A quick interview with Maple Leafs Director of Pro Scouting Steve Kasper

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Steve Kasper played nine seasons for the Bruins, followed by stints with the Kings, Flyers and Lightning.

MLHS’ Alec Brownscombe chatted with Maple Leafs Director of Pro Scouting Steve Kasper this afternoon. Topics covered include the process of pro scouting, the new off-season additions, and how the Leafs stack up at centre compared to the rest of the league. Enjoy.

Alec Brownscombe: What does the job of Director of Pro Scouting of the Maple Leafs involve on a day-to-day basis?

Steve Kasper: I stay in touch with [pro scouts] Mike Penny, Rob Cowie and Tom Watt, as well as Dave Poulin, Claude Loiselle and Dave Nonis. We’re basically out watching games. Pretty much every night one of us is out there, and most nights all of us are out there. Basically, we are collecting information. We’re looking at predominantly the NHL and the AHL, and just keeping a database on players – making a list of players we feel are playing really well and we like, and maybe players we are not as interested in.

AB: Obviously there’s a lot more scouts on the amateur side, with 12+ scouts on that side, why is the number three  the right number of pro scouts?

SK: Just logistically, look at how many teams the amateur guys have to cover. The National Hockey League has 30 teams and the AHL has the equivalent. It’s a lot easier than it is covering all of Quebec, all of Ontario, all of Western Canada as well as the the US college system and the USHL, and all the amateur teams throughout the world. It’s a much smaller ground to cover. Keep in mind we do have a European pro scout also in Jari Gronstrand, so we do cover a little more ground with that. But there’s far more amateur teams and a far bigger territory to cover.

AB: Does the pro scouting staff measure players with anything other than their “eyeballs”? Does the team use any statistical metrics within their database of players?

SK: No, we are not using a statistical analysis. I am not saying there’s not room for that in the game, but sometimes a player’s contribution does not always show up on a stat sheet. I know a statistical analysis isn’t simply looking at goals and assists, but sometimes a player can play his best game and you don’t see his name anywhere on the scoresheet. My own personal belief is that I like to be there live and see a game myself.

AB: When the management group identifies an organizational need, would they go to you and say “give us a shortlist of players to fill this need,” or how does it work?

SK: I think every situation is different. There isn’t one set of criteria that is used all the time. First of all, it’s easy to identify need but, similar drafting to players, if you have an opportunity to get a player that is going to help make your team better then you’re going to look at it. I won’t just say, “let’s just look at a center,” or defencemen or winger or a goaltender. I think Dave Nonis is always looking at ways to make the Maple Leafs better. With that said, if he is looking for a specific category, we might talk about just who we think is out there, who may be available, who can help us, and why. An awful lot of discussion amongst the group goes into coming up with a decision on who may help us or who may not be able to help us.

AB: When it comes to the acquisition of a Jonathan Bernier, would the goalie guys on the amateur side in Garth Malarchuk and Mike Palmateer be consulted?

SK: That’s not my job to consult with them. Certainly Dave Nonis can consult with anyone throughout the organization and get a view on someone’s progress based on what some of the amateur people thought of them. Basically, once they turn professional they’re handed off and then the pro side starts watching them. A player like Jonathan Bernier obviously played for a couple of years in Manchester, New Hampshire for LA’s farm team before moving on to the Kings. We have been watching him from that point on.

AB: What stood out to you and your team about Bernier?

SK: Our evaluation has been very positive on him. He seems to be a great competitor who has demonstrated the ability to keep his team in hockey games and be very steady while doing so. We just made the determination that there is very good upside there.

AB: How involved were you in the trade for Bolland and the FA acquisition of Clarkson?

SK: Dave Nonis obviously makes the final determination on anything that goes on in the organization. We’re consulted and we give our opinion. Dave accumulates all of the data and all of the information and makes his decision. I saw Bolland, and so did Mike Penny and Rob Cowie and Tom Watt. We’re out there watching all the time, and certainly Claude Loiselle and Dave Poulin are out there watching games as well. It’s not just when teams come in to play the Leafs or the Leafs are on the road… we all watch a lot of games.

AB: Bolland had a bit of a down year despite ample PP time and the opportunity to play with some good linemates in Chicago. What makes the team confident he’ll bounce back? Do you think that 2nd line scoring role was an improper one for Bolland?

SK: Well, first of all, I don’t know who is making the determination that he had a down season. You didn’t hear that from me. Obviously Chicago had a very successful year winning the championship, but were also very successful from the day the puck was dropped to the final faceoff. I just think Bolland was a regular contributor to that team, and a big contributor to that team. You didn’t hear me say he had a down year. My job is not to define his role. The coaching staff assembles the team and plays them in the role that they see fit to help Toronto win. In Dave Bolland we have a very versatile player who can contribute in all three zones, and can play in all game situations. I’m sure Randy Carlyle and the coaching staff will find the best way to utilize his skillsets.

AB: When it comes to a pending FA like Clarkson… if we take it back to the season, he may or may not be available in a few months. Do you scout a prospective UFA like him more closely knowing he could become available, or rely on an internal database of scouting info? I’d imagine that during a season, if a trade target is being discussed, your team can get out and see that player for a few viewings right away. How does it work with FAs or trade targets in the off season?

SK: Certainly, during the course of the season we are trying to get a good feel for everyone playing in the league. Obviously, once the trade deadline passes, then it’s a little easier to narrow your focus to look at pending free agents because there will be no more movement before the end of the season. It just gives you an opportunity to take a little closer look at everyone out there who may be becoming a free agent in the latter part of the season.

AB: Sticking with Clarkson, Nonis has said that he doesn’t have to score 30 to justify the contract. Specifically, what are the other elements the pro scouts loved about David?

SK: I’ll go back to what I told you about Dave Bolland. To win hockey games you need a lot of things to happen, it’s not just scoring goals. A lot of coaches will ask you the question, “if you’re not scoring for me, what is your contribution?” When you look at a David Clarkson, you are looking at a solid team player who shows up to play every game and gives maximum effort every shift. He’s effective along the wall, he goes to all the tight, difficult, dirty areas of the ice – the front of the net – and makes himself hard to play against. That all contributes to a team winning hockey games.

AB: A quieter addition on July 5 was TJ Brennan, who played 30 games in the NHL last season between Florida and Buffalo. Describe his game and if you think he could be a factor this season.

SK: I think TJ Brennan has a lot of upside potential. He was a dominant player in the American Hockey League. If you watched him play there, he was very aggressive offensively and defensively. He was very active and involved in the play. I think it’s up to him to take that next step, to carry over the way he played in the AHL to the NHL. Certainly in his limited stints in the NHL last year he showed signs of it. We just believe that he’s putting in the right effort and that there’s potential there to take the next step and do it on a regular basis.

AB: The Leafs rejigged their personnel at center ice, re-upping Bozak, buying out Grabovski and bringing in Bolland. Being highly familiar with the 29 other teams, where do you think the Leafs stack up down the middle?

SK: I think we are very competitive down the middle. I think that it’s a mistake to characterize a player as a number one center or a first line center or a second line player. I think on any given night, whatever line is ‘going’ the coach could deem fit to utilize as his number one line. I think that we’re developing great depth through the middle and in any given game, from the first line to the fourth line, that gives the coach a lot of different options as to how to utilize his players to get the most out of them. As an organization, starting right at the center spot, I think we’ve created a healthy competition amongst ourselves in terms of players vying for the ice time.


  • dlb eh

    oh, thank Alec something new!

  • Black_Hawk

    thanks alec, good work as usual

  • Steve

    You know how sometimes you realize things are actually a lot worse than you originally feared?
    This is one of those times.

  • Cloud09

    So because the Leafs don’t use advanced statistics the world is going to end??

  • MikeGartner11

    Interesting. I would like to hear more from Poulin about the role of the pro scout. Kasper seems like he is out of the old school and makes for a tough interview. Good work Alec, always great to get another perspective on various front office jobs for the leafs.

  • dlb eh

    More good hockey insight, thanks Alec

  • Steve

    Cloud09 It’s less about advanced stats and more about the Leafs deliberately shunning a potentially valuable source of information. Why on earth WOULDN’T they use advanced stats? How can gaining a more complete picture of a player’s ability be anything but a good thing? This team, man.

  • dlb eh

    “if you’re not scoring for me, what is your contribution?”
    i could be a head coach!

  • Burtonboy

    Thanks Alec. And away we go again.The Leafs ,management ,scouts and coach are all garbage because they don’t use statistical analysis . It has to be true because some MSM journalist or some guy on the internet says it is so. We are doomed I tell ya…..doomed.

  • Denied

    @Steve Cloud09 I heard the Panthers use advanced statistics maybe you should go cheer their math team on.

  • Favell66

    Another great interview, thanks for your hard work, much appreciated.

  • dlb eh

    @Steve Cloud09 
    stats are a lot more important when you don’t know what to look for in watching and assessing

  • Mind Bomb

    Thanks Alec : When it comes to a pending FA like Clarkson… if we take it back to the
    season, he may or may not be available in a few months. Do you scout a
    prospective UFA like him more closely knowing he could become available,
    Great Fuckin Question :)

  • newkb

    Burtonboy Egg-headed retards doing math don’t guarantee championships….or even winning teams.

  • dlb eh

    what were McClemment’s stats leading up to his free agency?  i don’t know so i’m asking.
    fact is, we signed him when no one predicted it, based on our coach’s recommendation…based on him hating to have to play against the guy
    give me a scout who knows what he’s looking at instead of all available stats, every day of the week

  • Steve

    Denied Cloud09 Great contribution. Thanks.

  • Mind Bomb

    dlb eh  QFT

  • Steve

    dlb eh Cloud09 So what should we use, then? Nebulous concepts like “he has great chemistry with his linemates” or “he wins faceoffs”? Because that’s how you end up with Tyler Bozak as your #1 centre for the next five seasons.

  • Denied

    @Steve Denied Cloud09 anytime

  • Mind Bomb

    @Steve dlb eh Cloud09 HI Steve, Why dont we let Bozie play at least a Couple of those games, he has improved every year.

  • dlb eh

    these are the Dave’s i know i know, these are the Dave’s i know
    Dave Nonis is our real good GM
    Dave Poulin, he talked the other day
    Dave Morrison, he scouts am-a-teurs
    Dave Farrish…we hardly know him…
    Dave Clarkson signed here to help us
    Dave Bolland keeps winning Stanely Cups

  • mORRganRielly

    Burtonboy He actually let slip that they do use analytics — or something like it.  See: “Dave accumulates all of the __data__ and all of the information and makes his decision.”

  • dlb eh

    @Steve dlb eh Cloud09 
    we seem to be capable of winning with Bozak, and Kessel seems to produce with him as his pivot.
    i think there are other players involved in this team sport, too.
    you may have seen them play?

  • Steve

    Mind Bomb dlb eh Cloud09 I’d be so down with Bozak proving the naysayers wrong. I’m just worried that he won’t.

  • Burtonboy

    mORRganRielly Burtonboy lol no one will ever convince me that the Leafs management are a bunch of buffoons. I still say they are miles ahead of these so called statistical experts on the internet with their use off video and stats combined. If these guys were such experts how come they aren’t working in the NHL somewhere ? If we were to ever get to the bottom of what they actually do it would probably shock the shit out of these so called arm chair GM’s and coaches .

  • SteveMinck

    newkb Don’t use that word please.

  • dlb eh

    has anyone been fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to re-watch the last period of game 7 vs BOS?
    some things stood out to me the more i watch…Grabovski kinda didn’t do so well in our own end a number of times…not real poised for a veteran…forgot about stops and starts a couple crucial times.
    MacArthur didn’t resemble the hard working leader that he had been every now and then throughout the year.
    time will tell if Nonis made the right decisions, but for the moment it’s easy for me to see how Clarkson and Bolland is preferable to MacArthur and Grabovski if we ever get to redo that game 7, 3rd period.

  • mirtle

    dlb eh McClement’s advanced stats were very positive actually when used in a defined role – he was a good bet at the price they got him. 
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/hockey/jay-mcclement-targeted-by-leafs-to-be-the-stopper/article7382400/

  • SteveMinck

    Denied Cloud09 The Sharks do too. Consistent playoff appearances and constantly in contention. Something neither Florida or Toronto have been in the past decade.

  • SteveMinck

    Thanks for posting another interview! These are getting to be worrying…

  • SteveMinck

    dlb eh I honestly haven’t watched a second of Game 7 since it happened.

  • Steve

    SteveMinck This is the point I keep trying to make. It’s not a matter of “stats to the exclusion of everything else.” It’s “stats as part of the puzzle.” Why on earth would the organization not want to embrace them wholeheartedly if it’s demonstrably going to help the team?

  • dlb eh

    mirtle dlb eh 
    thanks.  i really was asking because i didn’t know and i assumed he would have at least decent stats…sounds like people in the other conference knew him well if we didn’t.
    still, it was Carlyle’s suggestion as we were told.  and he didn’t have to check the stats sheets to know the type of player he was wanting to acquire.
    stats can fill in the blanks when first hand experience isn’t enough.  and there is, of course, different quality scouting.

  • newkb

    SteveMinck newkb math?

  • SteveMinck

    @Steve Especially a team with as much money and resources as the Leafs. Why can’t they pay some guy to sit there and track this stuff? It’s not like it would cost a fortune and it brings something extra to the table.

  • Jimmy Keating

    mirtle dlb eh James: he was an advanced stats trainwreck (as pointed out by PPP), but anyone that watched the games would probably make him one of the key reasons the Leafs were able to reach the playoffs. What do you make of that? He was used in a hugely defensive role, which we all know.

  • SteveMinck

    newkb retard

  • daveybolland

    mirtle dlb eh But we’re leaving something important out.
    His advanced stats were terrible last season. Should he be gotten rid of now?

  • Jimmy Keating

    Burtonboy mORRganRielly Ron Wilson was using a system that combined real-time video data, re-callable by the staff at any point, in multiple areas throughout the rink—I would expect this is still available to them. Also, he was candid in the fact they used advanced stats to make in-game adjustments, as well as pre and post game scouting. Is this something they would simply delete?

  • Jimmy Keating

    @daveybolland mirtle dlb eh He was an integral part of the Leafs last season, to my eyes (and many others that know the game).

  • Mind Bomb

    @Steve Mind Bomb dlb eh Cloud09  Aye steve, Like em or Love em, he is a Leaf now, so I am pulling for him as well. I am not really Worried about our Forwards, Kes,JVR,Lups, Kadri,Clarkson, Bolland, Kulemin, MCL. 

    Not many teams can stack that many Goal scorers, passing speed, some Grit and size, Good 2 way Centers. Do the Excersise of comparing them to other teams. We are Tops in the League as a Unit, Take our PIT, LA and CHI, But then who, US, thats who
    ————-
    Its our Defense that scares the Shit out of me :)

  • T_C_Puck

    SteveMinck C’mon Steve, that’s seems ageist. Are they REALLY refusing to use a comp. or are they technophobic? I’m thinking the latter…..God help you when you get older, and your mind can keep up to the Technology. Cause that’s going to happen.

  • Mind Bomb

    newkb SteveMinck  Lol, ok probably wrong, but thats a little Funny newkb. Math sucks

  • dlb eh

    SteveMinck dlb eh 
    it’s certainly not for everyone

  • SteveMinck

    T_C_Puck But sticking with the analogy if it is your field/job to keep up with the era, wouldn’t you at least try to keep up and adapt to changing conditions and anything new that comes into play?

  • deuce35

    Mind Bomb dlb eh Cloud09 He is 27. If you believe in the “advanced” stat of looking at when players generally are at their maximum production, he should be peaking right around this age. 

    http://www.arcticicehockey.com/2010/1/21/1261318/nhl-points-per-game-peak-age

  • Mind Bomb

    Burtonboy mORRganRielly  Haha BB, I am on your Team here, these are Cold Calculating, and intelligent men, with the motivation of their Job being on the line, they are using it to some extent. Besides Nonis, spent millions buying out Grabo while using those P

  • MikeGartner11

    SteveMinck I have to believe there is some measure of statistical analysis for the leafs and marlies. Apparently they have no interest in shedding any light on it, but they aren’t ignoring numbers totally.

  • SteveMinck

    @MikeGartner11 I certainly hope so. Even if one doesn’t think it’s as useful as people think, there’s no harm in having it there.

  • Burtonboy

    Jimmy Keating Burtonboy mORRganRielly Hard to know for sure but the mere fact they have made their video analysis guy an assistant coach leads me to this stuff has been greatly enhanced under Carlyle