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DARCY REGIER: "All change to differing degrees is met with resistance."
By TIM GRAHAM
News Sports Reporter
8/10/2006

Darcy Regier almost can hear the snickers and see the fingers pointing. The Buffalo Sabres' general manager is keenly aware how the hockey community collectively looks askance at his avant-garde methods in evaluating talent.

When it comes to scouting philosophies, Regier admits the Sabres are considered kooks, the Napoleon Dynamites of the NHL.

"It's viewed as nontraditional, viewed in some cases as threatening," Regier said. "I don't think it is being or has been embraced by many other organizations - if any."

The Sabres over the past two years have forsaken hockey doctrine. Rather than dispatch a gaggle of scouts to scour the globe, the Sabres rely heavily on video analysis and young office assistants to splice it into easily digestible packages that rarely leave HSBC Arena. The Sabres call it efficient. Many others label them cheap.

Regier's assumption that as many as 29 teams would object to how the Sabres run their assessors office might be incorrect. Maybe there are more teams than that.

It would appear a fraction of the Sabres' own scouting department had a hard time accepting the new approach.

While most Sabres fans are fretting over the team's new logo, in a matter of days late last month their team lost three scouting directors who served under all three ownership groups. Director of amateur scouting Jim Benning left for the Boston Bruins. Director of pro scouting Terry Martin went to the Colorado Avalanche. Director of player development Don Luce didn't have his contract renewed.

"All those people are very good people and very good professionals," Regier said. "It would be naive to think it won't have some sort of impact. It will be our challenge to fill in for those people and give other people opportunities within our organization."

While the Sabres' success last season helped facilitate the exodus, recent changes played at least a part.

"Sometimes you get a gut feeling and you got to run with it," Martin said. "It was a gut feeling that it was time to move on."

Martin's comments echoed - almost verbatim - those made by winger Mike Grier after he avoided a matching offer from the Sabres and signed with the San Jose Sharks. Perhaps that's no coincidence. Grier's father, Bobby, is a longtime NFL player personnel executive and his brother, Chris, is a Miami Dolphins scout.

"All change to differing degrees is met with resistance," Regier said. "This has been no exception."

The significant departures continue a shake-up that has taken place in the scouting department since B. Thomas Golisano bought the Sabres.

Luce, Benning, Martin and former assistant to the general manager Larry Carriere, who was phased out two years ago and joined the Washington Capitals, accounted for nearly seven decades of scouting experience for the Sabres.

Including a few other veteran bird dogs who have left the scouting department, Buffalo has lost more than a century of experience since the end of the 2003-04 season.

The Sabres had at least nine scouts for eight of nine years through the lockout. Before last season, they reduced their number to six scouts, relieving mainstays Don Barrie, Rudy Migay and Mike Racicot, and their European amateur scouting director of five years, David Volek. They added Jon Christiano.

"The scouting staff was downsized quite a bit in my opinion," Martin said. "They lost four amateur guys there. That's the way the organization wanted to go."

Buffalo's approach was to emphasize more video analysis rather than having scouts rolling up 25,000 miles a year on their Plymouths. Four office assistants with modest NHL front-office experience compiled and edited footage from around the globe.

Regier was hesitant to explain in any detail how the scouting department operates.

"I in no way want to say we're pioneering anything," Regier said with a laugh, "but you're always trying to gain an advantage in this game. When you've made inroads in that respect, I'm very reluctant to talk about it."
The Sabres deem their system more efficient in terms of both cost and effort.

"Tom Golisano took over as the owner and he cut not only the scouting department, but almost all the departments in the organization," Benning said. "We figured out a way to get the same coverage by not having as big a staff, but in some cases getting more coverage through use of the video and other different ideas Darcy had."

Barrie isn't sold. He was hired by Scotty Bowman and scouted the Ontario Hockey League for 23 years. Now he writes a weekly column for his hometown paper, the Peterborough Examiner. He has spent much of the past two winters at the Peterborough Petes' arena.

"The scouts come in and I get all the stories," said Barrie. "You're getting this concern from the scouting fraternity about the precedent the Sabres might be starting or are in the midst of, going to all the video. I know a lot of the scouts are watching that with great interest to see if it works.

"I don't think it'll work at all. I think that scouting is a personal thing. Can you imagine doing your hockey report for the newspaper by watching it on TV? You can't do it. There are so many intangibles to scouting. You've got to be there.

"The Buffalo Sabres were so good to me and I had a great time there. I have no ax to grind, but I can disagree with the way they're going."

While Martin agreed that video analysis is an important tool to scouting, he agreed it couldn't replace eyewitness evaluation.

"I'm the type of guy that wants to be out in the field, seeing it firsthand," Martin said. "I want to watch the player personally and the teams."

Regier has been satisfied with the results to date. He explained how the pro scouting aspect of their new approach - valuing players based on how they relate to the NHL's post-lockout rules - could be seen in the acquisitions of players such as defensemen Teppo Numminen, Toni Lydman and Jaroslav Spacek.

Because of development time, it can take four or five years before one can appropriately judge amateur scouting decisions. But Regier said he was impressed when he watched 15 prospects take part in rookie camp last week in the Amherst Pepsi Center.

"It's something we probably should have started earlier, but because of the resistance to change it's something I never pushed as hard as I probably should have," Regier said of the video-based scouting system.

"The thing that's changed is we have a number of younger guys in the office that are both technically competent and curious and innovative and like the idea of trying to do things this way. We've also had some older guys that have embraced it, but there's no question change brings a certain amount of resistance or belief it's not necessarily the right way. But it's something we believe in and believe very strongly in."

Luce was cast aside after 19 seasons in the front office. He had been the director of player personnel, overseeing all of the club's scouting operations and the draft for many years. But before last season, the Sabres Hall of Famer was demoted to director of player development, his profile marginalized and duties reduced to keeping tabs on players already in the system.

Luce declined several requests to be interviewed for this story.

Benning took over for Luce and ran the last three drafts. He spent 12 years with the Sabres, including the last eight as director of amateur scouting.

"I thought it was time to change it up a bit," Benning said. "When the opportunity with Boston came up, I talked to Darcy about it and he helped me make a good decision. So I left on good terms."

Martin, a Sabres pick in the 1975 draft, gave up his seven-year post as director of pro scouting.

No replacements have been hired yet. Regier said he might fill one or two of the positions before the season but indicated there was little reason to rush. The next draft is 10 months away, and Martin's extensive pro reports are on file.
Regier knows the rest of the NHL is looking at his scouting department with substantial cynicism, even ridicule.

"All we need to do is be right," Regier said. "We like the way we're doing things. We think it's the best way to do things for us."
 
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