On July 30th, the Kraken announced the hiring of Dave Baseggio as their Director of Pro Scouting.
Before we look at what to expect from Baseggio, here’s a bit of background on NHL scouting and his expected role as Director of Pro Scouting for the Kraken.
NHL scouts work in the hockey operations department and assist the general manager (GM) in evaluating players. Scouts and GMs have a close working relationship and frequently communicate in order to keep the GM up to date on players from around the world. While the GM has final say on all roster moves, he relies heavily on his scouts for advice and guidance.
NHL teams typically employ two types of scouts: amateur scouts and professional “pro” scouts. Those titles refer to the type of players being scouted. Amateur scouts scout amateur players, usually playing junior hockey or college hockey, in preparation for the NHL Draft. When an NHL team calls a draft pick up to the stage, that decision was informed by their amateur scouting staff. Pro scouts, on the other hand, scout the professional ranks. Since Baseggio is a pro scout, this article will cover only this type of scouting. Pro scouts and their staff write scouting reports on professional players around the world and keep an updated file on each player. They ordinarily assist the hockey operations department in two key functions: trade acquisitions and free agent signings. When a team trades for an established NHL player or signs an unrestricted free agent, that decision was informed by their pro scouting staff.
Pro scouts for the Kraken have a unique third function: the expansion draft. This task is perhaps the most important as it lays the foundation for the team’s formative first few seasons. In the expansion draft, the Kraken will be selecting established players from other NHL rosters, which falls under the pro scouts’ purview. This unique component of the job means that Seattle’s pro scouting staff will play a more important role than they would for any other team. As Director of Pro Scouting, Baseggio will be at the center of the whole operation.
How can we know what to expect from him in this role?
Prior to joining the Kraken, Baseggio spent 12 years with the Anaheim Ducks as a pro scout, Director of Pro Scouting, and Assistant to the General Manager. This gives us a sizable track record of his performance. As the Ducks’ Director of Pro Scouting, Baseggio likely weighed in heavily on all their player acquisition decisions from the 2011-12 season onward. When Ducks GM Bob Murray wanted to add established players to the roster, it’s fair to assume that Baseggio and his pro scouting staff were consulted on which players to target. By examining this record, we can get an idea of what he will bring to the Kraken- and some themes began to emerge. Here are five key takeaways from Baseggio’s time in Anaheim that give us an idea of what he will bring to Seattle.
He knows how to approach free agency the right way.Embed from Getty Images
Kraken general manager Ron Francis wasn’t a big player in the free agent market during his time in Carolina and I would expect that trend to continue in Seattle. Hinting at his free agency philosophy in 2015, Francis said, “It’s tough to find a deal that’s the right term and the right money…on this day.” In Baseggio, Francis has brought in a Director of Pro Scouting who has experience approaching free agency the smart way.
This is a good sign for the Kraken. NHL free agency is a minefield of potentially ruinous contracts. Every July, desperate NHL GMs rush to give too much money and term to declining veteran players based on past performance, not future outlook. An anonymous GM speaking on the eve of last year’s free agency described its foolishness best:
As a result of this mindset, the NHL is now littered with near-unmovable free agent contracts signed in the first week of July. Milan Lucic, Kyle Okposo, Andrew Ladd, Loui Eriksson, David Backes, Troy Brouwer, the list goes on.
Signing big-money free agents is a sucker’s game, one Baseggio and the Ducks refused to play. During Baseggio’s tenure, the Ducks took a very conservative approach to free agency. Here’s a complete list of every UFA signing the Ducks made in the first week of free agency from 2012-2019 who played at least one game with the team.
Notice that the Ducks didn’t sign a single free agent contract with a cap hit over $3.7 million during this time. This shows that Anaheim’s free agent strategy was not based around the kind of high-end, high-risk players that make free agency so dangerous. The Ducks’ pro scouts instead focused on the second and third tier of free agents, looking for hidden gems like Grant and Rowney. Also notice that the total salary number is very low. In the eight years, the Ducks only committed $58.275 million in salary to free agents in the first week of July. To put that number into perspective, if you were to take the total salary commitment of those 22 contracts, put it into one player contract, and add it to last year’s free agent class, it would only rank as the third most expensive.
While this was probably a combination of ownership, GM Bob Murray, and the scouting staff, there was a clear organizational mindset not to be big players in free agency. Baseggio’s experience with the Ducks should gel well with what Ron Francis plans to do in Seattle.
He can find hidden gems.Embed from Getty Images
As mentioned previously, one of Baseggio’s most important duties with the Kraken will be scouting for the upcoming expansion draft. An expansion draft allows the expansion team to select one player from the roster of each current NHL team. However, because the rules of the expansion draft also permit teams to exclude or “protect” seven forwards and three defensemen, the options left available for Seattle to select will be limited primarily to depth players. But just because star players will be off limits doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of value to be found by Baseggio and his staff. Players who are currently buried on the third line or bottom defense pair can become important pieces of a winning team, if you can identify the right ones.
The Vegas Golden Knights proved this concept with their expansion draft three years ago. Vegas identified players who had a limited role on their previous team and simply needed more opportunity in order to thrive. In Vegas’ inaugural season, William Karlsson, Erik Haula, Alex Tuch, Nate Schmidt, and Brayden McNabb all saw an average ice time increase of more than 25% over the previous season. Every one of those players had a career year. In order for Seattle to match the Golden Knights’ early success, they’ll have to identify players who could reach their potential with more opportunity.
In Anaheim, Baseggio and his scouting staff demonstrated their ability to find such players. Two of the best examples are Derek Grant and Carter Rowney. The Ducks acquired Grant in 2017 as an unrestricted free agent on a one year deal at league minimum salary. Grant had spent the previous season in the Sabres and Predators organizations as a borderline NHL level player, playing a third of his games in the AHL and having been waived twice. Not much was thought of the signing at the time, but Baseggio found the potential in Grant that others had missed.
In his first season in Anaheim, Grant earned a spot centering the Ducks’ third line. With this new role, Grant saw a 13.6% increase in ice time and used the opportunity to show previously unseen offensive skill. He finished the season with 12 goals and 12 assists in 66 games. In his 86 career NHL games prior to signing with the Ducks, Grant had 0 goals and 7 assists. Grant’s scoring rate jumped from 0.53 points per 60 minutes of ice time (points/60) to 1.97 in just one season. Proving that one season’s scoring rate wasn’t a fluke, Grant would go on to have 1.73 points/60 in his 146 career games with the Ducks.
The Carter Rowney signing is a similar story. By the summer of 2018, Rowney had worked his way from being an undrafted free agent to having played 71 games over two seasons for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Still, Rowney was buried down the depth chart on a very talented Penguins team just a year removed from back-to-back Stanley Cup wins. The Ducks signed Rowney In July 2018 to a three year contract with a $1.13 million cap hit.
In his first season with the Ducks, Rowney saw a 34% increase in average ice time as he secured a role in Anaheim’s bottom 6. Like Grant, Rowney became a source of depth scoring as his points/60 jumped to 1.54, up from 0.73 the year before. Rowney played all 71 games for the Ducks that season, having solidified his NHL role.
Look for Baseggio and his scouting staff to identify more players like Rowney and Grant in the expansion draft to fill bottom-6 forward roles and provide scoring depth.
He values reliability and playoff performance in top centers.Embed from Getty Images
One of the two essential responsibilities of any pro scout’s job is scouting potential trade acquisitions. This may be especially relevant to the Kraken in their first few seasons, as they should have plenty of cap space and draft pick ammunition early on. If they decide they want to trade for a high-profile established player, they’ll have the assets to get it done. If and when Seattle does make a big move, what can we expect the acquired player to be like?
Perhaps we can get some clues from examining the Ducks’ two biggest trade acquisitions of the last decade. Twice in Baseggio’s tenure, the Ducks were in need of a second line center to slot in behind captain Ryan Getzlaf. In 2014, the Ducks acquired Ryan Kesler from the Vancouver Canucks in a blockbuster trade involving a 1st round pick and multiple roster players. Three and a half years later, when Kesler was sidelined by a serious hip surgery, the Ducks found a replacement at the position by trading for the Devils’ Adam Henrique.
Both Kesler and Henrique’s performance with the Ducks more or less equaled what it had been with their previous teams. Their scoring rates stayed level and the Ducks had considerable success from 2014-2018. In short, both players did the job they were brought in to do.
While these acquisitions don’t necessarily tell us about Baseggio’s ability to evaluate player potential, as Kesler and Henrique were well-known commodities by the time they arrived in Anaheim, They do give us some insight into Baseggio’s thinking and the type of player he may covet for such a role.
Both Kesler and Henrique could be described as “complete players.” They’re both capable of playing wing if necessary, reliable in their own zone, and play big minutes on the penalty kill. While they don’t put up the same flashy scoring numbers as other players in their role, a coach can have total peace of mind when he puts them on the ice. They’re also proven playoff performers, having played instrumental roles in their respective teams’ runs to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011 and 2012. See for yourself:
Defense could be a problem.Embed from Getty Images
No man is perfect. Any pro scout with an eight year tenure is bound to have some missteps. In Baseggio’s tenure with the Ducks, it was on the blueline. He and his pro scouting staff were often tasked with identifying veteran defensemen to fill gaps in the lineup and more often than not, those defensemen failed to live up to expectations.
Over the last eight years, the Ducks had no problem grooming homegrown talent on the blueline via the draft. A list of the defenders Anaheim has drafted and developed would make up one of the top blueline units in the NHL. Cam Fowler, Shea Theodore, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Josh Manson, and Brandon Montour would all be top-4 defensemen on most teams. But none of this came from Baseggio. Drafting and development is the purview of amateur scouts, not Baseggio’s pro scouting department.
When the Ducks did feel the need to externally add to their blueline, it didn’t go very well. If you look at the earlier chart of all the Ducks’ free agent signings, you may notice that the three most expensive signings were defensemen: Sheldon Souray, Bryan Allen, and Clayton Stoner. None of them lived up to their contracts.
Sheldon Souray and Bryan Allen were signed to 3 year contracts worth $11 million and $10.5 million respectively in 2012. Ducks GM Bob Murray called the signings an attempt to “get bigger and stronger on the back end.” Injuries plagued both players as they failed to play up to expectations. Souray would only play 50 games before wrist and shoulder injuries ended his career. Allen was relegated to a role as a third pairing defenseman before an injury derailed his NHL career after two years.
Two years later Clayton Stoner was signed to a four year, $13 million contract in 2014. By his second season his mediocre play resulted in him becoming an occasional healthy scratch and an abdomen injury in his third season made his contract a burden on the team. In order to free themselves of the contract, the Ducks were forced to give up a valuable asset -Shea Theodore- to the Vegas Golden Knights as incentive to select Stoner in the Knights’ expansion draft. That move looks more regrettable each day as Theodore has become an elite defenseman for Vegas.
When acquiring defensemen via trade, it was a similar story. In 2015, the Ducks and Penguins swapped defensemen, as Ben Lovejoy went to Pittsburgh in exchange for Simon Despres. The Ducks were hoping that Despres, a younger more offensively minded defenseman, would be a better fit for their blueline. The trade didn’t work out as planned. While Despres showed some flashes of promise, he only played 72 games before concussion issues put an end to his NHL career and the Ducks were forced to buy out the remaining four years of his contract.
Later in 2015, the Ducks added more help on the blueline in the form of 34-year-old Kevin Bieksa. Anaheim acquired Bieksa in an effort to replace François Beauchemin, who was leaving in free agency. While Bieksa was able to play through his two year contract, the aging defenseman was never able to fill Beauchemin’s skates.
Concerns over Baseggio’s past record with defensemen will hopefully be mitigated by the fact that he will be working with a completely new scouting team that can help him evaluate defensemen more effectively.
He has good instincts finding future stars.Embed from Getty Images
It’s a common phenomenon in any sport: the breakout player. Every year, there are a number of players in the NHL who are on the verge of becoming difference makers. Sometimes those players become available before their full potential is widely known. Finding and acquiring them is often the difference between the good teams and the great teams. Judging from his time in Anaheim, Baseggio’s instincts in finding breakout players appear to be sharp.
Carl Hagelin, David Perron, and Anton Khudobin have all been difference makers on the biggest stage over the last four years. Hagelin helped the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup wins as part of the famous “HBK line.” Perron was a key part of the Golden Knights’ improbable run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final before helping the Blues win their first ever Cup the next season. Only a few months ago, Anton Khudobin backstopped the Stars to their first Stanley Cup Final in 20 years.
If you’re familiar with these players, you probably don’t picture them in Ducks jerseys. However, the Ducks acquired all three of them in a seven month span from June 2015-January 2016. While none of them played more than a single season in Anaheim, they all had considerable success immediately afterward.
That reflects well on Baseggio. He was able to identify players who were available and very close to making the jump to being difference makers and the responsibility for the decision to move on from those players so quickly rests more with the GM than with the pro scouting staff. Although the Ducks didn’t ultimately reap the benefits of that good player evaluation, it shows that Baseggio’s instincts were correct.
After evaluating Baseggio’s track record, it appears Seattle has continued their trend of making good hires. He’s demonstrated an ability to identify players that are primed for growth and he’s worked in an organization that had roster building success. The Kraken have already put the league on notice:
Beware, other NHL teams. Dave Baseggio is watching you- and he may just find that future star player on your third line.