries and stuff like that.

Then we have the combine where the top players will go through their physical testing and we’ll do interviews with them as well.

And lastly, we’ll bring some of the kids into Calgary if we have anything we want to clarify from their interview or to do some more physical testing with them.

The whole process is a lot of the same stuff over and over again to get a clearer picture as to what each player brings to the table as an NHL prospect.

Have you done a lot of your interviews with players at this point in the season?

I like to wait until the combine (May 27 – June 1) to do the formal ones. If I see a kid or I’m sitting on an airplane next to a kid, I may chat with him for a while. Does that count as an interview? Not really because it’s not the formal process.

But the area guys, who are done watching games, would have already started talking with the players in their area.

Typically, how many different players do you interview throughout the season?

We interview every player on our list, plus maybe a couple more. It really depends how many players we have on our list. So if we have 140 players on our list, we’ll interview every one of them. If we have 90, we’ll interview 90.

I may not talk to 140, but everyone is responsible for certain people that they have to talk with. With six guys here in North America and another three in Europe it’s pretty thorough.

Is that 140-player list the typical length of your list?

It depends, every year it’s different. I think last year we had 75 and another year we had 90.

We don’t set a number. That number comes to us during the identifying process. We never say we have to have 100 or whatever the number is. It’s purely based whatever happens during each season.

This season you are picking higher than you have in past years and you have more picks, is that the reason for having a larger list this season?

No, the list is based on who do the scouts like. Obviously when you have eight picks it matters, but if your general manager trades down and adds a pick you can’t be left without a player to pick there.

At the end of the day, we’ve never been left without a player to select off our list.

In the past, Calgary has traded down in the draft, what’s the rationale behind making a move like that?

The rationale is really quite simple.

It depends on where your team is. In the past, when Daryl Sutter was here we went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004, we had the lockout and then the following year we won the division.

Back then the rationale was, If you think you’re one of the top teams and you have a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup, then you have to use all of your assets to try and get players.

Draft picks are sometimes the easiest thing to trade to get back other assets. So, in a lot of cases if you look between I think 2003 and 2011, I think we had two second round draft picks. Over that same time period, I believe Colorado and Chicago had 17 and 18.

But then if you look at what Darryl traded those second round draft picks for. He brought in players like Kiprusoff, Tangauy, Bourque and Cammalleri, so it was sort of like the “going for it” thing.

Now without a second round pick or sometimes even a third round pick, you’re at the draft and there’s a group of 10 players like, well let’s say you’re picking at 19 and you think you can get two of those guys instead of one if you move down six spots then you do it. It’s a good way to multiple picks.

Every NHL team has their own sort of philosophy on how they draft. Some teams will take the best player, some will draft based on needs. What is the Flames’ philosophy when drafting?

We take the best player available and this year we have more options with best player available because we have multiple first round picks.

We have a real good opportunity this year to take a guy that we might shy away from in past years because he is really one-dimensional. But this year we can take him in the first round because you have a chance to surround and support him with the other two picks.

If you only have one first round pick you have to be bang on with that guy.

Will you be taking a few more chances when drafting this year because you have more picks?

Well we have more opportunity to do that. We have three picks and those picks are huge assets for Jay [Feaster] to use in many ways. We have cap space. We can do a lot of things at this draft. Whether it’s trading up to get a guy we really like, trading down, or using all three picks.

Maybe we turn that last first round pick into two second round picks in a trade down scenario to acquire another asset.

There is a lot of strategy involved, but our philosophy since Jay took over has been best player available.

What does a typical day at the draft look like for the Calgary Flames?

This year is going to be a little different because it’s all in one day, but we’ll be strategizing and going over our list and refining it right up until about noon. We’ll make sure we’ve got all the “I”s dotted and the “T”s crossed and that nothing has come up.

When you’re at the draft, there is a little bit of information gathering going on. You’re trying to figure out what the other teams are going to do and what players they are interested in. With us picking sixth, if we can get some knowledge on what the teams in front of us are doing it will help us somehow.

One of the things we had a really good handle on last year when we traded down was we had a good handle on what the teams below us were going to do. And that helped use because we knew what spot we couldn’t go past to lose out on the two or three guys we wanted at that spot.

Some people have called this year’s draft class strong. What are your thoughts on this years draft class?

Honestly, the scouts and myself don’t have the luxury of deciding whether it’s a good draft year or not.

We can’t say it’s a seventh round pick. We’re not going to pay any attention to it. Our mentality going in is we have to make these picks count whether it’s a weak draft year or a good draft year.

But yes, I do think it’s a good draft this year.

iesplen@cjournal.ca